Pasuta 'Trying to Keep an Open Mind' on Policy

By Ryan McGreal
Published December 19, 2012

Here's a brief footnote to last week's Council vote against approving a pilot project to keep backyard hens in Wards 1 and 2. Councillor Robert Pasuta (Flamborough) argued against allowing urban chickens during the discussion, warning that chickens are hard work to take care of and that children could watch videos on farming if they want to learn where food comes from.

However, when it came time to vote, Pasuta sided with the minority of Councillors - Ward 1 Councillor Brian McHattie, Ward 2 Councillor Jason Farr, Ward 4 Councillor Sam Merulla, Ward 9 Councillor Brad Clark and Ward 13 Councillor Russ Powers - who were willing to let the pilot project go ahead.

RTH contacted Pasuta to find out why he voted in support of the pilot after speaking against it. He responded:

Yes I did speak against urban chickens at Council. I voted to receive the report but voted against no further action being taken because I am supportive of the idea of a pilot project depending on what additional information comes forward. In other words, I'm not in favour of urban chickens, but I am trying to keep an open mind about it and am willing to consider further information.

There's a lesson for his Council colleagues who were less willing to keep an open mind and follow the evidence, even when they had reason to be skeptical. As Councillor Clark tried to argue, "My expectation ... would have been that reasonable and pragmatic minds would have prevailed" in the debate.

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, has been known to share passing thoughts on Twitter and Facebook, and posts the occasional cat photo on Instagram.


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By Neil (registered) | Posted December 19, 2012 at 12:14:09

Funny, I would argue that you are driving your 'evidence-based' argument on a narrow view of the utility and potential for nuisance of hens and disregarding their welfare, and therefore to you any disagreement with the idea is anti-evidence.

I propose that everyone be allowed to keep a pet monkey - people love monkeys! We can mitigate the harm by only allowing little monkeys, keeping them indoors and requiring licenses. Anyone disagreeing with this policy is anti-evidence.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted December 19, 2012 at 12:36:59 in reply to Comment 84171

The councillors who voted against the pilot project in Hamilton argued that chickens will threaten public health and cause a lot of nuisance complaints, despite the fact that there is no evidence either of these scenarios will transpire, and plenty of solid evidence that they will not happen.

In addition, the whole point of a pilot project is to test an initiative on a small scale before rolling it out more widely. A pilot running in wards 1 and 2 would prove, one way or the other, whether the fears of those councillors who opposed the initiative have any merit.

I call "anti-evidence" a decision that not only assumes a conclusion that goes directly against what the evidence already tells us but also stubbornly refuses to subject that assumption to empirical testing in a low-risk trial.

Also, your pet monkey analogy, while cute and topical, fails a pretty basic test of relevance: unlike keeping a couple of hens in a coop in your backyard, there are real, evidence-based reasons why a pet monkey is a bad idea.

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By Neil (registered) | Posted December 19, 2012 at 12:46:21 in reply to Comment 84175

no, some were concerned about the enforcement costs, which are involved with welfare. People don't think about animal welfare until they see pictures of suffering animals and then animal control is called in. That's a cost that many don't want to take on.

As for monkeys, don't be condescending. I don't mean to be cute, I'm actually very serious. Do all monkeys carry this herpes virus? Are they all violent? Let's say there is a monkey that is neither - would you be happy to have them as pets? According to your view of utility and nuisance, that's all you need - go get your monkey! I would argue that this is fundamentally ignorant of a quality of animal welfare we somehow both value deeply for pets yet totally disregard for livestock.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted December 19, 2012 at 12:56:23 in reply to Comment 84177

some were concerned about the enforcement costs

Staff were supposed to provide a report on licencing and cost recovery. Council voted to kill the initiative before that report was completed.

And again, we can look at other cities that allow backyard hens, and where enforcement is not an issue.

As for monkeys, don't be condescending.

I'm not being condescending. The analogy is silly and you are simply projecting your assumptions about my "view of utility and nuisance". There are very good reasons to conclude that a monkey is not a good idea to have as a pet - not for the monkey, not for the person and not for public health.

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By Neil (registered) | Posted December 19, 2012 at 13:05:56 in reply to Comment 84178

Am I doing that? Let's see: if there was a monkey without potential for violence and without this convenient disease, would you support it as a pet? Where in your argument have you considered the wellbeing of the animals apart from their utility and nuisance potential?

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted December 19, 2012 at 13:32:33 in reply to Comment 84179

I don't understand why you support factory farming of chickens.

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By SCRAP (anonymous) | Posted December 19, 2012 at 15:40:24 in reply to Comment 84183

Yes, why would we? You know it is really horrible to see all those animals suffer, due to factory farming yet these is how things are done, the corporate way.

Go Figure!

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By Neil (registered) | Posted December 19, 2012 at 14:05:00 in reply to Comment 84183

another one not brave enough to argue the point.

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted December 19, 2012 at 14:27:11 in reply to Comment 84189

Which point? The monkey one?

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By lawrence (registered) - website | Posted December 19, 2012 at 12:32:03

Although this may not be Red Hill Valley, AEGD, new highways ripping through our escarpment or across the province to Niagara, Councillor's not supporting two Councillors who would solely be affected by this pilot, is short-sided and looks very bad on council in my opinion.

I think they know that this isn't going to go away. I mean even if they kept the pilot only to those who currently have hens pre-new bi-law.

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted December 19, 2012 at 13:35:07 in reply to Comment 84174

What we really need here is a team of councillors whose first priority is to work together. It seems the current bunch have the following priorities:

To talk the loudest To not get voted out To always be right even when they aren't To disagree with everyone who ever made them mad ...etc

I feel like their dream situation is for a decision to have 15 possible outcomes so that each and every one of them can vote for a different one.

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted December 19, 2012 at 14:02:05

I'm still of the opinion that the urban chickens debate was a bit of bikeshedding, but it still nicely drew the lines on which councillors were willing to listen to evidence, willing to try new things, willing to defer to the councillors for wards that would be most directly effected by a decision... and which councillors were not.

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By mrjanitor (registered) | Posted December 19, 2012 at 23:49:16

I'm sorry guys but I'm just not getting the whole chicken thing happening here. There just seems to be so many other things in Hamilton that could use that energy. I do admire the passion, I just think this is a lower priority right now. Gonzo has your support I'm sure!

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted December 20, 2012 at 07:17:16 in reply to Comment 84207

The general inclination of a free society is that people should be allowed to do what they want, as long as what they do does not harm others.

In the case of the city's ban on owning backyard hens, here is a case of the government prohibiting an innocuous activity in the absence of any credible evidence that the activity is actually harmful when reasonably regulated.

It shouldn't be an issue, and a lot of time and energy has been wasted - but the reason is that we have a Council that continues to make policy decisions based on fear and knee-jerk reaction rather than based on evidence.

If we can't get it right on the small stuff, how are we ever going to deal with the big stuff?

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By Kiely (registered) | Posted December 21, 2012 at 09:33:14 in reply to Comment 84209

The general inclination of a free society is that people should be allowed to do what they want, as long as what they do does not harm others.

What about the welfare of the animals? This isn't as simple as you guys want it to be. What happens to unwanted chickens? Do you not think there will be any? That is naive. Do we just add chickens to the list of animals we already "put down" because they are unwanted? All so a small minority of urban progressives can feel like they're being sufficiently progressive.

Like Pasuta I'm okay with a pilot project but I think there are bigger issues to consider than some supporters of urban chickens want to admit.

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By Not chicken to say no (anonymous) | Posted December 21, 2012 at 17:13:01

At least a few here see the animal welfare issue which not only is troubling, it has a bad record in Hamilton and will be expensive or drawing on funds that are already too low to deal with current animal welfare issues. i think people need to clean up their act city wide when it comes to animals before considering allowing another species to be kept in the city. You not only have to look at studies but also the actual environment you are putting them in and I do not see that done all I here is regulations will take care of any problems. You know what? they don't. And further they will never be sufifcent for those who will misues this opportunity and then the rest have to pick up afterwards. Not me thanks.

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By Duke of Earl (anonymous) | Posted December 23, 2012 at 08:55:41

Wow! A situation of grave importance to our city has arisen.Oh no, its not the backyard chicken thing,its more of another misdirection and an opportunity to get another case of selective amnesia about the real issues while they play at pat the monkey and choke the chicken .What a fowl bunch. MerryXmas to all

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