Two candidates for mayor laughed off question about gender equality

They’re serious about LRT. They’re serious about infrastructure. But when it comes to questions of gender inequality, one activist says, some of Hamilton’s mayoral candidates just don’t take it seriously.

'You didn't joke about LRT,' angry activist calls from the audience

They’re serious about LRT. They’re serious about infrastructure. But when it comes to questions of gender inequality, some of Hamilton’s mayoral candidates just don’t take it seriously.

That was the stance of one local activist at an all-candidates meeting in the Gibson neighbourhood on Wednesday. Halima Hatimy asked how the candidate planned to address gender issues and other types of inequality if they became mayor.

But when two candidates made jokes during their answers, Hatimy stood.

“You didn’t joke about LRT,” she called out to Michael Baldasaro, who’d answered the question with “If I was married today, I’d have a prenup. That’s about as equal as you can get.”

There was a humourous underpinning when they were talking about gender inequality in the city, and I had to get up and say something.- Halima Hatimy

“You can’t lose your sense of humour, sister,” Baldasaro replied.

“Sit down,” a male audience member called to Hatimy.

“No,” she called back. “I don’t have to sit down.”

Hatimy said later she was also upset with Ejaz Butt’s answer. Butt told the audience that he prided himself on being a fearless liberal leader, and “the only person I fear is my wife.”

"I am still boiling, actually," she said after the meeting. 

"I was just disgusted that when they were talking about infrastructure and municipal projects, they were serious. There was a serious tone to it. There was a humourous underpinning when they were talking about gender inequality in the city, and I had to get up and say something."

The other mayoral candidates — Brad Clark, Warrand Francis, Brian McHattie and Michael Pattison — answered the question. But it was Crystal Lavigne, the sole female candidate, who satisfied Hatimy with her answer.

“I look around me and I think I’m the only female on stage,” said Lavigne, who is a business owner and mother of five. “Gender inequality is alive and well in Hamilton.”

The most common question asked on her Facebook page, Lavigne said, is if she’s single.

“It’s not something I want to be valued for when I’m running for mayor,” Lavigne said, adding that “it takes nerve to get up here against all these men.”

Hatimy’s question asked about other types of inequality. McHattie’s answer focused on racism. He served on the city’s committee against racism, he said, and advocated for an anti-racism resource centre, which nearly passed in September but has been deferred to the next term of council.

The city is also reviewing the need for some of its advisory committees, including those representing women and the LGBTQ community. McHattie said he wants to keep those intact.

Clark said that he’s had a goal since he was elected to treat everyone equally, and he has followed that ever since.

When it comes to equality, he said, “We all talk a good talk, but the reality is that it (equality) is not there.”

Eisenberger wants to encourage more women to enter politics, as female representation is lacking on council and in upper levels of government. He even likes the notion of each area having one male and one female representative.

If his wife was running, “she would be in the lead right now," he said, referring to a recent poll that shows him as leading the mayoral race.

Francis proposed that the city have “bureaus that deal with issues of sexism and racism.” He’d like to see penalties imposed on companies that don’t practice equality.

“These are toxic environments destroying our culture and fibre.”

Michael Pattison owns a downtown café, he said, and signed the Manifesto 2000 for peace and non-violence. His goal, he said, is to create a spot that is “full of support, that is literally there to carry people forward.”

“We’re known as the sanctuary city right now. It’s time for us to utilize it.”

On Thursday, the day after the meeting, Eisenberger issued a media release stating his commitment to diversity and gender equality.

If elected, he said, he'll develop "a framework for a made-in-Hamilton equity and inclusion lens to be used in creating municipal policy."

“Hamilton has a lot of work to do when it comes to gender equality,” he said in a statement. “We need to ensure that women have equal representation at the decision-making tables in our community.”

The community hubs for Crown Point and Gibson-Landsdale, the Gibson-Landsdale Association, the Hamilton Community Foundation and others sponsored the event, which was at St. Giles United Church.

On a proposed gasification plant

The candidates also gave their stances on a proposed gasification plant on the waterfront. Here’s what they said:

Baldasaro: He liked Clark's answer on the issue. If elected mayor, he said, he would create an oversight committee where the runner-up in the mayoral race chairs the committee. “If (Clark) is my runner up, he’d definitely be the head of my oversight committee.”

Butt: Undecided. Hamilton needs to create jobs, but “I can be for it or I can be against it.”

Clark: He didn’t say if he was for or against it, but that it wasn’t the city’s decision. The Ministry of Environment decides, and the city can only decide zoning, and that can be fought at the Ontario Municipal Board. “We need the information to make the decision, but ultimately, it’s the MOE.”

Eisenberger: He’s undecided. The technology has to be clean, and “if it isn’t clean, we shouldn’t even be considering it.” But gasifying the garbage will save it from landfill, which might be better for the environment.

Francis: He’s in favour. The plant means “a trade off between tangle real-time jobs and the pollution of the environment.” Hamilton needs the jobs though, so “if the byproduct is pollution, we can fix things as we go.”

Lavigne: She’s against it. However, if it goes ahead, the city will need strong leadership to advocate for its citizens, to “make sure your voice is being heard on what you want in your ward.”

McHattie: He’s against it. He sat through two presentations on the plant, he said, and he’s still not clear on details such as how large the plant is or whether it will import garbage from outside Hamilton.  “Hamilton needs to be known for clean industry. It needs to be known as a green place that’s moving forward.”

Pattison: The people of Hamilton need to make the decision together. “I’ve heard the good. I’ve heard the bad. So who am I to tell you which way it’s supposed to be?”

Mike Clancy, Nick Iamonico, Phil Ryerson and Ricky Tavares were also invited but did not attend.

The election is Oct. 27.