Hamilton's next municipal election isn't until October, but a new initiative is already working on changing the way residents participate in the electoral process by getting them to draft a so-called "People's Platform."
Four regional forums were held across Hamilton over the weekend to allow residents to contribute to the creation of a platform for candidates to potentially adopt.
About 100 residents attended roundtable discussions at community centres in Hamilton's downtown, west, east and Mountain areas. An initiative by the Hamilton Civic League, the forums allowed residents to identify, discuss and prioritize issues in key areas — from accountability and governance to finance and health.
"It boils down to people saying what they want before saying who they want. I just think it's a missing piece of democracy," said Norman Kearney, campaign director of the People's Platform.
"You hear cynicism and apathy initially when you mention the word politics. The goal is to clear away some of those obstacles and make participating in governance more accessible and fun."
Residents then voted on the priorities of the issues that were brought forward during the discussions. Staff and volunteers worked overnight to tally the votes. Here are the top three issues in each area. The results will be updated as they become available.
North Forum (Wards 1-4)
- Corruption should be more closely followed, and conflicts of interest need to be addressed.
- Promote diversity policies and end racism.
- Pay a living wage to city employees and all contractors, and encourage businesses to adopt a living wage.
South Forum (Wards 6-8)
- More affordable housing for all ages and more accessible housing.
- The city should provide affordable housing that is safe and does not put tenants' health at risk.
- Reuse vacant properties owned by the city and the school board for social and commercial needs.
East Forum (Wards 5 and 9-11)
- Give municipalities a percentage of income tax, corporate tax, and HST paid by their residents and local businesses.
- Crime prevention should focus on education for public and prevention rather than enforcement.
- Advocate with the province to reinstate discretionary benefits for all low-income people; have additional coverage through OHIP.
West Forum (Wards 12-15)
- Votes are still being tallied.
The conversation doesn't stop here.
The discussions at the forums are recorded, transcribed and published. Later this month, students and professionals — such as engineers, architects and doctors — will study the discussions and come up with a proposal. Residents can continue to build on the proposal and critique it during two upcoming forums in September and October, finalizing what organizers describe as the "People's Platform."
"The forum gave us the directions. The experts will give us the solutions," Kearney said.
The platform will then be presented to municipal candidates three weeks before the October election to seek their support.
The initiative has caught attention in other cities.
Last week, representatives from the Niagara region visited Hamilton to learn more about the format, in a hope to develop a local version of the People's Platform.
Later this month, Hamilton organizers will also speak at Ottawa's Peoples' Social Forum — a gathering that brings together thousands of people across the country — to spread the words.
"I guess we started a regional movement," Kearney said.