Special Report: Light Rail

Time to Stop Rewarding the Whitehead Circus

The angry, right-wing politics of hatred and resentment is a troll that gets bigger and stronger when we feed it. It's time to stop feeding the troll.

By Ryan McGreal
Published February 10, 2017

This article has been updated.

I am sick and tired of writing about Ward 8 Councillor Terry Whitehead and his disreputable antics. He persists in clowning around instead of leading this city responsibly, and as a result he persists in turning City Hall into a circus.

Whitehead's latest stunt was to call a "press conference" (his words) yesterday at City Hall to respond to the recent provincial announcement that planning is starting on the north-south A-Line bus rapid transit (BRT) system.

This sort of thing is red meat for reporters, which is why Whitehead knew he'd get an audience for his shameless publicity grab.

The "press conference" started with Whitehead's assistant taking the official Hamilton City Hall podium and stating that Whitehead would not actually be taking questions from the press, but would be available for one-on-one interviews after making his statement.

As reporter Joey Coleman of The Public Record pointed out, Whitehead could have just put out his news release [PDF] if he wasn't actually going to be taking questions from the press. (Coleman refused to participate in the sham conference.)

Zero Credibility

After almost two years of continuous grandstanding, hyperbolic posturing, bullying and insults, Whitehead has zero credibility on this file and has squandered any expectation of the benefit of the doubt from reporters.

Despite consistently voting literally dozens of times for the City's Light Rail Transit (LRT) plan and applauding the Provincial announcement of full capital funding, Whitehead has since hurled a continuous volley of self-contradictory muck against the plan, hoping something would stick.

He has variously tried to argue that it should be BRT, not LRT, that it should be on Main, not King, that it should be built on the A-Line first, that it should go all the way to Eastgate, that the A-Line should be built as well as the B-Line, that we could turn down the LRT money and use it for something else instead, and so on ad nauseam. It's pure FUD calculated to confuse and undermine the plan he himself has consistently voted to support.

Now he is thinking he might ask the Auditor General to review the Provincial plan in light of the recent decision to eliminate the two-kilometre LRT spur on James North and start work on a full A-Line BRT instead, which is exactly what he voted for along with Council just six months ago.

There You Go With The Numbers Again

In an attempt to mitigate the damage from Whitehead's reckless publicity stunt, Ward 3 Councillor Matthew Green also stepped up to the podium to try and introduce some facts and arguments into the debate. "I am not clear ... where Councillor Whitehead was elected and given the opportunity to speak on behalf of the majority of Councillors."

"The fact is, this council voted 40+ times for this plan. The fact is, this Councillor voted to have an A-Line consideration. The only thing that's left, that remains consistent, is the confusion that is being reported by some few select members of council."

Green (right) looks at the official 'Hamilton City Hall' podium while Whitehead speaks (Image Credit: Screen capture, video by CBC Hamilton)
Green (right) looks at the official 'Hamilton City Hall' podium while Whitehead speaks (Image Credit: Screen capture, video by CBC Hamilton)

And while that was happening, a former mayoral candidate named Edward Graydon jumped in front of the cameras holding a "No LRT" sign and pitched his own candidacy for mayor in the 2018 municipal election. Because why not?

When Green tried to point out that Graydon was violating municipal election law by campaigning early, Graydon launched into a bizarre, Trumpian rant and Green asked for security to have him removed. I'm not going to transcribe it; feel free to watch the cringey video through your fingers if you must.

Whitehead Likes the Fight

Councillor Green is to be commended for his attempt to put out the dumpster fire that Whitehead was trying to light before it spread out of control. However, the events clearly demonstrated yet again that attempting to engage with Whitehead merely strengthens and emboldens him.

To the casual observer who doesn't dig much past the surface, yesterday's fiasco just looks like a bunch of duelling politicians trying to out-grandstand each other.

It actually elevated Whitehead's lame publicity stunt into a significant news story that will get play and traction and raise his public profile. (I'm painfully conscious that just writing about it here may actually play in to his desire to stay in the news.)

Ultimately, Green's attempt to counterbalance Whitehead's nonsense just reconfirmed George Bernard Shaw's famous maxim: "I learned long ago, never to wrestle with a pig. You get dirty, and besides, the pig likes it."

Divisive Politics

Whitehead's brand of shameless right-wing politics is effectively impervious to rational, evidence-based debunking. Whitehead isn't selling a plan, he's selling an attitude, a posture of division and bitterness.

He constantly stokes and inflates a sense of grievance and resentment toward the lower city and the downtown, playing to a small, vicious constituency and alienating most other constituents.

A few years ago, former Toronto Mayor David Crombie gave a talk in Hamilton about the future of Ontario cities. During the Q&A session, he responded to a question about then-Toronto Mayor Rob Ford by citing Ford's cynical strategy to "drive a wedge into the city and grab the bigger piece."

That is also what Whitehead is trying to do. He wants different parts of the city fighting each other, and he likes serving as a flashpoint for all the anger and volatility he foments.

This is why he spent a solid month last year trying to goad me into publicly debating the incoherent pile of garbage "LRT report" he had his assistant write, which was immediately and thoroughly debunked [PDF] by transportation researcher Christopher Higgins, PhD, of McMaster Institute for Transportation and Logistics.

Merely agreeing to debate it would have given it more credit and legitimacy than it deserved and kept his pile of garbage in the news cycle a bit longer.

Stop Feeding the Troll

Despite the temptation to get some easy and entertaining news fodder, it's time for Hamilton's media to stop showing up and providing an audience for Whitehead's foolishness.

Whitehead is not the spokesperson for Council or the City, and he has proven time and again that he is not interested in taking real leadership or moving this city forward.

What he wants is chaos, confusion and uncertainty, because politicians like him thrive in that environment. Anti-rational, hate-fuelled right-wing populism is on the rise across the Western World, and its presence is being felt at the international, national and local levels.

The angry, right-wing politics of hatred and resentment is a troll that gets bigger and stronger when we feed it. It's time to stop feeding the troll.

Update: I want to close with a quote from Joey Coleman: "In the age of poor quality politicians, the media must take responsibility for our role in allowing politicians to avoid accountability, and to start to focus on the quality of voices we cover, not the entertainment or loudness factor of some voices."

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 Borrelli (registered) | Posted February 10, 2017 at 09:32:45


Hamilton's "newsmedia" (minus one demonstrably braver journo) discredited themselves greatly yesterday by participating in a "No Questions" press conference that was basically a circus sideshow.

The economics of Hamilton "news" must be pretty dire if even the journos I respect were willing to go along with that charade. Shame on (most of) you.

Comment edited by Borrelli on 2017-02-10 09:33:30

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By mikhelweiss (registered) | Posted February 10, 2017 at 12:28:30

I'll say what everyone thinks, he needs a new rug. The present one only adds to his buffoonery.

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By bobby2 (registered) | Posted February 10, 2017 at 14:19:26

Ryan, your article actually describes one the symptoms of dysfunction occurring at City Hall. The real elephant in the room over & above LRT is the rampant level of apathy felt by both Unionized & non-unionized staff. Supervisors & Department Heads just go through the motions to collect their pay & benefits as Union's are so strong & Management above Supr. & D.H's so weak including Councillor's, , everyone just turns a blind eye to poor productivity, department inefficiencies, over staffing, excessive absence and out of control overtime! Unionize staff see "couldn't care less" attitude of their Supervisors & Mgrs., so of course they don't care & do just enough to stay under the radar. If the Mayor & Councillor's had the backbone they would get outside consultants to audit the obvious Departments. Maybe Whitehead & Green should hold a Press Conference on these issues.

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By AnjoMan (registered) | Posted February 10, 2017 at 19:39:23 in reply to Comment 120735

Strikes me that this is a chicken / egg problem. What kind of staff culture would you expect when councillors routinely attack your work when they don't agree with its conclusions? I'd have a hard time working hard on anything knowing that it would be attacked by clowns like Whitehead and Skelly

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By Crispy (registered) | Posted February 10, 2017 at 14:31:12

I have no respect for either of them.

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By DowntownInHamilton (registered) | Posted February 10, 2017 at 22:15:45 in reply to Comment 120736

Agreed. Whitehead loves for his name to be in the papers, since any publicity is good publicity. Green disappointed me on this one, just horning his way in and piling on. I wish we could have a cohesive council and mayor.

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By KevinLove (registered) | Posted February 10, 2017 at 14:54:01

Which is the most offensive and harmful of Mr. Whitehead's behaviours? To me, this is when he makes up bare-faced lies to impugn the competence and professionalism of City staff. For example, consider all Mr. Whitehead's many lies and falsehoods about the Herkimer and Charlton bicycle lanes that I took the time to document. In my opinion, the most offensive of these lies is when he falsely claimed that City staff did not consult with waste collection, snow removal or other functions.

Right now, I am looking out the window at steadily falling snow. Not surprising for February. Consider Mr. Whitehead's claim that "Snow removal completely paralyzes the lane... Now I know that Waste don't support it, I know that Snow Removal don't support it."

Asserting that those City functions "don't support it" was a lie; they were consulted and did support the design. And we can now see a certain lack of paralysis as the snow removal personnel do their job. So it looks like all the City staff competently did their jobs.

Unfortunately, I must agree with the final quote from Joey Coleman. In today's age of "click-bait" driven media, we are unlikely to see a front-page article headlined, "City Staff Competently do their Jobs."

Comment edited by KevinLove on 2017-02-10 15:43:32

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By ergopepsi (registered) | Posted February 10, 2017 at 16:51:13

Once again Clr Whitehead is pandering to his base to remain employed. I really wish there were term limits for city councilors. If anything could be put to a referendum that would be it.

Don't they earn like 50k a year? That's what I made when I first got out of college! Kinda sad that he's selling himself out so gratuitously to keep his grip on a low paying job but likely he isn't qualified to do anything better. It is certainly safe to argue that he is not qualified to make critical judgements regarding multi-million dollar projects. Very few on council are except maybe Clr Ferguson as he has been in the construction business for some time.

Comment edited by ergopepsi on 2017-02-10 16:53:26

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By Kevin (registered) | Posted February 11, 2017 at 13:44:02 in reply to Comment 120739

50 k is a lot to many. You should ride your limousine, liberal, to a center for refugees and share your, inspiring, story with the penniless.

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By ergopepsi (registered) | Posted February 11, 2017 at 16:17:36 in reply to Comment 120745


As a liberal

I will ride my


to the 'center for refugees'.

And I will share my story

in the form

of an achingly shitty poem.

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By Kevin (registered) | Posted February 12, 2017 at 08:57:11 in reply to Comment 120746

You're gross.

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By Haveacow (registered) | Posted February 11, 2017 at 11:35:58

This story is all so familiar I and others went through this twice with our LRT process in Ottawa. Eventually, the city of Hamilton will get to one clear and defining point. Do you build or not? Attention to grandstanding local politicians, either get behind the LRT or offer something better, just don't keep boring us with NO, not this plan, not this idea, its too expensive. Any project like an LRT line, which will greatly change the city its located in, usually is expensive. You can't simply choose the same situation here to continue forever, its not working! Simply saying NO is just not good enough, things have to change, RIGHT NOW, while we have the chance!

This process, good or bad, has got the LRT project and everyone else to the point that the LRT is at the Request For Qualification stage (RFQ). Next, the real LRT proposals that will actually get built are shown, the RFP stage, those proposals will have to be worked on for about a year by the groups that win the RFQ. This is the time when nerves are most frayed because all anybody whom is for the project can really do is wait for the coming proposals and everyone who is against the project has a better part of a year to spew to everyone that no matter what is proposed it will never be good enough. Oh yes, there is a provincial and municipal election during that time as well.

Point is that, preaching to the converted at this moment, most of the people who regularly visit this site for example, is useless as is trying to convince the most opposed to this project, some of which also visit this site. The vast majority, those whom don't follow municipal or provincial politics between elections and generally just live and get on with own their lives and pay scant attention to things like municipal politics and LRT are the ones you need to go after. That should be your primary task and you need to remember that you need to run this marathon for the next year and a half and it is a marathon.

Most of your current arguments are about why LRT is good and why it was chosen over other types of rapid transit (BRT, Light Subways and Metro's, Full scale Subways and Metros, even Monorails). Most of these current arguments are only highly meaningful for people who have some understanding of urban development and planning. Now you have to tell the majority of the public of Hamilton why Hamilton needs LRT and most likely what LRT really is. Don't use the rapid transit is good for the environment stuff, you need to tell them why this LRT in Hamilton is better than the status quo and most likely what's currently wrong with the status quo. Avoid concept arguments like urban good & suburban bad, avoid topics smart growth and higher density development opportunities or anything to do with good urban planning and development topics for that matter. They need to understand at a simple level why saying yes is to LRT is good for them.

I once used these lines. No one single LRT line or any rapid transit line for that matter, is going to eliminate all traffic from all roads in the entire city, that just won't happen. What LRT does is allow in the area where it is built is to make the area a better place to be in, definitely more efficient operationally and it allows you to do more of everything, with more people, in the same amount of space, without having to tare down and gut the entire community. Building ever longer and wider roads and then have to tare down more of the community, to have bigger and bigger parking lots, along with those roads just isn't the way to go anymore. large corporations are abandoning traditional office parks for downtowns with LRT because they can get their staff to work without having to build massive parking lots and structures that they have to pay for and cost a fortune to maintain. In fact with LRT, the roads stay the same size more or less and the place becomes more humane in the process. It becomes the place people want to be not where they have to be. Whether they are working, playing or just living there. Its not just about moving transit passengers more efficiently from place to place with public transit.

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By RobF (registered) | Posted February 12, 2017 at 10:45:44

Thanks Ryan. Other than Joey are there any other mud-raking journalists left in this town? And don't get me started with Op-Ed Dreschel and his manufactured AM-radio worthy controversies ...

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By Haveacow (registered) | Posted February 13, 2017 at 21:03:33

I find it interesting when people complain about how much a civic politicians and senior city staff members make and think its a lot. If you ran a company or were on the board of directors of a company the size of the City of Hamilton that had as few board members as most city councils do (even including all the senior staff as well)and whom then earn anything less than high 6 or low 7 figure salaries plus benefits, would be laughed at by their piers in the private sector. You would be amazed at the huge size of the boards of some of these companies, they can contain up to 80-90 people.

What's amazing is that cities can get quality people at all. The CEO of the TTC for example, use to work for a private railway in Australia making a low to mid 7 figure salary and then accepts a job at the TTC as CEO for less than a 1/8 of the pay. Most business people make really lousy politicians because you can't do what a business person does when you run a civic government. If a particular part of your city's operation is not run well or is bleeding funds and resources, the standard business person's response of cutting it or downsizing to maximize profits and operational efficiencies can't usually be done by governments. City governments can't unilaterally decide to cut a city service because its not efficient.

The act of privatizing a city service doesn't necessarily make it any more financially efficient or operationally effective. The privatizing of garbage and or snow removal services in parts of Toronto or here in Ottawa has not made it better or cheaper for that matter. In the case of Ottawa (snow removal on commercial main streets) is a lot less convenient than the previous city run service and it picks up the accumulated snow on city sidewalks far fewer times a month and seems to do a much poorer job. I still remember when a private company got the city's contract to repair city vehicles. It was done as a post amalgamation efficiency in 2001-3. when it became public that many City of Ottawa vehicles, including about 20% of the city's fire trucks were not available for service due to maintenance issues and poor quality work. This was embarrassing because this wasn't a problem before they privatized it.

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