By Kevin Werner, News Staff
Hamilton Mayor Bob Bratina says municipalities are banding together to create a more equal relationship with senior levels of government to prevent top down programs dropped onto overburdened towns and cities.
In the past, both the federal and provincial governments have downloaded programs and policies onto the shoulders of municipalities, leaving them to pay for any operating costs. That has to change, said Bratina, during his State of the City breakfast address Jan. 8 at the 21st floor of the Stelco Tower.
“A new dynamic needs to be created between municipalities and the province,” Bratina told about 300 people hosted by the Hamilton Chamber of Commerce, in his fourth State of the City address.
Bratina cited amalgamation as a “top down” policy approach to municipalities to deal with so-called governance problems. But municipalities have learned to push back, Bratina said a group of them, including Niagara,Waterloo, Peel and Halton regions have formed the Western Golden Horseshoe transportation trade network that will be pressing the province for a long-term transportation plan.
“Top down has to give way to regional planning,” said Bratina.
Meanwhile, the mayor trumpeted how Hamilton is changing its old rust bucket image. The downtown core is being revitalized, projects, such as Randle Reef, and the waterfront, are moving forward, and the city has saved about $1 million after Global Spectrum, Live Nation and the Carman’s Group took over operating the Hamilton Entertainment and Convention Facilities Inc, said Bratina. He pointed out the city has issued for the second year in a row over $1 billion in building permits, breaking a record that was set in 2012.
Most of those building permits, he said, were from people looking to construct industrial and commercial buildings. It will mean, said Bratina, that eventually homeowners will pay lower taxes, and jobs will be created.
“Something special is happening,” said Bratina, in his 70th year, and who is expected to seek re-election in this fall’s municipal election.
Other organizations have taken notice, said the mayor, including the Conference Board of Canada projecting Hamilton will have the fastest growing economy in the province at 2.5 per cent.
And although he supports light-rail transit, Hamilton needs to take it slow. Local taxpayers are expected to spend about $300 million of the projected $1 billion price tag, a cost the municipality may not afford because of its rising infrastructure debt, he said. In addition, Hamilton doesn’t have the high number of people who use transit in the city. That’s why the city’s Rapid Ready transportation plan proposes to slowly grow the transit numbers.
“LRT, it’s kind of a buzzy term right now,” said Bratina. “Everybody seems to want LRT. You don’t build it on one corridor. You build it across the city. We have to rationally approach this. We will have LRT in Hamilton at some point.”
Ward 1 councillor Brian McHattie, who is running for mayor, applauded the Bratina’s speech, saying he provided a positive overview onHamilton’s current situation.
“There were great facts onHamilton,” he said. “A real sense of Hamilton moving ahead.”
But he was “surprised” the mayor would introduce the amalgamation issue since the rest of council believed it had been put to bed in 2011.
“That’s just a little bit irresponsible at this point in time,” said McHattie.
The 10-year councillor also chided the mayor for not identifying the small businesses, artists, and events such as Supercrawl, that have helped to transform the city’s image.
“I’m surprised he didn’t mention that,” he said.
Bratina, though, during a question and answer session with Chamber Chief Operating Officer Keanin Loomis, said the largest obstacle Hamilton faces is the constant criticism from its own people.
“Probably our biggest problem is tweets, and negativity,” said Bratina. “There are so many good things happening.”