By Kevin Werner • METROLAND WEST MEDIA GROUP
On January 1, inside the comfortable confines of city hall, Hamilton Mayor Bob Bratina talked about the city’s recent accomplishments. Outside the Main Street East establishment, a group of citizens gathered hosted their own New Year’s Levée, where they challenge residents to hold politicians accountable for their decisions, choices that could change the future of the city.
With the sun shinning, but the temperature dipping to a chilly minus six degrees Celsius, Christopher Cutler, organizer of the Citizens’ New Year’s Levée, said 2013 should bring a range of activism within the city, as people debate important issues, including light-rail transit, a downtown casino and two-way traffic.
“You don’t need a politician to hold a levée,” said Cutler, who was offering hot chocolate, Tim Hortons coffee and Timbits to about 25 people during the three-hour get-together.
“We care about this community,” he said. “We believe in this city. We want people to be engaged, and provide a critical thought about the public issues of the day. There are people for and against the issues here. But they are all here to celebrate citizen participation in the city.”
Meanwhile, on the second floor of city hall, Bratina, along with Hamilton Police Chief Glenn De Caire, Conservative MP David Sweet, Liberal MPP Ted McMeekin, and councillors Robert Pasuta and Maria Pearson, mingled with about 60 people during the two-hour event.
During a break in the gathering, Bratina praised Sweet’s assistance for securing the federal government’s $46.3-million share of the $138.9-million Randle Reef rehabilitation.
“It will now enable us to complete the Randle Reef cleanup,” said Bratina.
The mayor also applauded the federal Conservatives for providing $69 million, its share of the $145-million price tag to build the Pan Am Stadium.
“Thanks so much for not letting Hamilton stay below the radar,” said Bratina. “We have issues, we need help, and the federal government has stepped forward time and time again so Hamilton can continue to move forward.”
While there were no dancers at the mayor’s levée this year as there were in 2012, guests in attendance were treated to snacks and refreshments, as well as musical entertainment by the five-member HMCS Star band, secured by Colonel Geordie Elms, the mayor’s military consultant.
“I enjoy coming out to support the mayor’s levée and meeting all the ordinary people,” said Ancaster resident Jan Lucas. “It’s such a beautiful time to come to city hall on New Year’s Day.”
Hamilton resident Yien Kao, who moved to Hamilton in 1996, attends the mayor’s levée every year.
“I want to meet the mayor and have some food,” she said. “It’s very good.”
The mayor is scheduled to host another similar gathering in recognition of the Orthodox New Year.
Outside, there was no music at the second annual Citizens’ New Year’s Levée. But the people made up for it with good cheer.
“We are starting the year off right,” said Cutler.
In 2012, Cutler and other Hamiltonians held their own event after Bratina announced he was cancelling his levée so he could take a break.
After some confusion, the mayor announced his levée would be held on Jan. 14, the Orthodox New Year. About 60 people turned out for the citizens’ event in front of city hall.
Cutler said his event is a reminder that citizen engagement is the true importance of local government.
“You just don’t elect politicians, then walk away,” he said. “People need to be active all year long.”
Cutler says the citizens’ levée will continue to be an annual event at city hall, regardless if the mayor holds his levée or not.
“Next year, though, we will have music,” he said.