THE SAME ROAD AGAIN
March 30 - April 5, 2006
Hamilton politics has been described as a blood sport. It also
tends to be zero–sum. One side wins, the other side loses, and
the wounds of battle never seem to heal. Our energies are sucked
into these conflicts, instead of consensus–building processes that
would produce reasonable compromises.
The classic example is the Red Hill Expressway battle which
went on for decades, and continues today with the city’s lawsuit
against more than 60 federal employees and several former
cabinet ministers including Sheila Copps.
They are accused of conspiring to harm Hamilton through
holding an environmental assessment—a legal process whose
precise purpose is scientifically–based consensus of how best to
deal with controversial projects. Started 35 years ago, it is one of
the most successful public policies of the 20th century and has
been adopted by over 200 governments. But in Hamilton,
environmental assessment is a conspiracy, a weapon in our local
The expressway itself has long been beyond stopping and is
scheduled to open next year. The main opposition group, Friends
of Red Hill Valley, has turned its energies to organizing a nature–
writing contest for kids, and holding an annual lecture on urban
But some people keep picking at the scab, like linking the
expressway conflict to Joanna Chapman’s attempt to clean up
election financing in Hamilton.
The facts about the very serious problems with Mayor Di
Ianni’s campaign donations are overwhelming. They’ve been
confirmed by at least five independent reviews by Chapman, the
Taylor Leibow accounting firm hired by Di Ianni, Justice Timothy
Culver in the Ontario Court of Justice, the auditor hired by the city
in reports and by the outside lawyer who advised the council to
lay charges against the mayor this month.
In any case, these independent examinations convinced
councillors to vote 13–one to lay charges against their mayor—an
unprecedented decision in Ontario.
But the mayor, elements of the media, and others are
determined to paint this as a Red Hill revenge plot. One wonders
how the opponents of the expressway could have lost the valley
when they can now so easily recruit auditors, lawyers and judges
and even the mayor’s staff, to do their bidding. Presumably they
have already corralled whatever court officials are to be involved
in Di Ianni’s trial, thus sealing the mayor’s fate.
But Hamilton isn’t satisfied with merely continuing to
resurrect past disputes, linking them through conspiracy to new
debates. It also appears unable to learn anything from this
incredibly destructive experience. Instead it appears doomed to
Take the aerotropolis, a grand plan to revive the city’s
economy through the creation of a 3,100 acre business park on
farmland around Mount Hope’s “international” airport. Not
surprisingly, some people think it’s a wonderful idea, and some
think it’s crazy. And of course some people have decided these
differences are just another sub–plot in the perpetual Red Hill
God knows that Hamilton’s economy has been badly beaten
up over the last quarter century. The de–industrialization process
that has swept Canada has left us with contaminated brownfields,
a massive loss of higher–paying jobs and the highest poverty rate
So there’s fertile ground here for an economic development
plan, but differing views on how that might be achieved. Of
course, the intensity of the local crisis also provides fertile ground
for desperation and the attraction of potential white elephants, a
danger that could lead us into a much deeper hole.
A wise man once said: “If you find yourself in a hole, the first
thing you should do is stop digging.” In a similar vein, Albert
Einstein suggested that “the kind of thinking that got you into a
mess is unlikely to be the kind of thinking that will get you out.”
Someone may want to apply this wisdom to the aerotropolis
idea, but that’s another debate. I’d like to suggest that a big part
of the digging that got us into this mess is the Hamilton attitude
that we don’t need to have a full public discussion and arrive at a
community consensus on crucial decisions like this.
Yet all signs indicate that’s where we are heading. Despite
the fact that the aerotropolis is supposed to provide nearly all the
new jobs in Hamilton for the next 30 years (i.e. all our eggs are
being put in this one basket), City officials seem hell bent on
making sure there’s no real community debate, much less a
consensus decision–making process.
Look at what’s happened so far. As required by its own
rules, the City consulted with the public about the principles to
guide its 30–year plan. But then an independent City–
commissioned review found the aerotropolis violates seven of the
In response, council voted to make the aerotropolis an
automatic part of all six options being considered for the 30–year
plan. Why let facts stand in the way? Then it decided to plunge
ahead with implementation before the options were even
presented to the public.
In April of last year, council asked their staff for an
implementation plan. That called for the 3,100 acre urban
boundary expansion in Mount Hope, even though staff could not
even estimate how much it would cost to service those lands.
The report went to the planning committee on June 7
without any formal notice from the City to the hundreds of
homeowners living on those lands. Instead, residents found out a
few days before the meeting when two councillors had second
thoughts about the flawed consultation process.
Over 200 people showed up at the June 7 morning meeting,
and the vast majority of the 30 speakers denounced the
expansion plan. The committee voted to accept it.
A few days later, council came within inches of applying its
stamp of approval, despite a letter from the provincial
government warning them that they were proceeding against
provincial rules. That was dismissed as the opinion of a “single
bureaucrat,” but at the last minute council agreed to hold one
public meeting in the affected area.
That took place at a special planning committee meeting on
June 28 where over 400 people expressed their opposition. The
committee ignored them, and council voted nine–six the following
night to finalize the decision.
An appeal by both the province and a group of citizens
calling themselves Hamiltonians for Progressive Development
(HPD) gave the city a second chance to seek consensus.
HPD held a press conference in August to explain its
commitment to positive planning for Hamilton, and to release a
letter to council about its concerns over the aerotropolis. Both the
mayor and the chair of the planning committee said they’d
respond to the letter. They didn’t.
A month later, HPD re–delivered the letter, handing out
copies to each councillor at the September 28 council meeting.
No response. In mid–October they mailed it to council through the
That got it on the agenda of the October 26 meeting where
staff advised against answering the letter. Instead, a resolution
was adopted that Mayor DiIanni and three councillors would meet
That didn’t happen either. The group wrote to council earlier
this month. In response the mayor told the media that he had met
with the group in October. In a letter to the Spectator, the group
said the meeting hadn’t occurred despite the mayor’s comments,
and Di Ianni seems to have abandoned his claim.
Now there’s been yet another formal promise from council
to respond to HPD. Meanwhile, the 30–year plan is expected to be
finalized by the end of April.
A parallel saga has played out in the same period over a
report on the implications of peak oil for the aerotropolis. Many
experts believe air travel will be hard hit by dramatically higher
fuel prices. At the urging of a few councillors, the City decided
last June to commission a report.
Richard Gilbert, a highly regarded transportation and
sustainability expert, delivered the report in October. It still hasn’t
been released. Councillor Braden asked about it in mid–November
and was put off. He raised it again in mid– January and was told
that staff had sent back comments to Gilbert. But that didn’t
actually happen until late January.
A second draft was supposed to arrive by the end of
February. It hasn’t been released. Braden asked again at the
March 22 council meeting and was told that more staff comments
are being prepared. He asked for a commitment that the 30–year
plan won’t be finalized before councillors have a chance to review
the peak oil study.
The message seems pretty clear. Someone has decided the
aerotropolis is going ahead. Citizens and councillors who have
other views are frozen out. This is how decisions are made here.
If you want to change it, you’ll have to launch another civil war,
and another, and another. V
[ DON MCLEAN]
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