A Problem Whitehead Complexion

Yesterday, in response to the growing furor over Hamilton Ward 8 Councillor Terry Whitehead’s dismissive handling of local activist Matt Jelly, I wrote an email to the councillor. It went like this:

Hello Terry,

I’m a resident of Ward 2, in the Stinson Neighbourhood, and I spend a fair bit of my time in the Corktown and Beasley Neighbourhoods as well. I wanted to take a moment to assure you that, yes indeed, these are neighbourhoods in the traditional sense of the word, and I do indeed regard my neighbours with respect and admiration, and yet with growing concern as well. I worry that you aren’t being entirely fair in your assessment of our concerns over the notion that our outlying suburbs seem to be harbouring, about whether or not the urban core of Hamilton can or should play host to a casino.

I realize that Hamilton has financial problems; few feel that crunch so well as I, in my neighbourhood. But it occurs to me that choosing to believe that there are financial benefits that far outweigh the psychological and sociological concerns visa the OLG offer is a bit myopic, and even callous. I believe that, if you ask your constituents what they think of the idea of having a casino embedded in their downtown core, you’ll find that, while they might agree in principle with the idea of having one, most of them will probably steer clear of the downtown core precisely because of such elements as are often a result of such establishments. We’ve been working pretty hard to clean up the downtown core and make it safe and pleasant once more, and your ambition to have a casino placed here feels like a major step backwards.

If councillors want to see initiatives that bring businesses back to the urban core, they’re going to have to be a little more considerate of what the people of Hamilton actually want or don’t want to support in our community. Sure there are Hamiltonians who like to visit casinos, but we don’t really have the space or existing facilities to house a truly pleasant casino environment, and in all likelihood will see that ‘our’ casino would merely be a ‘closed garden’; a glorified hotel with little or no positive financial impact on the area chosen to host it, and would in fact promote and attract a great deal of urban squalor to the surrounding area. We’ve closed a number of seedy bars and other dodgy and dangerous establishments that have given the downtown core its unflattering reputation, and building and promoting a gambling establishment can’t really be interpreted as a step forward in this regard.

The urban core has been working hard to promote and celebrate our ethnic and cultural diversity, through events and street fairs celebrating the arts, music and social programs. We’re proud of what Hamilton is becoming, even in the face of adversity over the dwindling industrial core. We’re a home to one of the fastest growing and most highly regarded medical health establishments in the world. We want Hamilton to stand proudly beside our neighbouring cities. A casino will add nothing to this, and in fact will give our neighbours further reason to look down on us. We might as well invite strip clubs and dive bars back to the downtown core while we’re at it.

If your concern for the whole of Hamilton is genuine, then I ask you to consider, for a moment, what the ramifications of inviting such a culture of gambling and financial recklessness into your own community would be, not least of which to your constituents and to your own standing in the community.

Then politely reconsider our growing concerns over this proposal.

Thank you.

Lee Edward McIlmoyle

Last night, I received what turns out to have been a poorly edited form letter directly from the Councillor (isn’t it nice to see he handles his own correspondence?):

The commercial area of downtown is not in your neighborhood.

The downtown has all the health services, center of commerce, business, entertainment, conventions etc. These conditions do not exist anywhere else in Hamilton. You see downtowns of cities are there to serve all of the community that is the function of downtowns. You can look it up. I chose to live on the mountain close to the airport. I accept that the airport may get bigger and louder. I also understand its importance to the city, downtowns are no different.

Do you really believe that the downtown that is heavily subsidized by all taxpayers that no one else has a say but you!
Is it not an interest to all taxpayers to continue to drive taxes down?

Currently Flamborough generates. $800,000 in taxes, 350 good paying jobs, over 4 million dollars annually to the city to of set taxes.
Study’ s indicate that the larger casino located downtown could generate significantly more revenue for the city.

Did you know that more than Fifty thousand Hamiltonians gamble outside the city every year? This money flows to other communities. There are buses downtown every day at several locations packed with people to gamble in communities outside Hamilton.

We are not an island. Casinos has been deemed as socially acceptable as serving alcohol. The province after all has authorized it. It is clear their own study’ s indicate that a greater purpose is being served. Whether their findings are right or wrong three consecutive provincial governments have endorsed it. NDP initiated it Harris conservatives expanded on it and now we have the current situation under the Liberal Government. I do not remember an out cry from voters to eliminate the casino policy. It is hear in Ontario and I be damned if the other communities benefit at our taxpayers expense. In this case we are left with some of the social issues without a sent of additional revenue.

There are many urban myths just ask Mayor Friel, Mayor of Brantford who originally did not support a casino and now endorses it.

Lastly all issues must be considered before a decision. The down town has more people working there than live there. They are affected by many decisions that are made on behalf of local neighborhoods.

Ward 8 has one of the largest forensic psychiatric institutions for the criminally insane in Ontario. They at some point get short releases for walks in our neighborhoods. Ward 8 has more group homes than any other wards and yes Wesley Urban Ministries started a program on the west mountain to take destitute street people off the down town streets and put them in a shelter that serves them alcohol. This program even when the immediate neighborhood did not want it, I supported it because it was the right thing to do. We all may sacrifices for the greater good are you prepared to do the same.

Respectfully,

Terry

My response is not forthcoming. Basically, I can’t think of what to say that will make him see reason. I can point out that I live in Stinson, which is the acknowledged clearing house for all disenfranchised outpatients from his ward, where we have several Resident Care Facilities that have sprung up since the initial closing down of the OH building in his ward.

I could also point out that, just as his ward has Upper James Street to do the majority of its shopping, so too do we urban core residents have King and James to contend with. Many of us travel by bus, bike or on foot to the shops and offices of the down town core. We either live right next to or right inside the down town core. It IS our neighbourhood, regardless of how he might feel. Sure, there are centralized institutions in the down town core, and we don’t care if the city at large uses them. It’s no sweat off our backs to share the toys. However, we do expect to have some say in whether a money-sucking casino is built right in the down town core, where there is inadequate free parking and when we have been told straight up by the OLG Corporation that the city will only receive a small percentage of the winnings for hosting the casino. Whatever capital gains this may mean for lowering taxes surely won’t compensate for the rise in gambling-related depression, suicide attempts and increased alcohol and drug usage amongst the citizens. Easy access is not a virtue in this case. Keeping the gambling establishments in Flamborough, where they need the money even more than we do, or alternatively housing the casino somewhere on the outskirts of Hamilton (or, heaven forbid, in Ancaster or the Village Green, where all of the big shopping centres and housing development has been going up in the last twenty years, thanks in no small part to taxes paid by Hamiltonians), is what most Hamiltonians are asking for, but Councillor Whitehead doesn’t see it that way, and he is more than willing to throw us and our concerns under the proverbial bus to save his constituents a few dollars (and doubtless peace of mind, as well).

We don’t hear Terry offering to host the casino in his patch. I think a casino by the airport makes a certain amount of sense. I hope he’s willing to seriously consider that possibility, and make sacrifices for the greater good of Hamilton.

Lee.

Don't be shy. Tell me what you really think, now.

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