Every serious mayoral candidate must put forward a detailed and thoughtful outline of their ideas, plans and objectives. By this measure, Vito Sgro's platform is woefully inadequate.
By Adrian Duyzer
Published October 15, 2018
Hamilton mayoral candidate Vito Sgro has spent a great deal of time and money attempting to make this municipal election yet another referendum on LRT. However, transit is just one issue affecting the lives of Hamilton's 500,000 residents. Anyone considered a "serious challenger" for the position of mayor of Canada's ninth-largest city ought to be judged on the entirety of their platform.
As a civic-minded citizen, tax-payer and businessperson, I expect every serious mayoral candidate to put forward a detailed and thoughtful outline of their ideas, plans and objectives.
Given this expectation - arguably a cornerstone of Canada's democratic process - how does Mr. Sgro's platform perform?
As I will argue in this piece, it performs poorly. Mr. Sgro's platform is so ephemeral I can't imagine someone standing on it, let alone running on it. It is sloppily written, devoid of fresh ideas and so scant on detail it borders on contempt for the electorate.
But I'm getting ahead of myself. Let's take a closer look at Hamilton's critical issues as Mr. Sgro sees them.
The overall theme of the platform is "Connecting Hamilton" and the first issue mentioned is "Through Transit". Don't worry, I'm not going to beat the decayed corpse of this horse, because Ryan McGreal already demolished it in a must-read op-ed that was published on The Spec - a piece so devastating that Mr. Sgro's campaign threatened The Spectator in a bizarre attempt to have it taken down that predictably backfired.
The second issue is "Through Economic Prosperity". This promises the following initiatives:
This is the sum of Mr. Sgro's specific initiatives intended to generate economic prosperity in a city of a half-million residents. Let's address them one at a time with an eye towards their substance.
Mr. Sgro commits to "reach out" to "Stelco, the Port, and other key stakeholders" to map out the future of Hamilton's waterfront. But what does Mr. Sgro believe this future ought to be? Does he have ideas? What are they?
What about his proposal to work "closely" with EcDev to ensure it has apropriate resources? Does he believe it does not have appropriate resources now? If not, what new resources should it have? He does make one specific pledge, which is to hire (I think) a full-time employee to liaise with senior levels of government. (Specifically, he will "propose to delegate a full-time staff position" for this role - perhaps an existing employee will be used.) What impact does he expect that to make? What would this person's objectives be?
It's also not clear what his pledge to negotiate with Niagara to create an "international trade corridor" means. Presumably this is an incarnation of the Mid-Peninsula Highway, except it "will not affect agricultural lands", a pledge that seems geographically challenging. If Mr. Sgro has a novel idea for achieving what a map seems to show is impossible, he doesn't share it.
I don't doubt he'd be able to widen Rymal Road or ask the province to make the 403 wider - but is this really the sum total of his economic development ideas? Where are the specific proposals for growing Hamilton's tax base or attracting major companies to set up in Hamilton? What about the digital transformation that is sweeping the globe - nothing on that? Nothing on innovation, education, entrepreneurialism or infrastructure outside of roads?
Next up is "Through Electoral Reform". This does contain a specific proposal. Mr. Sgro proposes that Hamilton's wards be replaced with the five ridings that are used for federal and provincial representation.
The devil, as ever, is in the details - or in this case the lack thereof. Mr. Sgro asks us to "think how much simpler it would be to adopt the federal and provincial riding boundaries as our wards and elect two or three members in each of the wards at large," which of course begs the question: two members each for a total of ten councillors or three each for a total of fifteen (the current total)?
It seems that a one-third reduction in the size of City Council would be worth elaborating on if Mr. Sgro truly believes this is appropriate.
Other questions abound: who would determine the appropriate number of councillors per ward? If it is inappropriate for an elected body to determine its own boundaries, is it also inappropriate for an elected body to determine its own number? If ten councillors are sufficient, how are the "excess" councillors selected and rejected in the unlikely event a measure like this were to pass?
Ultimately, although I agree with Mr. Sgro that reform is necessary, the lack of detail and clarity raises major questions about whether it is a serious proposal.
Mr. Sgro's commitment to transparency, which is three sentences long, puts forth a proposal to have a "completely independent auditor-general, answerable to the province, to provide independent oversight over all city financing and programs".
Each year, this individual would report on their findings to council and "offer recommendations".
I'll refrain from commenting on whether or not I would think this would work (others have weighed in on this before). I'll instead leave you with a rhetorical question: does a commitment to transparency that revolves around the appointment of a provincially controlled auditor to oversee all city financing and programs deserve more than three sentences of explanation?
The page devoted to this issue contains more content than most of the other pages, a focus worthy of praise. Is this where Mr. Sgro shines by elucidating a fresh new approach to one of Hamilton's longest-running, most pernicious problems?
Let's look at each of his specific promises:
By now the pattern is familiar. Mr. Sgro plans to do things, but does not have a plan to do much of anything specific. The hard work of doing specific things will be left to other people, like the "multi-jurisdictional, multi-agency group" that will be established or the Hamilton Roundtable for Poverty Reduction.
Promises to "reach out" and empower people do not constitute a platform. The only specific deliverable that is promised is a review of the housing stock owned by the City. What we'd do with this review is an exercise left to the reader.
Even if I were a supporter of Mr. Sgro's pledge to fix Hamilton's infrastructure by cancelling its largest infrastructure project, I wouldn't be able to vote for his platform in good conscience.
It's not just the lack of ideas and specifics. There's also a dismaying lack of care, quality and attention to detail. Consider this muddled portion of Mr. Sgro's platform where he discusses electoral reform. I'll quote the entire sentence so no one can accuse me of cherry-picking: "No public body should be put in the position of determining their own boundaries - with adoption to this format, a non-partisan commission independently, changes the boundaries every 10 years as population shifts and centres of interest."
Set aside the abuse of commas and the tortured phrasing in the first part of the sentence, because if you read it out loud to someone at least they'd understand it. It's the end of the sentence that doesn't make sense. The commission "changes the boundaries every 10 years as population shifts and centres of interest". What? Who wrote this? Did anyone read it? Did Mr. Sgro?
Or take the main issues page itself, where each issue is introduced with a short blurb that ends in ellipses. For example, "The economy is thriving and in-comes and home prices are rising. There is no doubt, however, that this growth is happening..."
Clicking "Read more" brings one to the "Through Economic Prosperity" page, which doesn't finish the sentence. Is the fact that growth is happening the entire thought? It's true, there is no doubt about it, which seems like a good reason to vote for the city's current mayor.
I hardly assume that is the point, but as with so much else in Mr. Sgro's "platform", the actual point eludes me.
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