Coun. Bill Karsten speaks during Tuesday’s nuclear weapon debate. Credit: Zane Woodford

It was meant to be a symbolic gesture — “a wish for peace” — but concerns over jurisdictional meddling kept some of Richard Zurawski’s colleagues from fully supporting his call to abolish nuclear weapons.

Zurawski brought the four-part motion to council’s meeting on Tuesday. It read in full:

That Halifax Regional Council:

  1. Declare August 6, 2020 a Day of Peace, and support the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons Appeal for the banning of all nuclear weapons;
  2. Direct that the City Hall carillion be rung 75 times as “Bells for Peace” at noon on August 6, to commemorate the tragic 75th anniversary of the atomic bombing of the Japanese cities of Nagasaki and Hiroshima by the United States of America;
  3. Allow the creation of removable chalk outlines on the Grand Parade to commemorate the tens of thousands who were killed in the first and only deployment of nuclear weapons in war, and that Grand Parade be a place of gathering in responsible social distanced silence; and
  4. Request the Mayor on behalf of Council write a letter to the Federal Government in support of the abolishment of nuclear weapons.

“This motion is a commemoration, a wish for peace, a wish for the abolition of nuclear weapons and a small act on our behalf to write a letter in support of those in the federal government who would support the abolition of nuclear weapons,” Zurawski said.

Coun. Bill Karsten was the most vocal opponent of Zurawski’s motion.

“It’s not about me being a warmonger or me thinking this is great to have nuclear weapons in the world,” Karsten said.

“What it is for me is so near and dear to my hear; it’s jurisdictional.”

Karsten was worried about stepping on the toes of the federal government — which has yet to sign or ratify the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, according to the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons’ website.

“We don’t know the federal government’s position,” Karsten said. “Why would a council in Halifax, Nova Scotia want to weigh in on something that in reality is the federal government’s responsibility?”

Coun. Stephen Adams had the same concern, and also worried that the third part, allowing “the creation of removable chalk outlines on the Grand Parade,” would encourage gathering during the pandemic.

“I have an immense amount of respect for Councillor Zurawski and I understand why he’s brought this forward,” Adams said. “I get that, but as Councillor Karsten said, it’s a bit outside what we should do and who knows what it will lead to.”

Coun. David Hendsbee expressed concern that the motion might lead to Halifax declaring itself a nuclear-free zone — meaning big U.S. Navy ships carrying nuclear weapons wouldn’t be welcome in the harbour. He was assured that wouldn’t be the case.

The first part of the motion passed with only Karsten voting no. The second part passed unanimously. The third part passed with only Adams voting no.

On the fourth part — the letter — councillors Steve Streatch, David Hendsbee, Lorelei Nicoll, Sam Austin, Richard Zurawski, Paul Russell, Tim Outhit and Mayor Mike Savage and Deputy Mayor Lisa Blackburn voted yes.

Councillors Bill Karsten, Tony Mancini, Russell Walker, Stephen Adams, and Matt Whitman voted no.

Tuesday’s motion was reminiscent of another by Zurawski. In 2018, he sought his colleagues’ support for a motion opposing offshore oil drilling.

As the Halifax Examiner reported the next day:

Zurawski cited the release of the International Panel on Climate Change’s most recent report last week, which underscored the need to cut greenhouse gas emissions pretty much immediately or face irreversible climate change and all the human horrors that will come along with it.

“The reason for this motion is a message to the public that we must stop this… we have a dire report saying the continued use of fossil fuels is bad…”  said Zurawaski, and the offshore “is the epitome of continued use of fossil fuels.”

The motion was defeated on a 10-6 votes. The yes votes (in opposition to drilling) came from councillors Shawn Cleary, Lisa Blackburn, Stephen Adams, Waye Mason, Lindell Smith, and Zurawski. Mayor Mike Savage is in China and so didn’t vote. All others voted pro-drilling.

Understand this was a toothless motion. Had it passed, it would have had no force of law. Stephen McNeil and his government would have kept on with their plans to expand the offshore. The motion was merely symbolic, a statement of concern.

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Zane Woodford is the Halifax Examiner’s municipal reporter. He covers Halifax City Hall and contributes to our ongoing PRICED OUT housing series. Twitter @zwoodford

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  1. Adams: “Who knows where it would lead.” Gasp, a pathway to peace, turn the other way!

    Hendsbee: “Big U.S. Navy ships carrying nuclear weapons wouldn’t be welcome.” If only. The military does not reveal when its ships are carrying nuclear weapons, though such vessels have most certainly passed through our harbour. The harbour itself is a militarized zone with no real civilian oversight.

    1. Governed by too many panderers, the excuse being that this is an election year. If Zurawski was serious about climate change he would be advocating for less tourism, less immigration, fewer foreign university students. He should enquire as to where his pension money is invested, but like all his colleagues he does not have a clue about the HRM pension plan.