August 30/2001

Terry Ott

Clear-cut confusion
by Hamilton View

“And it’s kiss the babies, shake hands with the fellas/ and we’re open for business like a cheap bordello/ And they call it democracy.”– Bruce Cockburn, “Call it Democracy”

The “New” City of Hamilton council has apparently decided that democracy is just too messy to bother tending to, cleaning up, or even displaying.

After the Friends of Red Hill Valley sent out a memo to members dated August 19 regarding their rally scheduled for the regularly scheduled Hamilton City council meeting on the following Tuesday (August 21), it seems that far too much monkey business went down shortly thereafter.

Former Friends chair Don McLean asked supporters in the e-mail memo to attend the “Rally for the Trees,” and register to speak out against the planned freeway. Council was to have debated the premature clear-cutting of trees through the Red Hill Valley expressway route as the road is not exactly a slam-dunker as yet.

“We [have] been told,” wrote McLean, “you will be permitted to speak if you show up to the meeting and ask to do so.”

But in the same memo, McLean states the following, “Mayor Wade and his staff are continuing to try to avoid public scrutiny. Shortly after Friends of the Red Hill announced the August 21 rally, the key council meetings were shifted to August 22. This is not the first time that council has tried to avoid a Friends rally. On one occasion, the entire council was shifted without notice to the Royal Connaught Hotel. While these games are frustrating, they underline the real contempt for democracy that has long characterized Hamilton politics.”

It also appears that some of the local media played a form of hide the salami with the whole Red Hill Creek Expressway mess. The Friends rally, which according to supporters drew about 300 souls, got barely a mention in The Hamilton Spectator, and I failed to detect any coverage of the rally on CH, although they did feature Alderman Chad Collins, a proponent of the road, explaining why he could not support early cutting of trees.

Former Hamilton resident, Michael Hilson, now an analyst with the Toronto-based watchdog Energy Probe, was not surprised by last week’s council and media debacle.

“The expressway debate has always been explained in the Hamilton media as a battle between the environment and economic progress,” said Hilson in an interview.

“It is accepted as unchallenged fact that a freeway through Red Hill will be good for the economy. The Hamilton Spectator,” Hilson alleged, “has never done any critical analysis concerning how Hamilton can recover its investment of over $100 million. In fact, there is no credible business case for the road from the standpoint of Hamilton taxpayers at the present time.

“This is why the proponents are trying to avoid a federal environmental assessment hearing, where a legitimate need would have to be proven,” he added.

Meanwhile, another “horse” appeared to be left in the barn last week during the council hide-and-seek. Cable 14, which normally provides coverage of every Hamilton City Council meeting, was missing in action on August 21.