You may have heard a collective sigh of relief on October 27th as 11 incumbent members of Hamilton city council found themselves returned to office, along with former councillor and mayor Fred Eisenberger. Buoyed, some would say, by a combination of name recognition and voter apathy, and, to be fair, in some cases by the merits of their service; as fans of the movie Poltergeist would say… They’re Ba-ack! Also to be fair, for all of the sometimes obstreperous nature of the last council they collectively ended up on the right side of a number of key issues. Following are some of our hopes for the next four years.
Council was unanimous in its support of the formation of the Western Golden Horseshoe Municipal Network in which Hamilton City Manager Chris Murray is playing a lead role. This alliance of Hamilton, Niagara , Waterloo, Halton and Peel has already been successful in getting the attention of the provincial government on the issues of transportation and the economy. A key objective of the group is to get the Niagara to GTA trade corridor revisited after the provincial government scrapped it in 2010. Hamilton would be a significant economic beneficiary of this link and the highway would reduce congestion on the QEW. This municipal alliance provides the needed political clout to make Queen’s Park and Ottawa sit up and take notice on the NGTA and to other issues besides transportation. It is vital that Hamilton Council continue to support this potentially powerful political alliance and its work.
In the last couple of years Hamilton Council has started to take a more critical look at the issue of public transit in Hamilton. What was hitherto portrayed as unanimous approval of LRT, for instance, has given way to some more sober questioning of the proposed route, the expected spin-off benefits, and most of all the cost. These questions were not adequately explored during the $9 Million wave of public consultation, studies and outright wild-eyed boosterism that we saw up until 2011-12. If this topic is going to be revisited as Mayor-Elect Eisenberger has suggested, we hope it will be done with less of the urgency that suggested Hamilton was in some kind of frantic “race” with other communities. The notion that if we don’t take the money, (whatever amount that actually is), that it will go elsewhere is particularly odious. Hamilton is entitled to its fair share of provincial transportation infrastructure dollars and should demand to say how it should be used. Any future study work should be brokered through a respected neutral third party—the McMaster Institute of Transportation and Logistics comes to mind. The views of people with divergent views on transit should be actively sought out.
Taxation and Infrastructure
The succession of relatively small tax increases Hamilton has experienced in recent years has come at a cost. We now face an infrastructure deficit of $200 Million annually. That doesn’t mean that we immediately talk about significantly raising taxes, although we have to be prepared for that discussion. A useful first step would be to embark on a comprehensive review of staffing and spending in every department. There can be no sacred cows. Given the natural tendency for turf protection this review probably needs to be done with external support. Selling tax increases will be difficult as long as the taxpayer remains unconvinced that there is no waste. At the end of it all, however , we have to bring our infrastructure up to a decent state of repair, we can’t squander generations of city building for short-term goals that leave future generations with an even worse mess.
The growing recognition that US Steel is likely finished in Hamilton, requires special attention by Hamilton council in the new term. We need to develop a strategy to ensure that the former Stelco site can be repurposed as employment land. Ultimately it will likely require some involvement by all three levels of government, the Port Authority and other potential stakeholders. A Team Hamilton approach involving the establishment of an ongoing mechanism to begin the planning should be an early order of business.
There are many other issues that could be cited but the ones we have mentioned will more than occupy this council when you factor in all the constituency issues they regularly face, and oh, did we mention the Pan Am games? Good luck to all.