It's one year until Hamilton's next municipal election, and voters get to pass judgment on the decisions of city council. Local voters will go to the polls on Oct. 22, 2018 to elect a mayor and 15 councillors.
The 2015 election brought four new councillors — Aidan Johnson of Ward 1, Matthew Green of Ward 3, Doug Conley of Ward 9 and Arlene VanderBeek of Ward 13. Donna Skelly of Ward 7 was elected in a 2016 byelection. At least one seat will likely turn over this time, since two councillors are running against each other in the June provincial election.
Here are some of the main decisions city council has made this term, for better or worse, depending on your point of view:
It finally passed light rail transit.
Council cleared a years-long obstacle this year when it finally cast a crucial vote approving Hamilton's LRT project.
Previous terms had voted to study the project, and hire consultants to work on it. This term, Mayor Fred Eisenberger visited Queen's Park to ask for $1 billion to build it. Six months later, the province followed through.
It's still a bumpy ride. For a while, project seemed doomed, and only six council members were firmly in favour. Then at the last minute, council voted to send a revised environmental assessment to the province. Some called it the point of no return.
There's still opposition from the community and several councillors, but construction is due to start in 2019.
Most councillors campaigned for or against LRT in the last election. One of the most vocal opponents, Chad Collins of Ward 5, campaigned against it, and was the most consistent vote against it until the major decision in April. He voted in favour then, he said, because he knew it was about to pass, which would make LRT inevitable. At that point, Collins said, it was better to shift the focus to trying to make the project work.
It fended off Port Fuels.
Council did everything it could to fend off an energy-from-waste incinerator plant on port lands near its waterfront. And it appears to have worked.
A company called Port Fuels and Materials Services Inc. proposed the project. The city hired its own consultant to examine it, and along with other community members, asked the province to demand a full environmental assessment. The province agreed. That deterred the company, and it walked away.
It got rid of a bus lane.
It was January 2015, and one of the first major decisions of the new council. Councillors voted 9-7 to get rid of a contentious transit lane.
The dedicated bus lane that ran down King Street East from Mary to Dundurn was only a pilot project anyway. Opponents say it clogged traffic and hurt business. Proponents said it was part of improving the city's transit system.
Bus lane fans filled city council chambers, many with yellow T-shirts and armbands. Some feared the lane's death didn't bode well for the future of LRT. But people who hated the lane, at least, saw it as progress.
It swept up the stadium mess.
Infrastructure Ontario built the stadium, and used a construction consortium Ontario Sports Solutions to do it. The city only inherited it when it was mostly complete. A previous term of council agreed to contribute $60 million to the $145 million stadium. This one dealt with the aftermath.
The stadium has been a quagmire since then. The city hired its own engineering firm after a speaker the size of a bar fridge dropped and bounced through several (fortunately vacant) seats. Legal issues continue.
It took on Canada Post.
When Canada Post announced it would phase out most door-to-door mail delivery and install community mailboxes, the city bristled. Then it passed a bylaw saying the corporation had to pay the city to help site the mailboxes. Canada Post ignored that, and the two went to court.
The city made national headlines and got support from some municipalities. The point, the city said, was that it had the right to decide what goes on its own road allowances. In the end, it dropped a plan for a second appeal.
Trudeau's 2015 election temporarily halted the plan to phase out door-to-door delivery. The Liberals say they'll have a decision by the end of the year.
It made transgender equality a rule.
Transgender Hamiltonians have already been using washrooms and change rooms that align with their gender identities. But in March, city council passed a local protocol to put it in writing.
The city had to establish the protocol after an Ontario Human Rights Tribunal settlement. In 2014, a transgender woman tried to use the women's washroom at an HSR terminal, and a guard stopped her.
The new protocol has wider implications than just washrooms and change rooms, although any opposition to it seemed to revolve around that. The protocol also means city forms will have a blank space for gender, rather than "male" or "female" checkboxes, and will refer to people by their preferred names, gender and pronouns.
It's moved forward on the Pier 7 and 8 redevelopment.
The decision to develop Piers 7 and 8 happened in the last term of council. But this council has made related decisions, including the detailed urban design study, including affordable housing, choosing a firm to design the promenade and looking for one developer for the whole project.
It made a decision on ward boundaries. Sort of.
After 16 years of inaction, the current city council decided to finally move on the ward boundary issue last year. But not everyone is happy with the results.
The city hired a consultant to come up with some options for how to redraw Hamilton's ward boundaries. The consultant recommended bigger changes, but in the end, councillors chose an option very close to the status quo. They also prompted cries of gerrymandering when they made a few tweaks of their own.
The matter is now before the Ontario Municipal Board. It's reached an agreement with Mark Richardson, but not resident Rob Dobrucki, who is also appealing the decision.
It tried to stop people from falling into waterfalls.
City council voted to crack down on people going out of bounds at Albion Falls. Bylaw officers laid numerous tickets in August. It appears to be working, since the weather has stayed warm, and the last reported rope rescue was in August at Devil's Punchbowl.
It's tried to address the affordable housing crisis.
As Hamilton becomes more gentrified, the issue of affordable places to live becomes increasingly critical. It's not fixed, but city council has directed resources at it.
In September, it voted to put $50 million over 10 years toward affordable housing. Other efforts include spending $1 million in area rating money to fix social housing units, a plan to offer up city land to developers willing to build social housing, and include affordable housing as part of the west harbour development.
The waiting list for social housing still sits at around 6,000 households.
- Banning peanuts at four city facilities.
- Putting epinephrine auto injectors in some malls and restaurants.
- Licensing Uber.
- Finalizing the airport employment growth district.
- Making tobogganing legal.
- Trying to tackle bed bugs by putting $1 million into it over three years.
What they haven't done
- Fixed traffic congestion on the Lincoln Alexander and Red Hill Valley Parkways, which will be tough without the province widening the 403 up and down the escarpment. Critics also say they've been slow pondering numerous safety issues on the highways, although some of those measures will happen in the coming years as crews repave the highways.
- License cats.
- Eliminate Hess Village paid policing costs.
- End area rating.
- Boost transit ridership. Numbers have been stagnant or dropping for years, and 2017 is projected to be the same. The debate often results in a chicken-and-egg scenario. Transit advocates say ridership is down because of city council's lack of willingness to sink real money into it. Those on council against a funding increase say the ridership isn't there to support spending more money on transit. Council did, however, approve fare hikes in 2015 until 2019.
Who might run
- Fred Eisenberger has already said he'll run for mayor. No other councillors have declared yet.
- Chances are good either Donna Skelly or Judi Partridge won't be there next term. They're both running in Flamborough-Glanbrook — Skelly for the PC party, Partridge for the Liberals. The provincial election is in June, and both have said if they don't win, they'll run for council again in October.