Hamilton·Analysis

LRT, pot stores and surprise funding cuts: 5 things new Hamilton council will face

The new council will have to make decisions on legal challenges and pot stores - some of them right away.

New council will decide on legal challenges, cannabis sales and other issues

The new Hamilton city council will meet Dec. 3. (Colin Cote-Paulette)

The new Hamilton city council will have its inaugural meeting Dec. 3. 

Mayor Fred Eisenberger will oversee a council of five new and 11 returning faces. Here's a look at some of the things they'll have to deal with in the first few months — issues that will signal what kind of a council it will be and where it will land on some questions.

LRT: Is it really settled?

Hamilton reelected a pro-light rail transit mayor last month. Eisenberger called it an LRT referendum, and said the vote should put the debate to rest. But the issue is far from over.

Despite Eisenberger's mandate,  council is still divided on it. New arrival John-Paul Danko (Ward 8) brings LRT support where it didn't exist before, and the same wards (1, 2, 3, 4 and 12) still support it. Others, such as returning councillors Arlene VanderBeek (Ward 13) and Tom Jackson (Ward 6), are softer supporters. Council stalwarts such as Maria Pearson (Ward 10) and Brenda Johnson (Ward 11) are still opposed.

Council hasn't cleared its final hurdle yet. That would be a master agreement between the city and Metrolinx, expected sometime next year. Metrolinx has spent more than $100 million on the project so far, but city staff assured council last term that there's an off ramp.

Then there's the issue of whether the province still has $1 billion for LRT. Donna Skelly, Flamborough-Glanbrook PC MP, reassured the public last month that the province will pay to build LRT, or other approved transit or infrastructure projects.

"Nothing has changed," Skelly said. "As in many other areas since this government took office, a promise made is a promise kept."

Some are still anxious. The Ford government is eager to trim what it says is a $15-billion provincial deficit, and isn't afraid to cut major projects to do so. The most recent example is $300 million in new post-secondary campuses. And Ford has already paused property acquisitions for Hamilton's LRT project.

In any event, council has some big decisions in the next six months. 

Cannabis stores

Right away, the new council will vote on a staff report on cannabis stores, and what rules the city can set around their location here.

Coun. Judi Partridge of Ward 15 (Flamborough) asked for this report. It will clarify what rules council can set has around the location, appearance and enforcement of the stores.

Cities can opt out of having stores. But judging from last council, there's not much interest in that. Councillors do want control though. Doug Conley — outgoing Ward 9 councillor — was vocal about not wanting pot stores in neighbourhoods. His successor, Brad Clark, will inherit that resident concern.

Appealing the Christian Heritage Party decision

Council will vote next month whether to appeal a court decision on some Christian Heritage Party (CHP) bus shelter ads.

This dates back to 2016. Council was about to vote on its transgender and gender non-conforming protocol. The CHP paid for three bus shelter ads and distributed 3,700 flyers. They depicted what appears to be a man at a door called "Ladies Showers."

The city pulled the ads. The CHP sued. A panel of judges ruled with the CHP, saying the city didn't follow a proper process. It also said the CHP has the right to participate in political discussion.

Transgender rights was a banner issue of Aidan Johnson, Hamilton's first openly LGBTQ councillor. Johnson didn't run again, and no openly queer candidates were elected this time. But many other councillors seem game to take up the fight.

City legal staff, meanwhile, are preparing for an appeal

The future of the downtown's entertainment and convention facilities

Council will have to decide who manages FirstOntario Centre, FirstOntario Concert Hall (formerly Hamilton Place) and the convention centre. And even whether to look at moving them.

Carmen's Group manages the convention centre. Spectra (formerly Global Spectrum) manages the other two. Both contracts were supposed to expire Dec. 31. The city has extended them by six months because both companies want to manage all three and need time to bid.

There's another wrinkle. A group of five (Carmen's, LiUNA, Fengate, the Joyce family, Meridian Credit Union and local lawyer Jasper Kujavsky) want to give the city $250,000 to look at a downtown "entertainment precinct." That could involve moving one or several of the properties.

City lawyers are looking into whether the city can even accept private money for that. Staff will report back soon.

Managing Doug Ford funding cuts

Judging from the Ford government's decisions so far, city council should expect some curve balls.

Without warning this year, Ford reduced the size of Toronto city council. The province also scrapped money to retrofit social housing units.

It also pulled out of an affordable housing project on York Boulevard, saying it has its own ideas for affordable housing. The province also cancelled a basic income project that impacted 1,000 Hamiltonians.

The deficit left by the Liberals is steeper than advertised, the province says. "The hole is deep and it will require everyone to make sacrifices without exception," Finance Minister Vic Fedeli said in September. 

What other sacrifices Hamilton will make is anyone's guess. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Samantha Craggs is a CBC News reporter based in Hamilton, Ont. She has a particular interest in politics and social justice stories, and tweets live from Hamilton city hall. Follow her on Twitter at @SamCraggsCBC, or email her at samantha.craggs@cbc.ca

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