Anti-leaders don't just fail to lead, they go beyond failure to actively undermine, obstruct and sabotage efforts at leadership.
By Ryan McGreal
Published June 16, 2020
Hamilton City Council is controlled by anti-leaders. Anti-leaders don't just fail to lead, they go beyond failure to actively undermine, obstruct and sabotage efforts at leadership.
Let's talk about Chad Collins.
Collins has been the Councillor for Ward 5 for literally a quarter century since 1995, essentially his entire adult life. He is a long-standing member of several high-profile committees and boards, and is a self-styled Budgetary Serious Person.
Every year, Collins does a performative dance where he trots out a list of budget line-items delivering poor value - things like dedicated monies for active transportation projects that didn't get spent because Councillors like Collins voted against them - where the city can trim the budget.
And yet when it comes to the real culprits in Hamilton's budget woes, like our massively overbuilt road system serving low-density sprawl, Collins remains curiously silent.
Collins's latest performative Budget Serious Person stunt comes in the face of #BlackLivesMatter and the sustained global outcry for justice against systemic police oppression and violence toward racialized people.
This particular stunt was breathtakingly cynical even by Collins's standards.
Ostensibly responding to the #DefundPolice movement, Collins announced he would ask for a report on what a 20 percent reduction in the police budget would look like. At first, local activists for racial justice were optimistic, but, well, this is Hamilton.
Collins himself openly boasted during a radio interview that he was asking for the report not to find ways to reduce the police budget, but rather to defend the status quo by fearmongering about what cuts would mean.
Collins is so secure, so cozy in his position as an incumbent that he didn't even pretend to take the anguish of racialized people - many of whom live in his ward - about police militarization and violence seriously.
While Collins was busy making a mockery out of #DefundPolice, we should pause here to recall that the point of the movement is not just to cut police budgets but more broadly to rethink how we achieve the goals of policing and redirect the money into social programs that will protect public health and safety more effectively.
Now, Collins is also the president (since 2016) and a longstanding board member of CityHousing Hamilton (CHH), the beleagured, resource-starved corporation owned by the city that manages the city's public housing.
CHH owns some 7,000 units housing more than 13,000 residents across 1,265 properties. It has an annual operating budget of $45 million. It has a backlog of more than 5,000 people who have applied for a unit.
How much extra housing could the City provide with an additional $34 million a year in new funding? Collins, the President of CityHousing Hamilton, is apparently uninterested in the answer.
Despite his quarter-century of Council tenure and Budget Serious Person stylings, he didn't bother thinking strategically about connections between the city's neglect of the most basic function of a civilization - providing stable housing - and the precarity and insecurity that often results in 9-1-1 calls.
Connecting those dots, after all, would entail the risk of having to exercise leadership.
The system is broken, folks, but you have to admit it's working out pretty well for Collins. He's got the lifelong sinecure of incumbency in a voting system characterized by chronically low turnout that is driven mainly by name recognition.
After helping oversee this city's decline and stagnation for the past 25 years (!), Collins can't exactly adopt a reform agenda now without running smack-dab into his own track record and legacy.
So when an opportunity for leadership presents itself, Collins's automatic response is to undermine and obstruct it.
During an extraordinary global crisis begging for leadership, Collins reflexively exercises anti-leadership.
Collins is just one long-term incumbent councillor among many, and this is just the latest blocked opportunity for leadership. But it really crystallizes what is wrong with this city's governance: its active and relentless opposition to progress.
We - particularly the most marginalized and vulnerable among us - deserve better than anti-leadership. The world is struggling to reckon with the vast interlocking crises that decades of neoliberal austerity have accumulated. And the world needs Hamilton to do its part.
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