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Hijacking democracy

Two recent incidents highlight the uneasy feeling that Hamiltonians are not in control of their own community.

In the first scenario, it was unceremoniously revealed to the public that Ancaster councillor and Hamilton Police Services Board chair Lloyd Ferguson had his ear filled with sweet musings from a number of high profile community members, most notably philanthropist Charles Juravinski. It seemed Juravinski was intent on getting Police Chief Glenn De Caire to keep his job. Apparently, the only way to do it was to urge Ferguson to change his vote on the board — during a secret meeting of course. Ferguson, who became the crucial swing vote, didn’t want the public to think he changed his mind based upon one important and wealthy individual. Instead, he argued that “thousands” of the common folk had told him they wanted De Caire back.

Hamilton’s history of backroom politics and penchant for secrecy continued this week when councillors and the public were shocked to discover that an unnamed non-profit organization was trying to force the city to allow it to take over the historically-significant Auchmar Estate on the Mountain.

In what turned out to be an unprecedented plea by city manager Chris Murray, this secret organization, which forced people to sign a non-disclosure document ensuring secrecy, urged councillors to accept the offer since the other seven organizations that had submitted ideas on how to develop Auchmar either didn’t have the financial heft or their ideas were just plain goofy. Murray and Whitehead both said this was an opportunity the city couldn’t miss.

Yet, the timing was suspicious. The city was about to issue a request for proposals on Auchmar. Essentially, this secret organization was attempting to bypass a two-year process agreed to by councillors; for the sake of what and the benefit of whom?

Regardless of the plan’s merits, the for-your-eyes-only wheeling and dealing should make every Hamiltonian cringe.

There was a reason why there is a movement to create a lobbyist registry. While a registry wouldn’t prevent the rich and powerful talking about the issues with politicians, there would be at least a light shining on those discussions. A registry would have revealed who the secret organization is that has put the Auchmar Estate at risk.

The implication is, if you are not part of Hamilton’s one percenters, your voice won’t get heard by a councillor and you could end up getting steamrolled by people who have more money, connections or all of the above to call the shots.

That isn’t democracy, that is an oligarchy and the public is merely the flotsam of a democratic process that has been hijacked.

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