The outcome of this election will shape Hamilton's future for literally decades to come.
By Ryan McGreal
Published October 26, 2014
This Monday, October 27 is municipal election day in Hamilton (and across Ontario). We will be electing a new mayor, city councillors and school board trustees.
RTH sent every mayoral and council candidate a set of policy questions and published their responses verbatim. You can read all the responses we received on the RTH elections website.
RTH has always maintained a policy of not endorsing candidates and we continue that policy today. Instead, we endorse the policies we believe are essential to achieving Hamilton's potential.
As part of our election coverage, we do our best to find out where the various candidates stand on those policies and leave it to our readers to decide which policies to agree with and which candidates to support.
If the past four years have taught us anything, it is that the people we elect as our representatives make a real difference in how this city is governed. That, in turn, has a direct impact on our lives: the opportunities available to us and the context in which we make personal choices.
Among the mayoral aspirants, three candidates have a serious chance of winning. They have raised significant funds. They have inspired and organized teams of motivated volunteers. They have developed platforms, communicated plans and engaged with voters.
Each of them represents a distinct choice: a distinct set of values and principles around what Hamilton needs to succeed.
Brad Clark did not respond to the RTH policy questions despite several requests for a response.
Clark opposes LRT, even though he voted for it consistently as a councillor. Instead, he wants to add some buses to the B-Line express route and call it "bus rapid transit", which it is not. He wants to eliminate the dedicated bus lane on King Street between Mary Street and Dundurn Street, which is the only part of the B-Line that looks even remotely like "bus rapid transit".
During the campaign, Clark has made several disturbing false claims about LRT, including claiming that the B-Line does not have the ridershp to support LRT - in fact, Hamilton's current bus ridership would put it in the middle of the list of North American cities with LRT.
Outgoing Mayor Bob Bratina, who has done so much to confuse, undermine and sabotage the case for LRT during his four-year term, just endorsed Brad Clark's candidacy.
Back in April, Clark argued in favour of converting nine streets to two-way that Council had previously approved for conversion but never funded. However, Clark's platform makes no mention of two-way conversions or complete streets. It states that the Area Rating capital funds should be prioritized for street and sidewalk repairs, which he calls "needs", rather than "wants".
Clark's platform makes no mention of "bicycle", "cycling" or "bike" so it is unclear whether he has a position on the city's Cycling Master Plan. Presumably Clark thinks cycling is a "want" rather than a "need".
Clark's platform makes no mention of traffic fatalities, pedestrians or safety. The only mentions of "traffic" refer to automobile traffic congestion.
Clark's platform makes no mention about protecting Hamilton's built heritage.
Clark's platform makes no mention of participatory budgeting, but his plan for the existing Ward-level area rating capital funds is to restrict their use to road and sidewalk repairs.
Fred Eisenberger sent brief responses to our policy questions on Saturday, October 25.
He personally supports LRT and helped launch the city's rapid transit planning process in 2008 when he was formerly the mayor. As he told CBC, "I've read all the reports. They all say LRT on the B-Line is a success from day one. The ridership is there. The revenue is there. The demand is there. There's a lot of misinformation. A lot of it shared by Mr. Clark. A lot of it shared by the current mayor who has confused this issue. Let's have a process for six months and come up with a plan the community can live with."
Eisenberger wants to "hit the reset button" by establishing a citizens' panel to review the studies and reports and make recommendations. It is not clear how this citizen's panel would be different from the Rapid Transit Citizens Advisory Committee, which met between August 2010 and late 2011 and did exactly what Eisenberger wants the new panel to do: review the studies and reports and make recommendations as part of the rapid transit planning process.
Eisenberger supports converting more of our one-way thoroughfares into complete, two-way streets with the caveat, "we need to decide on transit first." Presumably he's referring to Main and King Streets, which have been in limbo with respect to traffic calming or two-way conversion while the LRT plan is still in development.
Eisenberger supports reviewing the Cycling Master Plan to speed the installation of high-quality cycling infrastructure. "I am committed to safe cycling routes."
Eisenberger supports a Vision Zero initiative to eliminate traffic-related deaths in Hamilton. He did not provide any specifics on how he would achieve this.
Eisenberger agrees that Hamilton should do more to protect its built heritage but did not provide any specifics on how he would achieve this.
Eisenberger supports the use of participatory budgeting to allow ward residents to propose and vote on local capital projects.
Brian McHattie responded to the RTH policy questions soon after we sent them out.
McHattie supports Hamilton's LRT plan. He warns against re-visiting the plan, which Council already approved in 2013 and submitted to the Province. As he told CBC, "The most dangerous thing a city councillor can do is start changing his mind and coming up with four or five different options. You never want to negotiate from a position of weakness."
McHattie supports converting Hamilton's one-way thoroughfares into complete, two-way streets and has been a champion of such conversion for years. He decries the delays in proceeding with conversions that Council already approved but never implemented. "The delays in implementation need to be addressed immediately."
McHattie supports a full review of Hamilton's Cycling Master Plan, in order to track the evolving best practices in infrastructure design. "We need to ensure not only that we have bike lanes, but that we make it a stated priority to make them separated and of the calibre of the Cannon cycle track wherever possible."
McHattie "strongly" supports a Vision Zero initiative to eliminate traffic-related deaths in Hamilton. He approves the North End Neighbourhood Association's 30 km/h speed limit on most North End streets with bumpouts, neckdowns and other street designs to reduce dangerous vehicle speeds. "I support the work they have done and hope other neighbourhoods adopt these methods." (The North End 30 km/h zone is a five-year pilot project and there is currently a moratorium on other neighbourhoods asking for the same thing until the five years is over.)
McHattie supports doing more to protect Hamilton's built heritage. He was instrumental in saving the Lister Building from demolition by asking the Province to intercede and broker an agreement. He and Ward 2 Councillor Jason Farr spent 2013 working to protect 18-28 King Street East from demolition, and Council voted unanimously to designate the buildings under the Ontario Heritage Act in December 2013.
He helped develop the city's Heritage Register, a proactive effort to identify and protect 1,000 heritage buildings throughout downtown Hamilton. He wants to "tackle the remaining list of 7,000 identified properties" across the city through a coherent strategy.
McHattie supports a broader role for participatory budgeting in planning the city's budget. He pioneered the first participatory budget process in Hamilton in Ward 1 to decide how to spend the Area Rating capital projects fund. The next year, Ward 2 adopted a participatory budget process as well. He wants to expand participatory budgeting city-wide by involving residents earlier and more actively in the annual city budget process.
Of all the opportunities and choices before us, perhaps the biggest long-term impact will come from what the new mayor does about the City's LRT plan. The three major candidates have three very distinct positions on LRT that will determine whether the plan carries on toward completion or dies.
This is not the first time Hamilton has faced a crucial decision on whether to accept full funding for rapid transit.
Three decades ago, Hamilton had an opportunity to receive full funding for a modern rapid transit system. Amazingly, the Council of the time did not understand the strategic vision, could not agree on a route, and ended up voting to turn the opportunity down.
The technology that the Ontario Government wanted to invest in Hamilton ended up going to Vancouver to serve as their hugely successful Skytrain.
Losing a fully funded light rail transit system in the early 1980s was the biggest missed opportunity that I witnessed in my entire political career. Hamilton is still paying the price for such short-sightedness.
—Bill Sears, Former Hamilton-Wentworth Region chair
Astonishingly, today we find ourselves in a situation where our Council may once again turn down the opportunity of a fully funded modern LRT system. If that happens, it may well be another three decades before such a chance comes around again.
Municipal elections are notorious for their low voter turnout, despite the fact that your municipal government has the biggest influence over your daily life.
Your vote matters. We urge you to look carefully at the mayoral candidates' positions and vote for the candidate who best reflects your vision for the city's future and can rally Council to support and advocate it.
The outcome of this election will shape Hamilton's future for literally decades to come.
Every single vote counts.
Please vote. Also, please nag your family, friends and colleagues to vote. It's a small individual effort that adds up to a huge difference in where this city will end up in four years and, indeed, in 40 years.
This time, let's look back on 2014 as the year we seized the big opportunities and turned the page on a proud, ambitious city that has spent too many decades trying to find its way again.
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