The Existential Crisis of Governing
From the Nest, Issue 11
by Kojo Damptey
The City of Hamilton has seen enormous change in the last decade and income disparities are central to this constant evolution. The global pandemic has accelerated and widened the gaps in inequities including health, economic, social, and education. What does this mean for Hamilton?
In the downtown core, the issue of encampments, climate change, and addressing systemic racism encapsulate the existential crisis facing governments at all levels including our municipal government and how its (in)decisions during budget deliberations impact the most marginalized and vulnerable residents.
On November 8, the City of Hamilton held a public budget delegation day where 29 residents and organizations offered budget suggestions and priorities for the City –
- Hamilton District Labour Council and post-secondary students talked about a living-decent wage for all city employees
- #JustRecoveryHamOnt coalition focused on disability and mobility justice, suggesting investments to women and 2SLGBTQIA+ communities
- Hamilton Encampment Support Network and encampment residents asked the City to invest in immediate housing and supports for neighbours deprived of housing.
Involving residents and organizations in a budget process is a good idea. It’s one way that the City can encourage participatory budgeting.
After the delegations, Councillor Brad Clark asked a question that spoke to the existential crisis of governing. He wondered aloud if the City of Hamilton would be responding to the asks and requests heard during the special General Issues Committee meeting, to which the City Clerk responded, and I am paraphrasing here, we typically don’t respond.
In the spirit of transparency, accountability, and democracy, would it not make sense to have the City respond to the requests made by residents and organizations?
For the 2022 budget, that hits the $1 billion mark, you must wonder why we can’t find money to house the most vulnerable and provide wrap around supports. Why can’t we take significant, bold steps to address climate change? Why can’t we support Two Spirit and LGBTQIA+ communities?
To illustrate my point, I will focus on two budgets lines (the City Enrichment Fund and the Hamilton Police Services) in the overall operating budget. They are of particular interest because they demonstrate the imbalance of budget priorities when it comes to community needs and impacts.
The City Enrichment Fund, for example, has a budget line of $6 million. It is supposedly seeing no increase in 2022. In 2021 the fund provided much needed operational and project-based funding to arts organizations, social & community service organizations, and agricultural initiatives, so why not increase the budget to support organizations and groups serving Two Spirit and LGBTQIA+ communities?
On the other end of the spectrum, the Hamilton Police Service (HPS) will be receiving a 3.0% increase ($5 million) to bring its budget to $181 million. Last year, HPS had a surplus. Wouldn’t it be prudent to divert that $5 million increase into addressing the priorities outlined in the Community Safety and Well-Being Plan, which Council approved and which HPS participated in developing?
City Council voted to halt urban boundary expansion amid concerns of climate change, loss of prime agricultural land and the financial impacts of sprawl. Lost in those discussions was a commitment to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
In fact, the City has approved an Urban Indigenous Strategy but has still yet to commit to funding the recommendations in the strategy and has instead continued to dismiss Indigenous voices like when it refused to remove the MacDonald statue in Gore Park. While the statue is gone, because community members took it down, the colonial legacy of Canada remains embedded in our municipal government.
Our municipal government is in crisis. Why? Because it declares a climate emergency to save face, but won’t commit to spending money on addressing it.
Our municipal government is in crisis. Why? Because it commits $50 million over ten years to address homelessness to save face, and then it takes residents deprived of housing to court.
Our municipal government is in crisis. Why? Because it reads a land acknowledgement before every Council event, but dismisses the voices of Indigenous peoples.
Our municipal government has turned into an insular system that has become unresponsive to the needs of Hamiltonians. If a government is not responsive to the needs of the people, do we have a healthy democracy?
It is time to reimagine our democracy. If not, we will see health, economic, social, education and other inequities used to launch political warfare against the most vulnerable just like we’ve seen recently with encampments, housing, policing, urban boundary expansion, and Indigenous sovereignty.
Next year, Ontario will be tasked with choosing its provincial and municipal leaders. As the months get closer, we should all think about how the issues we care about align, confer, and expand with our neighbours, especially the most marginalized and vulnerable. The collective visioning of working together might be the only chance to solve the existential crises of our governments.
Kojo Damptey is an interdisciplinary scholar-practitioner, musician and decolonial advocate; his work revolves around communication, music, African culture, African politics, International Development and social movements; born in Ghana, he moved to Hamilton in 2001 to pursue a degree in Chemical Engineering at McMaster University; he is currently working towards a Master of Arts at McMaster University in Cultural Studies and Critical Theory, studying African Political Thought; he has also received a Master of Arts in Interdisciplinary Studies from Royal Roads University