‘Old stock Canadians’ comment sidetracks Hamilton cycling plan debate; councillor ejected


Published February 7, 2023 at 7:03 pm

The wheels came off today during a Hamilton council debate over a cycling master plan, with Coun. Cameron Kroetsch getting the heave-ho after refusing to take back his use of the term “old stock Canadians.”

The topic du jour at a general issues committmee was a motion that calls for a $308,000 expenditure this year — one-40th of the proposed increase to the Hamilton Police Services budget — dedicated to speed up the improvement of cycling infrastructure. The costs would be added to city’s planning and economic development. It would double to $616,000 in starting in 2024, and would not include costs of hiring five full-time employees.

Ward 6 Coun. Jackson, the 35-year East Mountain represenative, had signalled he was against the motion due to the “downside to the everyday taxpayer.” Kroetsch suggested the comment was a coded remark that has “big implications,” noting that former prime minister Stephen Harper was criticized for using it in the 2015 federal election campaign.

“To Councillor Jackson talking about ‘everyday taxpayers’ — it might sound funny, but I would be careful, and I’ll take this up with you (Jackson) later, but that sounds like ‘old stock Canadians’ to me,” Kroetsch (pictured) said. “And that language has been called out publicly after it was used by former prime minister Stephen Harper. And that is what it sounds like — to me. So I’ll leave it there. I’ll just caution you not to keep saying it because it has big implications.”

Jackson, seated on Kroetsch’s left, responded that he did not recall that Harper used the term. The former Conservative PM did use it, although he was not the first federal politician to do so, nor even the only one who has served as the PM.

“I didn’t even recall a former prime minister using it,” Jackson said. “To the Ward 2 councillor, I will continue to speak on behalf of my constituents to the best knowledge, eloquent way I can. I don’t think anyone should tell me any differently.”

Ward 9 Coun. Brad Clark, who chairs the GIC, informed Kroetsch that he was using unparliamentary language. He offered the downtown representative three chances to withdraw his comment.

“It was unparliamentary,” said Clark. “The councillor was not making a white comment about white Canadians. Your implication to him was disparaging. It was inappropriate. I’m going to ask you to withdraw the comment… you can solve this very quickly by withdrawing the comment. that was not his intention, and you know that was not his intention.”

Kroetsch had not actually said “white.” The downtown representative, who is one of two councillors who is part of the LGBTQ2SIA+ community, said he had been “harmed” by that phrase.

“Respectfully, I don’t know what you mean,” he said to Clark. “I said it sounded, to me, akin to the kind of comment that was made. I didn’t say that he (Jackson) said that. I didn’t imply his intention in any way, shape of form. It’s not about Councillor Jackson’s intention. I’m happy to take it up with him off-line.”

Clark noted, “But you didn’t take it up with off-line, Councillor. You said it in a public session.”

Kroetsch riposted, “Oh, there was much more I was going to say. I just said, ‘this is what it sounded like to me… this is the tenor I heard it in.’ That’s the way I received it. I’ve been harmed by it.”

Kroetsch was silent as Clark explained the need for decorum, and left the chamber.

Ward 1 Coun. Maureen Wilson motioned for Clark to be overruled. That would have required a two-thirds majority, and it failed in a 6-6 deadlock.

Clark and (in order of ward) Couns. Jackson, John-Paul Danko (8), Jeff Beattie (10), Mike Spadafora (14), and Ted McMeekin (15) backed up the decision. Wilson and Couns. Nrinder Nann (3), Tammy Hwang (4), Mark Tadeson (11), Craig Cassar (12), and Alex Wilson (13) voted unsuccessfully for a reversal.

Term has ‘us versus others’ connotations

The term has sufficient traction in Canadian political and sociology circles to warrant a Wikipedia page. In September 2015, then-CPC (Conservative Party) leader Harper used it during a leaders’ debate with the Liberals’ Justin Trudeau and the New Democrats’ Thomas Mulcair. Harper used the term in response to a question on refugee policy.

“We do not offer them (refugees) a better health-care plan than the ordinary Canadian can receive. I think that’s something that new and old stock Canadians can agree with,” Harper said.

At that time, social researcher Frank Graves linked the term to a right-wing strategy of dog-whistle politics, saying it helps “creates a sense of us versus others.” Using it in the context of Canada’s refugee policy, amid a debate over admitting refugees from the Syrian civil war, raised concerns that the phrase is exclusionary or elevates the more privileged.

Prime Minister Trudeau, though, used the phrase in 2007 when he was a Liberal candidate for a parliamentary seat. It has also been used by sociologists and former Liberal leader Stéphane Dion. There is also some dispute about whether the term refers to English-speaking Canadians of British lineage, British and French, or extends to those with roots in northern Europe.

Balking at cost

The city’s cycling master plan was created 13 years ago, in 2009. It identifies cycling projects that could take another 30 years to be completed.

At a Jan. 20 meeting, Hwang got unanimous support (14-0) for a potion that directed staff to provide the financial implications on the city’s 2023 operation budget if a master plan is sped up over three years.

“This is a proactive approach to how we design infrastructure for the future, while being mindful of not wasting tax dollars,” Hwang said. “I want to encourage us to think of this is the first step in not wasting taxpayer dollars as we improve our cycling plan.”

Cycling infrastructure is generally proven to improve the social and environmental determinants of health, and reduce pollution from the use of fossil fuel-burning personal vehicles. On the first count, Hamilton has some of the largest health equity disparities in the country, with life expectancy from the poorest neighbourhood to the most affluent ranging to up to 23 years. Hamilton is also in the second-most climate-vulnerable area of Canada.

“By increasing the number of connected routes, we are encouraging people to take more trips to get around our city, and reduce their greenhouse gas emissions,” Nann said. “This is encouraging a more positive cycling culture.

“If we wait 30 years, the people who want this will age out of being able to use it,” Nann added.

The Kroetsch-represented Ward 2 includes a notorious “heat island” due to a lack of tree canopy. Last Friday, amid a cold snap, the councillor was out inform residents of why trees had been felled to

Jackson, the longest-serving councillor, said he was not ready to support the expense of an accelerated cycling plan. He said he was only onside with having city staff bring a report to councillros.

“I had only supported allowing the new members to have an opportunity to bring that back, ‘this is the first report, if you will, of what it would look like,’ ” said Jackson, who is one of only four members of council who had held office prior to 2018.

“And, in my humble opinion, this downside to the everyday taxpayer, that I’m very concerned about. I am not yet at accelerating or reducing the 25- to 30-year plan. It’s gonna really condense that the timeframe and increase costs. I get it from a cycling standpoint, a connectivity standpoint. I’ve always been a big supporter of recreational trails. I’m just not there with what I feel are the competing priorities of the majority of the people who re-elected me last October. So I won’t be able to support this.”

The city dedicates about 2 per cent of its budget to cycling.

“What’s before us today is reasonable,” Danko said. “This is the start of a critical reinvestment to improve active transportation and help us accommodate the growth that is coming.”

Regarding to addition of five full-time equivalent staff to the planning and economic department, Tadeson asked if there is sufficient staff to carry out the work that council wants to see happen. The Glanbrook councillor essentially got a hard no.

“At this moment, I have two staff to do this job,” Mike Field, the city’s acting director of transportation operations and maintenance, told Tadeson. “That’s not a lot of people to do these types of jobs..

“We need to have the resources to support to work. to build good infrastructure, we need good people. We need the amount of people to build the infrastructure we want to be building.”

insauga's Editorial Standards and Policies advertising