Hamilton is cursed and cloven by sharp, seemingly impassable political divides that leave anyone with an opinion stuck on one side or the other. In the absence of an actual partisan divide (local politicians are not allowed to represent political parties officially), these ideological divides still manage to perpetuate a pernicious us/them mentality that precludes meaningful discourse.
I'm always excited at the chance to establish common ground that crosses these boundaries. It's easy to agree with like-minded people, but real political progress must come from broad-based consensus on initiatives that benefit everyone, even those whose interests rarely intersect.
The biggest obstacle to finding common ground is often not the facts of a given issue but the hardened attitudes that ensure people on opposing sides of a political divide won't listen to each other.
I haven't always agreed politically with Councillor Ferguson, but I will argue in his strong defence that he has demonstrated a willingness to change his mind when confronted with new evidence. That is, he's generally willing to listen.
For an example close to my heart, he progressed from grave reservations about light rail transit - predicting a motorist "rebellion" against dedicated rapid transit lanes - to embracing it enthusiastically after visiting three other cities that have experienced strong growth and development related to their new light rail lines.
Another example that comes to mind is Ferguson's change of heart over the city's Office of Energy initiatives, which has produced significant net savings to the city through reduced energy consumption.
In yesterday's interview with Ferguson, DiFalco asked: "It has often been said that you bring a business lens to the City. If the city was, in fact, a business and you were the C.E.O., what would you do in your first 90 days?" I want to highlight Ferguson's response:
I would have a direct link to a champion in Economic Development with authority to break down barriers. The #1 complaint I hear from investors is how slow it is to get applications processed. Investors don't want more glossy brochures or to be taken to lunch. They want someone with the power to get through the red tape. Public process needs to be followed, but we need an accountable champion for every application.
I have long argued that Hamilton needs to reduce the friction that goes along with investing in Hamilton, in part through:
Establishing clear, simple, consistent rules and enforcing them consistently;
Removing unreasonable regulatory and financial barriers to investment (like the ridiculous cash-in-lieu-of-parklands charge for infill development);
Establishing a firm urban boundary so that cheap rezoned farmland stops artificially undercutting infill development;
De-politicizing the approvals process (right now, too much city business is conducted in backrooms in a conflict-of-interest haze of entanglements);
Ensuring that high quality public services like transit support economic growth; and
Working closely with our university and college to encourage new business development in Hamilton.
I'm sure Councillor Ferguson would dispute some of these actions - or at least dispute their relative importance as priorities - but I think we can both agree that it shouldn't be so difficult and painful to decide to invest in Hamilton.
That kind of agreement can help form the basis of a shared understanding between progressive urbanists and business-oriented suburbanists on how to make Hamilton a more attractive place to do business, alleviate pressure on residential property taxes, and generate wealth to develop and improve the urban amenities will make Hamilton a valuable place to do business.
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