Terry Cooke, Red Hill, and the Politics of Division

Far from 'redundant', the environmental assessment Terry Cooke helped squash would have revealed major problems with the planned expressway and given opponents a fair hearing.

By Don McLean
Published November 08, 2007

In his column last week ('Red Hill Valley Parkway saga over', November 3, 2007), Spectator columnist Terry Cooke offered his personal take on the history of the Red Hill Valley Parkway.

Mr Cooke was elected regional chairman in 1994, and a few weeks before leaving office in 2000 he became CEO of the city's largest trucking company. He now runs Cooke Capital Corporation and is a director of several other companies.

Mr Cooke's column favours a conspiracy theory of the expressway history. He regales his readers with his personal memories of the "political end runs" by the expressway oppostion who "had friends in high places" that "attempted to hijack the process" with the objective of "scuttling the parkway".

No Room for Disagreement

These "guerilla tactics" by people who he says also carried out "relentless personal attacks" led "a few federal and provincial officials to erect bureaucratic roadblocks" all of which "spooked" some "wavering councillors" and "nearly did us in". But in the end the "vision and persistence" of the good guys led by Cooke of course won the day.

This tale would be comical if it weren't so sadly demonstrative of the politics of division that has characterized Hamilton for far too long. There appears to be no room in Mr Cooke's world for people who disagree with him and no willingness to countenance the possibility that his vilified opponents of this project might just be citizens with their own hopes and aspirations for the city and the planet.

Clearly those who questioned the wisdom of the expressway project weren't doing it out of any hope of making money or advancing their careers.

Note also that in his mind there's more to this gang of conspirators than nasty citizens with some demented desire to impose "economic disaster" on Hamilton.

It is also alleged to have included a premier of Ontario, a prime minister of Canada, and a long-standing Hamilton cabinet minister - despite Mr Cooke's claim that every successful politician has been a supporter of the expressway.

Hijacked by Environmental Assessment

The main focus of Mr Cooke's column, and the thing he says almost caused "broken ranks" and a "domino-effect" among councillors, was the threat to the expressway these alleged conspirators caused by "imposing a second and entirely redundant environmental assessment" on the project.

Mr Cooke and his council supporters responded to that "hijacking" by spending over three million tax dollars to sue the Canadian government. That response speaks louder than even the charged language of his column.

Environmental assessment originated in the US in 1970. Over the next two decades it became the law in every province in Canada and dozens of countries around the world. The City of Hamilton now does more than a dozen assessments every year.

The fundamental premise of environmental assessment (EA) is that we should try to understand the consequences of our proposed actions on the social, economic and ecologial environment BEFORE we are forced as a society to deal with those consequences. EA is about preventing problems, protecting the public good, and ensuring that concerns about projects are heard, examined and hopefully dealt with in advance of construction.

Why did Mr Cooke feel so "spooked" by such an obviously sensible and lawful process? What was the terrible threat posed by an EA that led him to spend millions of dollars preventing this process from taking place?

More to the point, why did he and his allies spend taxpayers' money to ensure that some of those taxpayers were not able to raise their concerns about the expressway project in public hearings before an independent tribunal?

The Need for an EA

Mr Cooke's response in his column is that this was "entirely redundant". At the time, I recall he argued that it would also delay the project, but perhaps he's since changed his mind, since the court proceedings against the expressway took 27 months and federal legislation dictates that EA can only take 13.

But what of the "entirely redundant" accusation? Mr Cooke says this was the "second" EA. The first one he is apparently referring to was provincial government process in 1985 that combined four separate approval processes into one consolidated hearing.

The Red Hill road required approval from the Niagara Escarpment Commission (because most of its length lies within the escarpment World Biosphere) and from the Hamilton Conservation Authority (because the expressway was scheduled to cross Red Hill Creek 14 times in seven kilometres).

Prior to 1985 both of those regulators had taken public positions against the expressway project. Neither was given a seat on the Consolidated Hearing Board.

Instead, that tribunal was composed of two members of the Ontario Municipal Board and one from Environmental Assessment Board who rendered a 2-1 decision. The two OMB members endorsed the expressway, and the single representative of the Environmental Assessment Board submitted a 116-page dissent arguing that the road was not needed and should not be constructed in such an environmentally sensitive area.

The federal environmental assessment began 13 years later. In those intervening years many things changed:

Redundant or Inconvenient?

The federal assessment began as an environmental screening in June 1998. The city tolerated it until June 1999 when it came to the conclusion that the project was "likely to cause significant adverse environmental effects that could not be mitigated" and federal authorities took the legally required step of appointing a three-person panel to conduct a more complete environmental assessment.

At this point, Mr Cooke and his council sued to prevent that from taking place, and specifically to prevent the assessment from examining the need for the expressway and alternatives to it, including different locations. More particularly, to prevent concerned citizens from presenting their concerns in a forum where they would be given a fair hearing.

Mr Cooke's legal action then precisely reflects the attitude he continues to display today towards his fellow citizens - their views are illegitimate, and any influence they have must be the result of conspiracies.

A Devastating Message to Citizens

Sadly, that view continues to be seen as acceptable by people who claim to have the best interests of Hamiltonians at heart.

Even more sadly, this depiction of politics and politicians as conspirators working outside the law sends a devastating message to citizens. It tells them to distrust government and treat it with contempt. It helps explain a voter turnout that dropped to just 52 percent in last month's provincial election.

It is worth asking who is served by contempt for government. Is it citizens who want secure and good quality public services, fair treatment, and a healthy and safe environment? Or is it those who detest the regulations that governments have put in place to try and achieve these goals?

Sidebar: Paying for the Expressways

The opening this month of the Red Hill Valley Parkway completes a $550 million construction project whose consequences will be with us far into the future. One of them has been going on for several years but was underlined last week when the city treasurer presented a very bleak draft capital budget for 2008 that is 40% lower than 2007.

The money available to maintain, repair and expand city roads, parks, recreation centres and other projects is down $90 million from last year, and treasurer Joe Rinaldo predicts that we won't see much improvement for many years to come.

Of the $142 million Rinaldo has scraped together, a third ($47 million) has to go just to pay debts - about $200 from each residential taxpayer. Total city debt is scheduled to hit $360 million this year, and the annual debt payments will get bigger every year until at least 2016.

Expressway Debts

The biggest slice of these repayments are for expressway debts. The Linc cost $192 million while the price tag for the valley road is $356 million or more than $1100 an inch. The provincial government paid about 55 percent of this bill - a fact that may explain their reluctance to meet the repeated demands of the city for more money.

The capital budget allocates $35 million in 2008 to maintain existing roads. That's down from $56 million this year, and Rinaldo says it is actually $50 million a year less than what's required just to prevent further deterioration of Hamilton's roads.

The situation is so bad that the city hasn't yet been able to service the North Glanbrook business park - the place which is supposed to house the 'thousands of jobs' promised by expressway backers. Despite a $25 million gift last year from the province, the business park is not expected to be functional until 2009.

The expressways aren't the only reason Hamilton has its financial back to the wall, but they are a big part of it. Other cities are also struggling with infrastructure costs, but Hamilton is unique in having decided that it could afford two new inner city expressways.

Councillors might think about all this as they debate how to carve up the measly $3 million allotted to them for new projects coming out of their visioning exercise.

Nightmare for Drivers

There are many other consequences - economic, social and environmental - of these expressways, but let me just mention one more of special interest to folks planning to drive on them.

The valley road completes an expressway shortcut between the QEW and the 403 that is quite a bit shorter than going around through Burlington. Anyone trucking goods between Niagara and Brantford, or just driving past Hamilton, would be crazy not to switch over to this new route.

That is going to create a nightmare for drivers, especially those using the Linc who will shortly be pulling their hair out trying to get on and off the much-too-closely placed ramps and interchanges when the inside lane of the mountain expressway is occupied by a line of 18 wheelers.

Some people think the opponents of the valley expressway are losers. The reality is that we're all losers on this one.

Don McLean is chair of Friends of Red Hill Valley and coordinator of Citizens at City Hall, a volunteer group that has monitored city affairs since 2004 and distributes free news articles via email. The group can be contacted at


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By Frank (registered) | Posted November 09, 2007 at 09:21:16

The Linc wasn't supposed to be used as a way to get from one exit to the next which happens all to frequently. Oh, FYI, the number of 18 wheelers travelling from the Niagara Peninsula westward to the 403 is minimal when compared with the number of 18 wheelers using the 401. Travelling east from the 403, same story. The border in Niagara isn't a major truck crossing.

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By Frank (registered) | Posted November 09, 2007 at 09:22:48

Besides, they already use a north south corridor to the Linc, it's called Highway 20. Try driving on that during rush hour!

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By highwater (registered) | Posted November 09, 2007 at 09:44:07

It wasn't supposed to be, but it is. Welcome to the law of unintended consequences. I think it should be renamed Red Hill's Law.

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By Capitalist (anonymous) | Posted November 09, 2007 at 10:26:27

Don, you need to get a life. This story is over and done with. Guess what? The highway was built and the world did not come to an end! I can't wait to drive on it in my big old SUV.

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By jason (registered) | Posted November 09, 2007 at 10:33:35

I think that part 1 of the story is done with. Part 2 will be interesting as folks monitor the health effects and probable increased congestion on surrounding roads.

I love the screen-name 'capitalist'. How does that fit in with supporting one of the greatest government subsidized program in Western history - suburbia. Aren't government subsidies a bad thing in the world of 'capitalists'??

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By w willy (registered) | Posted November 09, 2007 at 10:37:00

Capitalist, the story is not over. The debt from this one means higher property taxes or worse services for the next quarter century unless the highway somehow draws a new industrial base. And this would have to be quite large given the additional costs of servicing far-flung industrial areas and the recent reductions in business taxes. As a free-marketeer, you might ignore those things. A real capitalist would not.

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By Jon Dalton (anonymous) | Posted November 09, 2007 at 12:40:35

While it is rather pointless to continue to argue the expressway's merits, it is important when the public is still being misinformed about the opposition to it, to present the side of the story that the Hamilton Spectator leaves out. The battle may be lost, but at least there is the hope of learning from our mistakes in the future.

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By Capitalist (anonymous) | Posted November 09, 2007 at 13:08:21

First, let me apologize for taking a shot at Don. That was uncalled for.

Second, Jason, has anyone measured the health effects of living near the linc these past 10 years? The linc runs behind my house, so I am someone who would care. When vehicles travel on the highway they burn fuel more efficiently than when big trucks are trying to go down Highway 20 (that is why some people are concerned about the increased pollution from converting King and Main to two-way, something I support by the way). You call the highway “government subsidized”. It is the government’s responsibility to provide roads. Would you accuse health care of being government subsidized? What are we paying taxes for then?

Willy, you make some excellent points. I do not ignore the points you have raised. Not only will the expressway improve the flow of transportation but it will allow us to increase our tax assessment by developing the Glanbrook and Airport industrial parks. Both of which would not be marketable without proximity to the highway. (Hamilton has lost many industrial investments to Brantford and the GTA because of a lack of industrial land; as a result, we have to commute to neighbouring cities in our polluting cars). The servicing for these industrial parks would come from development charges and possibly higher industrial taxes. Willy, you are basically asking for a cost-benefit analysis of the highway. If the highway leads to more industrial parks (and their resulting commercial and industrial tax assessment) then the highway should be a net benefit. If the highway leads to more residential, it will be a bust. We need to end the debate on building the road, accept that it is there, and figure out how to make sure that this benefits Hamilton.

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By COUNCILWATCH (anonymous) | Posted November 09, 2007 at 16:41:43

The story started with a thumbnail sketch on Terry Cooke and his opportunism. As a lifetime resident of Ward One and being old enough to remember Mr Cooke stepping onto the stage of Hamilton politics it soon became obvious that he would sup with the Devil to achieve his own ends. All complaints from Ward One residents addressed to Mr Cooke were quickly handed over to his fellow Ward One Aldermanic partner Mary Kiss, who promptly dealt with them and not just for political reasons. Cooke was a lazy player and his elevation to the region cost Hamilton taxpayers millions. Terry Cooke has always been a phony with his own agenda. So what is different now?

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By Real Estate Agent (anonymous) | Posted November 09, 2007 at 21:58:41

It is my understanding that Glanbrook Industrial Park already has around 200 acres serviced. The City's web site (map hamilton)show that the sewer to Binbrook runs through it and there is water service as well. Now with the expressway, time will tell, unfortunately with the rise in the dollar Ontario is not that attractive.

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By jason (registered) | Posted November 09, 2007 at 22:59:04

there are pieces of industrial land out there that have been serviced since the 1980's. I guess they're figuring that if they service it all, people might bite. I would tend to function the opposite way - if nobody has built on the pieces already available, why spend more money opening up new lands?

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By new2rth (anonymous) | Posted November 11, 2007 at 21:09:59

0.75 BILLION dollars?!

What if that kind of money was spent downtown, and on public transit (to move mountain dwellers back and forth along the path of the linc, and to jobs downtown)? Lower utility servicing costs (to denser developments), higher value urban jobs, and all the other urban development benefits.

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By Frank (registered) | Posted November 12, 2007 at 08:22:30

Jason, why are we not pursuing some sort of subsidy for companies who purchase brownfields? We have lots of brownfield properties downtown, near rail lines and such which, in order to even start building require remediation. This is a very expensive and time consuming process and understandably any company would rather buy and build than buy, remediate then build...especially when they're losing money in the process!

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By peter (anonymous) | Posted November 12, 2007 at 11:24:30

i can't believe the tone of some of the comments here. the total lack of respect shown by some of you is disgusting. it's interesting that the expressway proponents are often the ones slinging the insults. naturally, they rarely back it up with anything concrete. get a life? go away? pathetic.

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By peter (anonymous) | Posted November 12, 2007 at 11:30:09

incidentally, if the capitalist were so concerned with air quality then perhaps he should be promoting cycling, public transit and a reduced dependence on autos. but i suspect it's not really a concern of yours. rest assured that the quality of air near your home is very poor.

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By jason (registered) | Posted November 13, 2007 at 11:31:39

hey Frank. check this page out:

The city is heading in the right direction, but the biggest problem continues to be very low development charges in suburban projects, much lower taxes for suburban projects and TONS of infrastructure investment by government for suburban projects. It still makes sense for a builder to build out there since they know they'll get billion dollar roadways, interchanges, low taxes and low fees. Which of course, presents the crux of the problem - who pays for all that expensive infrastructure? The short answer - Lower Hamilton.

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By g. (anonymous) | Posted November 15, 2007 at 09:28:41

the real reason the highway was built and that builders don't develop more brown field sites and parking lots in the old city is that someone already owns all the land down here. and they expect to be paid for what it is worth. put in a new highway and developers can buy land at 10 cents to the dollars from farmers just trying to get out of the way of "progress." this will keep happening until farm land becomes valuable as farm land not as "future development" the real estate business is at its fundamental level about buying land cheaper than you can sell it for. and right now the largest differential is accomplished by expanding the urban boundary and building new roads to service farm land. until this changes there will never be any real economic pressure to redevelop and intensify the existing city. there is just too much pressure from people who stand to make billions while the general public sees the issue as being benign.

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By notthatitmattersbut (anonymous) | Posted November 16, 2007 at 14:08:47

The new road is a 1950's solution to 2007 problems. If this and other roads were 'not meant to be used for going from exit to exit', what were they meant for? We can't regulate how drivers use any road, nor how far they intend to drive on it. East Hamilton's already dismal rates of respiratory illness will only increase. Today's Spectator article, extolling the predicted economic benefits, all involve suburbs & sprawl; only limited benefits to the immediately flanking areas of Barton East and Nash Road are mentioned. The urban core of the city is our main problem. It needs revitalization, stimulation and vision. The Red Hill Valley Expressway will allow business to skirt Hamilton entirely: out of sight, out of mind.

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By Valleyman (anonymous) | Posted November 20, 2007 at 15:55:18

The road is built.

Do we then suddenly forget the debt, the pollution, the dangers to wildlife and even pedestrians (has anyone tried crossing any of the accesses now?) the effect the shift in business will affect existing industry, our local agriculture, current infrastructure,.....?

The press and many here seem to think a new road and all promises will be fulfilled. But that is all they are but the sacrifices are real, tangible and exessive.

I would never willingly do business with a Red Hill Proponent as they obviously cannot count or budget. they also have little true regard for community or sustainability and therefore unnessarilly risky to do business with.

But perhaps once the trucks roll onto the parkway and they are caught there as they are on every other roadway during rush hour, they will have the time to reflect. It obviously is not happeing now!

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By Humanist (anonymous) | Posted November 26, 2007 at 07:56:40

Don McLean teaches at 2 universities? what does he teach? how to thwart public will? or how to greenpeace protest an innocent community? or how to invent flying squirrels as a reason to stop a road? or how to sit on trees and defecate on the rights of the majority?
Heaven help us if Don is actually teaching anything but the folly of Marxist Leninist ideology. that, I'm sure he'd be good at.

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By Grooman (anonymous) | Posted November 26, 2007 at 09:02:45

Hey, maybe a better username for you would be Strawmanist. Nice smear. Only not.

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By Humanist (anonymous) | Posted November 26, 2007 at 15:31:32

Don exaggerates again. Mr. Cook did not sqash the environmental assessment. The Courts squashed it because it was ultra vires....beyond the law. And it was so because the project had already started and a full EA had already been done at the beginning. At least tell the truth, Mr. McLean. Come Clean, as it were!

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By peter (anonymous) | Posted November 27, 2007 at 11:54:45


mr.mclean did mention the first EA. maybe you ought to actually read this report rather than simply 'defecating' on it.

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By ridge (anonymous) | Posted November 27, 2007 at 16:01:53

We live in a big city, big cities have big roads and ours was underserviced. Thank god it's built, thank god we can traverse the city and not have to sit in the old parking lot called Centennial Parkway. I used to work at the bottom of Centennial and lived on Battlefield off King. Rush hour drive at 5:00 was never less than 20 Minutes, now I can cross the entire city in less than that. The pollution created by the idling cars on #20 was far more dangerous than the fast moving vehicles on the expressway.

That's also why the air smells worse around McMaster now that you have to slow down to the ridiculous rate of 40km. Another thoughtless foolish move. This city takes one step forward and two back all the time.

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