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Lunenburg confirms report informing Council on Cornwallis Street renaming misrepresented survey data and omitted 103 comments

(Illustration: Jessie McLaughlin)

This article was updated at 10:45 a.m. AT on Dec. 23, 2023 to include a content warning.

Content warning: some survey comments included in the full dataset linked in this article may be considered offensive.

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The Town of Lunenburg has confirmed the report that informed Town Council on their decision to rename Cornwallis Street to Queen Street in November – produced at a cost of $2,000 by a consultant – misrepresented survey results data.

Following the public reaction to their decision based on this report,  the Town announced in early December they will effectively postpone the decision to proceed with Queen Street.

Mayor Jamie Myra, who provided the tie-breaking vote to proceed with Queen Street, released a statement on Dec. 7 saying: “We are committed to creating a positive relationship with our Indigenous Partners and have asked for their advice on this matter. Until we have had a meaningful dialogue with them, we will take no further action on renaming Cornwallis Street.”

An analysis of how the report that led to the Queen Street decision misrepresented survey results, and what was actually included in the data underlying the report, shows why some voters may have felt their voice was not heard.

None of the 103 unique comments by town residents in the survey were included in the report shared with council.

And while voters were asked to choose their top three preferences for new names in a survey, their second and third preferences were discarded from the report that council reviewed to make a decision – while the report said these preferences were not discarded.

While the Councillor who put forward the motion to vote for “Queen Street” said this option was chosen by the majority of voters, that is not true.

Councillors were reviewing pie charts that did not represent what the report said they represented – the full survey results data set, obtained by The Barnacle through a Freedom Of Information request, shows most voters chose one of seven Mi’kmaq terms as their first preference.

The full dataset shows that across 270 votes, voters chose a Mi’kmaq term 414 times as any one of their three preferences, and chose “Queen” 154 times as any of their three preferences. Voters did not have to choose more than one preference.

This is a long story. You can navigate to a specific section with these links.

Council voted based on report with inaccurate description of data presented

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At the Nov. 28 meeting of Council, councillors voted to rename Cornwallis Street to Queen Street.

Councillors Jenni Birtles, Stephen Ernst, Peter Mosher and Mayor Jamie Myra voted in favour of the motion. Councillors Melissa Duggan, Susan Sanford and Deputy Mayor Ed Halverson voted against the motion.

Their vote occurred after discussing pie charts in a report that said the charts represented the results of a survey of town residents.

Lunenburg committed to renaming Cornwallis Street this January, with council accepting a proposal from the Anti-Racism Special Committee, now defunct and merged with a regional committee, to end this aspect of the legacy of Edward Cornwallis after public consultation.

A release by the town in January acknowledged “the controversial former governor of Nova Scotia issued a scalping proclamation bounty in 1749 to anyone who killed Mi’kmaw men, women, and children.”

This is the report on the survey results, prepared by Michael Best, Communications Manager and presented to council in advance of the Nov. 28 meeting:

The charts in this report show the option “Queen” receiving more votes than any other single option.

There was no motion on the table when Councillor Peter Mosher raised one to rename Cornwallis Street to Queen Street, saying: “The fly in the ointment for me is whether I like the name Queen Street or not. We did send it out to the public, and we did vote on it. And that is overwhelmingly the majority out of the different scenarios presented to us.”

However, it is not true that the majority of town residents voted for “Queen Street.” A majority of town residents voted for one of the options representing a Mi’kmaq term. Even exclusively among residents of Cornwallis Street who voted, a majority of people voted for other options than “Queen”.

While the 270 survey voters were invited to list their first, second and third preferences out of ten options – the 200+ voters who listed a second and third preference did not have these preferences factored into the pie charts. The pie charts only showed voters’ first preferences.

And while more than 100 unique comments were made by voters, these comments never made it to councilors. 

Additionally, the report was factually inaccurate in its description of what the pie charts showed – a fact now confirmed by the Town of Lunenburg in response to questions from The Barnacle.

While the report said the pie charts showed the results of a “ranked ballot system” that would have considered the second and third preferences of voters, the pie charts only showed voters’ first preferences.

The full survey results data set, obtained through a Freedom Of Information request, shows the big picture and allows for a more nuanced analysis of data.

Voters’ second and third preferences made no appearance in the report

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The Town launched an online survey in January to assist with the decision of renaming Cornwallis Street.

The survey provided ten options, including a write-in “Other” option, and invited voters to choose their first, second and third preference from the names. The survey form made it clear that survey results were “for guidance only.”

After a publicity campaign including direct mail to households in town, about 270 unique votes were submitted by people saying they are Lunenburg residents.

Out of 270 votes, 219 voters selected a second choice, and 200 voters selected a third choice.

The Town announced this summer they intended to analyze the votes using a “ranked ballot system” which would factor in voters’ second-and-third preference votes into an analysis. (See this article’s appendix, “How a ranked ballot system works”, for an explanation on how this works.)

But while the report reviewed by council prefaced the pie charts saying, “Using a ranked ballot system, these are the results after nine rounds of elimination,” this was not true.

The pie charts did not show the results of ballots after any rounds of elimination – they only showed first-preference votes.

(The pie chart in the report representing “Residents Results”. Screenshot: Town of Lunenburg)

During the Nov. 28 council meeting, no one pointed out that the pie charts could not represent what they purported to represent.

No one asked questions about any comments included in survey responses or what happened to voters’ second and third preferences.

Here are the full results for Town of Lunenburg voters:

Option1st Choice2nd Choice3rd ChoiceGrand Total
4.7 Queen Street1042920153
4.5 Merligueche Street33381788
4.9 Samqwan (sam-hwan) Street25303085
4.4 Matlot (madeuh-lot) Street12292970
4.10 Other (fill in below)27231666
4.3 Kluscap (gloos-cap) Street16192358
4.8 Reconciliation Street19191856
4.1 E’se’katik (AY-SAY-kateek) Street22141349
4.2 Gta’n (uk-dawn) Street392133
4.6 Nitap (knee-dub) Street991331

This full picture shows that across 270 votes, voters chose a Mi’kmaq term 414 times as any one of their three preferences, and chose “Queen” 154 times as any of their three preferences. Voters did not have to choose more than one option.

Notably, out of the 104 town resident voters who put “Queen” as their first preference, almost half – 49 – selected at least one Mi’kmaq term as a second or third preference.

“We now realize it is difficult to understand the elimination process” – Town explains error in description of pie charts

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On the morning of the Nov. 28 council meeting, The Barnacle emailed questions to Michael Best, Communications Manager with the Town of Lunenburg, with questions about the report and how the pie charts could not represent the results of a ranked ballot system.

After some emails back and forth, Best confirmed on Dec. 18 the pie charts only represented first-preference votes, writing:

“Yes, we did use a ranked ballot system.

We hired an external consultant with experience in survey data and marketing analysis.  We felt this would eliminate any concern of bias.

We just met with the consultant in order to address your questions and indeed, edify ourselves.

We specifically asked the consultant to illustrate the data using pie charts.  We felt this would be the most accessible way to present the data.  The consultant delivered what we asked for.

Delving deeper into the process (and thanks to your questions), we learned from the consultant that pie charts are not the most effective way to illustrate data such as this.

They are representative of the analysis of the votes as a whole, according to the ranked ballot methodology that was used but we now realize it is difficult to understand the elimination process.”

Best additionally noted the Town asked the consultant to “employ a new graphic illustration which more clearly denotes that process and the results.”

Best shared this document on Dec. 21, showing the votes proceed through a ranked ballot system of elimination:

Asked about whether anyone on Council had the spreadsheets shared with them prior to the agenda package’s release on Nov. 22, Best replied:

“Yes, Council received the survey results on November 22 but not the spreadsheets.  

Council only receives the information in the public agenda package. Consistent with our approach to ensure efficient and effective decision-making, we typically provide Council with concise reports that contain essential information. This practice is guided by the belief that brevity aids in clarity and focus, enabling Council members to make informed decisions without being overwhelmed by excessive details.

However, it should be emphasized that this does not limit Council’s access to information. Should Council members require additional details or in-depth data (such as the speadsheets) that are not included in the public report, they are always welcome to request this information.”

Most voters chose a Mi’kmaq term as their first preference

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Most voters identifying as town residents did not go with “Queen” as their first preference – 120 selected a Mi’kmaq term, 103 selected Queen, 27 picked “Other”, and 19 chose Reconciliation.

Out of the ten options available to voters, Queen was the single option most popular as a first preference – it received 103 first-preference votes, and the remaining 166 first-preference votes went to other options.

The nine survey options, and the descriptions provided by the Town to voters, were:

  • E’se’katik (AY-SAY-kateek) Street: Original Mi’kmaw place name for Lunenburg; means “place of clams”.
  • Gta’n (uk-dawn) Street: Mi’kmaw word for “ocean”.
  • Kluscap (gloos-cap) Street: Named for a spiritual figure for Indigenous peoples located in New England states and Atlantic Canada.
  • Matlot (madeuh-lot) Street: Mi’kmaw word for “sailor”.
  • Merligueche Street: Mik’maw word for “whitecaps which topped the waves”; former Acadian place name for Lunenburg.
  • Nitap (knee-dub) Street: Mi’kmaw word for “friend”.
  • Queen Street: Follows the naming convention of the nearby streets (Duke, King, Prince).
  • Reconciliation Street: Named for the National Day of Truth & Reconciliation with Indigenous nations.
  • Samqwan (sam-hwan) Street: The Mi’kmaw word for “water”; selected to represent the street’s connection to the back and front harbours, and the community’s overall ties to water.

A write-in option, “Other”, was also included.

It’s fair to summarize the options this way – seven are Mi’kmaq terms relevant to Lunenburg, one is “Reconciliation”, one is “Queen”, and you could also write in your own option.

The Mi’kmaq terms experienced vote splitting as a result of the survey’s design. 

Vote splitting is the effect where votes are distributed among multiple similar options, reducing the chance of winning for any of these options, and increasing the chances of winning for a dissimilar option.

While anyone who wanted “Queen” the most would have chosen “Queen” as their first preference, anyone who wanted “a Mi’kmaq term” would have chosen one of seven options.

Mayor Myra as a candidate said survey process was “failed”, then provided tie-breaking vote for “Queen” as Mayor after learning more about survey

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The options in the survey were selected by Town Council in early 2023, representing a combination of terms selected by the Town’s Anti-Racism Special Committee and terms selected by Council. 

Council has the same composition as it did when the names were chosen, except for Mayor Jamie Myra, who was elected in August after former Mayor Matt Risser stepped down in May.

Council discussed that “Queen” would be an option in a January council meeting without anyone raising any concerns about the name. Once the survey was released, no one on council publicly raised any concerns with its content.

Council initially set a deadline for March to get an analysis of the survey results, but the process stretched on through the summer and fall.

At The Barnacle’s Mayoral candidates’ debate in July, Jamie Myra said, “If I was elected as Mayor, I’d revisit the Cornwallis Street renaming to ensure the Indigenous community had adequate input into the renaming.”

“The entire purpose of a name change was to remove the name and history of Cornwallis. We may need to begin anew with a community-led process to heal the rifts that developed over the failed process,” said Myra.

“My plan as Mayor is to immediately contact and invite the Chief of the Acadia Band, Chief Robinson, to meet with myself and council and establish a new framework with which to address the Cornwallis Street issue.”

In early December, the Canadian Press reported that Natteal Battiste, a member of the Wasoqopa’q (Acadia) First Nation band council, called the decision to change Cornwallis to Queen disappointing.

The Canadian Press reports:

“It would be nice to see the name replaced by either a Mi’kmaq word or person,” she said in an email, adding such a move would be in the spirit of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

She added that E’se’katik, the original name for Lunenburg in Mi’kmaq, which means “place of clams,” would have been a good choice. She represents Mi’kmaq communities in the Lunenburg area but said she was never consulted about the new name.”

Myra spoke with The Barnacle following the Nov. 28 council meeting, after he provided the tie-breaking vote for “Queen.” He did not participate in the discussion that led to the vote.

Asked about what changed since July for him to proceed with the vote without first consulting the Wasoqopa’q (Acadia) First Nation, Myra said:

“Basically, to hear the fact the Anti-Racism Committee had already talked about this at length, most of the names if not all of them were brought forward by that committee from what I was told tonight, and previously.”

“So a lot of that has been done, it’s been brought in by other communities, more diverse groups than just Town Council. I was under the understanding that Town Council brought the names forward, discussed them, and made this decision.”

“I’ve come to find out later that this was discussed at a much broader length, at a committee of council, this is where the names came from. Since they’ve done all that in the past and this has been going on for a long time, I felt that the residents wanted to know what the name was going to be.”

“The other overwhelming thing that made my choice the way it was is the people who actually live on Cornwallis Street, who are going to be impacted the most in that area, were overwhelmingly in favour of either Queen Street or – leaving it Cornwallis, which is totally not ok – so this was, I guess, the best of those two choices.”

Myra also told The Barnacle the only survey results he had seen were the results in the agenda package, shared with him that week.

The report included a pie chart that only showed 25 per cent of Cornwallis Street residents voted for “Other”. 

But the full survey dataset shows that while ten people voted for “Other” as one of their preferences, only one voter said the street should remain named “Cornwallis” – other suggestions by Cornwallis Street residents included “Back Harbour”, “Earl Bailly” and “Peace”.

The actual single option among the 25 Cornwallis Street voters that had the second-most first-preference votes was Kluscap, with three votes.

Mayor Myra releases statement saying “we probably wouldn’t be discussing this right now if people had been this passionate almost a year ago” – survey comments showed strong feelings on Queen option

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In a December 4 statement, Myra wrote:

“At our meeting on Nov.28, Council voted to rename Cornwallis Street to Queen Street. After listening to many comments from residents over the last few days, I felt I should give folks an update. 

All of us on Council have been hearing what people have been saying about the street renaming. We hear you.

We are currently discussing possible alternate options on which we can all agree. We are working on this as a group. This is not an issue to be used as a political platform.  It is much bigger than that.

If people had been this passionate almost a year ago when Queen Street was included as an option on the survey, we probably wouldn’t be discussing this right now.

Calling Councillors, staff or residents of our lovely community racist because of this is just not fair or accurate. 

Please give us time to figure this out and hopefully, we can bring something to the table at the December 12 Council meeting.”

While Myra said “If people had been this passionate almost a year ago when Queen Street was included as an option on the survey, we probably wouldn’t be discussing this right now” – comments left on the survey in January and February showed people were passionate about the Queen Street option, whether they were for or against it.

One voter, who only chose “Queen” as a first priority and had no other preferences, left a comment including, “Any use of the Mi’kmaw language names would be offensive.”

Another whose preferences went Cornwallis, Merligueche, Queen left a comment including: “I am surprised to see ‘Queen Street’ on the list, which seems to contradict the Council’s reasoning for agreeing to cancel Cornwallis – why replace the name of one who fell from grace in recent times (according to some, not all) with another nod to colonial history?”

Many town residents left comments saying they would accept any name other than Queen:

  • “All choices are fine except Queen, which doesn’t serve the purpose of acknowledging heritage beyond the Brits”.
  • “Anything other than Queen street makes the most sense considering the reasoning for the name change in the first place. Also, I am glad this is happening – one step in the right direction towards reconciliation. We need to honour the original inhabitants of the land and the land itself we live on.”
  • “I don’t think naming it “Queen Street” would be in line with the spirit of renaming the street.”
  • “I support any of the choices listed with the exception of Queen Street. The place names in Nova Scotia are mostly English or French. I would like to see more place names in Mi’kmaw, to reflect that we have three main languages here, not two.”
  • “I’d honestly be fine with any choice other than Queen. That’s just more of the same.”
  • “Not queen please. Defeats the purpose of reconciliation. I’d be happy with a name Mi’kmaq reps think is most appropriate.”
  • “Our “Queen” was the supreme authority over systems, practices and culture of colonization and genocide. To adopt this name would be a slap in the face of reconciliation. We must not adopt this name. That it “complements” neighbouring street names (also part of the colonizing regime) misses the entire point of renaming. I am glad we are making this name change, let’s make it meaningful.”
  • “Please don’t pick queen”
  • “Please: anything but Queen Street. If the purpose of the re-naming is to address our colonial history, the name Queen Street does not do that.”
  • “Queen does not refer to a man, and thus is not within that problematic naming convention, which should probably also be reconsidered, but not perpetuated at the very least.” (This person’s preferences were N’tap, Gta’n, Samqwan.)
  • “Queen St would be highly inappropriate as it is very colonial.”

On Dec. 7, Myra released another statement:

“We have received a lot of feedback from the community, both positive and negative, regarding our decision to rename Cornwallis Street, Queen Street.

While we certainly appreciate resident feedback through our survey, we want to ensure we get this right.

Reconciliation is incredibly important to us as a Council and an organization.

We are committed to creating a positive relationship with our Indigenous Partners and have asked for their advice on this matter. Until we have had a meaningful dialogue with them, we will take no further action on renaming Cornwallis Street.

We are hopeful there is increasing confidence in this Council to take significant steps towards reconciliation.”

At the last meeting of Council on Dec. 12, no one on council mentioned the Cornwallis Street renaming situation, except for Myra briefly acknowledging the agenda included a piece of correspondence from a former Town resident regarding the vote.

Survey comments show desire for a name with an intuitive pronunciation for English speakers

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Out of 103 unique comments (other than 16 that are “n/a” or just the word “No”), almost a third – 31 comments – said they valued a name that was easy to spell and pronounce.

Of the Mi’kmaq terms listed as survey options, none are phonetically equivalent with English – the way you would pronounce them from intuition in English, is not how they are actually pronounced in Mi’kmaq.

The survey included a pronunciation guide showing, for example, that the option “Gta’n” is pronounced “uk-dawn” and “Nitap” is pronounced “knee-dub”.

One voter who put Queen as first preference, Samqwan as second preference and Merligueche as third preference wrote: “Make it a name easily spoken and recognized”.

Another voter put “Queen” as their only preference and wrote: “Other than queen street the others are far to difficult to say”.

One person whose preferences went Samqwan, Reconciliation, Merligueche, wrote: “If a Street name is chosen from the Mi’kmaw options please ensure everyone gets a document with correct pronunciation sent to them. Regular and consistent mispronunciation of the street name completely defeats the purpose of renaming it; as it is equally disrespectful.”

Appendix: How a ranked ballot voting system works

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A ranked ballot system, also known as “instant-runoff” voting, is a voting method where voters rank options in order of preference instead of voting for just one. 

When ballots are counted, if no option has more than half of the first-preference votes, the option with the fewest first-preference votes is eliminated from all ballots.

When the option with the fewest votes is eliminated from all ballots, voters who picked the eliminated option as one of their preferences have their ballots “updated” with their preferences transferred to their next remaining preferred options.

For example: if “Option A” is eliminated while “Option B” has not been eliminated, and you have “Option A” as your first preference and “Option B” as your second preference, then “Option B” becomes your new first preference. 

Additionally, if you had “Option C” as your third preference and “Option C” has not been eliminated, it is now your second preference, and so on.

This process of eliminating options, and updating ballots to shift preferences to exclude eliminated options, continues until one option has more than half the first-preference votes across all ballots and is declared the winner.

Access the survey results for yourself

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You can access the survey results, as provided to The Barnacle by the Town of Lunenburg (with some voters’ names left remaining in comments now redacted), at this link.


2 responses to “Lunenburg confirms report informing Council on Cornwallis Street renaming misrepresented survey data and omitted 103 comments”

  1. Alison F Strachan

    Would love to know what happened to my ballot. I chose “other” and wrote in Malikewe’j which is an easy pronunciation. I chose that name after a discussion with Dr. Bernie Francis in the spring of 2022 where he emailed me saying, “if you have a close look at the historical signage outside and above the Lunenburg Museum, you will see that Lunenburg was known by the French as “Marligueche” a Mi’kmaw name. The letter R disappeared from the Mi’kmaw language shortly after that time. Any word that had an R in it assimilated to an L. Today, in our new orthography, it would be spelled Malikewe’j. It means “place of the barrel”.

    “My people had a little industry there making barrels for the fishing industry and hence its name. There is another place with an identical name in Cape Breton. The non-natives call it Malagawatch, a mispronunciation of Malikewe’j. Barrels were also made there to supply the fishermen”.

    We both felt this name was important as it recognized the participation of the Mi’kmaq in the vibrant fishing industry post-colonization and we both made our views known as soon as the survey was distributed.

    You can’t get much more in the way of credentials in the Mi’kmaw language than Dr. Francis*. I would love to have him come to Town to host a learning circle of the names presented.

    I feel saddened by this development but unsurprised at the same time as I see other things seemingly downplayed by staff for Council. Thank you for the FOIPOP and if you come across Bernie’s or my objections, you have my email.

    I feel confident, however, that the Town is going to toss everything (and maybe ask for its money back) and start afresh with Indigenous consultation taking the place it needs to take in these matters.

    *Bernie began his training in linguistics with linguist Doug Smith from the University of Toronto. Bernie completed that training in 1980, having developed a new orthography of the Mi’kmaw language with Professor Smith. The Smith/Francis orthography is now officially recognized by the Mi’kmaw chiefs in Nova Scotia, as well as by the Canada-Nova Scotia-Mi’kmaq Tripartite Forum. Dr. Francis received an honorary doctorate from Dalhousie University in October, 1999. He continues to work on many projects including the Pjila’si Mi’kma’ki: Mi’kmaw Place Names Digital Atlas and Website Project.

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