Ward 7 By-Election 2016

New Ward 7 Councillor Faces Great Challenges and Opportunities

Ward 7 is at a crossroads: it can slide deeper into inequality, crisis and disinvestment, or it can begin to recover and flourish.

By Ryan McGreal
Published March 22, 2016

Donna Skelly, formerly a news anchor at CHCH, is the Councillor-elect for Ward 7 after yesterday's by-election. With all 21 polls reporting, Skelly took 1,967 votes, or 19.59 percent of the total, followed closely by John-Paul Danko with 1,875 votes (18.69 percent) and Uzma Qureshi with 1,521 votes (15.41 percent).

You can read her responses to the ten RTH policy questions that we submitted to Ward 7 by-election candidates.

Councillor-elect Skelly is a sharp thinker, intelligent and well-informed about Hamilton politics after her years working as a reporter. She has her work cut out for her in this new role. In addition to the crucial city-wide context of a still-vulnerable city on the upswing after decades of decline, Ward 7 itself has a number of particular challenges that will require nuanced, courageous and visionary leadership.

Diversity, Rising Inequality

Ward 7 is a diverse ward running between Upper Gage and Upper James, the Mountain Brow and Rymal Road. It is mainly suburban, with the northern part comprising postwar inner-ring suburban development and progressively more modern sprawl as you move south.

Mountain Councillors have tended to treat their wards as bastions of middle-class suburbanites, but the central mountain has seen a significant increase in poverty.

Last year, researchers Richard Harris, Jim Dunn and Sarah Wakefield published a study [PDF] of neighbourhood change in Hamilton since 1970. One of its more startling discoveries is that inequality has been increasing on the mountain, especially in the older inner-ring suburban neighbourhoods.

Animated Gif: Average individual income by neighbourhood, 1970-2000
Animated Gif: Average individual income by neighbourhood, 1970-2000

The study notes:

The most novel development during the 1980s and 1990s was the emergence of large areas of lower-income settlement on the Mountain. Between 1980 and 2000, the number of low-income tracts in the upper city grew from one to eleven. By the latter year these were all clustered between the top edge of the escarpment, known locally as the Mountain brow, and the Lincoln Alexander Parkway ("the Linc"), a limited-access highway completed in 1997.

Hamilton is unusual among North American cities in that its city limits have grown steadily to embrace the expanding edge of urban settlement, so these were neighbourhoods that had always been part of the City. But in other respects these areas are Hamilton's version of what are elsewhere referred to as the inner (or older) ring of suburbs. In Toronto, as in most Canadian and U.S. cities, this is a zone that has recently experienced a relative decline, and in particular a significant increase in the incidence of poverty. In this regard, the experience of the older neighbourhoods on the Mountain has been very typical.

It is important to note that these are formerly middle-income neighbourhoods that have gone into decline. It is not inevitable that they serve as 'sacrifice zones' for a city that prefers to focus its policy attention and public investment elsewhere.

Most of that attention has been and remains focused on new suburban development. However, Council has also generally, albeit reluctantly, recognized the value of intervening in the downtown core to forestall the kind of catastrophic failure that has befallen many American rust-belt cities.

Driven by legitimate fear of disaster, the City Council of the late 1990s and early 2000s was able to muster up the will to establish a downtown residential loan program, suspend development charges for infill in the downtown core, set up a brownfield remediation fund, convert a few streets back to two-way and make some small improvements in walking and cycling connectivity.

Those investments, while modest, have paid big dividends over the past decade in improved quality of life and increased private investment in infill development. (In fact, the recovery of the downtown core now feels so inevitable that some suburban councillors have expressed resentment toward the programs that made the recovery possible in the first place.)

Inner-Ring Suburbs

But while there has been at least widely - if not universally - held agreement that the City has had to invest in downtown revitalization, the inner-ring suburbs have not yet really registered as neighbourhoods in crisis.

Doug Saunders, the Globe and Mail's international affairs columnist, gave an amazing talk on March 8 about how cities like Hamilton can get "unstuck" from stagnation and income inequality, hosted by the Useful Knowledge Society of Hamilton. Thanks to The Public Record, you can watch a recording of the talk:

Speaking about inner-ring suburbs, Saunders pointed out that due to their affordability, they have become the new landing sites for new immigrants still struggling to get established in the local economy. "Almost everywhere in North America, all immigration takes place in the suburbs and most poverty takes place in the suburbs."

However, unlike the old urban neighbourhoods of the 19th and early 20th century that launched generations of successful immigrant communities, the inner-ring suburbs are setting their residents up for failure by not providing the density, accessibility, use mixing and flexibility that industrious immigrants need to start businesses, reach customers, create employment opportunities and generate value.

As Saunders put it:

The old dense downtown had all the right things in place from the beginning. It had a population density. It had transportation. It had fairly flexible usage of space - you could open up a shop or factory in your house. It had proximity to customers, so people would walk past your shop and they'd buy stuff. It had social mix and so on.

These new suburban spaces don't have those things quite so easily. So you can say that in the 20th century, places like Canada got very lucky with immigration and integration, but in the 21st century we're going to have to get more skilled with those things in making the spaces work for people.

In other words, we need to adapt our inner-ring suburbs to be more urban in their physical design, their bureaucratic administration and their social outlook.

Of course, one option is to sit back and wait 20 years for the crisis in our inner-ring suburbs to deepen until it is in real danger of catastrophic failure, as we did with our downtown core. I hope Council - and particularly the Councillors representing our inner-ring suburbs - won't choose this option by the default of not doing the things Saunders and many others have identified as essential conditions for neighbourhood vitality.

I think of streets like Upper Wellington, which in its simple land use form and context is remarkably similar to Locke Street South, but which struggles with marginal businesses and a generally unfriendly street environment with four lanes of traffic roaring through it.

Animated GIF: Upper Wellington and Locke Street South satellite views (Image Credit: Google Maps)
Animated GIF: Upper Wellington and Locke Street South satellite views (Image Credit: Google Maps)

Asked whether and how to support a more vibrant neighbourhood retail destination on Upper Wellington, Skelly responded that she wants to "eliminate the red tape businesses encounter daily." Of course that is a legitimate problem, but there is an added dimension of land use and particularly transportation design that must also be addressed.

People have to enjoy physically being in a place for businesses there to do well, and that means calming and taming the dangerous high speed vehicle through traffic currently roaring along streets like Upper Wellington.

Ward 7 at a Crossroads

Ward 7 is at a crossroads: it can slide deeper into inequality, crisis and disinvestment, or it can begin to recover and flourish. Our inner-ring suburbs are aging, urbanizing and growing more ethnically diverse, even as the built form ages and comes in greater need of reinvestment.

This is no time for parochialism or partisanship: leaders of great cities converge on good urban policy regardless of their political background.

The residents of Ward 7 - and the city as a whole - need a Council composed of people who understand urban issues and the particular challenges and opportunities that our postwar suburbs face at this time in their history.

It is our great hope that Councillor-elect Skelly will face these challenges head-on and embrace the exciting opportunity to reverse the trajectory of decline that awaits communities which fail to become "unstuck".

Ward 7 Results by Candidate

Official Results, 2016 Ward 7 By-Election
Candidate Votes % Votes % Eligible Voters
Source: City of Hamilton
Donna SKELLY 1,967 19.59% 4.76%
John-Paul DANKO 1,875 18.67% 4.54%
Uzma QURESHI 1,521 15.14% 3.68%
Shaun BURT 881 8.77% 2.13%
Doug FARRAWAY 785 7.82% 1.90%
Geraldine McMULLEN 720 7.17% 1.74%
Tim GORDON 468 4.66% 1.13%
Howard RABB 376 3.74% 0.91%
Bob CHARTERS 354 3.52% 0.86%
Glenn MURPHY 255 2.54% 0.62%
Chelsey HÉROUX 172 1.71% 0.42%
Hans ZURIEL 133 1.32% 0.32%
Philip BRADSHAW 110 1.10% 0.27%
Robert Paul BOLTON 95 0.95% 0.23%
Jeanne PACEY 95 0.95% 0.23%
Louis VECCHIONI 64 0.64% 0.15%
Anthony NICHOLL 62 0.62% 0.15%
Mohammad SHAHROURI 48 0.48% 0.12%
Robert YOUNG 22 0.22% 0.05%
Paul J. NAGY 17 0.17% 0.04%
Damin STARR 17 0.17% 0.04%
Luc HETU 6 0.06% 0.01%

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 KevinLove (registered) | Posted March 22, 2016 at 15:42:11

Those electoral results absolutely scream out for an Australian style preferential voting system.

Over 80% of people voted against the person who was declared the winner. That is profoundly anti-democratic.

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By mountain66 (registered) | Posted March 23, 2016 at 13:07:28 in reply to Comment 117149

It's actually even worse if you consider 75% of the electorate couldn't even bother to vote. Then it works out that only 5% of the electorate choose the winner. Even though this was a by election the incumbent is seldom defeated in this city so she could be in as long as she wants.

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By No Ranked balloting (anonymous) | Posted March 22, 2016 at 15:51:58 in reply to Comment 117149

Please consider a system of dropping the lowest vote getters with a minimum percentage and holding a runoff vote until 50% is reached. Ranked voting really doesn't reflect what people will choose if their candidates don't reach 50% because they may well choose a candidate that has a similarly low vote count. Ranked balloting may actually disenfranchise more than you believe

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By ferguson lite (anonymous) | Posted March 22, 2016 at 15:42:38

skelly likely be ferguson lite

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By jim (anonymous) | Posted March 22, 2016 at 16:21:15

Skelly's decision to forego a visit to City Hall after she was declared victorious was calculated and may be significant if it indicates an evolution from the old boys network. But of course there will be repercussions, this is still Hamilton, and that iron grip remains strong

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By highwater (registered) | Posted March 24, 2016 at 10:08:24 in reply to Comment 117153

Or it could have been cynical populism a la Ford/Trump. I hope for everyone's sake you're correct.

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By Suely (anonymous) | Posted March 22, 2016 at 16:25:52

Good article. I hope the newly elected councillor reads it and takes heed.

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By JasonL (registered) | Posted March 22, 2016 at 17:26:19

One of the biggest take-aways for me in this election was the showing by JP Danko.
HIs platform was very much in line with the things Ryan is writing about in this piece. Here is why I think his close 2nd is a very interesting sign: he had no name recognition coming in. Larry DiIanni had him in the 'other' grouping of candidates in favour of those with name recognition. Donna absolutely won a huge % of votes from people who couldn't tell you one thing in her platform. Danko on the other hand saw his support climb in direction correlation to his platform resonating with area residents. You could easily argue that his was the most voted-for platform in this election.

Donna should pay attention to that, realizing that a huge number of voters share his ideas of city building.

More importantly, those residents need to stay engaged. Problems arise when everyone goes back home for 4 years leaving a councillor to only hear from the same 17 people all the time (yes, I'm looking at you Westcliffe Mall).

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By DowntownInHamilton (registered) | Posted March 22, 2016 at 19:17:25 in reply to Comment 117156

Jason, are you sure you know what you're talking about?

I think it's more like what was said in this Spec article.

http://www.thespec.com/news-story/640035...

There was a concern on the left that vote splitting might let a centre- or right-leaning candidate take the ward, or that a random left-winger might. Since the patterns here https://www.hamilton.ca/city-initiatives... show that you had:

  • Number 1 - Right

  • Number 2 - Unknown? Looks to be left-leaning

  • Number 3 - NDP

  • Number 4 - Centre-Left

  • Number 5 - Left

  • Number 6 - Left

  • Number 7 - No idea

  • Number 8 - Centre-Left

There was a bit of huddling of support for the right with some serious vote splitting on the left and centre leaning candidates. If the left had united behind a single candidate you'd probably see a more left-leaning candidate in office. Having spoken with some insiders on some previous campaigns run in previous municipal elections, this type of thing happens - the candidates that are backed by a party get access to their databases, their call lists, the voting patterns, and get the provincial/federal voting machines to help them ramp up their campaigns.

It also seems like you've got a bit of envy that your councillor doesn't try to meet his constituents by getting out into the community. Not defending Terry and his monthly Westcliffe Mall town halls, but I don't see many other candidates trying to get out and listen to their constituents on their time. It might be a bunch of angry old white people going to complain to Terry, but if the other groups don't get out and do the same, he'll go with what he hears/knows.

Comment edited by DowntownInHamilton on 2016-03-22 19:19:10

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By highwater (registered) | Posted March 24, 2016 at 10:12:44 in reply to Comment 117160

I think you're right that the splitting of the left vote benefited Skelly and Danko, but that doesn't change the fact that a no-name candidate with a progressive urbanist platform came within a whisker of defeating a local media celebrity.

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By DowntownInHamilton (registered) | Posted March 24, 2016 at 18:33:42 in reply to Comment 117213

You might be right re: no-name candidate, but Skelly's always a bridesmaid, never a bride when it comes to running for a party (her provincial and federal campaigns never came close to actually winning a seat).

I'd love to see the station-by-station vote counts - that would really help tell the story - did Skelly/Danko win specific areas, or carry most/all?

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By z jones (registered) | Posted March 22, 2016 at 19:36:10 in reply to Comment 117160

Don't be naive, Terry does the Westcliffe Mall thing because he gets to control the agenda when he talks to people one at a time. He tells them what he wants them to know and then says they support his agenda. The lower city councillors go to their neighbourhood association meetings where they don't control the agenda and have to be accountable to the neighbours collectively. The only neighbourhood association in Terry's ward has his assistant as it's chairperson. What a joke.

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By DowntownInHamilton (registered) | Posted March 22, 2016 at 20:55:03 in reply to Comment 117165

It's obvious you've never been to any of these Westcliffe things, then.

I'd also disagree with you that there's only 1 neighbourhood association. The Rolston planning team works as a neighbourhood association, so even if we say there's only 2 in his ward, how does that stack up against lower city wards? How old are those areas as compared to the mountain? Why does it matter that there are only 2 neighbourhood associations, and why would it matter if his new assistant is the chair of one?

Comment edited by DowntownInHamilton on 2016-03-22 21:03:24

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By z jones (registered) | Posted March 23, 2016 at 08:48:37 in reply to Comment 117167

Nah, I went to one to see what they're like. As expected it was totally Terry-controlled with a heavy spin on everything he said. It's nice to see the Rolston plan and I hope it evolves into a permanent neighbourhood association but a special city program to try and organize a struggling neighbourhood hardly goes against my point. And I don't believe for a minute that you can't see how having his assistant run the only existing association in his ward allows him to exercise control over it.

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By DowntownInHamilton (registered) | Posted March 24, 2016 at 18:36:45 in reply to Comment 117175

Comments with a score below -5 are hidden by default.

You can change or disable this comment score threshold by registering an RTH user account.

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By mountain66 (registered) | Posted March 23, 2016 at 13:17:21 in reply to Comment 117175

I have been to one those meetings and the problem we saw was that the first people there took over 30 minutes, they were still there when we left as there was another person ahead of us. The article notes Ward 7 is a diverse ward and in my opinion Ward 8 is even more so. You have multi million dollar homes on Scenic Drive and Auchmar, urban sprawl south of Stonechurch and the rental ghetto from Brantdale to Mohawk and Upper James to West 5th. In fairness it must be really hard to satisfy everyone in the ward so it appears the plan is to keep just enough people happy to get re-elected and when only 35% voted last time it appears to be pretty easy.

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By Well Said (anonymous) | Posted March 22, 2016 at 19:36:05

Well said Jason.

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