Two small episodes in Hamilton City Council meetings over the last couple of weeks suggest some councillors are starting to take a more questioning approach to matters in front of them for consideration. The first was a compromise that was worked out that averted a vote to abolish the special LRT subcommittee, but nonetheless transferred its authority to spend money and to enter into binding agreement back to the full council. The move was more symbolic than practical, because the Subcommittee’s decisions were already subject to approval by council. But the fact that such a motion was even being proposed suggests some members of council feel there are too many important issues being walked past council without adequate examination. In a recent marathon session of the LRT subcommittee several councillors were surprised when told by legal staff that they had passed the point of no return (not without a two-thirds majority vote, anyway) on moving forward with the LRT project. In other words that a series of incremental motions passed by council over the past few years had amounted to a green light. The move against the LRT committee was in part because its membership is dominated by pro-LRT councillors, and other councillors like Ward 7 councillor Donna Skelly and Flamborough councillor Judi Partridge who questioned the project felt their concerns were being dismissed by the majority.
The other matter that demonstrated a degree of increased council vigilance came when the Hamilton Police Services presented its capital budget forecast essentially as an information item. Instead of simply receiving the document several councillors wanted the police to come back later this month prepared to justify their requests. Long-time council watchers recall when anything involving the Police Service would breeze through council normally without much if any discussion. That has changed following the police budget clashes with council a couple of years ago, and the more recent revelation that the police service had accumulated $10 Million in cash reserves out of its operating budgets over the past few years—suggesting the budgets weren’t as lean as they were presented to be.
It is encouraging to see members of council taking a more aggressive stance to spending at a time when taxes are becoming increasingly unaffordable to homeowners of modest means. It is also refreshing to see more open debate on controversial subjects instead of past practice, where too often things tended to be smoothed out away from public view.