Most of us saw it coming. The inevitable application by US Steel for creditor protection under CCAA.
What no one knows is the impact upon the Hamilton and Nanticoke communities. Depending upon who you listen to, the municipal tax loss to Hamilton will be in the $5 million to $7 million range. This is a harsh blow to the residential taxpayers who already pay 80% of the cost of municipal government already.
The worst part of this will be the potential reduction in pension benefits to retirees, both from the plant and on the administrative side. These people worked hard for their pensions and paid for them in good faith. Now, their pensions may be reduced and their standard of living diminished. By every measure is is unfair.
Employees who worked at US Steel may also be out of luck if a qualified buyer for the various US Steel businesses cannot be found. The picture at Nanticoke is brighter, but by no means certain.
The CCAA creditor protection court proceedings are good work for the lawyers, accountants and business advisors, but cold comfort to everyone else. That said, the US Steel failure requires that business, labour and those in government work together in an unprecedented way to optimize what can be done on US Steel lands, what can be done with our valuable Port, and what we can do as a community to develop and implement a strategy for the economic renewal for Hamilton.
It can be much more than mitigating the damage. What is required is the sense of purpose that many of our parents demonstrated in various war efforts. There is no time for people playing the “blame game” and even less for those who want to engage in partisan politics. Success in this endeavour will be the sum total of everyone doing their part.
Hamilton urgently needs to build upon its strengths. As the surviving steel company, Dofasco said for decades, “Our product is steel, our strength is people.” So too it is with Hamilton’s people. They are a resilient and innovative lot.
We see that every day with the growth of our healthcare and health research sectors. We see it in growth and leadership at Mohawk and McMaster. We see it in growth and renewal downtown.
A special purpose body involving all three levels of government, the Port Authority and the private sector should be given priority to purchase US Steel land (900 plus acres). The land should be rehabilitated and brought to market. It could, in part, be a multi-modal transportation facility. We should have a Foreign Tax Zone (FTZ) which would allow goods to come in and out of the FTZ on a tax exempt basis.
Railyards located in the West Harbour area, should be moved to the US Steel lands. The West Harbour lands should be re-purposed according to the Hamilton planning document Setting Sails. This would stimulate serious private sector investment in that community without destroying its character.
Through all of this Hamilton needs to be more focused on “needs versus wants”. A great many people want Light Rapid Transit (LRT), but the needs have yet to be documented. During this era of economic restraint, Hamilton will need to speak with one voice on its real needs. I have briefly described in my view a number of them. This is a partial list of the building blocks required to bring jobs, and economic prosperity to the community.
Our geographic location, highways, rail, infrastructure, Port and Airport facilities should be the foundation for re-vitalizing our economy. All of this is inter-related. But, there is much more work and investment required to realize our true potential.
The Ontario Government’s commitment on GO is welcomed. But more needs to be done. Greater frequency. Seriously expanded downtown GO parking should be priorities. Expansion to the east end of Hamilton would be another economic drive and would reduce congestion.
The Niagara to GTA Highway should be a public, private partnership with tolls. It should be owned by taxpayers forever. It could link the US border at Fort Erie with Hamilton terminating at the 403 and the Airport. No expansion through Flamborough. No expansion through Burlington.
Most of these initiatives can be realized sooner than later if our elected leaders demonstrate the will to do it.
To make this work at the local level, Hamilton Council will need to re-examine how they do business. A new Council, with some new faces, is an excellent place to start.
Hamilton is fortunate to have a high performing public service. It would be my expectation that they are preparing new economic strategies for the new Council to consider in November. We should all wish them success in this regard. The price of failure will be very high.