Special Report: Casino

Hamilton's Choice: Bickering or Engagement

Will we have two more years of the current casino debate, or can we achieve better civic engagement for Hamilton?

By Joey Coleman
Published February 21, 2013

Once again, Hamilton's civic political culture is at a crossroads - and again we're posed to choose none of the roads leading away from our current point, preferring instead to take the bumpiest road to the nearest cliff.

We've seen it before with the stadium debate, area rating (which took over a decade to solve) and ward boundaries, and we are on the verge of doing so again with the casino debate.

History doesn't have to repeat itself entirely.

The casino debate sparked what I believe to be the greatest moment of civic engagement to occur in City Hall - the casino town halls (or in City Hall-speak "information sessions").

Hamilton City Hall (Image Credit: Joanna St. Jacques)
Hamilton City Hall (Image Credit: Joanna St. Jacques)

We can take the lessons learned from them to clasp some victory out of the defeat that has become of this debate for both sides.

Council's 2014 Election Focus

Hamilton City Council is in election mode, which means most major difficult decisions will be put off until after the October 2014 municipal vote.

The casino issue is the second major item to be punted past 2014, with Ward Boundary Review being the first.

Council reached a "compromise motion" last week that instructs Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp (OLG) to consider bids for the Flamborough location only.

If (when) Flamborough is declared a non-viable location, then Council will consider all other locations. This is expected to occur in March 2015.

Two More Years of Venomous Bickering

The past week has shown what we can expect of the next two years: needless bitter fighting among factions in preparation for the inevitable 2015 downtown casino debate.

Last week, we witnessed an engaged citizen telling a former mayor to "go %$#% yourself", a current city councillor accuse opponents of acting like communists, and a lot of pointless bickering instead of conversation or productive debate.

Now we have an integrity commissioner complaint against a city councillor, Ward Two Councillor Jason Farr, for allegedly misrepresenting the position of Global Spectrum/Live Nation in his February 14 press conference.

Even Councillor Terry Whitehead, the leading voice on Council of the Yes-Downtown-Casino side is publicly stating this integrity complaint is frivolous.

Who knows what tomorrow will bring, but we can be fairly sure it won't be good.

It's not in just the "usual suspect" locations such as Twitter that this conversation has degraded into a farcical exchange of insults. Look at this reddit thread - and that's just the discussion.

What about downtown?

What about our downtown? What does the stagnation of the casino debate mean for it? I don't know the answer, but my fear is that the uncertainty will discourage some investment and growth.

There could be people who want to live across from a casino, but I don't know anyone who does. (The same can be said about Copps Coliseum.)

Until we know if there will be a downtown casino and where it may be located, are we taking the risk of discouraging condo development or intensification?

On the flip side, what about the private investors who believe they can benefit from a casino?

Several downtown restaurants are pro-casino, with the RockHammer group planning to provide restaurant vouchers as part of its loyalty program and to design the casino entertainment complex to be open to the street.

Does the stagnation of this debate and uncertainty about the future of our core lead to decreased investment downtown? Does it discourage people from moving downtown - both those seeking and avoiding a casino?

Much like if there will be a downtown casino, we just don't know the answers.

Best Debate in Living Memory

It doesn't have to be this way. We held two casino town halls in Hamilton, both of which were very informative, respectful, and insightful.

For a fleeting moment, it appeared that Hamilton had finally arrived on the verge of two-way dialogue and the City sought to engage citizens as equals. Maybe that moment was a watershed and the venomous comments of the best week are merely the last gasp of incivility?

Both sides had an opportunity to be heard, those who had not already formed a firm opinion heard from experts on both sides of the issue, and everyone left the night feeling they had an opportunity to engage meaningfully with their civic government.

Can we Engage Again?

Can we do another successful series of town halls? I say yes.

People in Council Chambers (Image Credit: Joanna St. Jacques)
People in Council Chambers (Image Credit: Joanna St. Jacques)

There are many topics that need to be covered in our city. I'm going to suggest one as both timely and with strong arguments on both sides: two-way vs. one-way streets.

Let's put together an expert panel on both sides of the issue, hold another town hall, and improve upon the new interactive formats we used during the casino debate to make civic engagement a regular part of our city hall culture.

Onward to 2014

With election 2014 underway, it's time to raise above the rhetoric we've seen on the casino and ask the big question: What is the vision for Hamilton and how do we achieve it?

I propose better civic engagement, leading to a better informed citizenry that ultimately produces a 2014 election based on issues and not polarized by a singular focus on the casino debate.

What do you think? What is the big question that we need to answer in #HamOnt?

First published on Joey Coleman's website. Licenced under Creative Commons CC-BY-SA 2.5 Canada Licence.

Joey Coleman covers Hamilton Civic Affairs.

Read more of his work at The Public Record, or follow him on Twitter @JoeyColeman.


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By Robert D (anonymous) | Posted February 21, 2013 at 07:42:17

To you point about two more years of uncertainty, I would hope both sides of the casino debate continue to build a better Hamilton.

I hope downtown businesses thrive and people living there continue to develop a strong sense of community so that if the time comes, they can convince council that the downtown is now doing well enough that it doesn't need a casino.

I hope that the companies taking over HECFI are immensely successful and fill the hotels being built by vrancor, that people buy the condos under construction, that the connaught revival is successful, and that Wilson Blanchard proposes something that makes us all pleased. But most importantly I hope the Mercantis build the hotel/restaurants they have promissed as part of their HECFI bid - these two years is their opportunity to show they are committed to the downtown - casino or no casino - which would go a long way to changing some people's perceptions of the family. Also, assuming their hotel and restaurants are to be part of a future casino complex, it will give people an idea of where it will be located.

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By AnjoMan (registered) | Posted February 21, 2013 at 08:01:42

Thank you for this. Frankly, I don't understand the reasoning behind delaying the decision - the fear of alienating potential voters by taking a position? This just shows that some of or city leaders don't have the gumption to make the important decisions, which makes me think I would want to vote for someone else.

What information are we missing in this debate? We know the major pros and coons of a downtown casino. We have discussed and explored the details. The main principles of social and economic cost/benefit are not going to change in two years. There will be no new information.

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By Conrad664 (registered) | Posted February 21, 2013 at 08:19:17 in reply to Comment 86567

I totaly agry with you AnjoMan

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By mrgrande (registered) | Posted February 21, 2013 at 08:19:08 in reply to Comment 86567

I think what we're missing is specifics. We don't know where it's being proposed, beyond a vague "downtown." We don't know what it will look like. We have general ideas of how large the facility will be, but nothing concrete.

I've spoken to a few people who are tentatively pro-casino, depending on those details. They're important.

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By Rimshot (anonymous) | Posted February 21, 2013 at 08:15:25

Alternate scenario:

6 months of venomous bickering
6 months of token engagement
6 months of nominal change
2 months of incumbent politicking
4 years of City Hall status quo

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By jason (registered) | Posted February 21, 2013 at 09:11:06

Great piece Joey. I have no interest in getting into the 'what-if' scenarios of the casino issue, but you're right - we all live here and need to work together for the growth and success of our city, our neighbourhoods, our business districts etc....

Your sentiments have also been echoed very nicely by Ryan McGreal and Martinus Geleynse.



I was pleased to see the wonderful staff report on LRT/complete streets brought forward this week, and the bike sharing plan released as well. These types of issues are far more crucial to the growth and livability of Hamilton than whether we move our casino to a different neighbourhood or not.
We need all the engaged citizens and forward-thinking minds to be helping push the old city hall machine forward with these types of initiatives that have been proven around the world to transform cities and improve the quality of life. While some may disagree on a casino, let's work together on the many, many issues we agree on in moving Hamilton forward.

Comment edited by jason on 2013-02-21 09:11:22

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By Conrad664 (registered) | Posted February 21, 2013 at 09:39:35 in reply to Comment 86576

Bike Sharing plan and engaged all Hamiltonians eccept from ward 3 and twords the East end ... Ohh its only the Core past Bay and the west that needs to get enaged

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By Robert D (anonymous) | Posted February 21, 2013 at 15:49:13 in reply to Comment 86578

Listen, staff made that proposal, and probably have reasons in mind (denisty etc.). I can't defend them because I don't know what their reasons are. But it is a proposal - it can change.

If the local councillor in ward 3 and the wards further east think that the bike sharing plan will work well in their ward, and they get residents calling/e-mailing saying that they're interested in having a bike share location, maybe one could be incorporated (either an existing proposed station moved, ro a new one added). Heck, I think it would even make sense to put some bikes at the former City Motor Hotel location when it is redeveloped. The plan is not set in stone, it is not a yet/no decision.

It's certainly open for the community to engage their councillor, and city staff, to advocate for these kinds of things.

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By Jack (registered) | Posted February 21, 2013 at 16:59:34

To answer your question about what should be the vision for Hamilton - a downtown is safe - safe for men, women, and children to visit and enjoy.

Casino's and kids don't go together.

We need to have a down-town that is family friendly. If you don't have a city that promotes family life, you don't have a healthy city; in fact, to the contrary, you have a city environment that is in decline and disrepair. Down-town Hamilton is already that way, and we need not speed it up.

I encourage people to think about future generations. The only "benefit" a casino would have is for its owners, and a small few, while the rest of us will suffer the socio-economic consequences.

The OLGC is nothing less than organized crime made to seem legitimate. Its interests and operations are evil, sinful, in that it profits off of the suffering of people.

How many people can look at themselves and honestly say that they are actually better off, a better person, have met their full potential in life, because of alcohol or gambling?

Please reconsider your harmful pursuit of this so-called 'opportunity', for the sake of our children, which are our future.

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By erskinec (registered) - website | Posted February 22, 2013 at 07:53:48

Good article Joey.

This is a partial victory for those who oppose this project. it is a victory because city hall has kicked the issue down the road. The problem is the pro-casino forces have a structural advantage; they are more organized, better funded, and more connected to staff and politicians. They are thus better prepared to play the long game in any development battle.

For the past few days, I been reviewing the past issues of Raise the Hammer and I have read many great comments over the Century, the School Board, and the Gore Park buildings. I have also been contacting people and seeing if we can do something more organized. So far I am having limited success.

We have interested people. We have interested organizations. What we don't have is an effective coalition. In the United States, some regions have put together coalitions called Creative Cities - we need something similar here. A coalition of individuals: artists, performers, musicians, architects, heritage supporters, arts institutions, neighborhood associations, galleries and small businesses. A coalition that can quickly raise the alarm and generate visits to city meetings, phone calls to the politicians and emails to key decision makers. Staff and politicians will not resist the influence of the build environment forces without a strong and effective counter balance.

If you want history to stop repeating itself then this is what I believe we must do.

If this is something you would be interested in talking more about then please contact me by email at proworker04@yahoo.ca or at twitter @erskinec or via my website Fat Cats and Starving Dogs (http://chriserskine.wordpress.com).

Comment edited by erskinec on 2013-02-22 08:07:29

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By Mal (anonymous) | Posted February 22, 2013 at 13:53:47

"The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function." - F. Scott Fitzgerald

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By Rimshot (anonymous) | Posted March 10, 2013 at 04:10:56

Looks like Hamilton can choose Door #3: Interminable Status Quo


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