Ideas in Hamilton: Death by Neglect

By Ryan McGreal
Published March 02, 2007

(this blog entry has been updated)

Citizens at City Hall (CATCH) drew attention yesterday to a report in the London Free Press that Mayor Fred Eisenberger wants a moratorium on new drive-thrus.

This, er, caught my eye:

According to the Free Press story, a similar suggestion in London has sparked a sharp council division. But the newspaper noted that hasn’t been the case among Hamilton councillors.

"The bitter debate here was absent in Hamilton, where 10 days ago, council members called for a staff report on a moratorium proposed by a citizens' group," says the story.

Well, that's how we kill innovative ideas here in Hamilton: Council bogs them down in requests for staff reports, neglects to follow up on the requests, and ultimately ends up simply ignoring anything that contradicts their pre-ordained plans (see: aerotropolis).

Recently, Glanbrook Councillor Dave Mitchell, chair of the Economic Development Committee, effectively managed to delay a proposed anti-idling by-law by sending it back to staff for more information, even though the by-law was first introduced over a year ago and has already been implemented in dozens of other cities.

Ancaster Councillor Lloyd Ferguson also came out strongly against the ban, saying it's "authoritarian" and "unenforceable". In other words, he basically ignored the question of whether idling is actually harmful enough to warrant restriction on the principled grounds that governments should not try to change people's behaviour.

Curious about this argument, I contacted Councillor Ferguson and asked him if his principled opposition to "authoritarian" and "unenforceable" by-laws extends to the existing by-laws against noise and littering. I wrote:

The anti-littering and anti-noise by-laws seem particularly analogous:

  1. They similarly seek to prevent harm to others;
  2. They are similarly authoritarian; and
  3. They are similarly difficult to enforce.

Do you oppose these by-laws as well? If not, why not?

His saucy response was rather less than informative:

I wasn't in office when they were put in place. Thank you for drawing them to my attention.

I really would like to understand the extent of his principled opposition to government regulation, so I followed up, restating the question:

If those by-laws were proposed today, would you oppose them on the grounds that they are authoritarian and unenforcable?

Councillor Ferguson did not respond to this or an additional follow up. [Update: see below -Ed.] Why would he? Anything he says will cause him problems.

If he says he would also oppose the anti-littering and anti-noise by-laws, he earns the enmity of everyone who supports them; and if he says he wouldn't oppose them, then he has to explain why unnecessary, health-destroying air pollution is somehow less worthy of the city's legislative attention than litter and noise.

Unfortunately, in this city we don't make decisions based on what makes sense or even on what we profess our values and goals to be.

Another recent CATCH article makes this clear, as it reports that the city's Transportation Master Plan claims to be about expanding transit, encouraging more walking and cycling, and reducing driving.

It even recommends establishing a Bus Rapid Transit project team to develop BRT lines along Main/King/Queenston, the Linc (or parallel route), and James/Upper James.

However, it still dedicates the lion's share of funding to roads, and identifies $291 million in road expansions and other modifications, including an access from the Red Hill Creek Expressway to Hamilton International Airport.

Finally, in a development that will drive Jason bonkers when he hears about it, residential developers are already circling around those industrial greenfields in the middle of nowhere that are so vital to our economic plans.

Losani Homes has asked for a parcel of industrial greenfield in Stoney Creek to be rezoned residential so it can build 207 more sprawl houses. City staff recommended that the city deny the request, since it violates Policy 1.3.2 of the Provincial Policy Statement.

Nevertheless, Losani has its champions on Council, and five of the nine members of the Planning Committee - Maria Pearson, Dave Mitchell, Brad Clark, Rob Pasuta, and Lloyd Ferguson - decided to overturn the staff recommendation and forward the proposed amendment to Council for approval. (Terry Whitehead, Brian Mchattie, Scot Duvall and Bob Bratina voted against the proposal.)

It really is worth reading through the CATCH report, if only to follow the exchange between Commitee Chair Mitchell and Whitehead, who tried to challenge Mitchell's decision to give the Losani representatives almost half an hour to make their presentation and let them continue intervening in the discussion that followed.

To borrow a phrase from Bill Waterson's beloved Calvin and Hobbes comic strip: Live and don't learn, that's our philosophy.

Update: Councillor Ferguson replied to my question. He wrote, "As a matter of principle I do not like to respond to hypothetical questions as generally I do not have enough information."

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 peter (anonymous) | Posted March 03, 2007 at 01:41:49

ferguson and mitchell...yet another reason why amalgamation sucks.

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By markwhittle (registered) - website | Posted March 06, 2007 at 10:44:09

The best place to start an anti-idling by-law would be internally on City Hall's Fleet and the Hamilton Police Service Fleet.

All the information necessary to reveal how long the vehicle is running while the wheels aren't turning is the on-board computer system all recently manufactured vehicles already have.

Just plug in the Scanner and the information is readily available for analysis. As the Fleets are privately owned by the City of Hamilton Corporation privacy is not a concern because the drivers don't own them.

If this was to be applied to the public then they would have to be caught red-handed like they do when breaking any other laws we all ascribe to.

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By Thom (anonymous) | Posted March 07, 2007 at 11:36:59

In addition to noise and littering by-laws, it would be interesting to travel back in time and watch the discussion about anti-smoking by-laws. I expect they were considered authoritarian and intrusive at the time. And how to enforce smoking by-laws? Has anyone ever gotten a ticket for smoking in recent years? No because the community is self-policing, like it would be with idling.

Ultimately people can kill themselves all they want but if they are also killing others and the planet then surely someone has to step in; in our individualist society that authority is the state.

Smoking and private vehicles seem very similar to me. Will they end up following the same trajectory?

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By ogie (anonymous) | Posted March 17, 2007 at 11:40:50


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