Yesterday, Herman Turkstra and I were interviewed on CHCH Live @ 5:30 program with Donna Skelly and Mark Hebscher regarding the Pan Am stadium and the call from the Premier's office to Mayor Fred Eisenberger. Here is a transcript of the interview.
Mark Hebscher: It seems the controversy surrounding the Pan Am stadium just won't go away. This weekend, residents learned that Hamilton Mayor Fred Eisenberger had spoken with the Premier's office prior to the vote but didn't share details of that conversation with Council. And now at least three Hamilton Councillors want an emergency meeting to discuss the Mayor's handling of the call.
Donna Skelly: The councillors believe the Mayor withheld information that the Province had offered to help the City with building incentives if they didn't build the stadium at the West Harbour site. Councillor Dave Mitchell is asking Hamilton's Integrity Commissioner to look into the Mayor's conduct. Fred Eisenberger denies any Provincial offers were made. He says in a statement, "Any suggestion to the contrary is inaccurate, false and misleading."
Mark: So where do we go from here? Well, joining us live in the studio we have Hamilton lawyer Herman Turkstra. On the telephone is Ryan McGreal, he's the editor of the blog Raise the Hammer. Herman, as it stands right now, Council continues to support a stadium at the West Harbour site. You're opposed to this; I want to know why.
Herman Turkstra: There were a group of us invited by the city in 2003 to look at that question. We spent three years examining it with the assistance of staff and consultants, and concluded that the appropriate use of that land was for housing to bring people to the core of the city, that a stadium was inappropriate for traffic, noise and adverse impacts. And that decision was sent on by us to the City Council. It was voted on by Council on three occasions. It is now a part of Hamilton's Official Plan that's sitting in front of the minister. Mayor Eisenberger voted for housing in Barton-Tiffany last June, along with all the other members of COuncil. It was a wise and prudent decision, because what the downtown needs is people living here, not projects that will have a very serious adverse impact on the neighbours.
Donna: Herman, where do you think, in light of the recent developments - where do you think the stadium, if we actually get one, should be located?
Herman: Everything that I've looked at says that Confederation Park is the number one site for a whole bunch of reasons. There are additional sites on brownfields that are not next to neighbours that are available. Clearly, there's even a possibility, I understand, of one on Longwood Road that meets the specifications. But the last thing you do - and I'm convinced that not a single Councillor who voted for the stadium in the West Harbour would put it in their own ward - the last thing you do is put a stadium next to thousands of people who are going to be living next to ten open-air rock concerts every year.
Donna: Ryan, what do you think?
Ryan McGreal: Well, none of the locations I've looked at or have been reported to me are ideal. But in terms of what's feasible and what's realistic, and what's going to take what is right now an abandoned industrial brownfield and turn it into a use that can allow for compatible private investment around it, I think the West Harbour, realistically, is at this point our best shot at making this thing successful. I understand Herman's objections, I agree with and share a lot of what he's saying, you know, it can be very, very frustrating to have a citizen based committee go through a process and then have it get overturned afterwards. But at the same time, when the Pan Am games came along and federal and provincial money came onto the table, the terms under which that decision has to get made changed and I think we have to be realistic about what's feasible and what's not.
Mark: But Ryan, you must admit, too, and you mentioned this yourself, this isn't just Herman Turkstra and a few other people saying that the West Harbour isn't the right site, that all the work that was undertaken, all the studies that were done, and even the facilitator's recommendation - never mind the Canadian Football League, the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, forget all that - it seems that everybody in the know or who had done their due dilligence said that the West Harbour was not the right site. Not that any other one was the right site, but it should be anything but the West Harbour, and yet you continue to believe that this is, going against all conventional wisdom, the place to put the stadium.
Ryan: I don't agree that the facilitator said the West Harbour isn't the right place. I read the report, and what he said was the City had conducted studies and looked at traffic, and looked at parking, and looked at all these things, and that the Ticats rejected those studies. The facilitator, as I understand his role, was to try to find some kind of a location that both parties could agree on. He, you know, came to the conclusion that Council could be persuaded to accept the East Mountain. I don't get a sense at all from reading his report that he rejected the West Harbour as a viable location. He was trying to channel what the Ticats were saying, which at the very last minute, by the way, that they couldn't live with this, even though a few months previous, Bob Young had said, Wherever you put it, we'll make it work.
Donna: I want you both to comment on the recent develops over the weekend, and do either of you believe that the Mayor should have revealed the contents of the alleged conversation, I guess the conversation with the Province prior to the vote on the stadium site. Herman, I'll start with you.
Herman: There was a significant amount of conversation going on in the week that that occurred, that the Province was willing to do something to help the Mayor out of his box, because he put himself into a box in the West Harbour that he couldn't leave. And I think that if the Province so much as breathed to him that there was an opportunity to discuss funding for something in the West Harbour that would meet the goals that most people seem to have for the West Harbour site, that is redevelopment that adds to the core of the city - you don't get a telephone call like that and keep it to yourself. I'm sorry, I just think that's wrong.
Mark: Ryan, what do you think?
Ryan: Yeah, you know what, I absolutely would have liked if the Mayor had come out and announced that the Province had called, for the simple reason that I'm outraged that the Province was trying to get involved and manipulate a local decision. I mean, the way it looks to me is that the Premier's office called the Mayor and said, If we give you some money or some incentives, can we convince you to vote a different way on this decision? I mean, if the Province had a preferred location, if they wanted to go here or to go there, I wish they would have come out publicly and stated that. But instead, they set up a process saying that it's Hamilton's decision in the public, but then in the back channels, they're trying to influence that decision. I see that as being a really, really serious issue, and quite frankly, that's the big story as far as I'm concerned.
Herman: Can I just disagree with that?
Herman: The Province has to deliver the Games on time, and it was very clear that up to that point, the Province was starting to learn that there were serious impediments to delivering a West Harbour site on time. There was a question as to whether or not it needed an Environmental Assessment, there was a question as to whether or not the Official Plan had to be changed, you had to deal with the fact that the City had gone through an Environmental Assessment that rejected the stadium at that site, and I think that the Province would have been derelict if it hadn't picked up the phone and said, Mr. Mayor, what can we do to help this? And if the answer is that you need some money to redevelop the West Harbour, maybe we can help you with that if it all ends up with a stadium that is still delivered on time. The other point that has to be remembered is that the Province was responding to the position that the Federal Government was taking, that the West Harbour site was not going to be delivered on time.
Ryan: I - [I wanted to address the point about the Federal involvement and the time line around the call from the Premier's office]
Donna: I want to move forward a little bit and find out what we should be doing now. I mean, we're hearing that the Ticats are going to leave, we still don't know what's going to happen, the fallout from this phone conversation with the Premier's office, Where do we go now? Ryan?
Ryan: I think we have to look at a very long, very public process that has gone through based on based on input from community and business stakeholders across the city, based on a huge, huge level of community engagement that I've never seen before in several years of being involved in these things. I mean the city has decisively chosen the West Harbour despite, you know, there are certain issue, like any location will have certain issues that have to be overcome. At this point, now, for us to turn around and start backtracking again, I mean, if we want to lose the stadium, the way to do it is to reopen the issue. We've already gone through a long, exhausting process. The Ticats and their supporters have followed a throw-anything-and-see-what-sticks kind of strategy to undermine this, and frankly at this point we have to stop allowing our public process to be hijacked by one narrow interest.
Mark: Okay. Herman, closing arguments, 20 seconds.
Herman: If Hamilton wants a reputation as a place to come to do business, you sure don't behave the way Ryan just described. What you do is you welcome people like Bob Young into town, you listen to the experts that they bring into town, you pay really close attention to what the marketplace is telling you. And what the marketplace is telling us in spades is that the West Harbour does not work.
Mark: Okay. Herman Turkstra, Ryan McGreal, thank you both for joining us. We appreciate your participation, and I'm sure the great stadium isn't over by a long shot. Thanks for your time.
Donna: Thank you both.
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