By Kevin Werner, News Staff
Hamilton voters will be getting a blast from the political past this campaign season.
Former Ward 8 alderman Don Ross, 70, is running for mayor. Ross, who spent 12 years on the old city of Hamilton council from 1985 to 1997, says there is a leadership vacuum at city hall that he can help fill.
“(Council’s) not dysfunctional,” he says. “The members of council get along. But it seems the mayor is marching to a different drummer. Their relationship is disjointed. The city is not getting the full work from everyone. With my experience I can bring the leadership that is lacking.”
Ross will be filing his nomination papers Jan 21.
Ross, who after not running for alderman in 1997, worked for a manufacturing business out ofBurlingtonthat prevented him from furthering his political goals. He also served on the Canadian Pension Plan/Old Age Security Review Tribunal.
He says his past political experience has taught him to work with all councillors in order to get the best deal possible for the benefit of the community.
“I am able to build consensus,” said Ross.
But the veteran politician will be facing a mayor who says Hamilton has turned an economic corner. During Bratina’s State of the City address, he trumpeted how Hamilton is transforming from relying on heavy industry to arts, health care and a knowledge-based economy. It is also a city that is cleaning up Hamilton Harbour, and will be unveiling a new stadium for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and to host soccer events during the 2015 Pan Am Games.
Ross says mayors know when to take credit for successes, and Bratina is no different.
“Bob is a beneficiary of all that is happening in the city,” he said.
As for his top priorities, jobs and encouraging manufacturing companies to relocate to the city, particularly to the various industrial parks are foremost on his agenda.
“Jobs and the economy I would talk about every day,” said Ross. “Businesses should be welcomed to the city. And there should be no red tape.”
By enticing businesses to the city, it would help to cut the residential tax rates.
“Residents pay the bulk of the taxes now,” he said.
Over the last few years Hamiltonians have had some of the lowest tax increases in the province ranging between zero per cent to two per cent. This year councillors are eyeing a tax hike that is again less than two per cent.
He suspects there are still ways to cut taxes, including possibly privatizing city services. The city saved about $1 million in costs when Global Spectrum, Live Nation and Carmen’s took over Hamilton Entertainment and Convention Facility Inc. Why not the golf courses, or some other city operation?
“That is on the table for me,” he said. “Private partnerships can work right if they are the right ones. Have we looked at all the things available?”
Ross, who oversaw a city over 20 years ago that was the smokestack capital of Canada, applauds how arts and culture are changing the image of Hamilton.
“I don’t see a problem,” he said. “It’s healthy.”
Downtown has seen the most change, with the emergence of James Street North, the new McMaster Health Centre being constructed, a Hilton hotel and more condominium developments. But Ross says what Hamilton needs now is people.
“That makes the city vibrant,” he said. “If you have the people business follows.”
Other than cutting taxes, and curtailing expenses, Ross is uncertain about the city’s commitment to a light-rail transit system. Questions continue to swirl about the cost, who will pay for it, and how will it impact vehicles?
“I haven’t made up my mind yet,” he said.
He says building a rail system that will go only from McMaster University to Stoney Creek doesn’t really make sense, especially when most of the population lives in the suburbs, and on the mountain. And suburban people don’t travel to the core for jobs, he said.
Ross acknowledges that Hamilton has changed since he last served as a politician. Amalgamation has happened, and there is no more regional government. But there still remains, he says, an ‘us verses them’ attitude between the urban and suburban residents. It’s a divide he wants to bridge. Bratina’s unexpected de-amalgamation pitch, said Ross, was ill timed and “disruptive” to a city still seeking peace.
“What are the concerns of people in Carlisle, Greensville and Stoney Creek? I want to get their feedback.”
One of the reasons he is registering early is to meet residents across the city and talk to them about their issues and concerns.
Ross joins Ward 1 councillor Brian McHattie, Michael Baldarsaro, Crystal Lavigne who have already registered to run in the October contest. Former mayor Fred Eisenberger has stated previously he is interested in running, and Ancaster councillor Lloyd Ferguson is still mulling over a bid.