This is Part 3 of a three-part series where CBC Hamilton reviews the first year of Hamilton’s city council. Read Part 1 and Part 2.
As Hamilton’s city council marks one year in office, many community leaders say they are happy that councillors and the mayor took a new approach to outreach.
Councillors attended a first-of-its-kind Indigenous welcoming ceremony. City officials now work with local environmental groups through a dedicated climate office. And when the province planned much-criticized changes to the urban boundary and to protected Greenbelt land, city councillors were united in opposition.
Many are also saying they’d like to see bolder action: greater presence in local communities, local solutions to homelessness and housing affordability, and more transparency around that state of Hamilton’s finances. And labour leaders weren’t happy at all with comments Mayor Andrea Horwath made during the HSR strike.
CBC Hamilton asked a range of community leaders to share how council has impacted the communities they serve. Here’s what they had to say.
Council praised for community engagement
“This council has started with an eagerness to do things a little differently, which has been really heartwarming for a lot of us who’ve been doing this work in policy and advocacy,” Karl Andrus of the Hamilton Community Benefits Network said. “We’re seeing a long term culture shift in the corporate culture of the City of Hamilton that allows for innovation, allows for ideas.”
Multiple leaders praised council for how it engaged with their communities.
Audrey Davis, executive director of the Hamilton Regional Indian Centre, told CBC Hamilton councillors have shown support for the urban Indigenous community through actions including attending a first-of-its-kind welcome ceremony in December last year. She also said the city changed a job posting for a director of Indigenous relations after getting feedback. Davis is one of several Indigenous leaders CBC Hamilton spoke to about council’s relationship to that community.
Ian Borsuk, who directs Environment Hamilton, praised the city for establishing an office for climate change initiatives, saying it helps his team to have a dedicated department to work with.
Tom Cooper leads the Hamilton Roundtable for Poverty Reduction — of which the city is the main funder. He wrote that mayor Horwath has “notably cultivated a more cooperative environment around the Council horseshoe.” Cooper cited the soon-to-be-launched task force on transparency, access and accountability as an example.
Vic Wojciechowska, president of the Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 3906, which represents about 3,500 academic workers at McMaster University, was more critical, saying the mayor has been “notably absent from a lot of community events.”
Evelyn Myrie, president of Afro Canadian Caribbean Association Hamilton, said she has found council and the mayor “a bit quiet and not as engaged with communities.”
She said “they have to develop a good strategy to meet and hear from the community more.”
In a statement to CBC Hamilton, Horwath’s office said the mayor has encouraged a “tone of collaboration” at city hall and has supported councillors’ advocacy work. Horwath spoke at length to CBC Hamilton about her first year as mayor.
Featured VideoHamilton Mayor Andrea Horwath sat down with CBC Hamilton reporter Samantha Beattie last week to reflect on her first year as mayor
Leaders gave mixed reviews to the city’s response on housing affordability and homelessness.
“It’s a major problem,” Myrie said, noting she hoped it would be addressed through a creative solution in Hamilton.
She said she knows of asylum seekers who have no place to go and the city hasn’t said much about the issue.
Andrus praised council’s work on its encampment protocol saying that although the policy has flaws, he thinks councillors stood for evidence-based policy making and against divisive politicking that pits housed and unhoused people against one another.
Cooper works with the Hamilton Alliance for Tiny Shelters, an organization that has spent about two years trying to create a tiny shelter community for people without housing. He says the team’s thus-far unsuccessful attempts to build those shelters resulted in “significant anger and threats from a small number of opponents.”
Local homeowners’ perspectives on homelessness are valuable, Cooper wrote, “but it’s crucial to ensure that Council can move forward to implement policies and resolve crises effectively. … Collaborative decision-making that considers broader community interests should take precedence.”
Cooper added that council should prioritize supports for people without housing, such as washroom access.
President of the Hamilton Chamber of Commerce, Greg Dunnett, also said the city should do more on housing and homelessness.
He praised the city for reaching a local record of over $2 billion in building permits this year, and councillors for backing a 45-storey tower on the waterfront last week. More of that is needed, he said.
“We need a lot more housing to support the talent that our businesses need to continue to grow and thrive,” he said, pointing to a report the Chamber co-funded this year, which said young families, in particular, were being priced out of the city.
He also wants the city to do more to address safety concerns some downtown residents and business-owners have. “I’m hearing there are long term businesses that are staples of this community starting to reconsider their longevity and Hamilton because of the safety risks”
With much construction and change in the wings for downtown, Dunnett said he hopes councillors take bold action now.
“I feel like Mayor Horwath is trying to instill those values, that idea that we need to stop moving things down the line, we have to make the tough decisions.”
Praise for stance on hate, criticism for stance on labour
Hugh Tye, co-founder of No Hate in the Hammer, said Hamilton took “a strong anti-hate position in the last year.” He noted Horwath’s signing of a Belonging Pledge, affirming the belief that everyone belongs in our community.
“We see this as significant as it is a public commitment to supporting an inclusive community, to which the city will be held accountable.”
Labour leaders weren’t happy with Horwath’s statements and the city’s position during the recent Hamilton Street Railway strike, which they felt antagonized workers. Andrus said he was “absolutely devastated” and Wojciechowska said he found Horwath’s comments on the strike “extremely disappointing,” especially given her previous role as leader of the historically pro-worker Ontario NDP.
“Solidarity is a verb and not something, not an identity, that you can carry from things you’ve done in the past,” Wojciechowska said.
Looking ahead to the budget
Anthony Marco, president of the Hamilton and District Labour Council, said he and allies had high hopes after the election that Hamilton would have one of the strongest mayors and councils in years.
“I can’t say that hope has been lost, but it has certainly been stymied to a certain degree by this prevalent hawkishness around taxation,” Marco wrote, referring to conversations around potential tax increases in the next city budget.
“We got a council who instead of re-examining some of the inappropriate spending that they do right now on giving money to corporations, developers, and large organizations who are already well funded, could be getting the money more directly into the hands of those in need, whether it’s through housing, food security, or other social supports.”
Going forward, leaders say the upcoming municipal budget will be key to evaluating council.
“Budgets are basically the best way you can tell what the municipality is doing right, who it cares about and what its priorities are,” Andrus said, adding that, like in years past, he’ll be working to train people to delegate before council and share what they want the city to prioritize.
“We’re really going to see what this council is made of.”