Editorial

Case Studies in Dysfunctional Governance

Regardless of which decision you support, it's bad policy not to consider the alternatives before making a decision.

By Ryan McGreal
Published December 20, 2007

As you know, City Council recently voted to raise transit fares. The single public meeting on the proposed transit fare increase - the same meeting at which the increase was first proposed publicly - was held only two days before the council vote.

Despite the short notice, several citizens and local groups requested delegations to comment on the proposal. Not one delegation supported the fare increase.

Nevertheless, the committee of the whole (COW) voted by a large margin to implement it anyway.

The staff report from Public Works did not provide any numbers on ridership impacts due to the fare increase, even though the correlation between fare increases and ridership declines is comprehensively established.

It did not provide any indication of how the city is to meet its objective of 100 rides per capita by 2020, double the current level of ridership.

It did not provide any detailed alternatives to the fare increase (including the additional cost to property tax if the increase were funded out of the tax levy, or opportunities to reduce other budgets to remain tax-neutral).

It was essentially presented as a false alternative between approving the fare increase and running short.

No Alternatives

Regardless of which decision you support, it's bad policy not to consider the alternatives before making a decision. However, refusing to consider alternatives is typical of the way the municipal government operates.

In the summer, a council motion to ask staff for a report on area rating was soundly defeated. Think about that: they didn't defeat a motion on ending area rating; they defeated a motion on studying area rating.

It's the political equivalent of sticking their fingers in their ears and yelling, "LA LA LA I CAN'T HEAR YOU" in an argument.

Well over a year and a half ago, in response to Richard Gilbert's landmark report Hamilton: The Electric City, Council asked staff for a report on how peak oil will affect the city's long term planning strategy. We're still waiting for that report.

In the meantime, we're rushing ahead with development plans that explicitly fail to consider the possibility of rising energy prices in their projections of how and where to plan development.

Airport Land

Look at the Airport Land planning process. After the city was rebuked by the OMB for expanding the urban boundary by 3,000 acres without conducting studies on whether it's a good idea to expand the urban boundary, the city has increased the study area to 4,000 acres and has created a citizens' liaison committee composed almost entirely of people who already support the development and in many cases stand to gain personally from it.

The committee's policy of "consensus" does not mean that everyone agrees with its recommendations, but rather that everyone felt like their views were "heard". So much for openness and accountability.

This continues the trend of a planning strategy that begs the question by assuming what it is supposed to establish, i.e. that the airport is a good place to establish employment lands.

The notorious Hemson Consulting economic development land use study presented in February, 2007 was so bad that even Council noticed. It presented exactly one employment growth scenario (warehousing and logistics around the airport), dismissed brownfields categorically as "Employment lands is [sic] what occurs in business parks", and refused to speculate about future energy prices.

Even now, the city's decision to add B-Line style buses to Upper James is a further attempt to lock in the airport employment model - presumably before gas prices get so high that even the Planning and Economic Development department notices it might not be such a great economic engine.

Planning Failure

After spending hundreds of millions of dollars on highway connections, approving myriad residential and big box commercial developments, and putting all its employment growth eggs in one fragile basket, what does Hamilton have to show for its planning acumen?

Zero percent tax assessment growth projected for 2008!

Should we really be surprised the city's strategy isn't working very well when its planners and policymakers stubbornly refuse to consider alternative economic development strategies or make evidence-based policy decisions?

The final insult after all this dysfunctional governance is that groups like RTH are accused of being "anti-development" and "anti-growth".

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.

7 Comments

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By Flight Bird (anonymous) | Posted December 21, 2007 at 10:13:41

There he goes again, too!!!

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By joejoe (anonymous) | Posted December 21, 2007 at 11:19:53

The Hemson report was, ‘so bad that even council noticed’
I love it.

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By Dean (anonymous) | Posted December 22, 2007 at 01:04:17

Hey, wasn't Eisenberger supposed to stop all this?

Why don't you guys should run for municipal office if you feel so strongly about this issue? I am not joking here, I am serious.

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By jason (registered) | Posted December 22, 2007 at 12:37:44

awesome article ryan. That sentence at the end is really an eye-opener to anyone who's breathing and paying attention. The same crew that likes to yell and scream in the local media about how "alternative" development advocate groups like RTH are so "anti-business" and "anti-development" should look in the mirror. It's THEIR outdated ideas and model of 'growth' that is actually 'anti-business' and 'anti-development' hence the 0% assessment growth projected BY THEM for next year. Facts always tell the truth despite the hype, media pandering and fearmongering about all of us who are tired of the status quo. We all now know for certain who's really 'anti-business' in this town. They've managed to take an already less than stellar economy and drag it right down to a nice round zero. Yep - they're the experts. They really know how to turn this into boomtown Ontario. Maybe if they work really hard next year we can see assessment growth of MINUS five percent in 2009. It wouldn't surprise me.

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By highwater (registered) | Posted December 22, 2007 at 12:51:08

Ahhh. If only they stopped at "anti-business" and "anti-development". But apparently those who support progressive development are also "cunning", "ruthless", "hateful", "impolite", and the ever popular "extreme left-wing".

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By treeman (anonymous) | Posted December 22, 2007 at 15:56:46

And as long as no one is listening to us...Highwater...let's tell the truth. We are all those things and we love it.

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By liveD (anonymous) | Posted December 22, 2007 at 17:16:56

Support for progressive development....what have those elements done Highwater to show results? Talking about supporting business is cheap. actually supporting it has to be proven.
Treeman at least is honest in admitting loving the approach they have taken.

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