A self-described “non-partisan, faith-based think tank” has received formal approval from city council to move its offices into a historic stone mansion on Hamilton’s mountain brow.
Hamilton city council voted 12-2 on Wednesday night to enter into a lease agreement with Cardus with respect to an “adaptive reuse” plan for Balfour House, an estate located at 1 Balfour Dr., just northwest of Garth Street and Fennell Avenue West.
Council’s decision ratifies the preliminary approval the plan received from Hamilton’s general issues committee on Feb. 19.
Balfour House is owned by the Ontario Heritage Trust (OHT) but managed by the City of Hamilton. The three parties must now meet to finalize Cardus’s lease.
Under terms of the conditional lease, Cardus would be responsible for capital costs and free public access to the house itself on special occasions, such as the annual Doors Open Hamilton event.
Balfour House currently stands vacant and needs more than $1 million in repairs, but Cardus president Michael Van Pelt told councillors on Feb. 19 the property “needs to be loved and we will do it and the city of Hamilton will be proud as a result.”
Not everyone is on board with Cardus taking over the historic mansion. Some detractors have voiced concerns about the organization’s position on equality issues.
A letter from resident Robert Brosius described some of the culture he’s seen at Cardus as homophobic and racist, while community activist and city heritage enthusiast Graham Crawford resoundingly pleaded for councillors to vote no to partnering with Cardus on social media and in an op-ed piece he co-authored in a number of publications, including the Hamilton Spectator.
Crawford told Global News the issue needs to be less about “just fixing up a house” and more about the “moral side” of finding a partner for the Balfour.
“No one is claiming that Cardus is doing anything illegal,” Crawford said.
“We are claiming, though, that Cardus is doing stuff that is socially reprehensible. There’s a big difference, and that’s why the decision is a complex one.”
Van Pelt appeared before city councillors on Oct. 19 stating that Cardus complies with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the Ontario Human Rights Code, Ontario Employment Act and the City of Hamilton Equity and Inclusion Policy.
He added that Cardus has an “impressive record in terms of building an open and tolerant society in Canada.”
In giving final approval to Cardus’s proposal on Wednesday night, Hamilton Mayor Fred Eisenberger insisted that “the moment we start going down the road of making judgments and determinations on either procurement or contracts based on religious tenets that some or all of us may or may not believe, that is a slippery slope.”
Eisenberger added that while he doesn’t agree with Cardus’s views on homosexuality and abortion, “they’re not breaking any laws” and “when we talk about equity, diversity and inclusion, it’s not inclusion for only those we like or agree with, it’s inclusion for everyone.”
City council has also finalized its endorsement of a proposal, led by a group of local volunteers and businesspeople, to bring the 2030 Commonwealth Games to Hamilton.
The endorsement does not include any financial commitment from the municipality, but it allows the group, called Hamilton 100, to submit its bid to Commonwealth Games Canada (CGC) ahead of a March 9 deadline.
More than $1.4 billion worth of infrastructure and facility upgrades would be needed should Hamilton win the right to host the games and it’s estimated that the city would be responsible for up to $300 million of those costs.
Eisenberger says it’s an investment that would help pay for “legacy pieces” that would benefit the city for the next 100 years.
Stoney Creek Coun. Brad Clark supports letting the process move forward at this point, but he still has concerns about the finances and if and when he determines that the city can’t afford it, his vote “will go in the other direction.”