Special Report: Light Rail

Rudderless Council Drifts Aimlessly on LRT

After years of community organizing, extensive study and planning, unprecedented public engagement and a unanimous Council vote of support, Hamilton's LRT bid now seems to be crumbling due to a lack of leadership.

By Ryan McGreal
Published July 05, 2011

An article just published on the Spectator has left me stunned and flabbergasted.

Councillors Brad Clark and Chad Collins suddenly don't understand why the City is developing an intensification plan along the B-Line corridor that is predicated on Hamilton's Rapid Transit program.

Clark says Councillors "still don't know where we stand on LRT" and would rather focus intensification on Rymal Road. He feels council is "slowly being backed into a corner" on LRT, because the Province gave the City $3 million to develop a comprehensive light rail plan along the B-Line ... after Council voted unanimously to endorse Hamilton's LRT bid and Metrolinx, the Provincial arms-length organization coordinating rapid transit in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area published a benefits case analysis that recommended LRT.

Collins would rather concentrate around GO stations on James North and Centennial Parkway. Collins also appears to oppose intensification of built-up areas, saying, "I have consistently fought against cannibalizing neighbourhoods for main street development."

Even Planning and EcDev general manager Tim McCabe got in on the act. According to the article, "the B-Line corridor wouldn't be his first choice, either" - though at least McCabe acknowledged that with a provincially-funded LRT, "the whole investment climate changes. We will get the uplift and we will get the development interest."

Collins and Clark think Hamilton should "regain control of its destiny" ... by basing its development policy on wherever developers want it.

Unprecedented Public Engagement

Never mind where residents want it. The Rapid Transit project has drawn an unprecedented level of public engagement, with literally thousands of Hamiltonians actively expressing their support for LRT, sharing their ideas on how best to implement it, and giving up afternoons and evenings to attend public meetings, planning sessions and focus groups with city planners.

After years of community organizing, a unanimous Council vote of support, major studies by Metrolinx, several detailed reports by city staff and consultants, and a massive, ongoing level of engagement with the public, Hamilton's LRT bid now seems to be crumbling due to a lack of political leadership from our political leaders.

No one from Council seems to be paying attention to Waterloo Region, which just approved its LRT plan after years of careful study, planning and analysis identified LRT as "an important part of the Region's plan to accommodate significant population and employment growth over the next 20 years."

No one from Council bothered to listen to Paul Bedford, Toronto's Chief Planner Emeritus, when he came to Hamilton to give an inspiring, timely talk on why transit matters.

Instead, councillors whine that they feel like they're "following process rather than leading it" when they have to read about a policy they initiated themselves that targets new development in our already-built but long-neglected downtown corridor instead of approving an endless series of sprawl subdivisions and big box plazas on suburban greenfields.

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 writes a city affairs column in Hamilton Magazine, and several of his articles have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. He also maintains a personal website and has been known to post passing thoughts on Twitter @RyanMcGreal. Recently, he took the plunge and finally joined Facebook.

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By CaptainKirk (anonymous) | Posted July 05, 2011 at 23:18:20

Parochialism?

Wish we could have our Board of Control back! Council's current structure is a fractious entity that cannot, and will not, think about long term CITY initiatives. Impossible to ever have a vision. Who represents the CITY of Hamilton? Who acts in the CITY's best interests?

Hope I'm wrong!

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By mdruker (registered) - website | Posted July 05, 2011 at 23:55:38

Waterloo Region staff, with Regional Council support, did the math and figured that if it doesn't build rapid transit to attract and to support central growth, the infrastructure to support extra sprawl would cost the Region far more than it would save in short-term capital costs.

Fortunately for Waterloo Region, its council is composed of mayors and at-large representatives of three cities, plus four township mayors. Several new councillors had not been in favour of LRT, but when faced with the growth projections and the costs of doing nothing or of a short-term solution - they came around to it, both as infrastructure for future generations and for limiting sprawl.

Unfortunately for Hamilton, its council appears to have several vocal members that represent the interests of sprawl instead of the interests of a city as a whole. I mean that in terms of wards, but I do also have to wonder about potential corruption with developers interested in maximizing the value of their farmland speculation.

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted July 06, 2011 at 00:40:57 in reply to Comment 65593

The difference is that Waterloo isn't gradually becoming a bedroom community of Toronto. Tri-city residents generally work within the tri-city. Meanwhile, Hamilton's suburbanites are capable of pretending that the lower city of Hamilton doesn't exist - they shop in Ancaster and Limeridge and commute over the Parkway to get into the GTA. They have no interest in developing the lower city of Hamilton, and therefore no reason to invest in it.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted July 06, 2011 at 06:34:32 in reply to Comment 65599

Waterloo isn't gradually becoming a bedroom community of Toronto.

I don't know if you caught Paul Shaker's essay in (I think) the June Urbanicity, but most Hamiltonians work in Hamilton, and more people commute into the city to work than out.

We need our leaders to a) understand and b) explain that Hamilton's long-term viability as a city depends on a healthy city centre that can accommodate significant growth.

Even if we had enough farmland to expand indefinitely, suburbs simply don't pay for themselves. They need to be anchored to an economic engine - a city - that generates enough wealth to afford all the expensive, inefficient infrastructure that sprawl needs to function.

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted July 06, 2011 at 00:43:58

As I said before, the problem is LRT is political suicide. It will snarl up Hamilton's carefully cultivated traffic with endless construction (look at all the grousing about something as simple as closing the ramp on the King/403 bridge) and spend tonnes of money for something that won't be operational, much less paying dividends before the next election.

Last election Hamiltonians demonstrated our priorities - city building falls below fear and taxes. So the current council is even more risk averse than normally-sheepish politicians are.

I miss Fred. If he was going to kamikaze his political career over a city-building project, it's too bad he didn't pick a bigger target.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted July 06, 2011 at 06:42:53 in reply to Comment 65600

LRT is political suicide.

LRT has broad-based support across the city, including the strong support of the Chamber of Commerce, the Realtors Association of Hamilton and Burlington, the Jobs Prosperity Collaborative, th Downtown and International BIA, multiple Neighbourhood Associations and Community Councils, the Poverty Roundtable, and more.

Public engagement and support for LRT is unprecedented, with literally thousands of residents actively expressing support and participating in LRT planning.

You're right that this council is driven primarily by fear, but they may just discover that not supporting LRT is political suicide.

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By mrgrande (registered) | Posted July 06, 2011 at 07:13:50

One think Brad Clark said that I agree with (never thought I'd say that) is there needs to be a better plan for Rymal Road. Right now, it's just subdivisions and big box stores being put in (seemingly) at random. If they want to build subdivisions & big box stores, that's fine, but there needs to be a plan to ensure the land is being used with some sort of organization, and Rymal Road need to stop looking like the highway it was five years ago. Put some friggin trees and sidewalks in.

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By George (registered) | Posted July 06, 2011 at 10:34:51 in reply to Comment 65603

LRT's S-Line is to go along Centennial Parkway and Rymal Rd. Are Mr. Collins and Mr. Clark aware of this? Is there a better way to plan for Centennial Parkway & Rymal Rd. than to grasp the opportunitites that LRT provides?

http://img.photobucket.com/albums/v174/A...

Comment edited by George on 2011-07-06 10:38:51

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By mystoneycreek (registered) - website | Posted July 06, 2011 at 07:14:32

Hamilton's suburbanites are capable of pretending that the lower city of Hamilton doesn't exist - they shop in Ancaster and Limeridge and commute over the Parkway to get into the GTA. They have no interest in developing the lower city of Hamilton, and therefore no reason to invest in it.

Beautiful! Absolutely beautiful! My July nomination for the saliency award.

This issue, in an of itself, is worthy of a forum. Because it's pretty clear that little regarding revitalization is going to happen as a result of Council, which has -benignly or not- pursued/let unfold a 'peripheral development mandate' for the past 2+ decades.

Shame, for shame.

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By Kiely (registered) | Posted July 06, 2011 at 09:39:23 in reply to Comment 65604

Yep, some people don't seem to understand that you can't be a suburb of nothing.

There are many examples in the US of what happens to cities that ignore their cores: Cleveland, St.Louis, Detroit...

Urban decay rather quickly becomes suburban decay. The "first ring suburbs" in places like Cleveland have already seen this decline with once full suburban malls and neighbourhoods now resembling slums.

What these councillors need to get through their thick heads is without a dense and well populated urban core (and initiatives to develop and support it) more of the city's tax burden needs to be shifted to suburban residents. Is that what they want for their constituents?

Some suburban residents may not like or want to go downtown but unless the people in these predominantly residential areas of the city are willing to become the economic engine of the city (i.e., pay more in taxes) they better be finding some love for the urban core.

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By wtflol (anonymous) | Posted July 06, 2011 at 09:06:51

OK I just read the Spec comments on the linked article and my I.Q. actually went down a few points. Please please god don't let those knuckle draggers be the typical Hamiltonian or we're screwed no matter what we do.

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By slodrive (registered) | Posted July 06, 2011 at 09:14:58

Below is my message to Mr. Lloyd Ferguson. I have been very pleased with how he's responded to my questions and issues in the past. So, I'm confident that, at the very least, my voice will be heard. As per below:

Just caught an article in The Spectator and on Raise the Hammer regarding council's cold-feet on LRT. (Here's the RTH article link for reference: http://raisethehammer.org/article/1402/r... )

Why oh why are we still wavering on this?? After all the private, public and academia commentary that supports the initiative, combined with solid best-practices and case-studies that have been brought to the forefront, why are there councilors digging their heels in on this?? Unless, of course, its to legitimize their jobs by grandstanding and adding hours to the docket.

The goal of council, as seems to have been stated for the better part of a decade now, is to ensure investment and revitalization of our downtown. That means a more livable city that fosters intensification and commercial development. A mix of residents, employment and services. Where young professionals see potential - whether they own a car or not -- and where people see the progressiveness and cleanliness that results in the desire to locate their families there.

Yet a Councillor...a Hamilton Councillor...seems hellbent on intensification near Rymal road?? Is this a joke? Did we launch back into the 1970s where swallowing up land and flooding roads with more and more vehicles was not only a policy, but a passion?

Let's get with the times and start focusing on the community's future.

Thanks,

(slodrive) Ancaster, ON

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By slodrive (registered) | Posted July 07, 2011 at 15:00:16 in reply to Comment 65617

Update...no reply yet from Mr. Ferguson. Benefit of the doubt being given though - generally he's been relatively prompt to respond to my rants and raves.

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By the big chill (anonymous) | Posted July 07, 2011 at 15:10:42 in reply to Comment 65747

After Peggy Chapmans "if you have a boss" fiasco I'm starting to wonder if council has been told to circle the wagons. Usually they love to tell you how great of a job they're doing but now I'm hearing people say they haven't heard back.

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By Robert D (anonymous) | Posted July 06, 2011 at 09:16:52

Time to repurpose ourcityourfuture for a transit campaign? I think it would be a very good idea.

We need to give council a more visible and "in their face" example of the broad support the issue has. I would have suggested a rally (in fact I did...), or even an old fashioned petition, but this new fangled web thing seems to be the way things are going these days. Heck, even a facebook group (although I don't use facebook) might draw their attention.

At present it is precisely because councillors DON'T go to the information sessions and DON'T go listen to these speakers that they DON'T have a clue about how engaged the citizens are with LRT.

Those comments I've seen against LRT are generally coming from mountain residents (like myself) but are based in large part on misinoformation, or misunderstanding (i.e. "not enough people travel that route", or "it won't benefit most of the city".)

I'd love to see LRT as it would free up our current articulating buses for use on another part of the BLAST line. How about from Centre Mall to Meadowlands along Mohawk?. Mohawk, with its variety of small and mid-level apartment buildings is just screaming out for intesnsification (imagine those tiny 3 floor apartments doubled or tripled in height and turned into condos?). Of course I'm sure zoning bylaws are standing in the way of that kind of progress, or such development would have already happened. Of course it's cheaper to build suburban homes out south of rymal than it is to build condos closer to the geographic heart of Hamilton.

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By RyanB (anonymous) | Posted July 06, 2011 at 11:21:44

Nice of The Spec to get comments from suburban Councillors. Where are the comments from the urban Councillors?

Farr?

Morelli?

Maybe come collective leadership will come from them as we apparently cannot rely on the Mayor or anyone else. Bratina will jump on board once people start becoming vocal. Maybe he needs a yellow t-shirt with "Save the LRT" written on it.

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By Kiely (registered) | Posted July 07, 2011 at 08:41:31 in reply to Comment 65635

Maybe he needs a yellow t-shirt with "Save the LRT" written on it.

LOL, nice : )

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By George (registered) | Posted July 06, 2011 at 13:26:35

Perhaps RTH could get councilors Collins and Clark to clarify. Who knows if the Spec got their words exactly right. Missing context maybe?

Perhaps RTH could do in depth interviews with all councilors, mayor as well as with metrolinx and provincial officials in regards to LRT. Are they all on the same page? Do they communicate appropriately?

Comment edited by George on 2011-07-06 14:08:25

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By mystoneycreek (registered) - website | Posted July 07, 2011 at 06:59:42 in reply to Comment 65652

Here's what Councillor Clark relayed to me in a correspondence:

http://mystoneycreek.blogspot.com/2011/0...

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted July 06, 2011 at 13:28:56 in reply to Comment 65652

I sent an email to every member of council early this morning asking for clarification on their position w/r/t LRT. I haven't received any responses yet.

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted July 06, 2011 at 16:33:36

It took us decades to build the RHVP and the world didn't end. Why not just build this damn LRT, regardless of whether or not it's the "right" investment.

Perhaps some of you LRT advocates should fill councilors on the fact that there are many cities with far higher debt than we have and yet these cities are doing quite well...

New York

Assets... $74.8B
Liabilities... $183.3B
Net assets per NYC resident... - $12,918

Toronto

Nets Assets per Toronto resident... $5358

Hamilton

Assets... $5.1B
Liabilities... $998M
Net assets per Hamilton resident... $7799

Ask your councilors how Toronto and NYC can function quite well, even though they have borrowed much more than Hamilton has.

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By Undustrial (registered) - website | Posted July 06, 2011 at 19:08:36

What bothers me most here isn't that they're killing the idea of LRT, but how they're doing it. Rather than holding a vote and explaining themselves, they're simply offering up a barrage of excuses and dithering, in the hopes that everyone will forget about it. There's something very Orwellian about a government that makes policy decisions by retroactively deleting them from council's memory. Or at the very least, something profoundly incompetent.

Unfortunately for council, I doubt (judging by the sidebar) that this issue will "go away" quite so quickly or easily as they're hoping.

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By Simon (registered) - website | Posted July 07, 2011 at 11:21:54

This is not about LRT, or really any actual planning or policy - it is purely further proof of two fairly obvious facts about City Council in Hamilton:

  • Hamilton City Council is structurally impotent. Councillors care about one thing - getting re-elected. Right now, getting re-elected means take whatever position the squeaky wheels in your individual ward want.

Compounding council's my ward first at any cost attitude, is the fact that the mix of council is too evenly balanced between urban and suburban interests - with not enough individual Councillors to actually allow for some fluidity in voting patterns.

Effectively, one or two Councillors can derail (excuse the pun) pretty much any issue at any time - leading to civic impotence. I would rather council decided to develop nothing but single family residential, big roads and Costcos - and have the power to force the plan through - than the endless impotence we are left with from Councillors with zero interest in taking a stand on anything.

  • Individual Councillors are fundamentally unqualified.

Chad Collins has zero real world experience outside of council. Brad Clark has a diploma in broadcasting. Bob Bratina is a career radio announcer. Tom Jackson has an undergrad degree in political science. How many Councillors have an MBA. How many are professional engineers? How many even have an undergrad degree or diploma in something remotely relevant to running a city - business, accounting, planning, science?

Would you hire people with next to no relevant education or career experience to run your company? Because I sure as hell wouldn't!!!

I don't necessarily support his politics, but just about the only Councillor who is actually qualified to be there is Lloyd Ferguson (and he's the only one who actually has a detailed CV on his website.....). He has an education in construction management from Mohawk, Mac & McGill, he ran a multimillion dollar heavy construction company for years, and he is currently running the Canadian operations a $900 million dollar construction project in Niagara Falls - while serving on council.

Compare that to Terry Whitehead - who has "operated his own business".

Comment edited by Simon on 2011-07-07 11:26:07

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By Undustrial (registered) - website | Posted July 07, 2011 at 16:38:36 in reply to Comment 65713

That point about Ferguson deserves a little elaboration. Ferguson owns a heavy construction company which makes enormous sums off the decisions of council, past and present (many from when his brother was councilor before him). His companies in the past have been known to win contracts from the city without being the cheapest or most attractive option, as well as illegally donating to the election funds of a certain ex-mayor.

What business is he in? Paving roads.

Anybody want to wager a guess at what LRT would cost him personally? This is why having big, established businessmen on council is a bad idea.

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By Simon (registered) - website | Posted July 07, 2011 at 17:59:22 in reply to Comment 65769

I agree that big established businesspeople running a city is bad news from a conflict of interest standpoint - we saw that play out with the X-Mayor Who Shall Not Be Named.

But I'd still take relevant education and experience over "broadcasting diploma" - or even worse "law degree" - any day.

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By highwater (registered) | Posted July 07, 2011 at 16:07:23 in reply to Comment 65713

From McHattie's website:

Before being elected, he worked for Environment Canada on efforts to cleanup the Great Lakes and with Environment Hamilton as the regional coordinator for the Canadian Community Monitoring Network. Brian has also worked for the Hamilton Conservation Authority and the Bay Area Restoration Council (BARC). Brian was also employed as a sessional lecturer at McMaster University in the Arts and Science Programme.

After graduating from the University of Waterloo with a degree in environmental studies, Brian completed his MSc degree in planning and community development from the University of Guelph, where he studied the effects of globalisation on farmers in southern India. He is a Registered Professional Planner and a member of the Ontario Professional Planners Institute and the Canadian Institute of Planning. Prior to his election in 2003, Brian was working on his PhD in planning, investigating the issue of limits to growth in North American municipalities.

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By Simon (registered) - website | Posted July 07, 2011 at 17:46:11 in reply to Comment 65763

Thx - I left McHattie out on purpose because we already know he's in a different league.

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By slodrive (registered) | Posted July 07, 2011 at 15:57:08 in reply to Comment 65713

While you raise interesting points, is the role of the councillor not simply to be the mouth of his/her constituents?

In a perfect world, all the educational info, case studies, etc., would be delivered to council. Your councillor would make you aware of the pros and cons and then represent your opinion on council.

By that definition, monkeys should be able handle their role in the democratic process.

Given that this isn't a perfect world, their roles should still be similar. Gauging the opinions of their constituents (ie. weighting the raving lunatic fringe and the quiet-yet-informed) to arrive at the best course of action.

Like it or not, the viewpoints of the constituents still need to act as a councillors puppet-master.

Comment edited by slodrive on 2011-07-07 16:40:38

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By Simon (registered) - website | Posted July 07, 2011 at 18:13:45 in reply to Comment 65761

I agree to a certain extent, in a perfect world.

I think - to be blunt, most Councillors have no idea how to interpret the pros and cons that are presented to them.

Then instead of making an informed decision, most Councillors just make up policy, based on their own personal opinion. The resulting garbage - not the actual pros and cons - is then disseminated to the mob. The comments by Clark & Collins are a perfect example.

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By mystoneycreek (registered) - website | Posted July 07, 2011 at 18:27:28 in reply to Comment 65776

I think - to be blunt, most Councillors have no idea how to interpret the pros and cons that are presented to them.

And, if we use the analogy that the Councillors are the employees hired by the electorate, the 'employer'...then what does that say about this perception of those doing the 'hiring'?

People voted this Council into office.

It was a process.

Who's to blame here, really?

More to the point, what's to blame here...?

Do you want more qualified Councillors? Do you want a stronger City Staff culture of eminently-qualified personnel informing all the decisions that Council makes?

What is it that you want?

Comment edited by mystoneycreek on 2011-07-07 18:28:29

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By Simon (registered) - website | Posted July 07, 2011 at 23:50:19 in reply to Comment 65779

A mob that actually gives a crap would be nice...

  • I would like a larger council - at least 2x with ward boundaries that actually make sense.

  • Either much higher or much lower pay for councillors. I believe right now they make around 90K. Thats not enough to attact people with an adequate skill set. Or just pay direct expenses - which would cut out the lifers.

  • An annual proficiency exam covering subjects like financial analysis, civil engineering and urban planning - with the results published. You could still serve as an idiot on council - but at least there would be proof of how useless you are.

  • A big gong in chambers.

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By mystoneycreek (registered) - website | Posted July 09, 2011 at 17:35:42 in reply to Comment 65792

I would like a larger council

Um... I think we'd need to foster some faith and respect for the notion of a City Council, first.

Either much higher or much lower pay for councillors. I believe right now they make around 90K. Thats not enough to attact people with an adequate skill set. Or just pay direct expenses - which would cut out the lifers.

First off, regardless of the quality of the candidates...'adequate skill set' and all...it still comes down to the voters needing their own 'adequate skill set' to choose what you'd feel would be the 'best qualities'. How do you intend to accomplish this? Secondly, this 'lifer' issue. I'm assuming you're talking about people who get re-elected. By the voters. Who choose to vote someone in. Again and again. Assuming we've got a Councillor who does an exemplary job year-in, year-out...why is it a negative that competency keeps getting utilized? And if they're not doing an exemplary job and they keep getting elected...then who's at fault? The candidate for wanting to return to office? Or the voters who clearly do not execute their franchise by way of an 'adequate skill set'?

An annual proficiency exam covering subjects like financial analysis, civil engineering and urban planning - with the results published.

LOL How about not treating the idea of serving in local government as being some kind of element of entitlement? (I was ashamed at some of what unfolded during the last election.) How about instituting some standards for running for office, period? Or, putting a fine point on it, if we're going to have 'exams' for the candidates...why don't we have them for the people who are doing the decision-making, the voters themselves? Huh...?

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By mystoneycreek (registered) - website | Posted July 07, 2011 at 18:10:27

Gauging the opinions of their constituents (ie. weighting the raving lunatic fringe and the quiet-yet-informed) to arrive at the best course of action.

Like it or not, the viewpoints of the constituents still need to act as a councillors puppet-master.

LMFAO

Sorry; this has to be the funniest things I've read in a while.

Considering the last voter turnout rate was about 40%, and it's said that almost two-thirds of municipal votes are cast by way of 'name recognition', why would you believe that the electorate as it stands is capable of forming qualified opinions about their own governance? Many people don't have qualified opinions about their own lives. LOL

A good portion of our residents seriously, honestly couldn't be bothered to devote the kind of effort you're suggesting. They want to vote every four years (at least the forty percent, do), then they really don't want to be bothered; they want to leave it all to their elected officials.

As it currently stands.

If you really want things to be different, don't look anywhere except changing the citizens' role. It's the only thing that can possibly bring about the kind of shifts that most on this site crave.

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By Undustrial (registered) - website | Posted July 08, 2011 at 10:42:59 in reply to Comment 65774

I really can't agree more with that last part.

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By Iam Exasperated (anonymous) | Posted July 08, 2011 at 06:12:48

Collins and Clark did not indicate any opposition to LRT.

They raised concerns about the nodes and corridor planning process.

Clark asked why all corridors were not being studied as a whole as toronto did in their heralded "avenues study" , VALID QUESTION

They asked why not james, centennial, (for go transit) and rymal (where dev is already jumping ahead of corridor) . VALID QUESTION

Clark expressed frustrations at LRT trumping good planning processes in the rest of city. VALID POINT

Collins asked why staff were proceeding with nodes and corridor planning without councillors setting principles , standards ? VALID QUESTION

Clark also asked for an accounting of the $3million. VALID QUESTION

Later on CHML Clark objected to the councillors private mtgs with the staff for LRT updates arguing that the public has a right to hear the Q&A . VALID POINT

HMMM, do you want to play a game?

IMAGINE we are discussing a super highway propsal... would you be attacking Clark and Collins for raising their concerns?

NO, you wouldn't!

so RYAN , maybe you should apologize for taking valid questions out of context and ramping up an email call to action blitz for nothing. My old man says RTH just took a serious body blow to their credibility......sorry but I agree



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