Special Report: Cycling

Concern-Trolling Councillor Bullies Staff with Impunity

What will it take for Hamilton City Council to start enforcing its own Code of Conduct?

By Ryan McGreal
Published September 21, 2016

A certain west mountain councillor was allowed to turn Monday's Public Works Committee meeting into a farce in which he spent 45 minutes hounding city staff over the Herkimer and Charlton bike lanes and even directly asking staff whether they are "putting lives at risk" with the project.

A child rides in the protected bike lanes on Herkimer while a transport truck drives past (Image Credit: Tom Flood)
A child rides in the protected bike lanes on Herkimer while a transport truck drives past (Image Credit: Tom Flood)

Yes, Ward 8 Councillor Terry Whitehead is at it again, demonstrating once more that his default reaction to criticism of his ludicrous claims is to double down on them and make matters even worse.

Between his inane line of questioning and Ward 2 Councillor Jason Farr's obligatory rejoinders, Whitehead wasted 45 minutes of everyone's time grilling staff over bike lane project implementation details that staff had already investigated and addressed during the two-year planning phase of the bike lanes.

In classic concern-troll fashion - he kept insisting he supports the bike lanes - Whitehead threw everything he could think of against the project in the hope that something might stick.

Thanks to Joey Coleman of The Public Record, you can watch the entire exchange in all its craptactular glory:

Chuckles and Groans

Our west mountain councillor started by complaining about a tweet from Coleman earlier in the same meeting, which stated:

Whitehead said, "I never made that statement," and asked staff to fact-check the tweet, eliciting chuckles and groans from around the table.

(Later, Coleman explained his tweet in a response to RTH: "I noted the underlying message - Whitehead has staff state that free-flowing traffic is better than stop-and-go traffic. I was noting this as an underlying narrative.")

It was at this point that other members of council started leaving the room, starting with Ward 5 Councillor Chad Collins, who left within the first minute. Ward 4 Councillor Sam Merulla strolled out of the room a minute later. Next, Ward 12 Councillor Lloyd Ferguson sauntered out around 6:30 into Whitehead's witch hunt.

Emergency Vehicles

Then the Councillor grilled Traffic Engineering manager Martin White about the Hamilton light rail transit (LRT) alignment and whether the grade-separation is designed to allow emergency vehicles to access the LRT lanes to bypass backed-up traffic.

You can see where this is going. The councillor went on to ask where people are supposed to pull over on Herkimer and Charlton to make room for an emergency vehicle. White answered by pointing out the places people normally pull over on a street: into empty parking spots, into the throats of intersections, and so on.

Whitehead wouldn't let it go. He demanded a specific list of all the places cars can pull over, arguing that Herkimer is a direct route for people in the West Mountain to access St. Joe's, and asked: "Are you putting lives at risk here?"

Council Code of Conduct

This is a completely inappropriate question to ask, as it clearly implies staff are being negligent. It is a straightforward violation of the Hamiton City Council Code of Conduct [PDF], Section 13.2, which states:

13.2 Under the direction of the City Manager, City employees serve the Council as a whole, and the combined interests of all members of Council as evidenced through the decisions of Council. Accordingly:

(a) members of Council shall be respectful of the role of City employees to advise based on political neutrality and objectivity and without undue influence from any individual member or faction of the Council;

(b) no member of Council shall maliciously, falsely, negligently or recklessly injure the professional or ethical reputation, or the prospects or practice of City employees; and

(c) members of Council shall show respect for the professional capacities of City employees.

To White's credit, he refused to take the bait, responding, "I'm not going to answer that question, Councillor."

Now, this would have been a good place for a member of the Senior Management Team to step in and put a stop to the inappropriate line of questioning, but no one from the SMT row of chairs spoke up.

It would have been even better for the Chair of the committee meeting, Ward 13 Councillor Arlene VanderBeek, to intervene and rein in her colleague. But she remained silent here and, bizarrely, continued to remain silent throughout the entire painful exchange that followed.

Safer Design

The bitter irony, of course, is that the bike lane design was in part a response to the dangerous conditions recorded on Herkimer prior to its introduction.

People in automobiles were recorded driving at 80-90 km/h on a daily basis on Herkimer before the street design was changed to add the bike lanes, but our suddenly safety-conscious councillor did not seem interested in whether the old design was "putting lives at risk".

The road is much safer now than it was when dangerously high speeding was a regular, daily occurrence.

And for the record, St. Joseph's Healthcare has publicly stated, "the hospital has no report of problems due to the new bike lanes". The hospital even retweeted the announcement of an event celebrating the new bike lanes, which will be held on September 24.

Waste Collection

But let's keep moving. Next, Whitehead challenged staff that traffic gets stuck behind the garbage truck on waste collection day and asked if waste collection workers "have to carry garbage a longer distance from the sidewalk through the parked cars to put it into the garbage truck". He asked if staff have assessed the "occupational health and risk" as a result of this.

The manager who responded pointed out that staff were already carrying garbage through the parked cars but that there is a slight additional distance on the north side to cross the bike lane. She also responded that no additional health and safety implications have been identified.

I would also point out that outside of morning rush hour, Herkimer has always had parking on both sides, so the waste collection context has not really changed.

DARTS Service

Not getting the answer he wanted, Whitehead moved onto DARTS accessible transit service, suggesting that the Herkimer design does not allow people to access it.

Displaying an admirable forbearance, White pointed out yet again that Herkimer already had parking on both sides of the street before the bike lane went in, so DARTS vehicles would always have had to load passengers from the centre lane.

Oh, and also, there are not actually any DARTS pickups on Herkimer anyway, so it's a completely moot point.

But that didn't stop Whitehead from continuing to drill at staff, rehashing in eye-rolling detail his point that a DARTS vehicle would have to stop in the live lane to pick up or drop off its hypothetical passenger, a situation that has changed not one bit as a result of the new bike lane.

Snow Removal

Next up, Whitehead demanded to know how the City plans to undertake snow removal on Herkimer and what the cost implications will be, yet another grandstanding line of questioning that was already addressed during the bike lane design phase.

Again, the manager pointed out that Herkimer is a through street and has parking restrictions at night between 2:00 AM and 7:00 AM, which is when most snow clearing takes place, and that it is impossible to predict how much it will cost to clear snow when we don't know how much snow is going to fall this winter.

Then Whitehead tried to pin Transportation Superintendent John Mater on whether the bike lanes are a "pilot" or an "experiment", presumably hoping to get confirmation that they can be reversed. Mater replied that the configuration is common in other cities but new to Hamilton. "I don't like the word 'experiment', exactly, but it's a learning experience that we're going through with this."

Residential Collector

Next, Whitehead tried to argue that there was not enough consultation on the project, pushing staff to define what a "collector" street means in terms of west mountain residents using the street to get to lower city destinations. He actually asked whether such residents are "legally" using the street.

White drily replied, "All vehicles may use any street in the city of Hamilton."

But Whitehead would not let the point go, demanding to know "the definition of 'collector' and the function of that road as it stand [sic] for many years and currently."

White replied, "Traffic from the mountain is, and can, and may legally use that roadway." He went on to say that he would have to pull the definition from the Urban Hamilton Official Plan for a more specific answer.

For the record, according to the City's Classification of City Streets [PDF], a collector should be designed to enable "traffic movement and land access of equal importance". That is, the design should balance local access needs with automobile traffic flow.

As for cycling infrastructure, the Classification recommends "wider lanes or separate facilities where required".

Meanwhile, Whitehead continued to grandstand at length about "stakeholders, taxpayers, hard-working families, mothers and fathers across this great city of ours" and demanding to know whether staff held any Public Information Centres on the mountain about the bike lanes.

When White pointed out that anyone in the city was welcome to attend the information meetings held in Wards 1 and 2, Whitehead demanded to know where the events were advertised.

Of course, given Whitehead's excessive and unseemly obsession with everything going on in the lower city, I have to ask why he didn't circulate some notice about the projects or information meetings to his constituents during the two years that the design process was underway.

Farr Fires Back

We're almost 18 minutes in now, and Councillor Farr took his turn to call out Whitehead for his inappropriate line of questioning, as well as his stream of made-up claims and misinformation.

I take the approach with all of you [in the Public Works Committee] that we're working collaboratively to build a better city. That we're working collaboratively on urban renewal and attraction of young professionals, young families. Making lives easier from a pedestrian standpoint, not just a cycling standpoint, with the models that we've put into place, that have been models that have been very successfully put into place in other big cities. We can think like big cities too, here.

He pointed out that the bike lane installation is still a work in progress. "We're still looking at this, and we've already made tweaks and we're willing to make some more tweaks.

But we're also wanting to - at least in Ward 2, and I can say this with a great deal of confidence - wanting to walk the talk. When I support Pedestrian Mobility, and Transportation Master Plan initiatives, and the Cycling Master Plan, I want to walk the talk.

False Claims on Radio Program

From there, Farr began asking staff to clarify Whitehead's false statements on the Bill Kelly Show on AM 900 CHML.

That basket of false claims includes Whitehead's spurious claim that the Waste department did not support the bike lanes, and Whitehead's completely made-up claim that there are only 15 bikes per 1,000 cars on Herkimer, which he attributed to staff and which was reported in a newspaper article that there are only 15 bikes on Herkimer.

Sidenote: Farr also made reference to the research we published on RTH last week analyzing five days' worth of Hamilton Bike Share trip data to count the number of bike share trips that touched on Herkimer or Charlton.

Staff noted that they have not yet made use of Bike Share data to evaluate bicycle use, but that they will use it as part of their upcoming assessment of automobile and bicycle traffic counts on the two streets.

Farr also asked about Whitehead's claim that a car door was smashed off in a collision, to which staff responded that they were not aware of any collisions related to the bike lanes.

Farr argued that it "takes considerable time and energy" to counteract the false claims - like a woman in Ward 6 who called Farr to ask why there are bike lanes when "there are only 15 people using it".

'Divisive Wall'

About Whitehead's antics, Farr said, "It is bewildering. It is not productive, it's not helpful, and it's just building a divisive wall."

This is an implicit comparison to Donald Trump, the American Presidential candidate who has built a movement out of stoking fear, resentment and cynicism and repeatedly tossing off blatantly false claims to support his agenda - including building a wall to keep Mexicans out of the United States.

This echoes a July 27, 2016 editorial cartoon by the Hamilton Spectator's Graeme MacKay, which compared Whitehead to Trump with respect to the ridiculous and immediately-debunked anti-LRT "report" his office prepared.

Hamilton Spectator editorial cartoon, July 27, 2016 by Graeme MacKay
Hamilton Spectator editorial cartoon, July 27, 2016 by Graeme MacKay

Continuing with his rebuttal, Farr directly called out Whitehead's concern-trolling:

And you can talk about, Oh, I'm going to work with the ward councillors and we're going to make this better all you want in one breath, but when you open with [...] "Are we putting lives at risk?" That's not a working-together, collaborative thing to say. That's not a collaborative thing at all! What is that?

He added, "If I sound irritated now, there's a whole lot of people out there that are much more irritated than I am."

Farr went on for longer, but one highlight was when he said to Whitehead, "I don't know where you find the time" to pour so much energy into attacking and undermining livability improvements in the lower city.

He concluded: "This kind of stuff ends up on the public record, and let me tell you: you ain't fooling my public, and I'm not going to sit quietly any more."

Yet More Back-and-Forth

The dynamic between the two councillors was already alarmingly personal and heated, but the exchange still wasn't close to being over. When Farr wrapped up (around the 33 minute mark in the video), Whitehead came right back and rehashed the same points he had already made, calling the bike lane design "haphazard" - once again attacking the professional integrity of staff.

I'm already sick and tired of transcribing the exchange, and you're probably sick and tired of reading it. Even Farr apologized to the committee and "staff, especially, who have been great" for his "rant".

But he made the point: "This is different, this is new, and you all know ... change is difficult for people. Change is hard. But we're the leaders, and we have to defend those actions. And we have to do it with facts."

He also pointed out the double standard over who has a say in a local street project: "No one ever called us down here when you made Stonechurch a complete street, and no one's ranting and raving about it, either."

And unlike Charlton and Herkimer, which are designated as residential collectors, Stonechurch is designated as a minor arterial under Appendix 11 of the Urban Hamilton official Plan.

Map detail with superimposed legend from Appendix 11 of the Urban Hamilton Official Plan
Map detail with superimposed legend from Appendix 11 of the Urban Hamilton Official Plan

Farr closed by stating it is "proven" that the claims Whitehead made when he was on the Bill Kelly Show were "not factual" and that they "caused a lot of consternation in the community, that caused divisiveness in the community."

At this point, Whitehead tried to raise a point of order, and Farr replied, "If you support it, show your support. If you want to collaborate, collaborate. You are always welcome. I highly and strongly suggest, though, for your own credibility, to do it in advance of these projects and not knee-jerk, willy-nilly, afterwards. Thank you."

No Accountability

What is perhaps most amazing about the entire 45-minute exchange is that the Chair remained completely silent throughout. Neither Whitehead's abuse of staff nor the increasingly heated, personal nature of the Councillors' comments was enough to elicit any kind of response from Councillor VanderBeek.

For his part, Farr challenged Whitehead asking staff, "Are you putting lives at risk here?" but it just amounted to commentary and counter-commentary. But several other Councillors simply got up walked out of the room, not wanting to have to witness what was clearly going to be an ugly, aggravating coda to the meeting.

And VanderBeek as Chair did nothing at all.

It's not as if this is the first time Whitehead has been allowed to abuse staff.

During the ill-fated transit lane debate, he accused staff of having an agenda:

This report was driven by public transit staff that are advocates for the higher order transit and obviously they're looking through a singular lens when it comes to addressing these issues. So I guess the next question is: would it take, what would it take for public transit staff to say no to bus lanes? Would it be short of a nuclear bomb going off?

This past April, when staff announced that they had secured $295,000 in Provincial capital funding for a cycle track on Bay Street, Whitehead again bullied staff, accusing them of inappropriate behaviour, going behing Council's back, and favouring the lower city at the expense of his ward.

He went on to spend several days continuing to attack staff on social media and claiming falsely that City Manager Chris Murray had apologized for their actions, proving his claims (Murray merely acknowledged that staff "could do a better job of communicating" but that their application for the Provincial fund was entirely consistent with Council's direction).

In July, he accused Hamilton health Sciences of "ripping and raping" the mountain by moving some administrative jobs from the closing Chedoke Hospital to leased space in the Stelco Tower downtown. Challenged to apologize, he posted a letter from his staffer suggesting an apology statement, then retracted the statement and started attacking the people who were criticizing his use of "rape" to refer to moving some jobs.

His conduct is appalling, and it brings discredit to Council as a whole and to the City of Hamilton. It contributes to a culture of fear at City Hall in which staff are punished for carrying out their jobs with "courageous change" in an "engaged empowered" manner, as the Council-approved Corporate Pillars of Success pledge.

It's past time for Council to start enforcing its own formal standards of behaviour among its members.

Ryan McGreal, the editor of Raise the Hammer, lives in Hamilton with his family and works as a programmer, writer and consultant. Ryan volunteers with Hamilton Light Rail, a citizen group dedicated to bringing light rail transit to Hamilton. Ryan wrote a city affairs column in Hamilton Magazine, and several of his articles have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. His articles have also been published in The Walrus, HuffPost and Behind the Numbers. He maintains a personal website, has been known to share passing thoughts on Twitter and Facebook, and posts the occasional cat photo on Instagram.


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By JoeyColeman (registered) - website | Posted September 21, 2016 at 08:57:58

Mr. Whitehead was one of the members of the "Accountability and Transparency Committee" which wrote the Council Code of Conduct and oversaw the Integrity Commissioner.

A&T, as you may remember, was chaired by Lloyd Ferguson. Ferguson was the ranking member of the special committee that hired the current "Integrity Commissioner".

Whitehead is, alongside Eisenberger and Ferguson, on the Police Services Board.

You can't make this up.

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By KevinLove (registered) | Posted September 21, 2016 at 10:15:33

"putting lives at risk"

Of course, what is actually putting lives at risk is tolerating violent and dangerous motor vehicle operators who:

  1. Poison and kill an average of 93 people in Hamilton every year.
  2. Crush and kill an average of 19 people in Hamilton every year.

Everyone who breathes has their "lives at risk." And innocent children are disproportionately the victims of poisoning deaths. Their less developed immune systems are less able to resist the cancer-causing fine particles with which car drivers poison, give cancer to, and kill innocent children.

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By Brandon (registered) | Posted September 21, 2016 at 11:32:07

But what if there's a child in that ambulance that can't get by. What then?!?!?!

Interestingly enough I was on Dundurn waiting to turn on to Main when a fire truck came up behind us. Since there were three full lanes of vehicles at least five cars deep, the truck had to wait for the green for us to get out of its way.

Obviously we need four lanes of traffic on Dundurn at Main.

For the children.

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By ChrisIve (registered) | Posted September 21, 2016 at 12:52:42

October 2018 cannot come soon enough.. we should be chronicling all of Terry's falsehoods.. we need data to show his constituents that he is toxic for them and the city.

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By JasonL (registered) | Posted September 21, 2016 at 13:38:29 in reply to Comment 120082

he deleted his twitter account last week.

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By Borrelli (registered) | Posted September 21, 2016 at 13:48:04

Didn't he just delete all his embarrassing historical tweets? I can see how that might be roughly equivalent to deleting his entire account...

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By KevinLove (registered) | Posted September 21, 2016 at 14:32:43 in reply to Comment 120084

Did someone do something to save them?

I would hate to think that he could get away with the historical revisionism of denying what he wrote.

Comment edited by KevinLove on 2016-09-21 14:33:32

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By drb (registered) - website | Posted September 21, 2016 at 17:56:53 in reply to Comment 120086


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By DowntownInHamilton (registered) | Posted September 21, 2016 at 16:39:07 in reply to Comment 120086

Matt Jelly was going to file a FOI request to get them, since he tweeted most (all?) from city-owned resources.

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted September 21, 2016 at 14:12:02

This reminds me a great deal of his reaction to staff extending the bike lane from Bay to Queen, and again from his comments when staff put in a request for provincial funding for the Bay cycle track.

Regardless of how he says he feels about bike lanes, his actions speak very loudly: he is offended any time staff take extra initiatives to make bike lanes work.

Even the bike lane he himself requested, the Claremont access in memory of Jay Keddy, he made it a point to discuss to staff he wanted it ASAP and did not want them to take a long time on frilly designs. Normally this could be considered a councillor being concerned about the normally-long timelines on something he considered important, but in light of previous comments it also could be considered that he wants the bare-minimum Claremont-only design.

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By kdslote (registered) | Posted September 21, 2016 at 16:01:57

I'm trying to figure out Whitehead's endgame here. He disclosed to me that he wants to look at an additional car travel lane at peak hours, but his current line of questioning (room for service vehicles) wouldn't necessarily be solved by additional peak hour lanes. Perhaps once staff produce evidence of the numerous areas to pull over, he'll argue that it is sufficient for non-peak times, but that a peak lane is still required (which, in reality, is more about creating a highway for his constituents than accommodating garbage trucks).

Regardless, putting in a peak lane is a non-starter for me as it would take away all protection from the bike lanes at the exact times it is needed most (the peak lane would have to run alongside the bike lanes on Herkimer due to curb bumpouts on the South side). I'm not sure there is even room for that configuration as the current North parking lane is narrower than a travel lane. There definitely isn't room on Charlton as there was barely room for two travel lanes before the bike lanes.

Comment edited by kdslote on 2016-09-21 16:05:07

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By DowntownInHamilton (registered) | Posted September 21, 2016 at 16:42:05 in reply to Comment 120088

I heard his "compromise" is that there will be no parking during peak rush to allow for service vehicles.

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By Suburbanite (anonymous) | Posted September 21, 2016 at 17:24:19

I think this article is a little hard on Arlene, a first term councillor. I got the impression she was not sure what to do under the circumstances, and likely hasn't been involved in such an exchange before, in the Council or Committee arena, and was likely unsure of the protocol. At various times, when Terry was the Chair, he turned to Arlene to be added to the list of speakers as well as yelled "point of order". He was clearly the Chair at those times.
I'm sure she has seeked guidance from Staff and other more seasoned colleagues on protocol in the future. It was a shit show for sure but it likely needed to be played out in public, and on the publicrecord, for all of us to see exactly what sort of character our Ward 8 Councillor possesses.
His actions are unconscionable and perhaps a re-run for a campaign ad during the 2018 election will make the Ward 8 residents think long and hard about what is being portrayed during Council meetings as the popular opinion of those residents

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By JoeyColeman (registered) - website | Posted September 21, 2016 at 17:44:16 in reply to Comment 120092

Vanderbeek is a career politico, she served on Dundas Town Council, and was EA to previous Ward 13 Councillor Russ Powers. She knows how City Hall works. Frankly, even if she were a rookie, there is no excuse for the silence displayed by each and every member of Council.

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By Suburbanite (anonymous) | Posted September 21, 2016 at 19:06:04 in reply to Comment 120093

Agreed. But I just don't think she experienced anything quite like that, while serving in those positions, between colleagues. Given her inexperience I too would have expected one of the others ones to intervene ... instead of leaving the room; or at least give her some guidance. She looked uncomfortable to me and deserves a little latitude in my opinion.

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By JasonL (registered) | Posted September 21, 2016 at 19:08:30

Terry is right. We really need to make life safer for the kids in Durand Park by allowing cars to drive by at 80km/hr again. Won't anyone think of the poor kids?

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By rednic (registered) | Posted September 22, 2016 at 06:29:19 in reply to Comment 120096

Those kids DO NOT live in ward 8 or even on the mountain. Those kids live in ward 1 or 2. They are not important.
If your kids are important move to ward 8 and be forced to drive every where. It could be worse your kids could live in ward 3. Then we would not want them on the mountain

Hamilton mountain only a drive a way from the 21 st century,

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By AK (registered) | Posted September 21, 2016 at 20:43:14

this term of council is turning out abysmal. Donna Skelly is horrible, Conley is worse than Clark, Vanderbeek I haven't noticed much until this, and Collins and Whitehead are taking their utter mediocrity to a completely new level. Farr, Green and Johnson have been bright lights, but I suspect either or both of Johnson and Green will vacate for more sunny pastures given the total incompetents they are surrounded by. I seem to recall council 'under' Eisenberger last time also descending into chaos.

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By JasonL (registered) | Posted September 21, 2016 at 21:04:16 in reply to Comment 120099

sometimes I wish one of the bright lights would just start to play dirty for 1 year and block/oppose every single initiative in Ward 5 and 8. Confederation Park rebuild, social housing projects, roads, parks, sidewalks, bocce etc.....
But they are bright lights because....they're bright lights. Not morons. They don't want to cause citizens of Hamilton to suffer so they can play political games like Wards 5/8 are all too happy to play.

Comment edited by JasonL on 2016-09-21 21:04:33

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By Haveacow (registered) | Posted September 22, 2016 at 08:36:39

It wasn't relevant to put this message in the section about cycling lanes so it may as well be put here. Think of it as an indirect poke at your less than functional councilor Whitehead. Today in Ottawa the first section of OCS (Overhead Contact System) otherwise known as the Catenary wires for the Confederation Line LRT system gets turned on today to begin testing of LRV's. The yard wires will be turned on today. Then over a period of a few weeks OCS sections going up the access track to the mainline and then to Trembley Road Station and eventually all the way to Blair Station will be activated.


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By jordanfranks (registered) | Posted October 03, 2016 at 00:46:18

Farr needs to find a corporate job and try using that tone in the real world. if anyone wasted time or was "inappropriate", it was farr with his “divisive” reps and "quote, end quote, quote, end quote" as well as his questioning of motives, science and perspectives on failure. What does Farr know about science anyway? If anyone was being divisive, it was you, Jason/ Lord of Flies! ps. this feud, between Terry and Jason, reminds me of a greek myth: echo and narcissus. echo echo.

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