Labour Day marks the unofficial beginning of a municipal election campaign guaranteed to bring major changes to the make-up of a city council that will be facing numerous decisions critical to Hamilton's future.

When the dust settles on Oct. 27, Hamilton will have a new mayor and at least four new councillors, meaning a quarter of council will change. There is a lot at stake for voters and the new council, which will have to address some issues and decisions that may end up defining the city's direction and image for years to come.

'“I think it’s going to be sharp. I’m not sure it’s going to be nasty.'- Peter Graefe, McMaster University

This council will govern during the Pan Am games; during the closure of U. S. Steel.

It will have to support Hamilton's ongoing economic transformation. It will have to settle the $1 billion light rail transit question. It will have to deal with keeping the critical clean-up of Randle Reef on track, along with several other key waterfront issues.

It will have to deal with transparency demands and possible the implementation of a lobbyist registry for the city. The thorny urban-suburban divide may resurface over ward realignment. 

Fundraising, organizing and campaigning have been happening quietly for months, but with the unofficial end of summer, expect the public part of the campaign to finally flourish: policy announcements, debates and back and forth between candidates.

The degree of change is significant, says one local observer.

“In my time in Hamilton, I don’t think it’s been seen,” said Peter Graefe, a McMaster University politics expert.

“Usually there’s a couple.” But to have four — possibly five — new faces on council, is “pretty rare.”

Brad Clark at the Winona Peach Festival

Brad Clark campaigns at the Winona Peach Festival in August. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

Here are some races to watch for the Oct. 27 election:

Mayor

There are 10 people running for mayor. The front runners are two current councillors, Brian McHattie and Brad Clark, and former mayor Fred Eisenberger.

McHattie launched his campaign in January and has kept going through initiatives such as his 100 City Tour, which he launched at Sam Lawrence Park. Clark and Eisenberger have official campaign launches planned for September.

The campaign has already gotten a little heated. Last week, McHattie asked the city to investigate banners erected on the front lawn of a home during the Winona Peach Festival. Candidates can’t post election signs until 28 days before election day.

Clark’s campaign countered that the home was being used as a base for peach festival volunteers, and offered up photos of McHattie signs in Ward 1 windows earlier this year.

“Perhaps they just had a bad weekend,” he said of McHattie’s campaign. “We had a great weekend.”

Graefe doesn’t foresee it as getting too bitter.

“I think it’s going to be sharp. I’m not sure it’s going to be nasty,” he said.

“They stand in different positions and I don’t think they’re ones to mince words. At the same time, they generally keep it above board.”

This is McHattie and Clark’s first run for mayor. Eisenberg ran in 2003, and then successfully in 2006, serving as mayor until 2010. He lost four years ago to Bob Bratina.

Fred Eisenberger

Fred Eisenberger talks to the owner of a small business in the International Village. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

Ward races

The following races will have new representatives:

  • Ward 1 (west Hamilton), which is McHattie’s ward. There are six candidates so far.
  • Ward 3 in central north Hamilton. Coun. Bernie Morelli represented this ward for 23 years until his death on Jan. 14. Ten candidates are running in this ward, including former Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board chair Tim Simmons.
  • Ward 9, which is Clark’s upper Stoney Creek ward. So far, there are five contenders.
  • Ward 13 in Dundas. Coun. Russ Powers is retiring. There are seven candidates in this ward.

“They’re all interesting races,” Graefe said. “Whether they’ll capture the public imagination, it’s hard to say.”

Key issues

There is much at stake in October’s election, and the new council will have to deal with a number of issues, from $1-billion transit projects to the clean-up of the largest coal tar contamination site in Canada.

Here are a few:

1. Light rail transit

Already branded by Clark as an “election issue,” LRT is a billion-dollar transit question. The city used a Metrolinx grant to do a preliminary design study for LRT. Council passed a resolution last year saying it was in favour if the province fully funded the more than $800-million cost, estimated to be more than $1 billion by the time the project happens.

But that unanimous stance has gotten murkier — a handful of councillors have said they aren’t as firm in their support. The new council will have to send a message, through words and votes, to the province whether it wants LRT or bus rapid transit.

Brian McHattie 100-day tour

Brian McHattie is visiting 190 neighbourhoods in 100 days. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

2. Pan Am Games

This new council will govern the city during the 2015 Pan Am Games, which will see Hamilton host the event’s soccer games. That includes beautification efforts throughout the city. The new council will also own the $145-million Tim Hortons Field stadium, which crews are still completing.

3. Randle Reef

Randle Reef is Canada’s largest coal tar contamination site. It’s located off the shore of U.S. Steel. The provincial and federal governments have kicked in money for the project, as well as the cities of Hamilton and Burlington, U.S. Steel and Halton Region. But the project hit a snag this summer when all of the tenders that came in to the federal government were over budget. This new council will have to deal with any future snags.

4. Gasification plant

Port Fuels and Materials Services is planning a waste-to-energy gasification plant on Hamilton’s waterfront. It’s on federal lands, but odds are the new council will have to vote on it at some point. The city says it needs zoning approval for the facility. The company hasn’t acknowledge that yet.

5. Realignment of wards

Previous councils were supposed to investigate ward boundaries in Hamilton. Some wards on the Mountain have wards of more than 60,000 people, while a Flamborough ward has 17,600. It was supposed to be studied by 2011, but it hasn’t happened yet. The future council will vote on whether it does.

6. Lobbyist registry

For seven years, city hall has talked about establishing a registry that would allow the public to see who’s lobbying councillors. It’s gone through two iterations of council, and with a vote this week, could be pushed back to yet another election.