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City versus province


Apr 03, 2014


The city will spend $1 million on studies for a future urban boundary expansion that’s opposed by the province and is currently before the Ontario Municipal Board. It’s another major issue where council has placed itself in direct opposition to provincial policies, with at least one instance leading a cabinet minister to describe the city’s position as “ridiculous”.

That came from Minister of Transportation Glenn Murray in response to the demand of the majority of councillors for a resurrection of the mid-peninsula highway. Council has pushed repeatedly for an expressway connection between the US border and Hamilton’s struggling airport despite the environmental consequences and exhaustive provincial studies concluding that the billion dollar project can’t be justified.

At each stage in the consultations on those studies, council ignored the findings and passed resolutions in favour of the contrary position. They even funded their own study which specifically instructed the consultant to only identify reasons in favour of the highway.

The conflict over a future Elfrida urban boundary expansion has also been going on for several years, with the latest council move gambling substantial dollars on winning an OMB decision against the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing. The city wants to ‘bookmark’ a 2500-acre area south and east of the intersection of Rymal and Upper Centennial before being able to show that the expansion is actually unavoidable, as required by provincial planning rules.

Council included the future Elfrida expansion in its Official Plan, and the province removed it before approving the plan. Both council and the developers who own the lands have appealed that change to the OMB.

Half a million dollars was allocated for preparatory studies in 2013 but ‘parked’ by council. A second half million is in the 2014 capital budget and the committee’s decision means the full million dollars will now be spent on the studies.

City staff project the urban area expansion will be needed early in the next decade to accommodate projected population growth, but that may be delayed because current growth rates are substantially lower than the projections. That was one reason Brenda Johnson gave in casting the only vote against the initiation of subwatershed, transportation and other consultant studies which she argues could be out-of-date and have to be re-done by the time the actual expansion proceeds.

Lawyers representing the landowners along Twenty Road East who think their properties should be first in line for future residential growth were more blunt, describing the decision as “an improper and irresponsible use of public funds given the uncertainty of whether these studies can ever be implemented should the Board determine that Elfrida is not the next, or only, growth area.”

Council is also singing from a different song sheet on other transportation priorities championed by the province, especially improved public transit. While both governments endorse better GO Train service to Hamilton, they are displaying quite different levels of enthusiasm for Light Rail Transit, and have diametrically opposed positions on how to fund Ontario’s massive transit improvement plans. In one city motion, all but one member of council rejected all options being considered by the province to pay for the LRT and other transit initiatives of the Big Move, although continuing to demand 100 percent funding for Hamilton’s light rail proposal.

Indeed, the current council dithering over whether to finance very modest improvements to HSR service contrasts sharply with long-standing provincial policies to tackle congestion with major transit investments. The minimal HSR changes approved last month are the first council-funded improvements to residential bus service in more than two decades.

That doesn’t square with the provincial planning rules that the city is required to follow. The 2005 Provincial Policy Statement directed municipalities to “support land use patterns/densities that promote compact form, minimize length/number of vehicle trips, and support transit and alternative transportation modes.” The 2014 update is stronger and more specific, telling cities to “promote the use of active transportation, transit and transit-supportive development” as well as “encourage coordination and co-location of public facilities (e.g., schools, libraries and recreational facilities) accessible to active transportation and transit.”

Other contentious issues between the city and Queen’s Park include council’s refusal to record in camera meetings – something sought by the provincial ombudsman – and the city’s lack of a brownfield strategy despite nine-year old provincial directives to prioritize intensification and redevelopment. How Hamilton has chosen to interpret such provincial objectives was a central concern of the citizen groups who appealed the aerotropolis.

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