Ward 11 Hamilton City Councillor Brenda Johnson is not seeking re-election in October.
Johnson shared the news with Metroland’s Glanbrook Gazette. The free weekly publication is delivered to every home in Ward 11, landing on doorsteps today.
The news is a bit of a surprise.
Johnson remains one of the most productive members of Council, with a stellar attendance record, and is very engaged in long-term capital planning at City Hall.
She won overwhelmingly in 2018 with 88% of the vote, against a single challenger.
First elected in 2010, Johnson has quietly worked at her priorities over the past 11 years.
She lives in Winona. The sprawling Ward 11 included Winona until the 2018 boundary realignment, at which time the ward was shrunk to only cover the areas of Glanbrook and Binbrook.
Johnson often quipped that Ward 11 has everything “from A to Z, airport to zoo.” [The Killman Zoo is actually on the Haldimand County side of the Hamilton-Caledonia border; nonetheless, the point is taken.]
Ward 11 is a challenging seat to represent, with many of the challenges resulting of poor land-use planning.
The plans to expand Binbrook came about in the 1990s.
Facing increasing costs to transport leachate from the Glanbrook landfill to the Woodward Water Treatment Plant, the regional government enter into agreements with private land developers to extend sewage pipes to the dump.
The Region no longer needed to transport leachate, and developers could build houses on their assembled farmland.
This is why Binbrook is an urban island that is separated from many of the services common to urban areas. As Johnson often notes, there isn’t even a gas station in the car-dependent community.
Many new residents expect the amenities that existed where they previously lived in older 905 communities. Johnson engages with residents in a manner that prevented these frustrations from turning into anger directed at her personally.
The population of Binbrook grew by 78.5% between the 2011 and 2016 censuses. [2021 census data will be released on February 9.]
On the other side of Ward 11, Mount Hope is experiencing change from the substantial growth in cargo flights into Hamilton Airport, commercial development along Upper James Street, and intensification in the “village” of Mount Hope.
In Mount Hope, Johnson’s direct and honest manner regarding growth did not earn her many friends initially. Over time, many in the village came to see Johnson as an honest broker who was doing her best to manage conflicting interests.
At the Council table, Johnson went along to get along during the past decade. She wasn’t anybody’s pawn, but rarely split from the majority Old Guard voting bloc.
An environmentalist before being elected to Council, Johnson’s voting record includes supporting the Cootes Paradise sewage leak cover-up.
Most of Ward 11 is in the watersheds of the Niagara region and within the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority. The NPCA was Ontario’s worst conservation authority during the 2014 to 2018 term. Some of the corrupt practices are detailed in the Ontario Ombudsman report Inside Job.
Johnson bears a level of responsibility for the fiascos, both as an NPCA Board representative from Hamilton, and the fact, the person at the centre of the scandals, Carmen D’Angelo, was originally a City of Hamilton employee appointed to the NPCA by Hamilton City Council.
During this term of Council, Johnson must be commended for turning the NPCA around. As Chair of the NPCA Board, she helped transform the NCPA into an efficient citizen-responsive agency which puts environmental stewardship at the forefront of its operations.
This transformation was made possible by the people of Niagara kicking out the self-dealing politicians involved in the corruption and cover-up scandals in Niagara. It was this change that gave Johnson the ability to implement reform. Arguably, any attempt to address the rampant self-dealing at the NPCA during the 2014 to 2018 term would’ve been futile with Johnson being outvoted by the Niagara bloc.
Johnson’s time on Council is likely best summarized as that of a good honest person who found themselves in a den of self-dealing, self-serving career politicians.
She tried to figure out how to navigate the den to achieve positive results for her community, and individually achieve some cultural change under challenging circumstances.
In November, Johnson spoke out against developers bullying City staff.
She brought honesty and integrity to the City’s small grant Enrichment Fund funding process – ending decades of practice in which community group funding was allocated by ward councillors with no criteria, vulnerable to political whims.
Ultimately, it is a loss for Hamilton that Johnson is choosing to retire at this time.
Yes, it opens a seat on Council in the coming election. However, Johnson would’ve been an asset for a new Council seeking to fix City Hall, much as she’s been at the NPCA this term.
Johnson will not be “fading into the sunset”, she will remain active in the Winona Peach Festival, with the various Legions in our community, and at the Warplane Heritage Museum.