Hamilton’s $75-million lawsuit against the federal government has become as explosive to taxpayers as stepping on a landmine.
It seems, according to the city’s solicitor, even if you leave your foot on the charge it would do as much damage as if you let it explode.
As politicians heard this week during a four-hour in camera meeting, if they withdraw the lawsuit, a proposal that a few councillors had wanted to do, including Ward 1 councillor Brian McHattie, the federal government could go after the city to recover its legal costs for the 10 long years of court wrangling and legal sparring. It’s an idea that would seem to fit into Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s tough-talking Conservative agenda.
Instead, the city upped the confrontation with the federal government by agreeing to file a freedom of information request seeking how much the federal government has paid over the years in legal expenses. Some councillors believed that since the city was forced to reveal its $3 million legal costs to the public in the face of an FOI appeal, the federal government should do the same thing.
The entire scenario would be laughable if not for the fact that taxpayers will end up footing the bill regardless of which side wins.
The problem was initiated by Hamilton politicians back in 2004 as the city was trying to force its way to build the Red Hill Parkway. In an effort to turn the screws against the federal government, they launched the suit against the former Liberal government, about 65 employees, and former Hamilton East Liberal MP Sheila Copps. In its suit, the city alleged there was a conspiracy by some members of the federal government to stop the expressway construction.
In the statement of claim, the city alleged that “the defendants abused their public office by engaging in targeted malice towards the city’s completion of the Expressway.” In addition, the document says the defendants “knew when they determined to use their public office to stop the city completing the Expressway that the city would be harmed in the result.”
David Estrin, the lawyer the city has retained, said at the time that Hamilton’s case was “unique” and it was a winnable case.
At the time, councillors were divided over the merits of the case, voting 8–7 in favour. But over the years, as the city has sunk further cash in this money pit, Hamilton’s has further tangled itself in the legal skullduggery of seeking some sort of warped justice.
The city acknowledged at the time an environmental assessment needed to be done on the Red Hill route because to accommodate the expressway, seven kilometers of the Red Hill Creek needed to be relocated.
Despite the lawsuit, construction on the north-south section of the parkway was completed by 2007. Now, nearly seven years after the opening of the roadway, the city’s lawsuit has taken on a life of its own, growing more complicated, more distressful, and certainly more expensive for the city.
With the added complication of the federal government’s legal backlash against the city, Hamilton residents are now helplessly watching, like a MMA cage match, a fight to the death, complete with eye gouges and kicks to the groin, between two government entities, with taxpayers forced to pick up the bill whatever the outcome.