It doesn’t have the longevity of Agatha Christie’s the Mousetrap or les Miserables, but last month’s performance by the Hamilton Waterfront Trust in front of city council had a familiar ring. It started as it has several times in the past with a walk-on presentation with no advance agenda for council to see—this despite the fact that the HWT had requested the appearance weeks before and presumably knew what they were going to ask for. That would be money—in this case a boost to the Trust’s allowance by $300,000 per year. Then followed a familiar slide presentation showing the admittedly pretty trails and other amenities, and finally the admission, detailed here many times in the past and reconfirmed in a recent Spectator feature—that the Trust is essentially broke and needs an annual lifeline. A new feature this time was a segue provided by Chris Phillips who oversees plans to develop piers 8 and 9 as well as the west harbour and who appeared just ahead of the HWT (the agenda was altered to allow this); lavishing praise on the HWT for its handling of some sole-sourced utility work the city had provided. Bob Fosse couldn’t have choreographed things better.
A $300,000 request to maintain the popular recreational destination that has been developed on Hamilton’s waterfront would not be unreasonable if it came from anywhere other than the Hamilton Waterfront Trust. But the Waterfront trust has proven to be a less than straightforward partner to be a candidate for any kind of ongoing fiduciary relationship. It’s not simply that the HWT ran up large losses, but the fact that it went to extraordinary lengths to conceal those losses. It transferred money from one construction project to another in order to maximize the contribution it would get from senior governments. (Transferring money from one project to another to avoid cost control scrutiny is not confined to the HWT by the way).
The HWT’s negotiations for major capital projects with the Hamilton Conservation Authority were riddled with conflicts of interest as HWT board members and staff were at the same time members of the Conservation authority—effectively negotiating multi-million dollar contracts with themselves. There are other examples—a lawsuit hidden from the public, loss of charitable status for failure to file financial information and more—but the question remains, why would you want to do business with this organization?
We’ve reached the point where no longer can the beauty of the waterfront trails (for which God should get some credit, by the way, as He provided the setting) can be used as a shield to conceal the truth—that the Waterfront Trust has done its work and it is time to wind the organization down. Its special protected status has had far reaching damage to the corporate culture in Hamilton. Certain staff have been politicized and their integrity in some cases compromised, as behind the scenes deals were struck to funnel money to the trust without council approval. It is beyond belief that members of Hamilton City Council continue to squander their political capital by rubber-stamping this organization. Behind the HWT’s humble public face there is no shortage of arrogance and disregard for accountability. It’s time to bring the curtain down on this show.