The Stratford Wal-Mart Shuffle

First it's no, then it's yes, then it's ... It's hard to keep track of Stratford council these days when it comes to their stance on Wal-Mart.

First, they denied the application for Smart Centres to set-up their Wal-Mart in the east-end of Stratford.  Smart Centres appealed to the OMB.  And, then just when it came time to decide if the city would defend its decision, council pulled the plug, opening the door for Wal-Mart to set-up shop in the east-end.

This has been quite the tour council has taken the residents of Stratford on - one day opposed, one day in favour, if we flip-flop enough, nobody will remember what we said anyway.

The reality is though this has all really hinged on one person - Councillor Dave Hunt.  Hunt first opposed Wal-Mart in the east-end, but lead the charge to overturn the decision last week.  His reasoning - Home Depot is allowed to open in the east-end, so Wal-Mart should be able to do the same.  He claims that if he knew a hardware store could circumvent the commercial policy, he would have voted for Wal-Mart in the first place.

The interesting thing here is that Councillor Hunt should have known this from the beginning - he was, after all, the Mayor when the city's zoning by-law was written.  And, given that I spent three years sitting beside him at the council table, where we were both privy to the same reports that indicated this fact, he should have known.  I guess it's really an issue of not paying attention on Councillor Hunt's part.

Of course, the second person to flip-flop on this decision was Councillor Keith Culliton.  He says he wanted to hear more about it from the residents of Stratford.  Fair enough, but risky when the OMB is already involved.

My prediction on all of this - when council comes back into session to review this decision, Councillor Culliton will come back into the fold, holding up the city's refusal of the Smart Centres application; while Councillor Hunt will continue down the road on this grand flip-flop, making it comparable to his decision to deny and then allow Zehrs' move to the east-end years ago.

Let's just hope it doesn't result in the same damage that decision did.