Special Report: Walkable Streets

Angry Right-Wing Populist Whitehead Smears Movement for a More Inclusive City

Whitehead wants the best of both worlds: to be seen magnanimously doing the right thing at a policy level, while at the same time dog-whistling the bitterness and resentment of cynical anti-urbanists who see the lower city as 'nowhere'.

By Ryan McGreal
Published March 15, 2017

In the now-classic manner of shameless right-wing populists, Ward 8 Councillor Terry Whitehead has launched a sleazy strawman smear attack against the movement for a more inclusive city by accusing it of precisely the narrow, self-serving ideology that his own divisive politics exemplify.

Whitehead has signed his name to a short op-ed in the Hamilton News that tars the entire progressive movement in Hamilton with baseless accusations and slimy connotations.

There's a small but vocal group of well-intentioned ideologues who, through the use of social media and other activities, continually try to have a disproportionate influence on senior staff and council's decisions.

They have a narrow view of what should happen in the City of Hamilton. Some people describe them as anti-car, requesting actions such as putting roads on road diets, more delineated bike lanes, elimination of parking lots, raising parking rates and support for LRT in absence of having good and strong policies in place.

It is absolutely not "anti-car" to support a more balanced transportation system that provides for everyone, takes both local and citywide needs into account, and makes the city more inclusive and more accessible to more people. If there's a "narrow view" here, it's the view that Hamilton's streets should continue to cater to driving at the exclusion of all other circumstances, transportation modes and personal preferences about how to get around.

Hamilton does, in fact, have "good and strong policies in place" with respect to its transportation system, including expanding mobility choices, making walking and cycling safer and more accessible, improving transit, moving forward with a citywide rapid transit plan that starts with B-Line LRT, and generally improving the currently lopsided imbalance between driving and everything else.

Council has consistently voted to approve these policies - not because a "small but vocal" cabal of urbanists has cast a spell on them, but because they are well-supported by decades of clear evidence and expert advice as well as having popular endorsement across the city.

Whitehead knows all this, because he's been on Council since 2003 and has voted consistently in favour of those "good and strong policies" - including literally dozens of votes in support of our LRT plan - only to undermine, obstruct, smear and delay the actual implementation of those policies where it serves his parochial interest to do so.

Nobody wants to live on a dangerous street, but Whitehead is playing an ugly, dangerous game by encouraging people who don't mind someone else living on a dangerous street if it saves them a couple of minutes.

Animated GIF of a pickup truck jumping a speed hump on Markland (Image Credit: Tom Flood)
Animated GIF of a pickup truck jumping a speed hump on Markland (Image Credit: Tom Flood)

Whitehead writes, "The complete street approach is prudent" and refers to the City of Edmonton's Complete Streets Guidelines as a good model, but it is not clear that he has actually read those guidelines because they sound exactly like what the progressive urbanists he accuses of narrow ideology would support:

Complete Streets represents a change in roadway design philosophy. The intent of the Complete Streets Guidelines is to encourage a holistic approach to roadway design in order to develop a network of roadways that are designed to be safe, attractive, comfortable and welcoming of all users.

Whitehead wants the best of both worlds: to be seen magnanimously doing the right thing at a policy level, while at the same time dog-whistling the bitterness and resentment of cynical anti-urbanists who see the lower city as 'nowhere,' its residents as 'lowlifes' not worth caring about, and its streets as mere thoroughfares and shortcuts to some other destination.

There is, in fact, a "single-minded crusader" in the political and civic debate over how Hamilton's streets should operate and whom they should provide space for, and that crusader is the politician who fights against every single effort to broaden the range of uses that a street can accommodate.

To be clear, this is not an urban vs. suburban conflict. Whitehead is doing a grave disservice to his own constituents by undermining the effort to make the city's transportation system more accommodating for everyone. After all, suburban residents appreciate and benefit from safer streets and better transit just as much as anyone else!

But as usual, instead of taking the opportunity to build bridges between communities and improve mutual understanding and compassion, Whitehead has once again sought to drive a wedge into this city and pit the groups against each other. He ought to be ashamed of himself - but he probably won't.

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 wrote a city affairs column in Hamilton Magazine, and several of his articles have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. His articles have also been published in The Walrus, HuffPost and Behind the Numbers. He 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 kevlahan (registered) | Posted March 15, 2017 at 08:33:29

One of the City's aspirations is to become the "best place for engaged citizens".

How, exactly, does Whitehead expect citizens to become engaged if Councillors will attack them and questions their motives for having the temerity to actually engage on issues ... that Council has actually identified as priorities!

Remember that Council signed the Pedestrian Charter, and approved the GRIDS study that highlighted the need to shift more trips away from automobiles to other modes. Council also spent many years planning LRT and asking the Province for the money to build it.

And if "engaged citizens" (the City's term) should never influence City policy, or the implementation of those policies, what is the point?

He is really arguing that citizens should just keep their mouth shut, stay apathetic, and trust their Councillors to divine the will of the people. And if Councillors vote repeatedly for a project or policy, and then undermine it when it comes time to implement it, well, that's not for us to criticize ...

Comment edited by kevlahan on 2017-03-15 08:35:58

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By rgelder (registered) - website | Posted March 15, 2017 at 08:37:10

What does he mean by "and other activities"? What other skullduggery are the urbanist activitists up to that has so raised the ire of the Councillor?

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By VivSaunders (registered) | Posted March 15, 2017 at 09:19:16

I wonder if his op-ed stemmed from his ire that ideologues are messing with 'his' Upper James? ... even though he approved the A Line Rapid Transit route years ago. The article makes for a nice pre-election campaign issue in my opinion.

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By RoboRobbins (registered) - website | Posted March 15, 2017 at 09:29:25

"...and you know what else I hate? Those damn kids with their social media and their idealism. Its always safe streets this, sustainability that. Makes me just want to drive through it all as fast as I can"

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted March 15, 2017 at 09:52:27

Am I the only one who notices his use of the term "downtown corridor?" Normally that would be innocuous, but in this case it does seem to relate to his belief that downtown is some place that's just on the way to some other place.

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By LeeEdwardMcIlmoyle (registered) - website | Posted March 15, 2017 at 10:01:51 in reply to Comment 120923


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By LeeEdwardMcIlmoyle (registered) - website | Posted March 15, 2017 at 10:25:18

I feel like a long response is called for, but I'm so exhausted from everything, it's hard to find the energy.

I guess the only thing we have left is to start responding with stronger language to make it clear to certain councillors that we are not going to tolerate being insulted or belittled in the name of propping up some presumptive reelection campaign. The title of this article is strong, but it probably needs to be so.

Still, I caution about coming off too angry. We might give our esteemed opponents the impression that we're flagging, ourselves.

One thing concerns me more than that, though: Terry's flagrant use of the Hamilton News as his personal pulpit. Is there any chance we need to start approaching them more regularly with op eds of our own?

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By KevinLove (registered) | Posted March 15, 2017 at 10:42:00

Just who has "disproportionate influence on senior staff and council's decisions"?

The actual research, done by people such as York University professor Robert MacDermid, suggests a slightly different group of people may have this disproportionate influence. What does he have to say about municipal election financing?

In the 905 in 2006, election winners got 54.3 per cent of their funding from developers

Source: https://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2009/01...

Perhaps things have changed since 2006? No, not really

If we are going to talk about "disproportionate influence" on municipal elections, maybe we should be talking about real estate developers.

Comment edited by KevinLove on 2017-03-15 10:45:02

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By Haveacow (registered) | Posted March 15, 2017 at 11:22:04

An urban planner colleague of mine used to quote the statistics about municipal politicians being bought by developers. Now he is telling me about the battle of the developers here in Ontario, urban developers who build row housing, high density condo towers and vast multilevel shopping concourses built next to commercial towers and transit stations versus the old school suburban style developers who build housing subdivisions, strip plazas and big box store shopping centres. I guess Whitehead's developers are losing their relative importance and city council influence, compared to the urban ones who want LRT are not overly attracted to highways and suburban office parks. Having worked for developers in the past my friend sure got the 2 main groups of developers right!

My guess the suburban developers are on Whitehead's case because they are sitting on suburban land that relatively speaking is losing more and more value compare to downtown land parcel holding developers and they don't like it. Oh the times, they are a changing!

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By Tybalt (registered) | Posted March 15, 2017 at 16:20:21

Clr. Whitehead's piece is a call to action for the citizens of Hamilton to make their views on these issues known to the Council.

I suggest you take him up on that invitation and make your views on these issues known to the Council.

"Contact City Council" is a menu item on the right sidebar of this page, eight links up from the bottom. I suggest y'all use it. I did! Tell 'em Terry sent you.

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By ergopepsi (registered) | Posted March 15, 2017 at 22:25:19 in reply to Comment 120934

Thanks for pointing out that link. Email sent.

I found that his article read like an attack specifically on people who support the LRT, complete streets, bike lanes etc. To have an opposing view is fine but the language used should be respectful - especially coming from a city councilor.

I really hope the 'pro-LRT' crowd take the high road here.

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By positive1@cogeco.ca (registered) | Posted March 15, 2017 at 17:31:01

"It is important for me to lift the veil so the many residents in our community who have different life experiences and challenges understand there is a real attempt to have major decisions made in absence of their legitimate concerns." - Hamilton News

This statement from Mr. Whitehead might sum up the numerous 'in-camera' sessions that he and other councillors participate if when making important decisions. TIme to 'lift the veil' on secret meetings at City Hall Terry.

"Let’s ensure that the narrative for the future of the City of Hamilton is not influenced by such a small group of single-minded crusaders." - Hamilton News

And this statement, also from Mr. Whitehead's article in question may aptly apply to his almost fanatic-like zeal to establish an NHL team in the Hammer - against the wishes of a good many citizens who had no interest in heavily subsidizing the sporting enterprises and hobbies of millionaires - when our own minor league team could not draw flies at the time.

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By VivSaunders (registered) | Posted March 16, 2017 at 10:43:55

I've often used their internal email address which is: dlcouncilonly@hamilton.ca Seems to work fine and sends email to everyone. I'd also like to suggest that if anyone writes in perhaps send a copy to clerk@hamilton.ca asking for it to be added to the next Council Agenda's correspondence.

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By KevinLove (registered) | Posted March 21, 2017 at 21:35:35

Almost 70 per cent of Councillor Whitehead’s last re-election campaign was financed by corporate and union donors.



That is rather intriguing. Does anyone have a better source for this information?

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