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Deficits, social and fiscal are the common thread of what is making news the past few weeks. The tears in our social fabric could be ignored for only so long, the pandemic made it impossible to ignore them any longer.
The front section of the newsletter begins with some notes of trends and insights written by me, for the duration of the pandemic, I’ll include COVID updates at the beginning.
Today notes: Defunding police, City Hall fiscal deficit, and a LRT proxy debate at Council
COVID-19 Hamilton Public Health Summary
Hamilton’s present Rt = 1.05
[I cite the rate of transmission as calculated by Ryan Imgurnd using open data. (BBC explainer of R values here)]
Hamilton’s COVID active case trend is downward, but we continue to have new cases with no known epidemiological link. A possible reason is asymptomatic COVID cases in the community.
a trend that is being watched closely is 54% of new COVID positive cases in the past 10 days are among those age 30 or younger. Public Health states there are no other trends of note.
Hand-washing is the most important thing we can all do. Wash or sanitize your hands whenever putting on, adjusting, or taking off a facial mask.
Hamilton Public Health says they will not implement mandatory masking in Hamilton.
The messaging on this decision is a bit unclear in Hamilton,
I’ll suggest reading this thread by London-Middlesex Medical Officer of Health Dr. Chris Mackie to give you a good summary of the reasons why a MoH does not order masking.
Activism shifted the Overton window this past few weeks, defunding police is now a part of the mainstream discourse.
Monday, around 100 people sat on Main Street in front of City Hall to protest the Hamilton Police School Resource Officers continuing to be in schools. (Picture above of the protest)
Monday night, they achieved their goal, the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board cancelled the program in a 7-3 vote.
There is much that is different about this moment compared to similar ones in the past.
At City Hall, Ward 1 Councillor Maureen Wilson and Ward 3 Councillor Nrinder Nann broadcast a call for “defunding” police which they define as “re-allocating money from policing towards community-centred supports” and a call to scale back the police budget.
Over 140 letters were on Wednesday’s City Council agenda in support of the calls to defund or significantly reform the role of police.
Nicole O’Relly of TheSpec wrote a great piece explaining what defunding police means to local political players.
Hamilton Centre MP Matthew Green is speaking strongly in Parliament for police reform, and a ban on the use of chemical weapons by police. Tear gas, for example, is effectively banned from military stockpiles by the Geneva Convention and other international treaties.
Videos of police brutality, violence, and disproportionate responses continue to be posted to social media. (In the United States, T. Greg Doucette’s massive Twitter thread of police lawlessness continues to grow daily.)
WARNING GRAPHIC CONTENT:
This past weekend Peel Police officer(s) fatally shot a man during a mental health call. An iman posted video of the shooting to Twitter, the video shows heavily armed police storming the man’s apartment, having used a ladder to gain access to the balcony. The community is rightfully enraged at the police tactics.
Different is the suburban flyer distribution newspaper writing a strongly-worded editorial “It’s long past time to make major changes to how policing is done”
[Forget any other media, the flyer newspapers are the top influencer in Hamilton and area]
What hasn’t changed is the Hamilton Police Service Board.
The Board is now engaging in a public relations exercise against decreasing the police budget. The Board asked Chief of Police Eric Girt to prepare a report outlying what the Chief would cut if the police budget is reduced by 20%.
Ward 6 Councillor Tom Jackson said if lower city Councillors want less police in their wards, his community be happy to see increased police presence.
A change we may see in the coming weeks: Mayor Fred Eisenberger promised over a year ago that he would step aside from the Board around the midway point of this Council term, to help improve diversity on the Board.
Canada’s largest mental health care provider, the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, issued a statement Tuesday calling for mental health crises to have a medical, not police, response.
The Overton window has shifted, it is still shifting.
Ultimately, the decision on what policing looks like in the future has to involve Queen’s Park. Local police boards can make some changes. However, it is provincial government where legislation is written.
Thus, this is where the next phrase of campaigning will increasingly focus.
What is the City of Hamilton Fiscal Deficit?
City Hall is saying the City’s deficit is likely to be between $61-million to $120-million depending on what happens with COVID and the economy. It appears that it will be closer to $60-million for this year.
Municipal governments across Canada are asking for financial support from provincial and federal governments. Thus far, the federal government has announced $14 billion to be split among all provinces, with provinces then distributing the money among their themselves, their agencies, and maybe some money will make it to municipalities. (Premier Doug Ford says Ontario needs $23-billion from the federal government on its own.)
Hamilton City Hall is issuing multiple calls for immediate financial aid to the feds and province.
For decades, we’ve been warned about the flaws of municipalities only having one taxation tool – the property tax. It is not the proper means of raising revenue to fund health and social social services.
(A throwback to a December 2016 episode of my former CFMU radio show when Dr. Harry Kitchen of Trent University, one of Canada’s leading experts on municipal government finance and taxation, discussed the serious shortcomings of using property taxes to fund municipal services)
There are various scenarios being discussed in political circles, many of them include partial special funding from higher levels of government, but not full funding:
- The issuing of municipal bonds, to be repaid over five to twenty years
- Allowing municipalities to run one-time deficits to be repaid over five year by property taxpayers
- Allowing municipalities to “lend” themselves money out of obligatory reserves
Commercial rent payments could be a challenge for the City come June 30th, I wrote a “Coleman’s Note” regarding this entitled Is Hamilton Prepared for Commercial Tax Defaults on June 30?
A Proxy LRT debate at Council Wednesday?
We have no idea when Hamilton’s B-Line LRT project will be back at Council. City Hall is presently focusing upon on a 2026 Commonwealth Games as the COVID stimulus pitch.
Ontario Minister of Transportation Caroline Mulroney has the Hamilton Transportation Task Force Report on her desk, and she’ll decide what parameters will be applied to the $1-billion dollars the province is committing to Hamilton.
Due to COVID, the Hamilton Chamber of Commerce’s regular visits to Queen’s Park are not happening, thus there isn’t the ability for them to champion the project the same way they usually do, in the continuing absence of leadership from City Hall.
A staff report on the next steps to make Upper James Street more pedestrian friendly, includes a $550,000 budget line for detailed studies and planning for A-Line transit corridor. This caused a 30 minute debate as Councillors opposed to the B-Line LRT project questioned if spending on planning for transit on Upper James is premature.
Some of them want to see the $550,000 paid for out of that $1-billion commitment to transit in Hamilton.
It was Ward 9 Councillor Brad Clark, who ran for Mayor in 2014 and is positioning to be able to run for Mayor in 2022, who led off the debate. His arguments were similar to the past about the A-Line, with the addition of how the City of Hamilton’s fiscal state is very concerning during COVID and they need to save money wherever possible.
The debate gave us a flavour of where Council is at on the LRT file. Clark’s motion to defer any action on transit along Upper James failed on a 6-8 vote. It did not exactly break along LRT lines.
Ward 5 Councillor Chad Collins and Ward 6 Councillor Tom Jackson voted against Clark’s motion, and for the work. This reflects their pro-development stance, a delay to transit planning on Upper James will delay developers looking to build mid-rise buildings.
Nonetheless, the picture is becoming more clear, LRT’s path to nine votes in favour needs either Ward 13’s Arlene Vanderbeek or Ward 7’s Esther Pauls to be in favour, likely both.