For Hamilton’s upcoming municipal election, the Chamber of Commerce has decided to push what it calls the “jobs and prosperity” agenda. In a Spectator Opinion column, Richard Koroscil of the Chamber explains their plans: they’re quizzing all candidates on their stances on business related issues, and have defined a business agenda to bring “jobs and prosperity” to our city.

While I’m certainly not against people quizzing candidates or voicing opinions, this worries me a lot. Business leaders, especially the Chamber, already hold far too much sway in our city’s decision-making. And while the Spectator (like usual) is all to happy to grant them a platform to spout their views, they’re a lot less likely to provide a forum for some honest criticism of those views.

I’m not saying that all the stances the chamber is taking are wrong, I’d love light rail or all-day GO train service. Aerotropolis, though, is a policy disaster waiting to happen.

If there’s one sentence that really scares me though, it’s “doing a better job of private-sector investment and land development, and taxation issues.” How exactly could Hamilton bend over any further backwards for these people? We have some of the lowest development fees in the region (and having recently lost $9 million by freezing the rates), and an amazing record of granting land and money to developers to do with as they please.

If there’s one thing that’s crippling this city, it’s how much our politicians pander to businesses – especially Developers. The stadium would be an excellent example of this. As would the Lister Block, old Federal Building, Jackson Square, or the vast, sprawling expanses of suburban housing and big-box retailers on the south mountain. The epidemic of vacant buildings is a direct result of the way City Council looks the other way. As nearly all of our environmental issues – from factories belching smog and soot to toxic brownfields – can be related back to a lack of enforcement of basic environmental laws against the companies responsible.

If this city isn’t a pleasant place to live or raise a family, this is why. But it’s also why it isn’t a good (enough) place to do business. If taxes are too high, it’s because we keep giving away 9-figure sums of public money for highways, stadiums and Aerotropolises. If we have a poverty problem, it’s because nearly every major manufacturer in town has cut jobs if not moved out completely. And if our neighbourhoods are plagued by abandoned buildings, it’s because a small group of developers have bought them up and refuse to sell or use them.

Quality business growth can’t happen on top of toxic slums. Unless this city deals with the pressing social and environmental crises it faces, we’ll forever be just “dirty Hamilton”.

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