Hamil­ton got stronger after amal­ga­ma­tion

Waterloo Region Record - - Front Page - LUISA D’AMATO ldam­ato@therecord.com Twit­ter: @Dam­a­toRecord

You’re in the city of Hamil­ton. But only tech­ni­cally.

Dark pine forests fringed with wild­flow­ers are all you see on south­bound High­way 6 as the sign tells you you’re in­side the city lim­its.

And for the next 20 kilo­me­tres, as farms and gas sta­tions give way to light in­dus­try and gar­den cen­tres, un­til you get to the tan­gle of high­ways at the edge of Lake On­tario, Hamil­ton is a city that doesn’t look like a city.

In Jan­uary 2001, the city was re­quired to merge with five sur­round­ing mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties: Flam­bor­ough, Glan­brook, Stoney Creek, An­caster and Dundas.

Flam­bor­ough was es­pe­cially un­happy about that, lo­cal politi­cians re­call.

The area was mostly farm­land and had tried to split it­self up to join neigh­bour­ing ru­ral mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties in­stead, in­clud­ing Water­loo Re­gion.

But the prov­ince re­jected that idea and forced it to join the big city.

Seven­teen years later, two key politi­cians say the amal­ga­ma­tion ex­per­i­ment was a suc­cess.

“There’s no ques­tion in my mind, this com­mu­nity is fur­ther ahead,” said Terry Cooke, who was chair of the Re­gional Mu­nic­i­pal­ity of Hamil­ton-Went­worth from 1994 to 2000. That mu­nic­i­pal­ity died with the amal­ga­ma­tion. Cooke is now chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer of Hamil­ton Com­mu­nity Foun­da­tion.

The merge kept the wealthy, grow­ing sub­urbs around Hamil­ton as part of the new megac­ity. Tax rev­enue was sta­ble and could be di­rected to wher­ever there was a need.

With­out that move, “we would have had in­ner-city blight,” with pros­per­ous sub­urbs di­vorced from the core, said Hamil­ton Mayor Fred Eisen­berger.

Cooke agreed, and pointed out that those thriv­ing sub­urbs were orig­i­nally built with the money from the in­dus­trial tax as­sess­ment from in­ner-city Hamil­ton.

Once amal­ga­ma­tion be­came re­al­ity, there was a tran­si­tion board to man­age the de­tails. Some street num­bers needed to be changed. People on sep­tic sys­tems had their taxes ad­justed so that they weren’t pay­ing for ser­vices they didn’t re­ceive.

For years after the merge, there were com­plaints that the ur­ban area of Hamil­ton had more res­i­dents per ward (and there­fore each in­di­vid­ual had less vot­ing power) than the ru­ral ar­eas.

That’s to be cor­rected in this up­com­ing elec­tion with an ad­di­tional ward on Hamil­ton Moun­tain and one less ward in Flam­bor­ough.

Eisen­berger, who was mayor from 2006 to 2010 and again since 2014, said it was im­por­tant to find ways to in­vest in ev­ery part of the new city.

Flam­bor­ough was the un­hap­pi­est of the new ar­rivals, with “Free Flam­bor­ough” T-shirts be­ing worn. But time heals even these wounds.

“I al­ways said it would take a gen­er­a­tion” for those hurt feel­ings to set­tle down, Cooke said.

Pop­u­la­tion in­crease in the sub­urbs has helped the whole city thrive.

Even Flam­bor­ough has seen plenty of growth and pros­per­ity in its Wa­ter­down sec­tion, a favourite spot to buy a home if you must com­mute to Toronto.

Amal­ga­ma­tion has also helped Hamil­ton ne­go­ti­ate good deals for it­self, Eisen­berger added.

“We went from be­ing the 15th largest city in Canada to the eighth largest,” he said. “That au­to­mat­i­cally gives you more clout at the pro­vin­cial ta­ble, the fed­eral ta­ble.

“It’s given us a much, much stronger voice.”

Here’s one ex­am­ple that may hit close to home: If Hamil­ton de­cides to go ahead with build­ing a light rail tran­sit line, it will be fully paid for by the pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ment. Lo­cal taxes won’t have to be raised to help cover the con­struc­tion costs.

Water­loo Re­gion, by con­trast, had to con­trib­ute lo­cal tax dol­lars for about one-third of the cost of its light rail tran­sit line.

SCOTT GARD­NER THE HAMIL­TON SPECTATOR FILE PHOTO

The City of Hamil­ton was re­quired to amal­ga­mate with Flam­bor­ough, Glan­brook, Stoney Creek, An­caster and Dundas in 2001.

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