Thursday, November 15, 2012

Dear Hamiltonian- A Rogue Referendum Run by the People, For the People

The Hamiltonian has received the following open letter from Larry Pattison (Lawrence Thomas)

A Rogue Referendum
Run by the people. For the people

Dear Hamilton,

We seem to have passively resolved that a referendum held outside of an election, is a cost we are not prepared to incur to solve our cities dilemma with regards to a proposed new Casino in Hamilton.

After attending the Wards 1, 2, & 3 Town Hall at City Hall hosted by Ward 2 councilor Jason Farr, it inadvertently reminded me of the many flaws in our voting system. Although the room seemed to lean heavily towards the side of keeping a Casino out of our downtown core, the night was a good balance I thought, of the pros and cons of what a Casino brings to a city – good and bad.

Although I was on the side of Andrea Horwath and her very public desire to have the OLG give Hamilton time to hold a referendum on this issue, I left the Town Hall session that night feeling otherwise. I have great respect for Ms. Horwath, but the discussion made me realize that so many of the opinions we hold with regards to issues facing our city, the world, and people, are ones often held without all of the facts. At least all of the facts from a diverse collective.

Either way, it seems council is going to upset half of Hamiltonians if you take all polls floating around to date, but in an ideal community these major decisions should be made with the wishes of

the citizens at the forefront.

One issue among many surrounding this debate, is that mountain residents on the surface seem fine with a Casino going downtown, but those who live in the lower city mostly seem set against it. I would think in an ideal voting system, weight would be given to the home community on such a decision. I am not sure how the math would work but I don’t think people would take too kindly of me voting to put a garbage dump in someone else’s backyard. Perhaps two different things but I think the point has been made.

I do still think this is a decision that we should be making ourselves, but you could almost have a referendum to discuss how the referendum should be run.

Below are my opinions as to how I think we can hold a referendum on this issue, and for zero capital.

Volunteer run

Representatives from all local media would volunteer their time from CH, The Spec, radio stations, to Raise the Hammer, The Hamiltonian, CATCH, and many of the independents selling, reporting, and heavily involved in our city like Joey Coleman, Matt Jelly, Adrian M. Brassington of This is Our Hamilton, and the list could go on.

All of these outlets would publish content that was very objective and didn’t use bashing tactics to sell the benefits of the side they personal lean to. It’s all about the facts and the assumptions would be ones that all of these outlets believed were safe assumptions to advertise to the masses.

All of these groups would have to QC one another’s articles to ensure as a collective, they all agree on the points being made. Perhaps every outlet publishes the same pieces to ensure we have attempted to reach every single outlet that a Hamilton resident would read, watch, listen to, and all with the same level of objectivity.

Existing articles would all be removed from the sites of the organizations above, until the collective agreed upon their message or they were changed slightly to remove bias.

Any ads that were placed would also not lean to one side. Our main goal of this practice would be more about changing the face of politics, the bullying tactics, the secrecy, the blame of others, the judgment, etc. All we want is what’s best for everyone with trying to understand on another’s needs from job creation to social programs, to growing the city and the individual communities.

Make it mandatory for all voters to have either attended a public forum not unlike the Town Hall meeting hosted by Clr Farr but a new one that travels around the city with the same speakers and general content at each session, or a taping of one of these town hall meetings shown over a live stream where users are logged and tracked so we know that residents have attended a session – that their opinions are informed.

Referendum counts if we manage to get more voters than our last municipal election. If not, the fate is in council’s hands. If the voter turnout is low, we can assume that the majority are okay with leaving this decision up to their elected officials.

Voting system is up to this volunteer committee to decide. We have some extremely technical folk in Hamilton that could develop databases, electronic means to vote, ways to vote in person or online or every possible way we can think of to get the folks to cast a ballot including if they are out of town/country during the balloting period. Perhaps there isn’t even any one voting day.

I think we have the dedication, expertise, and creativity within our city to turn this referendum project into something extraordinary. Even if your ‘side’ loses, I think what we stand to gain most from such a process is an enlightened, involved, innovative, and inspired community.

This isn’t ‘Our City Our Future’ vs. Go East Mountain. This is Your City Your Future. No for or against. Just FOR honesty, integrity, openness, and oneness.

Perhaps a volunteer run, organized, and designed referendum would not hold up as ‘legal’? In that case, perhaps our elected officials would still be the ‘official’ vote but they would promise to cast their ‘ballot’ based on our volunteer referendum results should the numbers exceed last elections voter turnout.

Percentages should have to be 60% or more in favor or it be deemed the public is in the middle about the issue. Once again, the vote would sit in the hands of council.

With representatives from all levels of Hamilton’s public forum, perhaps voters and officials would believe more in its results than a typical municipal, provincial, or federal election. Take the recent US voting system glitches as an example of what turns the voting populous off of this ‘democratic’ system.

These are just some of my thoughts as to how we could still hold a form of referendum on this issue without the exorbitant costs normally associated with holding them outside an election. We have recently received a decision extension to 2013 so would this give us time to devise such a plan?

How could all of us as partners, working together to get the word out there and to encourage people to head to the ‘polls’, change the face of citizen involvement in Hamilton?

There is a considerable trust issue with regards to politics in general so let’s put that trust in the hands of a greater more diverse collective, to ensure the message that is carried across our city on this very important issue is one that the community as a whole agrees with.

There are too many different variations of polls being circulated which is also a problem because there are also two issues at stake here really as I see it.

They are in my opinion:

Do you want a Casino in Hamilton?

Yes, downtown
Yes, keep Flamborough Downs
Yes, anywhere but downtown
Yes, anywhere period
Maybe a 5th option would be simply, ‘Let council decide’

If we keep Flamborough Downs…
Allow expansion
Do not allow expansion. Respect the area as a conservation, Greenbelt district
Or something to that affect.
I wouldn’t think that we need anyone’s permission to venture into such an undertaking as this. It’s just a matter of whether holding such a rogue referendum, would be accepted politically.

We’ve said no to a Casino once and one Hamiltonian put something very important into perspective on one of the local public forums. They intriguingly pondered that since a vote has been cast on this issue in the past, the only way to reverse that decision should be by hosting another referendum.

Some food for thought.

Thanks Larry for this submission. Respectful comments are welcome. 


  1. Excellent points! Thank you! In reaching out to a large demographic quickly, dare I say, a Facebook page for "Hamilton Casino" with several voting options, might work as well...it may get people that otherwise don't watch or listen to the typical media or extended media formats...it would get 'friends' of people in Hamilton to at least see what their views are. What do we have to lose? Quick setup with zero cost, and probably good feedback. I hate to rely on social media for this, but it could provide a better insight. This would also allow people who can't commit to attending something or who hate phone polls to participate. It could serve other communities as well to try if we had great success.

  2. Plain and SimpleNovember 15, 2012

    This would take a lot of doing and coordination. Or it can end up being a mess. But its possible and if it is done well it can be used for many other topics. I would nominate The Hamiltonian and Raise the Hammer to lead. I think they would do a good job coordinating this and the other you listed would also be very helpful.

    Plain and Simple

  3. The problem with ideas like these, is that noone follows through. To pull this off, you'd have to invite all these outlets to a meeting and see if they are willing. Have you done that?

  4. Marvin RyderNovember 15, 2012

    I just don't see this happening. It raises a hornet's nest of issues. For instance, what is a "casino"? Is OLG talking about a Vegas-style casino with an attached hotel, show rooms, and shopping? Is it just a place for gambling? How similar or different is it to what we already have at Flamborough Downs? I suspect that behind their disparate positions is often a big difference in the perception of what is likely to be built.

    Next, when does City Council have a mandate to make a decision and when do we hold a referendum? Should we have a referendum on gay marriage? "Aerotropolis"? the Waterfront Trust? Light rapid transit? Pan Am Games? the cost of ice time at an arena? delaying garbage collection by one day when there is a stat holiday on a Monday? The truth is, the casino, one way or another is a relatively minor issue - it is not foundational to economic recovery or demise. It's impact either positive or negative will be fairly minor.

    Then there is the question of mandate. In municipal elections, less than half our citizens vote. What if 35% of people turn out? What does it mean? What if 58% say "yes" or "no"? It is not the "super-majority" of 60% but it is a fairly strong indicator.

    Here is a final concern. The description above seemed to suggest that only people "well educated" should be allowed to vote. I have never seen that criterion in democracy. People have been voting for years based on sentiment sometimes rooted in logic and sometimes rooted in illogic. I don't think you can have any "litmus test" for a voter - you live here, you get to vote.

    Until we vote them out of office, the Councillors and Mayor are entrusted by we citizens to take actions in the best interest of the community. This may be a tough call but this is their job.

  5. "They intriguingly pondered that since a vote has been cast on this issue in the past, the only way to reverse that decision should be by hosting another referendum."

    Larry, have you sought a legal opinion on whether the original referendum vote is still valid?

    As well, a downtown casino was approved by council. How long after the referendum (months, years?) did the approval take place?

    Larry, before going down the long, hard road of trying to get Hamiltonians to vote yea/nay to a casino again, perhaps a little digging into the validity of the original (first and last?) referendum may be an easier and clearer first step.

  6. I'll start with replying to yourself Serendipity. I have not sought legal opinion which I did wonder about when I first read that user comment some time ago, but I think in response to the Urbanicity poll, the bottom line is that I agree that we should be pursuing this and learning about how it could benefit or hinder our downtown plans in any way. I think what we have all learned already, has made this exercise a valuable one.

    I would challenge those among the readership who would know where to start searching such an answer, that it would be interesting to know the legality of a council overruling something that had been previously voting on by citizens.

    As to council's 'approval' of a downtown Casino, was that not as part of the Setting Sail Plan? That a Casino would be an acceptable part of the design plans? Once again, the legitimacy behind them approving this should be questioned.

    The referendum was a long time ago I will agree. Times were different, but perhaps so has the benefits/deterrence surrounding their place in our communities.

    1. Larry, I spent some some time last night reading about referendums in Ontario/Canada/US.
      I recommend this one:

      It answered my own questions regarding legality/validity of our '97 referendum - the referendum was non-binding thus council did not take it seriously/under consideration (nor do they have to) when they approved a downtown casino.

      Sadly, unfortunately, a referendum today would mean nothing more than it did back in '97 and subsequent years when council put the casino back on the table. Undemocratic? Most definitely. However, council knows a referendum is non-binding and that no matter what the vote, even an overwhelming one against a downtown casino, they still have the power to put one in the core.

      It's going to take more than a referendum to stop a downtown casino.

      At this time, I would suggest calling Tim McCabe and asking him, or another of the decision makers at City Hall, whether there's a chance in hell of stopping a casino from planting itself downtown.
      Referendum aside, perhaps a strong show of voices/action from the combined downtown Neighbourhood Associations may be a true beginning to apply the brakes to what is, imho, a done deal.

    2. Thank you very much for this. I enjoyed that read. Have you read this? http://montemcnaughtonmpp.ca/2012/10/30/hamilton-residents-will-have-less-say-in-new-casinos-as-bill-76-dies/

      Perhaps it's time for Bill that ensures that we properly use the word Referendum and ensure there is the legal option for a real, binding Referendum in Ontario.

    3. Larry, thanks a bunch, another piece of the casino puzzle.
      With everything I've read so far, the bottom line is the province and city are broke; horse racing is not going to be receiving the mega-millions it has been thus the province gains; shiny new casinos throughout the province will be popping up and billions will flow into the provincial and municipal coffers. Bottom line, we rely on and thus need casino money; right now, we need more.
      As Chris Murray stated in Spec re prov money, in ten years Hamilton will be "unsustainable" without more money from the province.

      I wouldn't be surprised if the whole marketing campaign to sell Ontario's new entertainment districts/casinos was throwing ideas around already. Wow, I never thought that our City would need casino money to survive, but I think it's addicted now and wants much much more for the near future.

      That said, I hope they build the damn thing at Confederation Park on Hamilton's Waterfront. If you're going to do it, do it right and keep it out of the City proper like Montreal does.

  7. Marvin, some valid points. 'When to hold a referendum?' My question, why are they so rare?

    Perhaps the Casino is a small issue (which I don't think it is), but many issues leaving citizens frustrated, equals one big major issue.

    35% is just not acceptable and to me, it breaths disappointment in our political system. 60% for I still feel is a low percentage. Anything too much less than that still seems very indecisive. Or perhaps a better statement might be as I have mentioned in my letter, it's close enough to let council decide.

    By no means did I ever or would I ever, suggest that you must be 'well educated' to vote. Educated on the issue and I don't mean 'there is a test afterwards'. These Town Hall's certainly fill you with so much material but whatever you take from them with regards to being able to translate in plain English what was said, I believe you leave with a sense of where you stand on the issue given all of the facts. Or as much of the facts that were available to us that evening.

    Are councilors (and this is not aimed at anyone on council), really entrusted by the community? Is 35% voter turnout 'the community'?

    Do clr's really want a decision like this? One they know will upset half the population, with their fateful hand raised in the air? With so many issues, how can even they have all the facts on everything they vote for or against on a daily basis?

    Perhaps an issue such as this is so down the middle in the positive/negative aspects of the end result, clr would rather let the citizen's decide. If the impact truly is minimal either way, if we can override the cost (I can't remember what it would have cost Hamilton but it was upwards of $7m for Toronto to hold one on the Casino issue), than I think it would be a valuable undertaking.

  8. Sorc, I think the problem with ideas is as you stated, that it's easy to have them and express them, but it's all about the follow up. We all have busy lives and there is already not enough time in the day to accomplish everything we have to attempt to achieve in a 24 hour period, so there is always that hope that someone else might pick up the baton. Or as I have done, suggest other's to undertake such a large undertaking. How nice of me.

    I held onto sending this for some time now. Maybe because I know that it's one thing to have an idea, and yet another to have the ability or courage to follow up on that idea.

    The message is out. I sent it to many media outlets both 'mainstream' and otherwise. Hopefully other's will publish this and if nothing else, it get's some dialogue going.

    I'd be glad to organize that first meeting - at least call some of these people that I forwarded this message to and see if they are willing to get together at least once over coffee.

    I will say that I didn't send this letter as a solution. I sent it as a means to get other's thinking about what they feel the solution might be.

    The message is meant to change the persona of politics. Perhaps the place to start, is to at least follow up and be serious instead of pies flying through the sky.

    I will give you my own excuses of time as a recently single dad trying to find the time to do the dishes and figure out what to make them for dinner never mind run a referendum, but by no means would I ever suggest such a plan and not find the time to offer my voice or hand wherever I could should the interest of others to pursue something such as this, exist.

    As I stated to another who replied to my letter, I am also not asking for council's approval on this. I am asking those involved or who would like to be more involved, their thoughts. It would be nice should something come of this, to have council's support upon approval of the process that was devised but it's not a necessity. Knowing how we feel, is all that's truly important.

  9. "here is always that hope that someone else might pick up the baton" That's the first mistake.

    I don't object to the sentiment, but unless we, as a mass start giving a crap about local politics, the same lifers will be recycled. I've never believed in tea parties, town halls or other gestures. We need better mainstream media who will hold feet to the fire. We don't have that, and that's why why have this.

  10. I don't think there is anything wrong with hoping someone else might run with an idea. I'd rather have ideas flowing, but I can see your point that eventually these ideas start to be seen as nothing that will ever come to fruition and we stop getting excited about them.

    I think it's equally important that people are public about their feelings towards ideas. Those throwing ideas into the wind might see them all as bad or worthless if nobody ever gives feedback and they simply disappear unnoticed into the blogosphere.

    I like Town Halls because I like interacting with live people but we do need to reach people in the same manner by multiple means and we as you stated, need to feel confident that we are getting all the facts and a diversified, well-rounded opinion.

  11. I admire the effort. I think if we all demanded better coverage of city hall matters from MSM, we'd be in a lot better shape. Ask the Ryans and Teresa's of the world how to do that. They are good at it. Have a look at how 6/9/12 was covered here as opposed to MSM and you will see my point. And, if the majority of city council can't express what The Best Place to raise a Child should truly mean, then it is no surprise that we have no real leadership. Start getting your friends out to vote and have them take a look at the video of 6/9/12 as a start.

    1. Off topic, but perhaps showing the disconnect between City Hall, Council's Vision (Best Place to Raise a Child), and MSM (The Spectator).

      Hamilton's Children's Choir came in at #1 at an international Children's competition in China. It did not make page 1; rather, a little blip of an article further in the paper.
      Not one mention from anyone at City Hall in article. Whoever is running the marketing campaign for "Best Place to Raise a Child" should be fired today.

      Back to topic...If we do not want a casino downtown, we better move quickly because MSM, City Hall and Tim McCabe are sure as heck telling us that one is coming.

  12. Good article and responses.Just wondering,suppose we accepted a casino,and it was a money maker the provincial govt.would simply withold that amount in transfers.We might have a lot of additional problems but no new cash to deal with them.... Nah they(the province) would never stoop that low. Would they?

    1. Don't vote in a government that sees casino money as essential. It's the first sign of being desperate and without a plan.

      Mr. PC

  13. A web referendum would be prone to fraud and without the authority of the City behind it that fraud would be impossible to investigate. Sorry Larry but this is a dead end.

    What we do need is for everyone to pay close attention, ask good questions of Council and demand full information. Certain members of Council have already made up their mind and yet nobody can honestly say that we have all the facts. That's not acceptable.

  14. Steel City Rising Against Poverty (SCRAP)November 19, 2012

    Interesting article, I like people who come up with ideas, however I like those who put their ideas into action, better.

    I was at that townhall meeting and given that the numbers of their so called phone poll, did not match the vote by those who attended this townhall, thus reiterating to me, that polls, are not representive of all.

    The problem lies in the fact that people do not vote, they did not really follow local politics.

    Just to give a point of view, I was at the GIC meeting a week or so ago, to hear about the city's stance on the cutbacks on the CSUMB and discretionary benefits. However, I had gosomewhere else and only heard from the airport guy and the new MPAC property tax bills. I was astonished to ehar that the city signed an agreement which allows the airport only to pay a pittance of rent until the year 2036! Did I hear that right?

    Interestingly enough, the keyphrase was zero property tax hikes, what a joke, that people actually believe this newspeak.

    Steel City Rsiing Against Poverty


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