Editorial Cartoon by Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator – Wednesday September 1, 1999
Incorporation of the City of Flambasterdas, population 90,000
Tri-Town Spurn Hamilton – Ancaster, Flamborough, Dundas Councils Want to Form City of Wentworth
Dundas, Flamborough and Ancaster will try to merge into a united City of Wentworth, a move they see as the only way to stave off a shotgun marriage with Hamilton.
In three simultaneous town hall meetings on Saturday, the councils of Flamborough, Dundas and Ancaster voted — 7 to 1, 9 to 0 and 5 to 1 — respectively in favour of their friendly merger alternative to what Flamborough deputy mayor Dave Braden called a hostile takeover by Hamilton.
Flamborough Mayor Ted McMeekin was happy with the outcome. “We have liftoff. It now appears we have absolute consensus in these three municipalities.”
With the councils happily holding hands, the chief administrative officers of each municipality must now sit down to figure the logistics. Their first meeting will be held tomorrow.
They need a proposal solid enough to convince the provincial government that the alternative is more viable than the supercity idea.
Last week, the province announced its intention to restructure four regions, including Hamilton-Wentworth, before the municipal elections in November 2000.
The five municipalities surrounding Hamilton are all vehemently opposed to amalgamation. Most suburban residents believe their taxes will go up when they have to deal with inner city problems.
McMeekin acknowledged that rural problems are often transferred to cities, when people can’t find work in their home towns.
But he said two different cultures were at play.
“We don’t believe that bigger is better or smarter or more efficient or effective or less costly.”
He said people in his community like the accessibility of a small local government that listens to their needs, and that they can participate in.
“People want to paint the picture of suburbs having profound dislike for the city.
“But they see the centralization of power into a monopoly where only those who have great contacts can run for office.”
Within three weeks, a special adviser appointed by the province will visit Hamilton-Wentworth to review proposals and gauge public opinion.
The adviser will then submit a written recommendation to Steve Gilchrist, Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing.
Councillors in the municipalities have already started forming an idea of how the towns would work together.
Council meetings would rotate among Flamborough, Dundas and Ancaster. Each location would put a standing committee in place. Three representatives, or councillors, would be elected from each former town.
An equal number of residents would be chosen from each town. Their task would be to make reports for presentation to council. Council will make all final decisions.
“So there will be a strong citizen component, ” McMeekin said. He pointed out that the overall number of councillors would drop to 10, including the mayor, from 25. The new city would hope to purchase services from Hamilton, such as sewage disposal, water, social services and policing.
Dundas Mayor John Addison said the province could already have made up its mind about local restructuring, but he feels the towns have nothing to lose by presenting a favourable alternative to a single supercity.
“I apologize that it looks like we have a gun to our heads forcing us to decide. I’m sorry but that’s the case.
“My gut is saying we have a 50-50 chance (for provincial approval.)” He considers those good odds.
But Wentworth North MPP Toni Skarica disagrees.
“If the proposal isn’t given serious consideration, the whole democratic process is a farce.”
Skarica’s riding includes all three of the municipalities and he said he was the only candidate in the last election to campaign against the supercity.
He believes it was an issue that helped him win his seat.
The proposal fulfils all the provincial criteria for downsizing; streamlined bureaucracy with better services, the possibility of lower taxes, fewer municipalities and fewer politicians. “There’s no reason why the province wouldn’t do it, ” Skarica said.
“Hamilton has been mismanaged for the last 20 or 30 years. It’s in a mess and it’s unfair to have the people in my community fix Hamilton’s problems.”
McMeekin also believes the province will accept the proposal. In a 1998 referendum, about 95 per cent of the population in those municipalities voted against a megacity. “There’s no political payoff to go that route. Crap or get off the pot. This is a pragmatic, workable solution.
“The supercity is a black and white approach.”
Ancaster Mayor Robert Wade said he wasn’t sure whether the province would accept the proposal, but in a recent conversation with Gilchrist, he was led to believe all suggestions would be considered.
Stoney Creek Mayor Anne Bain and Glanbrook Mayor Glen Etherington have also spoken about a possible partnership to form a third city. City staff meet Sept. 7 on the issue at Stoney Creek city hall. Etherington will take it to his council on Sept. 9. – Lisa Hepfner (Hamilton Spectator, A1, 8/30/1999)