Yesterday, Peter Mercanti gave his presentation to council, pledging a $200 million casino/hotel/entertainment complex for the downtown core. RockHammer Inc., formed by the Carmen’s Group and LIUNA for the purpose of bringing a Hard Rock-franchised casino to Hamilton, is pledging to bring a Canadian Rock Museum/venue, a 280-room hotel and 1200 slot machines, as well as promising 1200 full-time, living wage jobs and a jointly sponsored gambling addiction treatment program with Mission Services.

426147_10152521572785554_548516252_nIf this deal does go through, I sincerely hope Council gets the jobs figure in writing. After decades of growth in precarious employment, particularly in the service sector, claims like that require a certain ‘willing suspension of disbelief’. Seriously – a $200 million investment being planned without part-time employees or wages much under $15/hour? In this labour market, where people line up to apply at $10.25? Harder to believe is that these conditions would last if they were implemented, instead of facing cutbacks at the first sign of hard times, or simply firing workers en-mass and re-hiring them at a much lower wage (as happened at the Sheraton). As much as I’d love to see 1200 new well-paying service sector jobs in the core, we’ve all heard promises like this before.

As for the treatment program, word at the moment (hopefully confirmed Thursday) is that Mission Services was somewhat surprised by this announcement.

These pledges, of course, are coming right after this weekend’s statement from the Rountable for Poverty Reduction opposing a downtown casino, focused largely around concerns of low wages and addictions. They’re the latest of many influential groups and individuals to sign onto the NO! campaign, including everyone from the Hamilton Arts Council to Redeemer University and the Pan-Orthodox Association. I’ve honestly never seen downtown so united over any issue, and frankly, only two people I know from the lower city have dared say otherwise (one is the mayor).

Mercanti, of course, took the opportunity to respond to criticism. Within hours, his quote had created yet another avalanche of social media mockery (see pictures). The elitist tone of his statement was amazingly telling: “they get almost all the same weight as the people who really count”. It shows the blatant hostility for civic engagement which has long been a part of our political process. If the Poverty Roundtable, Arts Council, Orthodox Church, Redeemer College and Sam Merulla don’t “count”, who does?

This is, again, a reminder that classist caricatures of dissent are usually bullshit. Who are these people? The Poverty Roundtable, among a lot of amazing community activists, includes on it’s board names such as Terry Cooke, Howard Elliot and Mark Chamberlain. Architect David Premi (who redesigned the Library/Farmers Market and is currently attempting to redevelop a block along King St.) is the current President of the Arts Council Board. Were I to make a list of “elites” in our city, they’d all make the cut.

What this suggests is that the usual in-crowd/old-boys stereotype of power in this city is a bit simplistic. Rather than one big conspiracy meeting around a table, our elites (like most) are comprised of many competing groups with their own spheres of influence. Mercanti and Mancinelli are very notable members from one of the most established of these groups, but they’re starting to learn that the economic and cultural revitalization which is sweeping downtown has changed the political terrain as well. Coupled with the rise of social media, this is severely complicating a proposal which likely would have sailed through council a decade ago.

When it comes to Hamilton’s political culture, I’d have to say that’s a positive development (pun intended).

The casino proposal struck a nerve downtown, and it’s provoking quite the reaction. Behind the (no longer) presumed consensus, we’re getting a startling look at how insular, indifferent and utterly cold-hearted Hamilton’s development process really is. While this is hardly the first proposal with life-shattering implications for people in the core (evictions, expropriations, etc), we don’t often have experts stating directly that deaths will result| from a business endeavor. Even if it’s defeated, it still points toward a glaring need to change the way these decisions are made. One need only look around the many concrete moonscapes of Main, King and Wilson to see the legacy of decisions made by “people who count”, and it doesn’t take a three-fingered four-year-old to count the number of successful downtown megaprojects so far. Instead, how about listening (for once) to those of us who actually live, work and spend our time downtown?