apprehensive about his impending retirement. “I need to stay connected,” he says from his 7th floor office at Hamilton City Hall. “I’m going to miss this.” The irony is that after 12 years of daily commuting from Kitchener, during which he went through a number of cars –“Lincoln, Lexus, Cadillac—all gas guzzlers,” he admits, the 61 year-old soon to be retired General Manager of Planning and Economic Development and his wife are moving to Hamilton. They will soon reside on the beach strip. Family events brought about the change in venue, Tim’s wife retired earlier this year and their daughter will be married soon. After serving 12 years in the trenches of Hamilton, Tim says Kitchener would be a little too slow as a retirement venue for either him or his wife “who would move to downtown Toronto tomorrow.” The compromise is Hamilton. McCabe says he will do a little consulting after retirement but “you’re not going to see me in front of council asking for a zoning variance. I would like to do something more strategic than that.”
In the 12 years since his arrival in Hamilton following a lengthy career in Kitchener and three years as a consultant, McCabe has assembled a virtual empire, encompassing planning, subdivision development, economic development, licensing and culture. Initially brought in as the city’s director of development and real estate McCabe caught the notice of councillors through his handling of the controversial Lister Block debate. When LIUNA first approached the city their plan was to demolish the building and replicate it. Initially Tim thought that was the best approach and his department granted a demolition permit. Then Councillor Brian McHattie went to the province and successfully petitioned for a heritage designation to be applied to the property. The province also came up with $25 Million to aid in restoration. “McHattie thinks he saved the Lister Block,” says McCabe, “but I think it was the recommendation to demolish the Lister block that saved it. McCabe was also heavily involved in the original proposal to move a Maple Leaf plant to Hamilton from Burlington. That plan became mired in controversy and ultimately was abandoned; but some of the corporate contacts made would prove useful a few years later. In the Development Department McCabe said the culture was poor.”
When I came here in 2002 there was an old culture here. The amalgamation wounds were still prevalent. We needed to start understanding the issues before writing reports. I knew what the other side of the counter was like from my three years in private practice. Staff would write reports and make recommendations without any idea what the neighbourhood or political concerns were . We changed that and instead of just running a notice in the paper that nobody would see, we hand delivered letters and got to neighbors so we could flag concerns early in the process. We reduced site plan approvals from 11-12 weeks to 3 weeks. We changed the corporate culture, empowering lower level staff to make decisions as they met with developers and stakeholders.” One of the big changes is that Hamilton has started to attract some of the big development players in the GTA who in past avoided Hamilton. “Hamilton was a closed shop and initially the local developers didn’t like the big guys coming in…but as a result of the competition , we are getting better quality development here in Hamilton,” Tim says In 2007 following a series of high profile incidents in the building and licensing department which saw accusations of harassment, threats by taxi operators over inspections and unproven rumours of corruption; the department was added to McCabe’s portfolio. Later that year Economic Development also fell under McCabe who successfully persuaded council to approve a $1.5 million increase in the department’s budget.
McCabe was skeptical of the trend, prevalent then towards private-public development corporations such as exist in Burlington and until recently Niagara. “What we have learned is that these so called development corporations don’t work…they are collapsing everywhere.” Symbolically Economic Development is now housed on the top floor of Hamilton City Hall, and in the main lobby are customer service counters where clients can get a wide variety of business information from department business specialists. Bolstering Economic Development soon began to near fruit; leading to two of Hamilton’s most successful business coupslanding the Canada Bread and Maple Leaf Foods plants. The Canada Bread deal paved the way for the Maple Leaf acquisition says McCabe, who has traditionally focused on simplifying the business attraction process and cutting red tape. “ When we did the Canada Bread agreement the agreement we signed was 18 pages long. Because we delivered on all of those commitments when it came time to do the Maple Leaf deal, we wrote a 2 page agreement.” With regard to Maple Leaf, it has become Hamilton folklore how McCabe kept the deal under strict wraps, only telling council at the last possible moment to avoid leaks.” I took a risk with Maple Leaf, not telling council, but every agreement I entered into had the clause ‘subject to council approval.’ I purchased $3 Million worth of land but already had agreement with Maple Leaf that they would pay us what we paid for the land. The timing of the coup was critical, coming shortly after the 2010 election that saw Bob Bratina become mayor. “I couldn’t have pulled it off with (Fred) Eisenberger as mayor. Eisenberger always accused me of being a media chaser, but I was just trying to get a job done.” Speaking of council relations, what about Hamilton’s famous staff-council tensions—“its 200% better than it was when I first came here. There is confidence now that staff can get the job done. Council can be tough,” admits Tim, “but I enjoy the poker game—I like the action…I respect them. They (council) are entertaining, they’re tough but I’ll stand up to them.” He believes the culture of intimidation of staff has diminished. “We get more compliments now.”
Going forward what does McCabe see for the future in Hamilton? “The pace of growth is only going to accelerate here in Hamilton,” he predicts. “Look at Oakville and Burlington— they have no place to grow…we still have lots of room to grow in Hamilton”. He is disappointed the Setting Sail project for waterfront development has not materialized yet, but he thinks it will move forward more quickly now that the OMB has approved the plan. “It won’t likely be like Burlington’s development (upscale condos)—it might end up more like Halifax’s– waterfront with mixed commercial and residential.” McCabe also wishes he had been able to implement a city wide official plan to replace the patchwork of plans that pre-date amalgamation but overall he has no regrets, except; “I wish there had been more time to mentor junior staff.” Asked if this multi-tentacled department of nearly 700 staff—a department that brings in about $62 million a year in licensing, parking and other fees will survive his departure, he replies, “I don’t know, maybe.”