The hot sun of political opportunity has shone steadily for Councillor Sam Merulla (Ward 4) since last weekend's flooding, and he has made plenty of hay from his characteristically strident advocacy for those residents whose basements backed up with sewage from the city's antiquated combined sewer/rainwater pipes.
Slamming his fellow councillors and local newsmedia alike over their support for Hamilton's Pan American Games bid, Merulla has presented himself as a champion of the little guy, willing to dole out political capital on the unsexy issue of municipal infrastructure repair.
There's just one problem: it's a load of bollocks.
Set aside for a moment the fact that the Pan Am Games bid, which would commit future capital dollars on new sports facilities, is a red herring when considering city's past underinvestment in infrastructure maintenance - an underinvestment the city is already hastening to remedy.
Whether the Games bid is affordable or advisable as a future initiative is strictly irrelevant. If we want to lay political blame for the state of the city's infrastructure - and Merulla is only too eager to do just that - we need to look at what the city has been spending its money on over the past decade or two.
Instead of maintaining our existing infrastructure, the city has gone for broke on building a $220 million expressway to open up massive new suburban developments on top of the escarpment. The new developments made possible by the Red Hill Valley Parkway (RHVP) paved over the escarpment watershed that might otherwise absorb some of the excess rain that overwhelmed the sewers.
Not only did the RHVP open up the mountain for massive new suburban development by making it highway-accessible, but it also massively engineered the principal drainage basin for the east end - the Red Hill Creek Valley. Is anyone surprised that a highway built in a river basin ended up flooded?
At the same time, since new suburban developments actually put the city's finances deeper in the red, all that new infrastructure has cramped the municipal government's financial capacity to invest in maintaining existing infrastructure.
Councillor Merulla has been a major supporter of the Red Hill Valley Parkway in particular, as well as suburban sprawl in general. In doing so, he himself has helped to relegate his own ward residents to their purgatory of regular basement flooding.
It's not surprising that Merulla is working double-time to link his ward's sewer problems with the Pan Am Games bid. As a rhetorical hook, it helps to distract us from the real culprit: the ongoing municipal trajectory of sprawl development, of which Merulla himself is a longstanding proponent.
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