We’re in the midst of a crisis the likes of which this city has not faced in generations: The global COVID-19 pandemic, coupled with a growing economic recession, in the middle of a climate emergency.
How we respond to, recover from, and rebuild after this crisis will define the next chapter of Hamilton History. Will the challenges of these times be met with fear and austerity? Or will we work together towards a just recovery for all Hamiltonians.
Many throughout history have often noted a cities budget is a moral document. How and what a city invests in say a great deal about who and what they value. Right now, Hamilton city council is debating its spending priorities for the 2021 budget period.
The Just Recovery Hamilton Coalition has laid out core values/areas of investment the city must make starting with the 2021 budget to build a stronger, more just and inclusive city. Consideration must be given to each of these core areas, and the deeper more specific policy and spending requests and the groups involved in this policy paper have made reasoned and detailed requests our leaders can do with support and encouragement from the Hamilton Community as a whole.
We cannot afford to return to the pre-COVID-19 normal, normal wasn’t working. Times of great challenge in the past have afforded opportunities for broad reaching social change. The city bounced back and thrived after faced with the mammoth challenges of the 1918/1919 Pandemic, and the Second World War. We cannot meet the deep inequality and often hidden challenges the current pandemic has exposed with fear and austerity. We can build back better!
The global COVID-19 pandemic has had clear impacts on our collective physical and mental health and the division of gendered labour within the home and within our society; child and family responsibilities; our safety at home; and many other aspects of our daily lives. As women adjusted to an ever-changing world, all levels of government have failed to adequately prevent a decrease in women’s engagement with the labour force, failed to sustain benefits and protections for frontline workers, failed to ensure safe and affordable childcare options, and failed to strengthen the capacity for the sectors that address violence against women and shelter women experiencing homelessness and/or fleeing from violence.
People with disabilities in Hamilton struggle with accessing employment, either because of discrimination or because the workforce, in general, is ableist and not built for everyone. More than that, we have constructed society to be a place where one’s value comes from their ability to produce. This has doomed many disabled people, who cannot work, to lives of poverty, and isolation in long-term care homes and residential care facilities. It is no longer enough to talk about accessibility as compliance. Policy discussions need to be centered around disability justice—the ways in which all institutions leave people behind on the basis of disability; ramps alone do not equal equality.
Some residents are privileged to have their own transportation, and the means to afford delivery or pickup services. The pandemic has widened the gap, exposing the differences between residents with full mobility and those who do not have that advantage. The pandemic underscores the urgent need for increased investment in active transportation infrastructure and public transit services. Too often, those who depend on our public transportation services are excluded from conversation about those services.
As the city works to build back better all recovery efforts must be focused on building a more inclusive city for all. COVID-19s impacts are being felt different, the catch phase “we are all in this together” rings hollow for those facing lack of access to the Internet, suffering from Food Insecurity, may not have access to such basics as a shower and a washroom, and challenged by the accessibility issues of our outdoor spaces. Finally, as we build a greater more inclusive city, we cannot forget climate change remains an urgent concern for us all. Green Development Standards (GDSs) set out municipal requirements and incentives designed to ensure that community development/redevelopment happens in a climate and environmentally friendly manner.
COVID-19 has had devastating effects on the local economy, particular in small business and the arts industry. As one of the largest employers, with almost 9000 employed, an annual budget of almost $1 billion, and $16 billion worth of hard infrastructure assets, the City of Hamilton is in a strong position to take a lead on a Just Recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. The city needs to focus on new policies such as Social Procurement and Community Benefits Agreements. Retrofitting existing buildings with deep energy savings, as well as including environmental standards will generate new Green Jobs as the city recovers. Taking a leadership role on providing a living wage and paid sick days will help lift many working residents. And a deeper investment in the arts could become a catalyst for cultural growth and recovery.
Trees and plants contribute significantly to fighting the climate crisis by absorbing CO2 and emitting oxygen. Trees also combat the urban heat island effect, providing cooling relief from extreme summer heat – including physical shading from exposure to UV rays. Trees and plants help to filter the air, reducing levels of fine, respirable particulate in a neighbourhood, as well as ‘slowing the flow’ of stormwater, helping to mitigate flooding impacts from extreme storm events. Finally, trees provide important habitat for native species of mammals and insects, and they provide healing benefits to humans too. All of this points to the essential need for green infrastructure in the city - whether it be in urban parks and natural areas or along our commercial and residential streets.
Given the majority of Hamilton’s population are settlers to Turtle Island, particularly the traditional lands of the Huron-Wendat, the Anishnabeg, the Chippewa, the Haudenosaunee, and most recently the Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation,it is important to understand how the creation of this country’s policies and laws are informed by racist views, attitudes, and actions. Hamilton is not immune to racial injustice.
The global COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the many barriers and inequities Black, Indigenous and People of Color communities face in Hamilton. This was evident in the Hamilton Public Health COVID-19 report that suggested that racialized populations, health care workers, and people living with low-income are disproportionately affected by COVID-19.
The Ontario Human Rights Commission reports “Adequate housing is essential to one’s sense of dignity, safety, inclusion and ability to contribute to the fabric of our neighbourhoods and societies…. Without appropriate housing, it is often not possible to get and keep employment, to recover from mental illness or other disabilities, to integrate into the community, to escape physical or emotional violence or to keep custody of children.” It is essential to the preservation of the dignity and health of residents of Hamilton. The COVID-19 pandemic has laid bare the already untenable housing crisis in the city. Every effort must be made to increase the stock of real affordable housing in the city and to utilize creative municipal bylaws and bold policy to protect tenants from being displaced from affordable housing.
COVID-19 has compounded the myriad of challenges members of the 2SLGBTQQIA+ community face. Lack of access to adequate health services, housing, peer-to-peer support, social services, and social spaces. In the absence of these services, members of the 2SLGBTQQIA+ communities are forced to leave the city in order to meet their needs. Increasingly difficult prospective given COVID-19 restrictions and rising infections rates. The absence of these services creates a City where not all members of society are able to live with dignity. Members of the 2SLGBTQQIA + community are a target for hate, discrimination, racism and social exclusion. COVID-19 is seeing xenophobia, the predominance of hate crimes and hate related groups organizing on the rise.