We need to stop pretending that there is any part of this city to which we do not all have a shared responsibility to govern with fairness and insight and respect.
By Ryan McGreal
Published February 20, 2015
You recently said that residents on the mountain need more opportunity to become engaged in the City's Transportation Master Plan review.
If you had stopped there, I would be wholeheartedly applauding and supporting your desire to engage more Hamiltonians.
But you didn't stop there. You also accused engaged citizens in the lower city of wanting to “hijack” the process. You went even further and strongly insinuated that people who are currently engaged in civic affairs in Hamilton are unemployed and/or don't have families.
That is profoundly insulting and cynical. It does a grave disservice to engaged citizens who make time in their busy lives to participate in the democratic process.
Your comment also does a grave disservice to people who, for various reasons, are out of work. Every person who chooses to engage constructively in Hamilton's civic affairs deserves respect, no matter their personal circumstances.
In Hamilton, where active citizenship has become a dirty word, engaged citizens are often accused of being unemployed bums with too much time on their hands. It's an insidious way to discredit and dismiss the energy and enthusiasm of people who care enough about their community to get involved.
I write a lot about civic issues but very little about myself personally. I hope you will indulge me a moment and let me do that now.
I live in Ward 1, within walking distance of the downtown core. I work full-time as a computer programmer and do some additional freelance writing, programming and consulting work on the side.
I am married, and my wife also works full-time. We have two children: one studying at McMaster University and one attending grade school. We own a house and a car.
You insist that your ward should get to exercise a veto over what happens in the lower city - because “downtown belongs to everyone” - but then you insist that issues in your ward are local affairs that should be decided without outside interference.
I find that very confusing. I don't live in your ward but I often find myself there. I live directly beneath it, after all. I frequently drive, run and cycle in your ward. I visit friends and socialize. I go to stores and buy things. (The lemon meringue pie at Sweet Paradise is to die for.)
That's what happens in a city. People from each part of the city frequently travel to other parts. It's why people choose to live in a city: for the diverse amenities and opportunities that a city provides.
So I have an interest in what happens in your ward; but I don't flatter myself to think that my interest should trump what your own residents want.
Frankly, I would not feel comfortable lecturing you on what your ward needs. If you decide to support a certain local public project, I would be reluctant to speak out against it and I would not want my Councillor to exercise a veto over it. That does not make for harmonious municipal governance.
But like so many of my neighbourhood's streets, the courtesy only goes one way. You routinely exercise a veto over my Councillor's local initiatives and projects.
Even worse, you add insult to injury when you accuse engaged citizens in the lower city of wanting to “hijack” a process that you have been obstructing for years.
In 2001, Council approved a Transportation Master Plan that grew out of a broad, inspiring multi-year civic engagement and visioning process in the 1990s. The plan included several two-way conversions, and Council reaffirmed it in 2007.
14 years later we are still waiting for many of those conversions to take place, and yours has been one of the loudest voices opposed to carrying them out.
You insist that we cannot convert lower-city one-way thoroughfares to two-way because one-way streets are better for traffic congestion. But you also frequently complain about traffic congestion in your ward.
From time to time, I satirically ask when you will present a proposal to convert your ward's streets to one-way, since you so obviously admire their ability to reduce congestion and your own streets are congested.
But I only ask satirically, and only because the irony is so irresistible. One-way streets are devastating for local livability, and two wrongs do not make a right. I would not want to see anyone's streets converted to one-way - certainly not out of spite.
Yet it remains deeply frustrating that you continue to obstruct the recovery of traumatized one-way streets in the lower city even though you would never accept one-way streets in your own ward.
If anyone is hijacking the City's transportation plan, it is emphatically not those residents who have been waiting patiently for literally decades, asking the City to carry out what it committed to doing more than a decade ago.
The City's Vision, which Council approved (like it approved the Transportation Master Plan), is in part "To be the best place in Canada to engage citizens".
Do you think you supported that Vision when you lashed out at engaged citizens? I don't.
Do you think you made it easier for people who are not engaged to decide to start participating, now that they see what happens to people who do? I don't.
Terry, you owe the people of Hamilton an apology. You denigrated the efforts and intentions of residents who are engaged, and you showed residents who may be considering becoming engaged that if they do so, they too will be subject to attack and dismissal.
We need to move beyond the parochial politics of division. We need to stop pitting one part of the city against another. We need to stop pretending that there is any part of this city to which we do not all have a shared responsibility to govern with fairness and insight and respect.
This article is adapted from a letter sent to Councillor Terry Whitehead and the rest of City Council.
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