Since the release of the final report into the City of Hamilton’s Red Hill Valley Parkway (RHVP) Judicial Inquiry the City has publicized that it is changing its ways. On its website it has posted a number of implementations including two that appear to be useful:
While, at face value, these changes appear to mean that the City will be more transparent, the actual meaning of the wording may be quite different. Implementation of an “Active Disclosure and Dissemination Policy” may only mean that, whereas previously information could informally be kept secret from the public, now there will be an official procedure whereby staff and politicians must keep matters secret from the public. And in a similar vein, the Council Staff Relationship policy may only set the official way in which staff can keep information secret from politicians and thereby keep it from the public’s knowledge. The comments that we make may appear to be unfair and distrustful but one must look back at the City’s history to see that distrust is reasonable.
A few months after the RHVP judicial inquiry was formed in the spring of 2019, and at a time when City representatives were claiming that they knew nothing about the burying of the Tradewinds report, another sandal erupted and we could see the representatives’ response.
In November, 2019, someone leaked some documents to the Hamilton Spectator newspaper about a sewage leak that had been kept from the public’s knowledge. Although City representatives claimed that they had reported a leak of sewage into Chedoke Creek, the truth was that they knew much more that they did not reveal. They knew that the sewage leak had been in existence for about four years and that an estimated 24 billion litres had been leaked. It was the timing of the knowledge and the magnitude of the leak that were never revealed. It was discovered that City politicians engaged in closed-door meeting where this leak was discussed and most of the politicians voted to keep that knowledge from the public. A few politicians such as Maureen Wilson, Nrinder Nann, John-Paul Danko and possibly Sam Merulla took the ethical road and disagreed with the secrecy but they were overruled. Councillors who voted for secrecy claimed that they took the “advice of outside legal counsel” which warned that the City would be expected to pay Provincial fines and deal with potential civil lawsuits.
An incredibly unethical decision by City representatives was taken when they voted to track down those persons who divulged the sewage leak documents to the Spectator newspaper and thereby to the public. That decision was eventually overturned but it laid the track and warning to future whistle-blowers as to the grave circumstances they faced when they felt they owed their allegiance to the public that elected them.
At a time when City representatives were claiming no knowledge about the burying of the Tradewinds report, we were subject to the comments of the Mayor of that time, Fred Eisenberger, who was of the view that keeping the sewage leak a secret was the proper thing to do. Eisenberger claimed that expert legal advice instructed him to proceed in this manner to protect taxpayers from future lawsuits. When Eisenberger wanted further discussions to be held in closed doors it was revealing that a white knight, John-Paul Danko, was quoted to make the following reply” “There’s a lot of crap around here, and not all of it in Chedoke Creek, and I do not agree to go in camera”.
Distrust must flow from these revelations. The RHVP inquiry placed blame on Gary Moore for the withholding of the Tradewinds report which contained damning test results about inferior surface friction conditions of the Red Hill Valley Parkway. But what unofficial communications occurred between elected officials, staff, and the City’s Risk Management Department that were never uncovered by the inquiry? As the Mayor and majority of councillors supported secrecy is it unreasonable that, in unofficial circumstances, they could have supported the burying of the Tradewind report? They were in favour of burying information about the Chedoke sewage leak, so what is the difference?
More recently there has been a new revelation about possible further misdeeds by City representatives. The Hamilton Spectator Newspaper has reported in a January 10, 2024 article ( “Court ruling puts dirt-dumping conspiracy lawsuit against Hamilton on hold”, by Matthew Van Dongen) that a $75 million dollar civil suit is under way which claims that City staff worked with a mob-linked person to allow the dumping of contaminated soil onto a property off Highway 5 in Flamborough. The described mob-boss, Pat Musitano, was subsequently assassinated. The Spectator article also described a meeting of Musitano with a City manager at a downtown restaurant – a scene cut into the minds of readers of some kind of segment from the Godfather movie. These descriptions are unproven in court but given the past history of the actions of City representatives what are taxpayers expected to believe? And this is a big problem. When City representatives have demonstrated that they are not protecting the public which they are supposed to represent and protect, seemingly unbelievable reports tend to become believable.
Despite what words the City of Hamilton posts on their website about how they are working to change, it will take a lot of work to bring back the public’s trust. And it will not occur from just words alone. There must be a demonstrated commitment to transparency and accountability to the public they ought to serve.