The Ontario election campaign may not be generating the same level of interest as some previous races but Kojo Damptey says that the result will nonetheless be "critical" for Hamilton.
With just two weeks to go until Ontarians cast their ballots, the executive director of the Hamilton Centre for Civic Inclusion shared what he called said are the most "crucial" issues that the next Ontario premier needs to address.
On the top of his list is continuing the work towards reconciliation with Indigenous people. Specifically, he said municipalities should be given funding to properly investigate what happened at residential schools.
"Here in Hamilton, our municipality has adopted an Urban Indigenous Strategy, but then there is no funding towards it," Damptey told CP24.com.
Municipal and voting reforms are next on his list. Damptey said while municipalities are "creatures of the province," they should be given independence "in terms of being able to look for more revenue."
"As it stands, the municipality only depends on property taxes to offer services to residents, and is becoming a huge challenge," he said, adding that the province could look into charter cities.
Damptey, who is running for city council, also wants the province to allow municipalities to implement ranked ballot voting for their local elections. In 2020, the Ford government revoked the option for municipalities to select a different voting system.
And lastly, Damptey said the next government should continue investing in affordable housing and transit.
"When it comes to housing, we need to start building what everybody and housing experts have mentioned about -- the missing middle. So social housing, public housing, apartment building, and affordable, dignified and accessible housing," he said.
Damptey noted that Hamilton is dealing with urban sprawl. Last year, the city voted against expanding its boundaries.
"It's been known to show that when you keep developing outside of the core is difficult to provide the services that you need to people that are living in those areas. So we have to start thinking about intensification around the downtown core and to places that are close to transit corridors," he said.
"And that segues into my last point, which is operational funding for transit. We need more provincial funding to allow for municipalities to offset some of the some of the funding that is needed to provide tangible transit."
Damptey added that the province also needs to tackle the issue of systemic racism, which, according to him, "all the political parties are not doing a great job” of.
"I think there needs to be legislation provincially and federally around hate incidents, hate crimes, hate speech, hate symbols, like the swastika and the Confederate flag. That needs to happen. And there also needs to be funding for community organizations that are addressing systemic racism, whether it's in schools, whether it is in the healthcare system."
Lastly, he said that the next provincial government should boost funding for public health units.
"One of the lessons from COVID was that if you have an underfunded public health system and public health unit in every municipality, you're not going to be able to respond to the health needs of not only the municipality but those that are hugely marginalized in the municipality," Damptey said.
CITY'S PROVINCIAL PRIORITIES
The City of Hamilton has a list of its top priorities for the provincial election, which it hopes it can achieve with the help of the next provincial government.
Mayor Fred Eisenberger said he is satisfied so far with what he's been hearing from all political party leaders, adding that it appears all have their own plans to tackle the city's priorities.
"I would say that housing has been a key issue right across the board for all parties that have identified different ways that they intend to provide additional supportive housing in our communities," he told CP24.com. "They're all addressing that as a key provincial and national priority."
Number one on his city's list is getting additional funding to support those experiencing homelessness.
The city said with appropriate support, it "is well-positioned to meet the goal of ending chronic homelessness."
Eisenberger said the city is specifically asking for funding to provide mental health addiction treatment for people that are being housed.
"So for a lot of folks that are living rough out our streets that are homeless, many of them have either addiction issues, or they have mental health issues, or they have both. And just putting them in a housing scenario doesn't solve the problem," the mayor said. "They need support from public health. And they need support from addiction services and mental health services to be able to function and get off to a better track out to deal with those issues."
The city has been criticized by advocates for dealing with the homeless crisis, especially those living in encampments. Hamilton police were questioned about their use of 'excessive force' in clearing two encampments last year.
Last week, several community groups were in front of city hall to call for affordable housing along the route of the planned B-Line Light Rail Transit, as well as the implementation of community benefits to become part of the project.
The 14-kilometre LRT line from McMaster University to Eastgate Square was cancelled by the Ford government in 2019 due to rising costs. Two years later, the project was revived after additional funding from the federal government.
"We were blessed to have the federal, provincial governments provide two streams of funding, one for LRT and the other for traditional transit," Eisenberger said. "We will be looking for additional funds to help provide affordable housing, whether it be social housing or affordable housing, or deeply affordable housing that can only be done in partnership with federal, provincial governments."
The city is also seeking continued support for small businesses affected by COVID-19 as well as investments in health care as it recovers from the pandemic.
"The hospitality industry has been particularly hard hit and seems to be coming back at a very fast and furious pace," Eisenberger said. "And so I would say that the one major thing that both the federal, provincial governments did through COVID was to help subsidize individuals and businesses to help get them through and that has allowed us to have a flourishing economy as we're moving out of this pandemic."
'KEEP BETTING ON HAMILTON'
While many of Hamilton’s priorities revolve around the need for infrastructure and social supports, the former president and chief executive officer of the Hamilton Chamber of Commerce emphasized the need for continued support for small businesses that were severely affected by the pandemic.
"The hangover is really just beginning for businesses all across the province and obviously, we're most concerned with those here in Hamilton," said Keanin Loomis, who was the head of the business group since 2013.
He stepped down from his role earlier this year, announcing that he was running for mayor in the fall.
Loomis said that most items in the chamber's provincial wish-list are aligned with that of the city.
He noted that transit is a major priority for Hamilton.
"The one that's most important to us right now is the B-line LRT project. And so, you know, I'm hopeful that no matter what happens to the provincial election, that that project is not going to be impacted in any way and that we're able to build that on time and on budget," Loomis said.
The 47-year-old moved to the city in 2009. When he arrived in Hamilton, Loomis remembered seeing the "green shoots" and thought it was an "interesting city" to live, work and raise a family.
"I haven't been disappointed. It's been quite astonishing," Loomis said.
From being a centre of steelmaking, Hamilton has developed into a city with wide-ranging sectors.
Loomis said Hamilton has done a lot in the past few years in terms of building a workforce around education, research and medicine. He added that its restaurant scene downtown has also grown.
Loomis said there was growing optimism in the city before the pandemic hit, noting that Hamilton had an "affordability advantage."
"We were attracting a lot of people from Toronto and elsewhere who were looking at Hamilton, seeing that we're a real urban center and have a real urban core," Loomis said. "The unfortunate part is that we've really lost a lot of that affordability advantage over the last little bit just starting before the pandemic, but taking off even more surprisingly during the pandemic. We're not suffering anything different than any other locality in the GTHA, including, really, across the country, as well. So, affordability is definitely one of the key issues for everybody here in the city."
In 2021, Hamilton was in the top five least affordable cities in North America, surpassing Los Angeles and Las Vegas, according to a report by Oxford Economics. Vancouver topped the list while Toronto came in third place.
According to Royal LePage, in the first quarter of 2022, a single-family detached home in the city sold at an average price of almost $993,000, up from $732,000 at the same time last year.
If Hamilton becomes more unaffordable, Loomis fears that it will further affect the city's ability to attract and retain talent.
"I think that we have the ability here in the city to be able to do so aggressively through intensification because of urban fabric and, and what possibilities or opportunities we have within the downtown in particular and along the LRT corridor," he said.
Loomis also believes that it is vital for Hamilton to maintain its steel and manufacturing industries and help them pivot to become more sustainable to the environment with the support from the province.
"I think that is part of our identity and needs to continue to be we're proud of it. And, we need to continue to make things in this country. So we definitely don't want to replace those jobs, we just want to make sure that they're greener," he said.
Despite the different challenges, Loomis said that Hamilton will be the place to be in the province in the next decade with proper support.
"Continue to invest in life sciences. Continue to invest in our institutions of higher learning and continue to invest in the de-carbonization of our heavy industrial," he said.
"We don't need anything different coming out of COVID. Obviously, other than, the small business supports and helping them get out of this. But just keep betting on Hamilton because it will pay off in spades going forward."
Hamilton at a glance:
What happened in 2018– Four of the five ridings in Hamilton were won by the NDP in the last election, including Hamilton Centre, where the party’s Leader Andrea Horwath has been the Member of Provincial Parliament since 2004.
Race to watch: Hamilton East-Stoney Creek was once a safe seat for the NDP, with Paul Miller representing the riding since 2007. However, he was kicked out of the party earlier this year after the NDP alleged that he was a member of an Islamophobic Facebook group. Miller denied the allegations and has since sued the party. He is running as an independent. The NDP picked community leader Zaigham Butt to run in the riding. He received the Order of Hamilton in 2021 for his community work. The Liberals hope that city councillor Jason Farr will turn the riding red while the PCs tapped former CFL player Neil Lumsden to run.
High profile candidates– Several high profile members of the NDP caucus call Hamilton home. In addition to Horwath, the party’s NDP’s finance critic Sandy Shaw is also running for re-election in Hamilton West-Ancaster-Dundas.