Ward One Coun. Brian McHattie’s attempt to have the City drop its lawsuit against the Federal Government over the Red Hill Expressway harkens back to a highly polarized time in Hamilton history, in which he played a role. No project in modern times has occasioned as much passion as the construction of the freeway through the Red Hill Valley. To paraphrase the City’s case, it argues that staff of Fisheries and Oceans and Environment Canada housed at the Canada Centre for Inland Waters in Burlington conspired to halt the project by subjecting it to a federal environmental assessment process that would be adjudicated by persons likely to be opposed to the highway. The federal employees were further accused of working behind the scenes with local expressway opponents to develop justification to trigger the review under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act.
One of those early opponents was Brian McHattie, who according to federal documents, met in 1997 with Environment and Fisheries bureaucrats, along with prominent expressway foes Don McLean and Joe Minor. The purpose of the meeting was to find a way of triggering a CEAA review of the project. All of this was happening at the same time as the then Region was collaborating with the same ministry officials on a less-rigorous environmental “scoping” of the project. Two of the federal officials with whom the region was dealing were themselves members of McHattie’s Hamilton Naturalist Club—a fact that concerned at least one of their supervisors. The citizen opponents were encouraged to develop a “knowledge base” of facts and figures to be used as ammunition to derail the project. According to court documents, one employee of EC who was also a member of the Bay Area Restoration Council went as far as to commission McLean to co-author a report on the social, economic and environmental effects to the Red Hill Expressway. According to the City’s submission the terms of reference for the study were so grossly biased against the road that the employee’s supervisor caused them to be redrafted.
When the decision to trigger the CEAA review was made the same local federal employees vetted the three panelists who would conduct the review—one of whom had been a former academic advisor to McLean for a thesis he wrote. The Region at that point, fearing a biased process, refused to participate in the CEAA review and launched the lawsuit. The courts later ruled that it had been wrong to try to block the project through the CEAA process. The provincial NDP government was replaced by the Harris Tories and funding for the project was restored. Council has voted on more than one occasion to keep the lawsuit alive, but a decade after the fact and with legal costs somewhere in the $2 Million range, even some expressway supporters are urging a resolution or winddown of the litigation.