Mayor to province: review Hamilton's amalgamation

Hamilton’s mayor is hoping the province will take another look at Hamilton's amalgamation in light of new evidence showing it hasn’t saved on staff members.
Mayor Bob Bratina, left, hosted Prof. Tim Cobban from Western University on Wednesday. Cobban presented his research showing that amalgamated municipalities hire new employees at twice the rate of municipalities that haven't restructured. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

Hamilton’s mayor is hoping the province will take another look at amalgamation in light of new evidence showing it hasn’t saved on municipal staffing.

But Bob Bratina also said he doesn't want to be the mayor who breaks up the amalgamated city of Hamilton.

Bratina hosted Western University researcher Tim Cobban at the Sheraton on Wednesday. Cobban’s recent study found that since 1995, amalgamated municipalities added new employees at roughly twice the rate of ones that didn’t amalgamate.

Highlights of Tim Cobban's study

  • Amalgamated municipalities hired 3.25 more employees per 1,000 people from 1995 to 2000.
  • Municipalities that didn't restructure added 1.77 employees per 1,000 people.
  • There are 270,000 municipal government employees in Ontario now compared to 160,000 in 1995. That's more than any other province.
  • Rural municipalities have actually fared fairly well in amalgamations - better than they think they have, Cobban says. He's doing a follow-up study polling people in amalgamated areas on how they feel about the restructuring.

Bratina has sent those findings to the Ministry of Municipal Affairs. He wants the province to examine it.

The mayor said he wrote to the ministry on his own, outside of city council, with the question “would you consider a review of amalgamation?”

Bratina said he would like to see the province do a serious review of amalgamation. But he doesn’t believe it will lead to a reversal of it.

“I don’t believe in my term or the next term that that will happen,” he said. “Nothing can happen until the province gets serious about reviewing the material.”

Six Hamilton-area municipalities – Hamilton, Flamborough, Ancaster, Dundas, Glanbrook, Stoney Creek – amalgamated in 2001 to form the new city of Hamilton. Cobban didn’t have exact Hamilton figures on hand, but estimates that staffing has increased at a rate of about 22 per cent since then.

Bratina mentioned revisiting amalgamation in his 2010 mayoral campaign. Since then, he said, he’s been looking for solid research on the impact of the restructuring.

For this mayor now to try to rip the scab off and create divisions again is unfortunate.- Coun. Terry Whitehead

His goal isn’t to see it reversed now, he said. “I’m not the mayor of Hamilton to break Hamilton up.”

But Cobban’s study, he said, allows “an intelligent discussion based on real data.”

Western University funded Cobban’s study, which looked at 445 amalgamated municipalities. Bratina’s office funded Cobban’s appearance, as well as the rental of the room at the Sheraton, although Bratina didn’t have an estimate Wednesday on how much it cost.

Not everyone was happy to be talking about amalgamation again. Councillors have worked tirelessly to mend fences and heal wounds caused by amalgamation, said Coun. Terry Whitehead, one of four councillors who attended after hearing of the session on Wednesday.

“For this mayor now to try to rip the scab off and create divisions again is unfortunate,” he said.

“It’s an election year. It’s cheap politics. And it’s unfortunate that he feels the outlying areas are going to buy it.”

Coun. Maria Pearson was skeptical of the findings. Her Stoney Creek ward has seen millions in capital improvements it wouldn’t have seen without amalgamation, she said.

She’s disappointed the issue has come back too.

“We need to close this door and let people get on with their lives,” she said.  


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