Municipal Election 2018

Ward 7 Appointee Should Help Council Look More Like Hamilton

The appointment of a replacement Ward 7 councillor is an excellent opportunity for Councillors to recognize that they are not, as a body, representative of the people they work for.

By Craig Burley
Published June 12, 2018

With the election of Ward 7 Councillor Donna Skelly to the provincial legislature as MPP for Flamborough-Glanbrook, our Council has been presented with a golden opportunity to make itself look more like the city it represents. The understandable concern is that it appears to be ready to spurn that in favour of making an appointment that will make Council even less representative of the city than it already is.

The Municipal Act mandates that a city council (meaning its councillors by majority vote) must appoint a replacement if a vacancy occurs more than 90 days from a municipal election. Former Councillor Skelly's election has made this necessary.

Fortunately, however, there is a longstanding convention of not appointing anyone to the seat who would want to run for elective office, meaning that Council will not seek to act as a "king-maker" by handing incumbency advantages to an unelected person.

This means that, even if only for four short months, there is an excellent opportunity to add someone more representative of the City to Council, to represent and communicate with a Ward that has simply been outright ignored during Councillor Skelly's very short stay. It's also an excellent opportunity for Councillors to recognize that they are not, as a body, representative of the people they work for.

This wouldn't likely have a permanent positive effect on Council. Nevertheless, it would likely have both a significant symbolic effect, as well as having a positive effect on governance for the remainder of this Council term.

The median age of Hamiltonians is 37. The median age of our Council is quite a bit higher than that; just how high they don't actually want you to know, as many of them are so embarrassed by their age that their publicly available profiles don't mention their age. (Let's just say I'm very comfortable guessing that their median age is a whole generation older than ours is).

We badly need young people at the council table. They are the ones most left behind by the most important ongoing Council issues, like our massive unplanned and unfunded infrastructure deficit or our land use planning, much of which will only be starting to have an effect 25 years from now when most of our current council has long-since moved on.

We need young people on Council, because young people can better represent the thoughts and ideas of young people, so critical to the city's economic regrowth as well as to planning its future.

The majority of Hamiltonians are women and girls. Yet women only hold 27 percent of the 15 occupied seats now around Council table. Women are disproprtionately affected by city services because they are disproportionately poor, disproportionately seniors, and disproportionately active parents.

The City could do a necessary thing for women by appointing a woman to the vacancy appointment--preferably one of childbearing age, which I'm not seeing anywhere. Let's put those kids' interests first, the ones we say we are all about.

The same analysis applies to visible minorities, who are 20 percent of this city but are less than 7 percent of the occupied seats on Council. They deserve a better, richer voice than they get within our discourse.

I don't have to tell you, reader, that that's not who is being "floated" by columnists and commentators as a potential vacancy appointment to council.

Every clock-puncher who has filled any political chair in this city the last 25 years and doesn't actually have a political job right now is being floated, from Ted McMeekin to Brad Clark to Russ Powers.

Every one is a white male and every one was rejected by voters in changing times, but every one is also a well-established insider with lots of friends at the Council table and lots of experience dawdling us into our widely-reviled current situation. Every one is a longtime aficionado of the same do-nothing, engagement-spurning culture that is already well represented around this very council table.

I'm imploring our Councillors to do the right thing, not just demographically but politically, and not just politically but institutionally. Your corporation, our corporation, is not well-directed, and its leaders are particularly unreflective of the people they serve.

For once, live up to the oath that you swore when you got this job, govern for the whole city, and appoint yourself a colleague who isn't just like you, and is maybe a little more like us.

Craig Burley is a tax lawyer in Hamilton. You can follow him on twitter @craig_burley. Comments here are not legal advice.


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By Tybalt (registered) | Posted June 12, 2018 at 11:00:27

Ha ha, Ryan said he "softened my edges" a bit in the piece and thank you Ryan for your skillful editing but please, folks, rest assured that the original stated, quite accurately and actuarially, that in 25 years the majority of our current Council will be dead.

I want to add. I don't think any of the people I named specifically are specifically responsible for the state of our current Council. That is only up to the people who sit on it. But I do think that they represent more of the same.

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By Kevin (registered) | Posted June 12, 2018 at 18:40:05

J. P. Danko.

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By Tybalt (registered) | Posted June 12, 2018 at 21:15:43 in reply to Comment 123050

Mr. Danko is (in my estimation) favoured to win an elected seat on Council in October. His interest in the vacancy appointment honestly baffles me. Council would quite understandably and appropriately insist that any vacancy appointment withdraw their electoral candidacy.

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By DowntownInHamilton (registered) | Posted June 14, 2018 at 20:17:47 in reply to Comment 123051

I certainly hope so. I see he's registered for Ward 8, and with such a close by-election loss and Whitehead (hopefully) running in ward 14, we would see him at council. I'd love to have a younger representative who is willing to listen to those who aren't yelling the loudest or ponying up the most money in the ward. Is the rule that the appointee won't run in the ward or run for council in general?

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By Kevin (registered) | Posted June 13, 2018 at 20:52:20

It was retro-wishing, as well.

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By mountain66 (registered) | Posted June 30, 2018 at 14:45:41

With the Councillors from ward 6 and ward 8 now sharing duties it means that between Councillor Jackson and Councillor Whitehead 2 Councillors represent almost 30% of the entire population of the City of Hamilton. It makes me wonder if they can handle that many constituents why we need 15 Councillors.

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By Tybalt (registered) | Posted July 03, 2018 at 15:34:06 in reply to Comment 123181

My understanding is that Councillors Jackson and Whitehead have not yet been sharing Ward 7 duties, which are not formally assigned to anyone.

If they do begin to represent Ward 7 through any official or unofficial action by the City, they would immediately vacate the Ward 6 and Ward 8 council seats respectively, under paragraph 259(1)(e) of the Municipal Act. A declaration of the vacancy would then follow by the Council on or before the next meeting, and the various legal steps would follow from that including the mandatory naming of a vacancy appointment for that Ward.

This might apply only to the first of the two Councillors to be formally assigned the duties of the Ward 7 Councillor, since it is arguable (indeed, persuasive) that only one person can be so named, meaning that only they would lose their existing seat. (Arguably lacking the power to nominate a second person to that office, the second Councillor so named might therefore not vacate his existing seat.)

The clear Municipal Act provisions specifying the legal repercussions of appointing an sitting councillor to fill a vacancy are what make it very surprising that Council continue to explore this idea.

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