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Only 'true' veterans should get free parking: Ferguson

Coun. Lloyd Ferguson’s push to make sure only “true” veterans get free parking in Hamilton landed with a thud at city hall Friday, as councillors decisively voted against his amendment to a new parking pilot project.

City approves 1-year pilot letting veterans park for free

The city of Hamilton is implementing a one-year pilot project that lets anyone with an Ontario veterans licence plate park for free. (Kelly Bennett/CBC)

Coun. Lloyd Ferguson's push to make sure only "true" veterans get free parking in Hamilton landed with a thud at city hall Friday, as councillors decisively voted against his amendment to a new parking pilot project.

Instead, the city officially approved a one-year pilot that lets anyone with a veteran's license plate park free anywhere in Hamilton starting this summer.

That includes current and past reservists and those who served in combat — which is as many as 11,000 people in Hamilton.

Ferguson argued that free parking should only be extended to veterans over 60, who he called "true" veterans.

"It should be 'true' veterans – people who have served for this country and put themselves in harms way," Ferguson said.

Treat 'true' veterans special, Ferguson says

The fact that young reservists who have never seen combat would be lumped in the same category as someone who fought in the Second World War could be seen as distasteful, he said.

"Everyone wants to treat 'true' veterans special," Ferguson said. Coun. Maria Pearson advocated for changes to the pilot project as well, saying that there needs to be checks and balances in the process.

"This is just carte blanche," she said. "It's going to be susceptible to abuse."

However, most councillors were adamant that all veterans should be able to access the new pilot, regardless of their age. "A vote against this is a vote against veterans in the city," said Coun. Sam Merulla.

"I can't remotely in good conscience support this travesty," he said, referring to the amendment.

Program needed because of 'pitiful' pensions

The notion of free parking for veterans dates back to at least 2006, when the town of Midland started exempting its veterans from parking fees.

In 2009, Hamilton set up a permit program that exempted about 350 veterans from parking fees. Those permits were for Hamiltonians who served in the Second World War or Korean War, or who served in the Canadian Forces and were at least 60 years old.

The program costs about $91,000 per year. If 25 per cent of the 11,000 Hamiltonians eligible for a veteran's plate get one, the program will cost $715,000, according to city estimates.

Coun. Matthew Green said he understands the concerns about abuse of the system, but doesn't think it will be a problem seeing as the project focuses on a group of people who "serve in good faith" and operate at a "higher code of conduct."

"There are a few bad apples, but I think they'd be the minority of the minority of the minority," he said.

Though Ferguson's amendment to have the program only apply to veterans over 60 was summarily quashed, he did successfully amend the pilot to remove RCMP officers from the equation, who were to be originally included.

"[Police] have good, strong unions that voice their opinions at the table," Coun. Brenda Johnson said.

"Pensions for veterans are pitiful."

adam.carter@cbc.ca | @AdamCarterCBC

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