Hamilton Councillors are in for a long session on Tuesday when Urban Boundary expansion comes back for consideration. City clerks had to go through the alphabet a dozen times to attach codes all the (292) letters from residents and organizations wishing to comment on urban boundary expansion. One of those letters is a joint communique from NDP leader Andrea Horwath and MPP Sandy Shaw opposing boundary expansion. Hamilton East Stoney Creek NDP MPP, Paul Miller did not submit a comment to council. In addition, 41 individuals have registered to speak as delegates.
A sidelight to the debate is a side debate over the relative quality of the public consultation that was conducted on the issue. In the spring when staff first presented their proposal to expand the urban boundary they were told to go back and survey the public for more input on the proposal. City staff say they mailed out 213,000 surveys to residents, but acknowledged that because they used unaddressed mail directed to the householder (15 cents per letter as opposed to 90- cents for addressed mail), the surveys may have been mistaken for junk mail, or didn’t get delivered at all to residents who have instructed Canada Post to not deliver junk mail. In any event the pro-expansion West End Homebuilders conducted a Nik Nanos survey that indicated 80 percent of respondents did not remember seeing the survey, Meanwhile Stop Sprawl Hamilton Ontario set up an automated response system coupled with a lawn sign campaign that garnered more than 16,000 e mails opposing the boundary expansion.
The West End Homebuilders/Nanos survey was conducted in an attempt to counter the overwhelming opposition engineered by Stop Sprawl. Its result showed a more nuanced view of the issue:
- 38% believe the best approach to handling growth in Hamilton is to allow for an expansion of the urban boundary to help accommodate new residents;
- 32% believe the best approach to handling growth in Hamilton is to keep the boundary the same;
- 22% preferred to slow down change or rapid growth in Hamilton (essentially opposing both a boundary expansion and higher levels of intensification).
In his commentary Nanos looked at the Stop Sprawl survey and noted that a survey where the participants self-select had no statistical validity beyond the fact that 16,000-odd individuals participated. Still, for councillors, it represents an average of 1,000 voters per ward with a strong opinion on the subject.
Most recently, the provincial Ministry of Urban Affairs and housing has weighed in with a letter that warns council that the no boundary expansion option would almost certainly go against the province’s growth strategy and would only serve to offload the sprawl issue to communities further afield from Hamilton—the so-called “drive until you qualify” option that is faced by many would-be home buyers. For councillors feeling the heat, the provincial intervention might provide an opportunity to upload the whole issue to the province.