Hamilton should 'poach' Toronto businesses: McHattie

Take note, Toronto – mayoral candidate Brian McHattie fired a shot across your bow Tuesday while announcing his economic development strategy. But his opponents offer criticisms and their own takes on economic revitalization.

City should focus on 'job rich sectors,' mayoral candidate says

Mayoral candidate Brian McHattie announced his economic development plan Tuesday. (Adam Carter/CBC)

Take note, Toronto – mayoral candidate Brian McHattie fired a shot across the bow at you Tuesday while announcing his economic development strategy.

“We need to spend time in Toronto poaching offices and having them come here,” McHattie said. “It’s a less expensive place for their families to live, it’s a much more beautiful city than Toronto, and there are all kinds of banking business and law firms and insurance companies that should be right here in Hamilton.”

McHattie said if elected, he would target “job rich sectors” like the medical, professional and creative industries – something Hamilton desperately needs to level its tax base. According to the city’s latest tax competitive study, 70 per cent of the city’s tax base comes from the residential side, with only 30 per cent coming from the business side.

“We need to reverse that back as it was in the heydays of Stelco and Dofasco,” he said.

The tax competitiveness study, which was submitted last month to council’s audit, finance and administration committee, identified the loss of industrial tax dollars as a major reason that property taxes in the city remain relatively high.

In the 1970s, during Hamilton’s industrial heyday, the city brought in 40 per cent of its revenue from industrial taxpayers. That number has dropped to 30 per cent, meaning the city now relies more heavily on homeowners to pay for municipal services.

Attracting regional offices

“We should also be aiming to attract the headquarters and regional offices of companies, not just branch plants and warehouses,” McHattie said. “We have a competitive advantage in this regard.

“Our commercial property taxes on office buildings in Hamilton are close to 20 per cent lower than the provincial average, lower than many of our neighbours in the GTA including Burlington, Mississauga, and Oakville. This is a competitive advantage we should leverage.”

But one of McHattie's opponents — Ward 9 Coun. Brad Clark — was less than enthused about McHattie's plan. “They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery … so I’m pleased Brian supports my plan as Hamilton’s new mayor to aggressively target new businesses representing sectors and regions around the word,” Clark said. 

Clark also says the city's office vacancy rate is too high, even though property taxes on that space are significantly lower than nearby regions. “Brian fails to mention that Hamilton doesn’t have the class A office space that businesses demand for their headquarters and regional offices," he said. "The class B and C office space we do have is not in demand.”

"Brian McHattie’s record in office demonstrates that he doesn’t know a thing about attracting business and investment to Hamilton. If he did he would never have advocated for the job killing rain tax, opposed the Red Hill Valley Parkway, the airport development lands or the Mid Penn corridor.”

The Tesla connection

McHattie's other major opponent Fred Eisenberger chose to focus on his own strategies, rather than criticize McHattie. He told CBC Hamilton that his approach for economic development is to build on the city's positive aspects like its geographical position and it's medical and education sectors.

"I am committed to working with community, business and industry leaders to provide diverse economic opportunities that will bring greater investment, increased revenues and more employment opportunities for the people of Hamilton," Eisenberger said.

McHattie, currently Ward 1 councillor, also mentioned the need to attract more jobs as a way to keep young people here after they graduate from McMaster, Mohawk and Redeemer.

McHattie also spoke about “introductions” he’s making between the McMaster Automotive Research Centre at the McMaster Innovation Park and the directors of the Nikola Tesla Education Corporation (NTEC), which is a local non-profit focused on inspiring youth to pursue higher education in fields related to inventor, Nikola Tesla.

According to a brochure handed out at the press event, the NTEC’s “plans and priorities” include educating the public on Tesla, obtaining a registered charity status, erecting a statue of the inventor here in Hamilton and creating awards and scholarships in his name.