Councillor Terry Whitehead doubles down on his claim that downtown transit activists are trying to hijack the city's transportation plans.
By Ryan McGreal
Published February 23, 2015
Councillor Whitehead sent me the following reply:
"Sometimes you only see what you want to see" . That is the case here! Special interest groups that try to stack the deck is not something out of the norm. Anyone wanting to protect the process from such activity is to be expected. My reference to the quite majority was also considering those who do not take to twitter but actively show up to meetings. My description of whom they are is accurate and how they describe themselves. Your leap to suggesting activist are unemployed is unfortunate, divisive and is misrepresenting my comments . Nothing wrong with being an activist. It is one of the mechanisms that hold decision makers feet to the fire. Let's also acknowledge they in many cases do not represent the majority view.
I know after 30 years in the public sector, hosting community meetings that people will not come if the meeting is dominated by special interest. I have far greater success at Westcliffe mall with individual engagement. What I have learned was to identify and limit the engagement of those who would dominate to ensure I have a more wholesome response to issues. There is no question judging from "some" of the social media responses, that there are " activist" and they only focused on narrow issues . It is also clear that they are not respectful of other points of view. This is a transportation study that is comprehensive and will look at all modes of transportation and how it can be integrated into a plan that addresses all needs. This is not public transit study. People who minds are already made up are not helpful in moving forward.
We have a clean canvass and must see this as an opportunity to paint our future. That means all who participate should remain open minded to different approaches and solutions to meet transportation needs now into the future.
In response, I sent him the following reply:
Thank you for your reply. As always, I appreciate your willingness to discuss and debate issues.
I agree completely that it is important to make sure everyone's voice is heard, and that there is sometimes a potential for public meetings to be dominated by a few overbearing people such that others don't feel comfortable contributing.
If that was what you had said at the GIC meeting, I would be right with you.
But that's not what you said. You said you don't want downtown urbanists to "hijack" the Transportation Master Plan process.
You also negatively stereotyped engaged citizens by saying that other people are not engaged because "they're raising families and they're employed."
A lot of people are upset with your comments, including some of your own Ward 8 constituents. They're not upset because they 'heard what they wanted to hear'. They're upset because they heard what you said.
People who advocate for their neighbourhood streets to be safer, more inclusive and more humane are not some kind of "narrow" or "special interest".
It is extremely unfortunate that you dismiss the community advocates and neighbourhood associations who struggle for safer, more inclusive streets as "special interests" who want to "hijack" the city's transportation plans.
These are universal values that everyone shares. They are already reflected in the City's Vision and detailed in the City's Transportation Master Plan, which is currently under review.
It is the very definition of a broad public interest to advocate a transportation system based on complete, accessible streets that provide more choice for everyone.
It is what literally every single planning and transportation expert who has come to Hamilton has been telling us for years.
Very few people would want their own street to be a racetrack of dangerous speeding automobile traffic. But by your definition, anyone who cares enough to advocate for safer streets in their community is automatically labeled a "special interest" and summarily dismissed.
This directly violates the City's Vision to be "The best place in Canada to engage citizens" by devaluing the contributions of precisely those citizens who become engaged.
Then you compound your derogation of civic engagement by applying the label specifically to engaged citizens in the lower city, who have had to contend with the trauma of multi-lane one-way thoroughfares for more than half a century and counting.
Every time you do this, you forcibly drive the wedge of resentment and divisiveness deeper into a diverse community already struggling to unify and align its citywide interests.
Hamilton needs better from its leaders. As a City Councillor, you have a vital role to play in helping to overcome Hamilton's historic rifts and fostering the mutual understanding and respect this city needs to have a real chance at progress after decades of stagnation.
Please, set down the wedge. Hamilton needs your help to come together.
Respectfully, Ryan McGreal
In turn, Councillor Whitehead sent me the following reply:
Thank Ryan for your thoughtful comments. I have plenty of downtown residents have written me and say they feel suffocated by transit activists views. They have indicated that there is no room for decent amongst them and they are ridiculed for their differing positions.. I will be requesting these authors to allow me to forward their letters to the press .It is clear that even people in the lower city are concerned about the vocal few. That is the essence of most of the contact my office has received over the past weeks.
You also find your self in a leadership role as publisher of raise the hammer. Please use this power and influence responsibly.
I look forward to meeting you sharing these letters and trust we can come to a understanding on how best we together can move this great city forward.
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