I’m usually not a big fan of organized sports, and for the record, I tend to believe all big stadium developments and games bids to be hogwash, because usually, they are.

I do, however care a fair bit about Hamilton, especially that quaint little jewel in the North-West end. And as this Hamilton stadium debate heats up, it’s becoming harder and harder to ignore. This is a perfect example of how political ambition and corporate greed tend to take precedence over facts and public opinion.

If you want a good example of this, see Bob Young’s recent post on his campaign’s website, goeastmountain.com.

Unfortunately the debate in Hamilton is being characterized as being about Public Good versus Private Interest. But these two concepts are not mutually exclusive. In fact in all successful cities they are in lock-step.

The idea is government builds infrastructure that enables the “invisible hand of the market” to work most efficiently. For example McMaster University in Hamilton is largely publicly funded and the result is that it graduates many of the bright young people who go on to build successful businesses in our community. Creating employment and paying the taxes that enable the next generation of students to be educated at McMaster.

This is a question of public good versus private interest. The Ti-Cats are a private corporation which exists to make money. They are not a public service. Infrastructure like universities (or even stadiums at universities) contribute to “successful cities” in very real ways: by educating people. Stadiums give them a place to watch even higher-priced games and shows. It’s nice, but it’s not necessary. and it doesn’t even tend to do much for more than one or two businesses (like professional sports teams). The problem with the “invisible hand of the market” is that it guides the actions of politicians, too, and they tend to respond to wealthy businessmen like Bob Young much more than their own population or even staff.

I agree, in a successful city, private and public good are often the same. But we are not a successful city. Hamilton suffers every single day from the fact that private interests in our community are controlled by a select few incompetent elites, while the vast majority (especially of the northern part of the city) suffers with poverty and neglect. And for the record, the Tiger cats aren’t a successful sports franchise, either. Perhaps they should take what they can get?

Interestingly, City Council in Hamilton used to agree with the stadium expert’s analysis. There used to be a plan, called the old Perimeter road project, to connect Burlington Street to the 403 Highway. When City Council decided to cancel that project they also recognized that without good road access the WH area was not suitable for a 25,000 seat stadium. Hamilton’s “official plan” now dedicates the the West Harbour to medium density urban housing, offices, and retail development. Today the proposed WH site is a mile and a half from the nearest highway access.

Here’s the road he’s talking about. Not only does that run a highway right through the area we’re trying to revitalize, but there’s absolutely no need for it at all. This kind of development rhetoric is exactly why so many Hamiltonians have turned their backs on the business elite in this city. These ideas aren’t just bad, they’re laughable. Do we really need to build another Red Hill right through James North, the West Harbour and Dundurn Castle? The idea of such a transportation project might seem laughable, but just consider the Sea to Sky highway built for the Olympics in Van.

If our elected leaders choose to attempt to fix an eyesore in the West Harbour with the Pan Am funds without listening to the experts on why that location will not work for hosting successful large audience events then the stadium will be a financial failure. But more likely Hostco, the Government of Canada, the Province of Ontario, the Tiger-Cats, and I would hope the City of Hamilton will chose not to make such an investment

The experts have spoken, both City staff and the Future Fund Board – both favour the West Harbour location. His meddling (waiting till the last minute to take this ridiculous stand) has been a chief reason for bureaucrats in all of the institutions he names are reluctant to make the investment. None had a problem with it before. Classic capitalist politics – cause a scandal, blame the government, then get your buddies elected to “fix” it.

The result would be that the more than $60 million dollars that the Province and the Government of Canada want to invest in our community will be spent elsewhere.

That’s totally our fear – that $60 million from the Feds/Province and another $60 million from our “Future Fund” will be spent elsewhere. The monstrosity growing on the East Mountain is not Hamilton. It’s the work of a very small number of developers, politicians and corporations. The Red Hill and Linc Expressways, the “Meadowlands East” big-box development, the explosion of Suburban Housing and these stadium plans are part of the ongoing conversion of greenspaces, farms and communities into entire areas designed by and for corporate interests.

They say Small businesses just aren’t competitive, but they take millions in subsidies to build their big-box, low-wage retaiil warehouses and fast food joints. They say cycling, walking and public transit aren’t practical, but then they take every chance they can get to put everything in places its nearly impossible to get to without a car. They say Hamilton’s taxes are too high, but then constantly demand high-priced infrastructure at public expense like expressways (at least half a billion for the Red Hill and the Linc, plus perhaps another two hundred million for a “perimeter road”), stadiums ($100 million for this bondoggle?), and who knows how much for “Aerotropolis”. And they say that it isn’t hurting the inner city to grow on the edge, but it’s now costing us a stadium downtown.

This is about more than a stadium. This is about how decisions get made in Hamilton. It’s a pattern, and it’s been going on for decades. Wherever you can, beg, borrow or steal a copy of Bill Freeman and Marsha Hewitt’s book Their Town: The Mafia, the Media and the Party Machine. It’s a little dated now, but it explains a good deal of our town’s corrupt history. The Desjardins canal train bridge Disaster (it seems a certain famous Prime Minister cheaped out on Construction) to the creation of Jackson square, it details how Developers, Politicians and organized crime run this town, and the damage it does.. If you can find it, pay special attention to the part about all the time Copps Colosseum languished as a vacant lot.

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