Councillor Matt Whitman at City Hall.
For the third time in his political career, Matt Whitman has issued a public apology.
stood at the start of Tuesday’s committee of the whole meeting to address his Twitter fight last week
with fellow elected official Shawn Cleary and his use of the word “negro” on TV.
“I apologize to my colleague and all members of council for any embarrassment I may have caused. My comments never meant to insult, hurt, demean or otherwise disparage anyone,” Whitman said.
During a televised interview with CTV Atlantic, Whitman used the word “negro” to describe Black people while defending his assertion that it’s impossible to be racist towards Mexicans. The outdated, offensive terminology prompted councillor Lindell Smith to publicly scold his colleague.
“Please don’t use the word ‘negroes,’” Smith tweeted at Whitman. “It’s not appropriate and we are not in 1950.”
Whitman later defended his choice of language
to CTV as a legitimate “word in the dictionary,” but was more repentant on Tuesday.
“My posts lost sight of the issue, and I became engulfed in inappropriate dialogue. For that, I apologize. I’m sorry if I offended anyone. That never was, nor has ever been, my intent. In future, I commit to, as mayor Savage has said, read twice, send once.”
It was an appropriate apology for a “poor choice of words,” according to the mayor.
“He did the right thing,” said Mike Savage. “He came to council today and apologized. That doesn’t nullify the issues we have to deal with. It helps.”
But absolution is not being offered from Shawn Cleary.
“I think he should be apologizing to all residents of Halifax, especially our racialized communities, for using the words that he used,” said the councillor.
Cleary says he and Whitman have yet to speak to each other privately about the issue. But the councillor defends the appropriateness of two elected officials debating racism on social media.
“Would you be covering this story right now if it wasn’t on Twitter? Would I have done three stories—and nationally—if it wasn’t on Twitter? Just because something’s controversial, just because we don’t like something, doesn’t mean it didn’t start in the right place, or at the right time. We are where we are now and we have to deal with these things.”
The mayor had a different view on the matter.
“Twitter is not a place to resolve conflicts,” Savage told reporters. “It’s a place to perpetuate conflicts.”
A smiling Whitman brushed past media for the rest of the day without making any additional comment other than that his “apology stands.” He was largely silent for the remainder of Tuesday's council meeting save for obligatory community announcements and voicing a short disapproval of Cleary’s motion for a staff report on setting up a lobbyist registry
This is the third time Whitman has issued a public apology for his actions. In 2016, council passed a motion ordering him to apologize
for social media posts directed at an RCMP officer. Earlier this year, while running for the Progressive Conservatives provincially, Whitman expressed his regret
for uploaded a video of himself yelling “Chinese fire drill” and running around a car.
“I apologize for my lapse in judgment and my unintentional use of what I now understand to be an insensitive term,” he said at the time.
Four complaints about councillor conduct last week have been submitted to city hall—at least one of which is about Whitman’s comments in the media. Despite his apology, those items will still formally need to be addressed in-camera by council
at a future meeting. Depending on the outcome, Whitman could be ordered to attend sensitivity counselling or issue another public apology.