Council for the Town of Lunenburg has removed a councillor as deputy mayor after he was critical of the decision to rename Cornwallis Street to Queen Street, with one colleague calling his behaviour "disrespectful" and "disruptive."
Just weeks on the job as deputy mayor after being elected in November, council voted on Jan. 9 to end Coun. Ed Halverson's term immediately. The position is usually for one year.
"I think it's chilling. It's anti-democratic. I think anyone who wants to run for council now is going to have to think long and hard about 'what happens if I'm on the outside of the opinion group?'" Halverson said in an interview Tuesday.
"Do I want to be subjected to, you know, a public censure?"
Halverson had been outspoken in council, and to news outlets including the CBC, that council's November decision to rename Cornwallis Street to Queen Street following a public survey was wrong. He was one of the three dissenting votes on the topic.
The initial recommendation to rename the street came from the town's anti-racism committee, which suggested choosing a new name that reflects Mi'kmaw culture.
Cornwallis Street was named after Halifax founder Edward Cornwallis. He was the British governor of Nova Scotia who, in 1749, issued a scalping proclamation against Mi'kmaw men, women and children.
While Halverson said no councillors had spoken to him in person about issues they had with his performance as deputy mayor, Coun. Peter Mosher emailed him after Halverson was interviewed on CBC Nova Scotia's Mainstreet soon after the vote.
"[Mosher] was not happy and he kind of expressed that I should be expecting that not everyone was happy," Halverson said.
During the Jan.9 council meeting, Mosher said he wanted to address a "non-confidence issue" in the deputy mayor and asked staff for guidance on how to remove Halverson.
Mosher said the role should be held by someone who "supports mayor and council," and Halverson had not done that. Mosher said Halverson had attended three meetings remotely via video, and suggested replacing him with someone who could fulfil the job more respectfully.
In Nova Scotia municipalities, deputy mayors are paid slightly more than other councillors and step in to chair meetings or carry out other duties when the mayor is absent.
Coun. Ed Halverson of the Town of Lunenburg was removed from the role of deputy mayor by council in early January. (CBC)
There were no other details offered during the meeting on why Halverson should be removed. There was discussion from staff on how to carry out the procedure, and council voted unanimously — with the exception of Halverson — to end his term.
Mosher told CBC Tuesday that Halverson's behaviour had been "disruptive to council." While Halverson is entitled to his own opinion, Mosher said he'd crossed a line.
"The opinion may differ from a council decision … but it was certainly expressed that council did not get it right," Mosher said.
"And who is to say that? That was a decision that was made. And if you disagree with that decision, there are processes that you can bring it back to council without necessarily just … stirring up a lot of emotion in the press."
Although Mayor Jamie Myra later said "we probably got this one wrong," Mosher said Myra is the only one with that privilege because the mayor is the "voice of council."
Mosher also said Halverson regularly fails to address Myra as "your worship" or Mr. Mayor, and there have been several email exchanges where Halverson has been "condescending" to the rest of council.
"This wasn't an act to censure a councillor. This is more deep-rooted in how he treated the council in some private email discussions — that's where to me it was very, very disrespectful," Mosher said.
Halverson said he won't be quieting down, because councillors must be able to "speak freely" on important issues, and he wants to give voice to the outpouring of concern he's heard from many residents opposed to Queen Street.
In the same meeting Halverson was removed, council received two letters from people who were against using Queen, including N.S. artist and illustrator Emma Fitzgerald.
Tom Urbaniak, a professor of political science with Cape Breton University, said Lunenburg council should brush up on its legal rights and responsibilities. He said individual councillors can speak against council decisions that have been made.
Tom Urbaniak is a political science professor at Cape Breton University. (CBC)
"There's not an expectation that council needs to speak with one voice. That tends to dilute the democratic process," Urbaniak said.
Urbaniak also said it's unclear whether the process itself to remove Halverson was correct, and there should have been a legal opinion on what to do as the move is "uncommon" in the province.
The province's Municipal Government Act (MGA) states council must determine the deputy mayor's term "prior" to selecting them, so Urbaniak said it's up to interpretation on whether council could change those terms after the fact.
Town CAO Jamie Doyle told council in January he'd reviewed local policies as well as the MGA and other documents, and felt the approach to amend Halverson's term was "solid."
Coun. Stephen Ernst was elected new deputy mayor during the January meeting.
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