Looking a Gilt-Edged Gift Horse in the Mouth

By Ryan McGreal
Published November 23, 2005

There's something unseemly about the outpouring of shame and contempt from the city's only daily print media entity on learning that Maple Leaf has withdrawn its bid to open a pork processing plant in Glanbrook.

The Hamilton Spectator's editorial team hurled out the bromides in today's editorial, calling the decision "a devastating blow to the city's economy" and claiming City Council has sent a "ruinous" message to business that it's not welcome.

They used the word "pristine" not once but twice, accusing some Councillors of being too precious to admit that Hamilton is an industrial city.

The editors blew off the recent revelation that Maple Leaf has incurred $853,100 in fines for environmental violations at its rendering subsidiary in Flamborough representing years of complaints and non-compliance with Ministry of the Environment orders.

Instead, they suggested the Hamilton plant was a chance for the company to turn over a new, ah, leaf and fulfil its "pledges of environmental sensitivity".

The editors completely ignored Maple Leaf's, ah, shady communications program, from its silence on the Rothsay investigation to its ever-changing story on negotiations with other municipalities to the dangling promise of a second shift, a promise that never materialized in its Burlington plant.

They also harped repeatedly on City Council abandoning Hamilton's planning and development process, as if the process, which was developed largely without public participation, is more important than what citizens actually want.

Andrew Dreschel, never one to mince words, called Hamilton's opposition to the plant "monstrous stupidity".

Ironically, he criticized detractors for "letting the truth stand in the way of a good mudslinging [rather] than waiting for answers when your mind is already made up." Dreschel, of course, has slung plenty of mud over the years, and rarely has difficulty making up his mind.

The sad part is that the Spec is only parroting the Hamilton Chamber of Commerce's talking points. John Dolbec, the chamber's CEO, warned two weeks ago that Hamilton risked looking like it's not "open for business," a phrase rehashed in today's editorial.

Today, Dolbec called Maple Leaf's decision an "unmitigated disaster" and criticized everyone who "look[ed] a gift horse in the mouth" and, to mix metaphors, didn't appreciate the "gilt-edged opportunity".

Councillor Terry Whitehead, who supported the deal, called this "the most depressing day in my short political life."

Mayor Larry Di Ianni, who has brokered the Maple Leaf deal from the beginning, accused "those folks that [sic] chased this company away" of voting for "higher taxes and fewer jobs."

Left unsaid was the fact that the Red Hill advocates, including a very enthusiastic Hamilton Spectator, had hung all their hopes on Maple Leaf. They needed this to justify their support for the expressway that serves their hopeful greenfield industrial park.

Compared to this, the foul odours, increased truck traffic, concerns about air, soil, and groundwater pollution, and secretive process - not to mention the vocal opposition of neighbouring residents - scarcely warrant consideration.

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 Adrian (registered) | Posted November 24, 2005 at 04:59:26

I couldn't agree more. I didn't actually read the Spec's articles on this one, I just happened to glance at the front page while I was leaving the local convenience store. I think the big scary headline was "What Hamilton Lost". I made up my mind at that point to ask my wife to bring the paper home from work, so I wouldn't have to waste 50 cents.

So hopefully I'll get to read everything they have to say on the issue tonight. Just seeing that headline I knew a letter to the editor was in order. Is this really the best investment Hamilton can bring to the city? A polluting, smelly, pork processing plant?

When they point out that Hamilton is an industrial city, are they actually trying to say that Hamilton residents are incapable of performing non-industrial jobs?

The truth is that Hamilton has enormous potential. As someone employed in a technological field, after graduating from Mohawk for software engineering, I can tell you that there are many, many people in Hamilton whose skills are in world-wide demand who have to commute an hour or more to Toronto, because Hamilton is not trying to attract companies in non-industrial sectors. Worse, there are many innovative Hamilton-grown companies that struggle big-time for various factors. The millions of dollars Hamilton has spent on Red Hill could have been spent on supporting and attracting businesses that would likely be happy to take advantage of lower property taxes compared to Toronto, and the huge reserve of talented individuals who live in this city but must currently work elsewhere.

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