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Sir John hails city changes

City business owners welcomed changes to the law that hitherto excluded ratepayers from having a vote in the Island's municipalities.

Former Premier and Hamilton businessman Sir John Swan hailed the Municipalities Amendment Bill as “a major step that rectifies what was obviously an inequality”.

The move by MPs would reverse the 2011 arrangement for elections in Hamilton and St George's that gave registered residents the right to vote, but abolished votes for business owners.

Invoking the phrase “taxation without representation”, Sir John said rate payers ought to get the right to determine who would represent them and their affairs.

“I think all of us have been aghast at some of the actions taken by the Corporation of Hamilton,” Sir John said.

“I commend the Home Affairs Minister Michael Fahy for his action — I do know it has been one of consultation with the Corporation. My hope is that the process of selection and administration and fairness to the rate payer will manifest themselves by due diligence and the determination of those elected members, to do what is best for the city.”

Butterfield and Vallis head Jim Butterfield said he'd tried to get Hamilton businesses to withhold their land tax payments when the legislation was first put in place.

“If you want to get my blood pressure up, all you have to do is mention it,” he told The Royal Gazette. “We pay land taxes and city taxes — where else but Communist China would you pay taxes and not get any say?

“Everyone should vote. I've always said you shouldn't exclude anyone. Paying a tax should earn you a vote. It's democratic.”

Mr Butterfield said the Corporation of Hamilton's waterfront lease had particularly irked him.

“That's on a par with me and my friends writing a lease with someone that gives them the rights to the airport. I can't believe a group like that thinks that they can have the power to do that.”

His attempt to mobilise businesses against the 2011 change in electoral law never gained traction, Mr Butterfield recalled.

“I was hoping businesses collectively were going to say ‘We can't support an organisation that doesn't give us a voice',” he said.

Leaving the municipal franchises to residents was “bizarre”, he added.

“What vested interest does a transient resident have compared with someone who has spent millions to fund a building?”

Restaurateur Phil Barnett agreed, saying: “If we as business owners and tax payers as well as building owners don't have any ability to elect the officials that act in what we consider our best interests — that's taxation without representation. I believe this latest move is a step in the right direction. They should not have been disenfranchised.”

He cited the Corporation of Hamilton's proposed ordinance to extend parking fees as “a perfect example” of why businesses should get a vote.

“Nothing makes politicians listen more than the understanding that he may or may not have your vote,” Mr Barnett said.

Asked what he would say to people who viewed returning the rate payer vote as a step back, Mr Barnett said: “How is disenfranchising people who pay taxes the right thing to do? That's what it comes down to. It's just so frustrating in this day and age to have people refer to things from the dark days as if it were today. The world is different.”

He added: “Hamilton does not necessarily have a large residential population, but there's a huge amount of business owners.”

Chamber of Commerce executive director Joanne MacPhee last night indicated she supported Mr Barnett's remarks, adding: “There is certainly a great deal more to this Act than just a return of the business vote and the Chamber will need time to review it in its entirety before commenting formally.”

Sir John Swan

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Published October 04, 2013 at 9:00 am (Updated October 04, 2013 at 1:03 am)

Sir John hails city changes

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