Municipal Election 2014

Letting Cooler Heads Prevail on Hot-Button Issues (Candidate Submission)

The wonderful enthusiasm of Hamiltonians is at risk of being smothered by City Hall's tedious infighting, chronic delays, and partisanship. With the municipal election rapidly approaching, Hamiltonians have an opportunity to change that.

By Marie Robbins
Published September 24, 2014

As avid followers of municipal affairs are no doubt aware, our municipal discourse has turned toxic.

Those who are 'for' one-way streets are completely unable to reach common ground with those who are against, and visa versa. The pro-light rail transit (LRT) camp and the anti-LRT camp are barely on speaking terms, and hardline stances have taken hold across a variety of other city issues such as: the casino, (de)amalgamation, the stadium, or Bob Bratina's censorship, to name a few.

We have effectively substituted healthy debates on issues and policies for nit-picky critiques of other people's stances. Nobody is to blame for bringing us here. In fact, pointing fingers is a big part of the problem. But with our City at the brink of something very big, we will to move past these foul points of contention if we hope to get the important things done. 

LRT is a good case in point. Is LRT the penultimate transit system perfectly tailored to the character and needs of Hamilton? No, it is not. Is BRT the flawless transit system we have all been waiting for? No, not either.

Most careful and thoughtful studies of transit avoid entirely the question of which system is better than the other, because it is an impossible question to answer and an unconstructive question to ask.

There is seldom an indisputably 'best' alternative. Those who claim otherwise in spite of important contextual nuances and the impossibility of perfectly predicting the future are not giving the issue careful thought, they are shouting the slogans of their favourite team.

We instead need councillors who are willing to give impartial and cool-headed analysis of what course of action will be best for the city and their constituents.

In the case of LRT, the opportunity the provincial government has made available right now does not include a BRT alternative and so we can't be restarting the 2010 debate on whether BRT or LRT is better for us. Especially not at this moment when our options are effectively: LRT with funding, or no LRT with no funding.

Between these choices, I think it is quite clear that accepting the provincial transit investment in our City is the most sensible option available to decision-makers.

Hamilton has been patiently waiting for its turn to receive a modern high-density transit system, and is currently the only city of Canada's ten largest cities to be without one, having rejected a fully funded monorail project nearly 30 years ago (and having regretted it ever since).

Now is the time to get building and to continue moving through the laundry list of items that need to be accomplished in order to bring Hamilton up to snuff with its peer cities in Canada.

Although I am strongly against feeding the trolls of unhealthy debate, there is a time and place everything, including for incendiary debate at Hamilton City Hall. While at times exacerbating, this is the hallmark of our democratic process and I am glad to see it occur.

However, we cannot afford to mistake endless combative debate for a truly constructive free-marketplace of ideas, or to mistake impassioned discussion for timely action. At some point, we need to close the book on the issue of the day and move on to the next item of city-building, or we will find ourselves running in place.

For a city with so much potential and so many opportunities awaiting our engagement, Hamilton, of all places, should be particularly sensitive to staying on track and how much we can accomplish with a steady hand and sustained effort.

This is going to require councillors and citizens who are brave enough to occasionally concede their points of contention with others, once the time for discussion is replaced by the time to act.

Our City will accomplish much more without representatives that habitually succumb to the temptation of reviving dead (or non-relevant) issues to win support from parochial interests. There is far too much to be done for us to keep looking backward like this; we must be keeping our eye on the prize.

Hamilton's development is now approaching a critical juncture. Private investment is flooding-in, public investment is (or should be) just around the corner, enthusiasm about Hamilton is possibly at its highest point ever with 150,000 people attending Supercrawl and many others wearing "Hamilton: It's Happening" T-shirts and the like.

The city is bursting at the seams with raw energy and a newfound sense of destiny as 'The Ambitious City' that is waiting to be tapped, directed and encouraged by budding leaders. Sadly, some of our municipal representation is holding us back from the quality of life we deserve.

The wonderful enthusiasm of Hamiltonians is at risk of being smothered by City Hall's tedious infighting, chronic delays, and partisanship. With the municipal election on October 27 rapidly approaching, Hamiltonians are being giving an opportunity to change all that, by voting in a city council that has the courage and vision. We need to keep looking forward or we risk losing this fantastic momentum forever.


Raise the Hammer has an open call to candidates for the upcoming municipal election to submit opinion articles for publication. We will publish any submission that meets our submission guidelines.

Marie Robbins is a candidate for Ward 9 - Heritage Stoney Creek in the 2014 municipal election.

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By CaptainKirk (anonymous) | Posted September 24, 2014 at 14:52:49

Marie Robbins for mayor!

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By ItJustIs (registered) | Posted September 24, 2014 at 15:12:07

It is so nice to hear a cogent voice of reason. A candidate that's done their homework. If she's elected, I sense that Ms Robbins will add substantially to Council's conduct and performance over the next four years. Having examined her site and read up on her, I can say that she'd be very hard not to vote for. I'm sorry I missed this: http://www.hamiltonnews.com/news/ward-9-...

As a post-script, I'll say that not all candidates are as thoughtful nor as eloquent as she is. I attended the Mayoral 'conversations circles' event at the Library this week and was reminded of the difference between someone who has the 'right stuff' and someone who quite clearly, does not. Early on in the event, I had to shake my head; politicians in office are often accused of all manner of bad behaviour. Bafflegab. Prevarication. Of being a wind-bag. Or arrogance. But the same can often be said of newbie candidates, where chutzpah turns into a clear case of narcissism. All in the name of the democratic process.

Comment edited by ItJustIs on 2014-09-24 15:13:47

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By RobF (registered) | Posted September 24, 2014 at 16:54:59

I agree we could do with a better calibre of public debate, and hyper-partisanship and narrow-minded parochialism is detrimental to all of us. But much of your argument is essentially post-political ...

LRT is a good case in point. Is LRT the penultimate transit system perfectly tailored to the character and needs of Hamilton? No, it is not. Is BRT the flawless transit system we have all been waiting for? No, not either.

Gee. This helps us make a prudent decision. Neither is perfect. Ok. So, which is a better choice for us. What criteria will you use to make that determination? How should others?

Most careful and thoughtful studies of transit avoid entirely the question of which system is better than the other, because it is an impossible question to answer and an unconstructive question to ask.

You can push this too far. It depends on the aim of the study. The whole point of policy analysis in general and Cost Benefit Analysis specifically is to aid decision-makers in making the better choice in a given context. Of course, someone has to set the terms of reference and not everyone agrees on the nature of the problem to be solved, and so forth.

There is seldom an indisputably 'best' alternative. Those who claim otherwise in spite of important contextual nuances and the impossibility of perfectly predicting the future are not giving the issue careful thought, they are shouting the slogans of their favourite team.

A number of contributors on RTH have made a pretty compelling case for LRT over BRT, but yes part of its advantage is based on greater future economic impact from redevelopment. That may not happen as predicted in the models they cite.

We instead need councillors who are willing to give impartial and cool-headed analysis of what course of action will be best for the city and their constituents.

Two points. First, analysis at city hall is impartial in the same way a train is about where its going. If you are in control of the terms of reference and get to determine what counts as facts you lay down the rails for the debate (or train) to follow. Second, what happens when what's best for your constituents isn't what's best for the city?

In the case of LRT, the opportunity the provincial government has made available right now does not include a BRT alternative and so we can't be restarting the 2010 debate on whether BRT or LRT is better for us. Especially not at this moment when our options are effectively: LRT with funding, or no LRT with no funding.

Effectively, you are arguing for policy lock-in or path dependency. This only works if you truly believe that there is little difference between the alternatives or that the costs of changing course are prohibitively expensive. Nothing has been built and the Province hasn't committed to funding the LRT. To hold off calls for a switch to BRT you'll need a more compelling argument, which would require determining which is better. More to the point, there are plenty of reasons to be wary of your logic. What if the issue in question is the Aerotropolis project? If it's a bad idea should we simply accept it as a done deal, because a previous council debated its merits and decided to support it? I could go on.

I think you are a fine candidate and wish you well in your pursuit of a council seat. But the current rancor at City Hall reflects what is at stake in Hamilton right now. It is naive to think that competing visions for the city will go away. They reflect very different interests and desires in the city. Political power is about having the means to shape the city according to your vision. That is what's at stake.

Comment edited by RobF on 2014-09-24 16:59:59

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By AnjoMan (registered) | Posted September 25, 2014 at 13:39:04 in reply to Comment 104816

To hold off calls for a switch to BRT you'll need a more compelling argument, which would require determining which is better.

I would argue the opposite: to abandon the current plan which has years of design and study including recommendations by several different contributors that LRT is the better option, the opponents of LRT need to come up with a much better argument for why we should not move forward. What argument is there to suggest that another study would recommend BRT, when previous work by city staff as well as other research suggests that LRT is a better option? What has changed that would make the outcome of a second process any different?

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By RobF (registered) | Posted September 25, 2014 at 15:53:44 in reply to Comment 104846

I'm not arguing that we should abandon the current plan. What i said was directly related to the argument presented by the author ... i.e., that neither LRT, nor BRT is perfect, that it's not helpful to determine which is better, and that we should go with LRT, because the process is too far along to reverse course. On the last point, I can't say it strongly enough that it isn't. Much as we might wish otherwise, the B-line LRT is very much at risk. To say that at this stage we shouldn't change course is fine provided we make that claim on the basis of LRT's superiority over the BRT alternative ... simply saying it's too far along to reverse course, the tenor of her argument, is strategically unwise. In other words, the comment you are quoting was directed at Marie. If she's elected to council she will have to pick sides and determine the better choice on any host of important matters, not just this issue.

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By GrapeApe (registered) | Posted September 25, 2014 at 17:02:05 in reply to Comment 104859

I would say that the selection of which is better has been done, approved, studied, voted, etc. and has resulted in a body of work that stands before us. The fact that the work has been done allows all those against the idea to pull on individual threads of doubt to seed fear, misinformation and, frankly, deception. I have not heard a factual, cogent argument against LRT in Hamilton.

Comment edited by GrapeApe on 2014-09-25 17:02:29

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By RobF (registered) | Posted September 25, 2014 at 17:46:28 in reply to Comment 104861

I would say that the selection of which is better has been done, approved, studied, voted, etc. and has resulted in a body of work that stands before us.

Does it seem as though i disagree?

The fact that the work has been done allows all those against the idea to pull on individual threads of doubt to seed fear, misinformation and, frankly, deception.

All the more reason to defend the merits of LRT, rather than claim that it is too far along to change course. It isn't. It really isn't. History tells us that. If the provincial government, under Harris, can fill in part of a subway tunnel on Eglinton West and move the line to Sheppard East, then at our stage in the process anything can happen if the political will is there. I support LRT. And yes, I suspect that Clark's BRT position is really just a ruse to do nothing. I've said that in other posts.

I have not heard a factual, cogent argument against LRT in Hamilton.

You want to know a secret ... neither have I.

You need to read my original post carefully. It was a gentle critique of call for a post-political approach to politics at City Hall. Not a call for a "reset" on LRT ... whatever, that means.

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By Joshua (registered) | Posted September 25, 2014 at 10:37:12 in reply to Comment 104816

This is a thoughtful and considerate reply. Thank you for it.

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By Stravinsky (anonymous) | Posted September 24, 2014 at 21:31:13

Marie is trying to sound reasonable about LRT, so why was she on Polish radio this past sunday coming from I'm not sure where, but soundly standing AGAINST LRT. That doesn't sound measured. It sounds like double speak. Already a politician eh, Ms. Robbins!

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By ThatGuy (anonymous) | Posted September 25, 2014 at 11:27:06

Marie Robbins seems like the only credible candidate for Ward 9 Stoney Creek. The zillion others running don't seem to be taking this election seriously.

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By Advocate (anonymous) | Posted September 25, 2014 at 15:01:58

Joey, the fact that you received FOI information surreptitiously doesn't make it right.The Freedom of Information office is to enforce the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act or FIPPA, for short. FIPPA has two sides to it: the access to info side and the protection of privacy side. The office is set up to ensure that both sides of that equation are satisfied. By having Bratina or other councillors 'release' non public info willy-nilly might satisfy the hungry media hordes, but not necessarily the best interests of the community. The city has been sued when info was released inapprpriately. I am not saying this was the case in this instance. However, the office is responsible for vetting the info to make sure everyone is covered. Bratina is being political and he tried to damage Fred. The reality is that Bob is so damaged that he is not taken seriously. Is the memo worthwhile? I don't know. I haven't seen it. Is there spin on all sides of this old memo? You bet. It is political season after all. Was Clark misrepresenting the truth when he said how he got the memo? Seems so. However, the important question here is that the city's interests are never served when the mayor doesn't follow procedure. That is for sure, no???

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By MarieRobbins-Ward9StoneyCreek (registered) - website | Posted September 27, 2014 at 13:34:05

Thank you all for your comments. I am grateful for the quality of discussion that is occurring on RTH and am happy to address some of the points that have been raised so far.

To the multifaceted thread started by RobF:

I believe that as an aspiring municipal representative, my role lies in and making decisions for the benefit of my constituents, based on expert opinion, and in ensuring that council’s decisions are effectively implemented. Perhaps this seems like humble goal, but then again, I think that it is important to get back to the core of what it means to be a good representative.

In the context of the rapid transit, there will never be one moment where the conversation is resolved with finality. Instead, there will be a long series of many meticulous but interrelated decisions about the details forming the building-blocks of a transit system; decisions about transit routes, frequency, funding, hours of operation, fares, maintenance, urban massing potential, interregional connectivity and the like. The outcome of these many decisions will itself be hugely affected by a great many more ever-shifting external factors like budgets, the economy at large, shifts in public opinion on council, changes in provincial and federal policies, the availability of new technologies and so on. I think that for someone that has been an outsider to the process up to this point and has not had access to the wealth of expertise and advisors available to those at City Hall, it would not be responsible to purport having the answer for what will ultimately be the sum of these many smaller decisions.

With that said, one thing is outstandingly clear to me and that is that the opportunity-cost of not building transit now is far too high to ignore. Considering that there has been a 30 year gap between our last opportunity to build transit and today, at a low-ball estimate, fumbling this opportunity could easily cost in the vicinity of $30 million per year for 30 years in terms of forgone provincial funding. If we buy-in to the assumption that there are be many economic spin-offs to be had from building transit, and I think that we should, then our opportunity-cost could well end up in the ballpark of $50-$100 million lost every year for a generation. Yikes! In this light, the discussions over whether LRT or BRT will end up having operating costs of 2% or 3% higher or lower seem deeply superficial.

Finally, I would like to reaffirm that this has been my position on LRT since I registered as a candidate in March. Although perhaps my interview on Polish Radio (which is broadcast out of Mohawk College by the way) might not have matched everyone’s enthusiasm for LRT, I don’t think that my statements, now or then, leave so much room for interpretation that I could seem to be arguing against LRT… If it has resulted in any doubts, allow me to put it on record once again here: I want Hamilton to get to accepting the provincial funding and start using it to build LRT, ASAP

Marie Robbins Candidate for Ward 9 - Stoney Creek

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By bobby2 (registered) | Posted September 29, 2014 at 15:49:27

The problems with LRT are numerous . Only a fraction of the City benefits it,ie: only those on it's route! The old City has not gone through the financial pain that the burbs have with area rating property taxes the last 4 years. Before amalgamation, people chose to live in certain areas because of taxes, local governance, small town feeling! Trust me, they are not in the mood for higher taxes to pay operating, infrastructure, maintenance costs of a fancy transportation system that benefits only a small portion of lower old City residents! Do I sound like sour grapes? Try being retired like my wife & I & keep up with rising property taxes while our moderate fixed pension income stays stagnant! Since amalgamation, our property taxes have slightly more than doubled.

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By jason (registered) | Posted September 29, 2014 at 21:33:35 in reply to Comment 104955

This is a great comment with many different issues to address. If you're open, I'd love to share a few thoughts on these issues.

  1. Who benefits from LRT? According to studies done in cities all over North America, as the new development arrives along the LRT routes, this adds new taxes into the city coffers. Every single person who pays a tax bill with "City of Hamilton" on it, benefits. See this piece for an idea of how drastically our tax situation will be improved as we see revitalization sweep the lower city.

http://www.raisethehammer.org/article/23...

Remember, the city (that means existing tax payers like you and I) lose money on every single new house that is built in a new subdivision. The taxes on each home doesn't come close to covering the infrastructure/hydro/sewer costs to service the new subdivision. The roads/sewers already exist in the old city. We need to add thousands of more units and development here. This is one reason why Mississauga has been going nuts trying to add towers to their 'downtown'. They realize all the decades of sprawl have set them up in a huge hold financially because low density, single family homes add to the debt burden.

1a. Remember, the city's LRT plan includes 5 eventual lines of which 3 will cross the Mountain, 2 will be in Stoney Creek, 1 across the lower city and 1 in Ancaster, Dundas and Waterdown. We need to remember long-term planning has to start somewhere. We can't build all 5 routes at once. I wish.

TWO: Area Rating. Sadly, your councillors (not sure which ward you are in) haven't been honest with you since amalgamation. Bob Wade said it best in the late 90's when asked his estimate of how much $ in the development of the Meadowlands came from inner city Hamilton. His response: "around 70-80%".

Prior to amalgamation, the old city of Hamilton saw it's tax revenue drained every year to build all the new sprawl roads/highways/sewer/water/electrical expansions to allow for the creation of places like Waterdown sprawl and Meadowlands. Ancaster and Flamborough couldn't come close to paying for such development on their own even if they wanted to. The tax increases in the suburbs since amalgamation have been phased in to bring the entire city to the SAME tax rate. Please let that sink in. Since the creation of regional government in 1974, the old city was paying WAY higher tax rates than the suburbs. In 2000 I was paying between 50-75% higher taxes than someone in urban Dundas or Ancaster. The increases the past several years haven't been enjoyable for you I'm sure, but it's only happening to finally bring us all to the same rate after 40 years of the old city subsidizing the suburbs.

Hamilton has held it's tax increases to the 1-2% rate the past few years. Lowest in Southern Ontario. We can't get it any lower. It's time to hold the province to it's 800 million $ promise for LRT (which we are paying for whether we take the $ or not) so we can invest in bringing new development here which will ease the tax burden on all of us. Saying no to LRT simply means we are giving away money to another city. That 15 billion $ transit fund at the province is only going to be used on transit. Hamilton can elect a mayor to fight for our share, or we can elect someone who will send hundreds of millions of it back to the province. Either way, we pay the same provincial taxes. I'm tired of dead-beats always selling Hamilton short. I'm voting for a mayor who will put the city's interests first for once.

Comment edited by jason on 2014-09-29 21:34:40

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