Municipal Election 2010

Of Cursing and Candles

It's better to light a candle than to curse the darkness, and the upcoming election is a golden opportunity to light a whole bunch of candles. Here's how to get started.

By Jason Allen
Published July 20, 2010

So I have been reading with much enthusiasm over the last few weeks the firestorm that has erupted on Raise the Hammer over the stadium location issue. Invariably, there are 30, 40, at one point even 70 comments, with most being a variation on the theme council is dysfunctional, throw the bums out.

Yet a quick look at the City of Hamilton's election website shows an alarming number of seats in this fall's Civic Election that are still uncontested, and voter turnout in the 2006 election was 37 percent.

Let me say that again: The direction of Hamilton's government - the City Hall renovation issue, the parade of jobs out of our city, the Aerotropolis disaster in the making, and even the stadium location - will all be presided over by a group of people who had the support of about one-third of Hamiltonians.

So what can one person do?

Well, here's something. As the saying goes, it's better to light a candle than to curse the darkness, and here is a golden opportunity to light a whole bunch of candles.

Hamilton Civic League is going door to door across Hamilton to ask regular, everyday people what they think about their city. How it should be run, and what is important to them.

Then - and this is the big then, the part that saw Guelph's 12-person-stuck-in-their-dysfunctional-ways council get tossed out on its ear - they are going to compare the voting records of each councillor to the values expressed by respondents to the survey.

And they are going to publicize the heck out of that comparison. The media is on board, and raring to go. All they need is the data.

I often hear people say, "I don't vote, because it doesn't make a difference."

Fred Eisenberger was elected by 452 votes. The really scary part was that on my way to the polling station in 2006, I said to my partner, "I'm going to register a protest vote, and spoil my ballot or something, 'cause Di Ianni's going to walk away with it again."

I'm sure glad I didn't follow through on that stupid idea.

Similarly, if 453 people had said that night "oh, my vote doesn't count" and stayed home, we might still have Larry as Mayor, and the Aerotropolis would already be a done deal...and who knows what else.

So not only can you make a difference by voting, you can make a huge difference by helping your fellow Hamiltonians get engaged in the electoral process.

What's it going to cost you? About an hour of walking around in the sunshine and getting to know your neighbors better. Hell, you should be paying them for the privilege.

So click on the link, fill in your volunteer form, and let Kim know you're good for an hour or so. They need over 100 volunteers, and right now they've got about 20.

Unless you want the same 37 percent of voters deciding how this city is run in three months' time, you'd better start moving. Online indignation is not enough. It's time for action.

This article was first published on Jason Allen's personal website.

Jason Allen is a chronic hive whacker in the Kirkendall Neighbourhood.

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By DanielRodrigues (registered) - website | Posted July 20, 2010 at 11:53:15

Leaders lead so that others will follow. Most likely the lack of individuals bellying up to the ballot is due to who is leading (and I'm not indicating one person).

Your commentary begins well, but then you drop "Aerotropolis" into the mix, and suddenly your piece no longer seems important. It now looks like another special-interest piece.

If you're really concerned about our Municipal representatives, then why are you not asking about the leadership? Regardless of the issue, Council lacks cohesiveness to move Hamilton forward. Votes pertaining to Hamilton's future tend to end in either a split-vote or deferral for further consultation. The City operates in a piece-meal fashion, wherein we have 15 local mayors and one mayor at large who focus on their specific concerns first, rather than the concern of the City at large.

I will agree with you that Hamilton needs to be more engaged in the election process, and that certainly more education is required on our representatives. The results of the survey will tell the story...I just hope we can get that story in time.

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By highwater (registered) | Posted July 20, 2010 at 12:42:14

Your commentary begins well, but then you drop "Aerotropolis" into the mix, and suddenly your piece no longer seems important. It now looks like another special-interest piece.

Sorry, but even the Spec is using the term 'aerotropolis' these days. AEGD proponents started it, then tried to take it back when it appeared to have negative connotations, but I'm afraid it's too late. It's simple shorthand for the mouthful 'Airport Employment Growth District', and the acronym AEGD is too esoteric to be useful for public discussion. It is no longer just the purview of groups who are opposed, but has entered the mainstream. It's a pretty neutral descriptor when you think about it. You'll likely be hearing it alot more as the public discussion heats up, so I suggest you get used to it and stop trying to marginalize the people who use it.

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By GetGoing (anonymous) | Posted July 20, 2010 at 14:03:24

@highwater. I believe, though I could be wrong, that Daniel was referring to the clearly identifiable position Jason has on the AEGD, Aerotropolis, land around the airport, whatever you want to call it. He was not referring to what Jason called it.

The Guelph Civic League was founded on basis representing the values of the voters, and then set about publishing how councillors had voted in relation to those values, and how campaign platforms (incumbents and challengers) aligned with those values.

Jason clearly shows he's against the Aerotropolis and implies correctly or incorrectly, the HCL supports that position. If they don't have a position, on this, or any other topic or candidate, then they should demand a clarification that Jason doesn't speak on their behalf.

Unfortunately, based on what I've seen and heard the HCL does have opinions and positions, or at least their leaders do and have put those opinions forward at HCL meetings. Its my belief, this call for 100+ volunteers will fall far short, as I know first hand that many talk the talk, but the vast majority can't or more likely won't walk the talk.

It can take years to recruit that number of volunteers, train the volunteers, canvas neighbourhoods, collect data, analyze data, compile the data into a list, align that data with incumbent voting records, align it with candidate platforms, and then communicate it effectively to all of Hamilton. With less than 100 days to Election Day I would suggest that people should seek the candidates they believe can bring change to Hamilton and throw their volunteer support behind those candidates.

Sorry, but IMHO less than 100 days does not provide enough time for a grassroots organization.

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By jasonaallen (registered) - website | Posted July 20, 2010 at 15:47:02

I'm more than happy to say that I do NOT speak on behalf of the HCL, indeed I have never claimed to. I strongly support what they are doing, because I believe that if everyday people in Hamilton get a chance to speak out about what they value - the results are going to be pretty similar to what I value. Which was exactly what they discovered in Guelph. I am, however, prepared to put that belief on the line, and go out and engage with my neighbors and find out what it is they value.

"With less than 100 days to Election Day I would suggest that people should seek the candidates they believe can bring change to Hamilton and throw their volunteer support behind those candidates." - Get Going

I agree that this is an important part of the process, but it probably won't impact the anticipated >40% voter turnout most people are expecting. HCL's process will, if enough people get behind it.

Say what you will about the admittedly short timelines, but sitting on the sidelines and saying "they have opinions" or "they waited too long" only serves to reinforce the problem of a lack of civic engagement in Hamilton.

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By BobInnes (registered) - website | Posted July 20, 2010 at 16:01:46

GetGoing makes a good point about the time left. I think the biggest possible contribution the Civic League could make is simply to identify and publish the voting record of each councilor. The survey thing is a massive job and attempting to prejudge what citizens should judge for themselves is a little patronizing. Going further, the help that this citizen needs is reading the voting record between the lines and detecting the hidden agendas that are surely operating.

The Civic League initiative, welcome as it is, is a one-off desperate measure that is based on a false premise: that changing the guard will change the ultimate outcome. Nothing could be further from the truth. Whether you vote for Liberals, Conservatives, NDP, Republican, Democrat, Whigs, Tory, Labour or just your local councilor, you are in fact voting for the Money Party, the elite. There is ooonnllyy ONE way to change this truism, and that is to do what democracy originally did. Athenian democracy was a direct democracy and its officials were often drawn at random (by lot) to serve a limited, once-in-a-lifetime term of office. The main requirement of an official was honesty. Woe betide the dishonest discovered. If an official happened to be brilliant, or even just competent, so much the better, but it was not required or even important. Competency resides in the bureaucracy not the political class.

Applied to Hamilton, this would require main meetings be held in a stadium (we have one) attended by all interested and extended as needed by internet voting. The mayor would (probably) be elected and the councilors would be chosen by lot.

I believe this system would work, would fix Hamilton in double quick time and would set an example that would have the world beating a path to our door.

The choice is ours.

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By DanielRodrigues (registered) - website | Posted July 20, 2010 at 16:51:20

Thank you @GetGoing for clarifying my comment, as you are correct in that I was identifying Jason's position versus the term.

I'm a tad concerned that Jason believes "...that if everyday people in Hamilton get a chance to speak out about what they value - the results are going to be pretty similar to what I value." And while he is willing to put that "belief on the line", he doesn't state whether he'd be willing to adapt his values if the results show that they differ from his.

What clouds the agenda is the presumption of the concerns of the voters through highlighting a few issues which may or may not be of a concern of the voter. The sample survey asks 34 questions that are a marketer's dream when it comes to reporting the results.

As an example, question 3 asks: "The priority of road and traffic design should be to promote fast movement of cars and trucks throughout the city" -Strongly disagree; Disagree; Neither agree or disagree; Agree; Stongly agree; Don't know

Question 4 then asks, "Road and traffic design should give priority to community and environmental concerns (such as noise, levels of social interaction, safety or pollution). With the same multiple-choice answer options as above.

I'll be willing to put a small wager on the table that the responses will show that close to 100% will 'disagree or strongly disagree' with question 3, & the same percentage will 'agree or strongly agree' with question 4.

What I fail to see in questons of this type, is how this has anything to do with the candidates running for (re)election? I seriously doubt that any of them would differ from the results. Where are the questions on civic engagement?

Perhaps the HCL does not have their own opinions on certain matters, but like @GetGoing, I haven't seen anything to the contrary.

Comment edited by DanielRodrigues on 2010-07-20 15:53:58

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By GetGoing (anonymous) | Posted July 20, 2010 at 16:57:54

"I'm more than happy to say that I do NOT speak on behalf of the HCL, indeed I have never claimed to."

But you must surely agree, that a call to action on their behalf without a declaration saying you are not an executive HCL member implies that you do speak on their behalf.

Thank-you for declaring that you are not an executive HCL member.

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted July 20, 2010 at 17:21:33

Hold on, back up - Bratina's not on that list. Is he not running for re-election?

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By nolarry (anonymous) | Posted July 20, 2010 at 17:30:13

A friend has noted that no paper in Hamilton has yet asked non candidate
where he'll get his election contributions from. CATCH did a really good
piece in May, says my friend, on the contributions discussion outside of Hamilton.

re waiting on Larry Di Ianni now, and his WIKIPEDIA entry--
So waiting for his mayorness explains why Di ianni is painting a new Larry in Wikipedia.
During the winter and early spring of this year 2010, the sections below were part of the Larry Di Ianni Wikipedia 'bio'. When someone checked very recently, the whole thing had been 'cleaned up' and these sections BELOW were removed--like all wiki you can see them in their files of site history. The good thing is lots of Hamilton students at high school and college saw the sections below along with the Spec and other things when they studied local history, a more real version I guess, before friends of Larry were asked to make changes. Now there's something about his 2003 donations violations being like a speeding ticket--a Wiki comment several people have noticed. There was also very briefly in the Wikipedia notes a comment that probably referred to Larry's strange rantings in the Ecklund columns.

*So read these previous sections:

--Di Ianni argued, falsely, that his 2003 mayoral campaign had been run by "amateurs" when in fact it was run by experienced paid professionals. The money-raising had gone very badly by the Nov. 2003 election date. By the Nov. 2003 city election date, the Di Ianni campaign had raised less than half of what it eventually spent in total. The Hamilton Spectator had reported this in early 2005!
In that Fall 2003 campaign, above and beyond donations received, Di Ianni borrowed a small fortune for publicity to overwhelm his main opponent, who'd raised nearly as much real money from lots of individual donations; more than donated to Di Ianni. Of what DiIanni had actually collected from donations before the 2003 election, which constituted less than half of what he spent in total on the campaign, at least 25% of that collected amount was, by judges, found to be illegal donations. The local Hamilton paper, the Spectator, covered that part of this story very badly, mainly ignoring what amounts had been raised from donors before the election in favour of reminding readers what Di Ianni spent in total, except nobody claimed he overspent over legal limits for spending. The problems of illegality involved of course the donations received and accepted by the election date; so ruled the court, which also required Di Ianni to write an essay.

- - On July 10, 2006 Di Ianni was charged under the Provincial Offences Act of Ontario for violating the Municipal Elections Act of Ontario.[4] On August 24, 2006, he became the first Ontario Mayor to be convicted of violating the Act pleading guilty to six charges related to accepting inappropriate campaign donations. He'd been charged with 41 offences but plea-bargained to six guilty counts.

- - In the 2008 federal election, Di Ianni was the Liberal candidate in the federal riding of Hamilton East-Stoney Creek, however he lost the race to NDP Incumbent Wayne Marston by a margin of 6,464 votes. Di Ianni's results were far worse than the Liberal party on average did in the province of Ontario in that federal election, looking at his drop in votes and in percentage from the previous federal election [in that riding].

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By John Neary (registered) | Posted July 20, 2010 at 21:55:55

@Daniel Rodrigues:

question 3 asks: "The priority of road and traffic design should be to promote fast movement of cars and trucks throughout the city" -Strongly disagree; Disagree; Neither agree or disagree; Agree; Stongly agree; Don't know

Question 4 then asks, "Road and traffic design should give priority to community and environmental concerns (such as noise, levels of social interaction, safety or pollution). With the same multiple-choice answer options as above.

I'll be willing to put a small wager on the table that the responses will show that close to 100% will 'disagree or strongly disagree' with question 3, & the same percentage will 'agree or strongly agree' with question 4.

What I fail to see in questons of this type, is how this has anything to do with the candidates running for (re)election? I seriously doubt that any of them would differ from the results.

There's a bit of a paradox there. You're saying that most citizens will value community and environmental concerns over traffic flow, and that candidates will agree with them. And yet for fifty years our streets have been engineered to optimize traffic flow to the near exclusion of all other goals.

In other words, you're saying that council is failing to represent the wishes of the electorate. Seems like a pretty good justification for the work of the Hamilton Civic League.


By the way, I do share your concern that organizations like the HCL have to be very careful to not become associated with specific political positions. But that cuts both ways. Larry Di Ianni shouldn't have accepted their invitation to speak at an HCL forum this spring if he was thinking about running for mayor again.

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By Meredith (registered) - website | Posted July 20, 2010 at 23:48:21

Just a small FYI, the reason questions like 3 and 4 are designed similarly is to increase the accuracy of the survey, which has been designed and checked over again and again by statistics professors and doctoral students to ensure it's asking questions in a fair way.

When a question is asked from both sides like that it ensures the answer isn't skewed one way because people didn't understand the wording of a question - similarly, there's been quite a bit of feedback on making sure the survey questions are on things municipal councillors can actually affect.

Do I have opinions and positions? I sure hope so... any citizen does. The point of a survey like this is that no one's opinions take precedence but there's an accurate reflection of each ward.

And in the areas we fall short, I hope in 4 years we learn from and have an extremely accurate and specific tool to use them - just like it took the Guelph Civic League years to get going. In the meantime, do the best job we can and find out the most information we can.

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By mystoneycreek (registered) - website | Posted July 21, 2010 at 08:23:14

I'm not a great believer in polls, even when they seem to reveal support for something I believe in. Mostly because I have little faith in the average person a) being able to process a subject beyond what they want to watch on tv that evening, which team they support, or something similar, and b) their ability to articulate what they've concluded. Snobbery? Absolutely. And I'm sure I'll be 'downvoted' as a result. But my viewpoint in this area is fueled by three elements.

The first is that it's easy to forget that the range of intellectual, emotional and spiritual abilities is far greater (and far more worrying) than maybe the average 'informed' person here wants to consider. For years I could be accused of believing that most everyone was 'intelligent'. Having grown up in a non-academic, yet 'intellectual' household, I -naïvely- believed that everyone had cognitive abilities, everyone had curiosity, everyone felt compelled to delve into what Life offered above and beyond the superficial.

Silly me.

The truth is that, as illustrated in a wonderful passage of Erik Kraft's 'Passionate Spectator' (one I'd dearly love to excerpt here, but it would be decidedly inappropriate), what we have when looking at a society's intelligence is a Bell Curve...and its realities don't flatter the notion that we're all competent in brain-stuff and its concomitant behaviour. (Needless to say, readers here are not 'the norm'.)

The second point has to do with that last aside; what you see here on RTH and elsewhere on other boards is NOT reflective of the 'average' populace in Hamilton. It's misrepresentative, actually. It's easy to assume (especially when you really, really want to believe it to be the case, when you're that hopeful) that what you see here is indicative of 'out there'. It's not. It never is, especially with the thrust of this site, which is essentially civic activism. Which is NOT endemic to modern life. (If you believe this, you really need to get out of your enclave more and talk to Everyman and Everywoman. Good luck with that.)

Finally, and maybe this is the most contentious (I'm laughing as I envision not only being 'downvoted', but actually banished to some hinterland, some horrible place...maybe the property Matt Jelly just wrote about in his commentary) is that so many people cannot be bothered with politics. (Please see my previous point for context as your umbrage takes over.) Most people 'can't be arsed', they have no time for 'all that'. In fact, if you ask these people, I'd bet a pile of money that the pat response would be: 'That's why we vote! To have someone look after this stuff! I don't want to be spending MY time having to make sure the right decisions are made! That's what politicians are being paid to do!!!'

I had a wonderful email exchange with Editor Ryan yesterday. I'm not going to quote from it, that too would be inappropriate, but the thrust of my enquiry was "What do you think voters should be looking for in new candidates this autumn?" Thought I'm not going to cut-and-paste his erudite, informed and, as I expressed to him, 'fit for publication' response, my interpretation is that if you want good government, the electorate MUST maintain a high level of engagement with its elected officials after they're voted in. Period.

From my vantage point, the 'average' person is not currently willing to expend this level of energy. Sad? Yes! Acceptable, if we want a better world? No! But really, in light of how people have defaulted to an 'entitlement' behavioural profile, how many have abrogated their responsibilities in regards to parenting, to families, to relationships, to neighbourhoods and community...should this come as any surprise?

The system is broke. I think we can all agree on that. Maybe where we disagree...at least perhaps there's disagreement between myself and those who thrive on righteous indignation and want to 'Vote them out!'...is that I believe the real issue is NOT the poor levels of ability our current elected officials display...it's the poor levels of engagement that so many of our citizenry dsiplay in regards to how they're goverened...and believe not only are appropriate...but their God-given right to embrace.

Apathy rules, folks. Until that changes, nothing really changes.

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By jasonaallen (registered) - website | Posted July 21, 2010 at 09:31:53

@mystoneycreek - I too used to feel your cynicism. After my first experience in politics (in Student Leadership in Alberta) I came away totally jaded, and felt that not only did the average person not care about issues that were really important (to me), but that their opinion was actually dangerous, as it was knee-jerk, uninformed, and easily swayed by corporate marketing or PR spin.

I have mellowed in my interpretation of this somewhat. I agree that people want to send elected officals off to city hall, or Queen's Park, or Parliament to do the deciding for them. Representative Democracy works well for many of the reasons you describe. However I also feel that when those officials make fundamentally bad decisions (in the eyes of enough of the people they represent), it's not too hard to make a case for change.

I don't know if you attended the meeting that probably spawned the HCL, when Annie (forget her last name) from Guelph Civic league came and discussed what and how they had accomplished something amazing - raising the voter turnout in Guelph to near 50%. Yes that's pathetic, as far as voter turnout goes, but for Guelph it was a huge first step. I remain hopefull that with enough hard work and persistence, we can get the numbers up here as well.

Meanwhile, I upvoted your comment because I feel it represents the opinion of a great number of people - but it's just another variation on the "I can't make a difference" theme many of us want to change.

Comment edited by jasonaallen on 2010-07-21 08:35:21

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By Undustrial (registered) - website | Posted July 21, 2010 at 11:46:31

Blaming voter apathy is too easy.

People are apathetic because they've lost faith in the system. Politicians are incompetant, corrupt and unreliable. Parliament is a joke. And elections have become nothing but self-serving popularity contests, used by the Conservatives and Liberals every couple of years for minor tactical gains in parliament.

Want to increase voter turnout? It isn't hard. Whether it's organizations like the Guelph Civic League increasing engagement, or European proportional represention systems. If democracy works, people tend to get a lot more excited about it.

People aren't stupid. Years of work in politics (from any angle) tends to make people very jaded and misanthropic. It's really frustrating when people won't just line up and do what you say, even if it's what you think is best for them. But for ordinary people, it's just one more self-serving political-type trying to get them to sign on. And of course, once people hear what those political-types actually think of them, any enthusiasm they had tends to vanish.

For every Canadian who voted for Stephen Harper, there's nearly two who didn't vote at all. That's far too much of the population to just write off. How many people need to stop participating, how large of a majority, to show that "none of the above" is a legitimate choice?

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By z jones (registered) | Posted July 21, 2010 at 11:57:59

Blaming "voter apathy" is an apathetic answer to a complex question.

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By Undustrial (registered) - website | Posted July 22, 2010 at 21:22:52

What's the difference between ignorance and apathy?

I don't know, and I don't care.

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