Hamilton Spectator: Opinion: Bringing justice to Hamilton’s budget deliberations

Posted February 10, 2021

Justice is one of those familiar, powerful words that is both completely ubiquitous and difficult to define. What, really, does the concept of justice truly mean?
 
Put simply, justice is the practice of assessing the fairness of relations between individuals and groups of people. To use the dictionary definition, the word “just” is defined as “based on, or behaving according to, what is morally right and fair.”
 
The word “just,” to us, allows us reflect on whether the goal we are working toward is equitable for all those it impacts.
 
It’s this principle that has guided our coalition of not-for-profit organizations in the city: YWCA Hamilton; the Social Planning and Research Council of Hamilton; Environment Hamilton; Hamilton Roundtable for Poverty Reduction; The Disability Justice Network of Ontario; SACHA; Hamilton ACORN; Hamilton Centre for Civic Inclusion; Hamilton Community Legal Clinic; Speqtrum; and the Hamilton Community Benefits Network.
 
In a move unprecedented in Hamilton’s history, we have joined together as the Just Recovery Hamilton Coalition. Our goal is to make recommendations to Hamilton city councillors about how the city can build back better and stronger after COVID-19 — not only this year, but in the years and decades ahead. With this goal in mind, we will be virtually delegating Monday during public consultations for the 2021 budget process.
 
The groups involved in the coalition have outlined our proposal in a detailed policy report available at justrecoveryhamilton.ca. That report contains over 150 recommendations, identifying areas of investment for council’s urgent and continuing consideration.
 
Our recommendations include:
 
  • Investing in women: creating more affordable child care spots, investing in re-skilling programs, offering free menstrual products;
  • Mobility justice and disability justice: fast-tracking the creation of new bus routes, freezing transit fares during COVID-19, creating more accessible shelter spaces in the city;
  • Housing as a human right: creating a rent bank for tenants in financial need, prioritizing residential care facility residents for COVID-19 vaccines, requiring landlords to provide air conditioning;
  • Tackling systemic racism: funding the Urban Indigenous Strategy, completing anti-racism/anti-oppression training, supporting anti-racism work in the community;
  • Investing in decent jobs and the local economy: requiring all city contractors to pay a living wage, investing in the arts, providing paid sick days;
  • Supporting 2SLGBTQQIA-plus communities: creating an accessible community hub for diverse communities, mental health services for 2SLGBTQQIA-plus youth, promote workforce development opportunities for the 2SLGBTQQIA-plus community;
  • Growing a climate resilient city: investing in green infrastructure, offering free membership to conservation authorities, creating more gardens, parks and walkways.
 
When we speak about a Just Recovery, we’re describing a recovery that doesn’t offer blanket solutions or a one-size-fits-all approach. To truly reflect what is “morally right and fair,” the city’s COVID-19 recovery efforts should focus specifically on communities within the city which have experienced the disproportionate negative impacts of the pandemic — including, but not limited to, women, the 2SLGBTQQIA-plus community, visible minorities, lower-income residents.
 
Justice isn’t a concept that often comes up during city council budget deliberations. Often, the discussions focus solely on how to keep our municipal tax rates as low as possible — and, under normal circumstances, that is certainly both morally right and fair.
 
However, this year hasn’t been a typical year. Returning to the same budget conversations without acknowledging the realities that COVID-19 has laid bare is both impossible and irresponsible. It’s not enough to want to go back to normal — for many Hamiltonians, normal meant coping with a housing crisis, unaffordable or unavailable child care, working without paid sick days, and dealing with the effects of the looming climate emergency.
 
Many throughout history have often noted that a city’s budget is a moral document. How, and what, a city invests in says a great deal about who and what they value. Our hope is that council will take more holistic approach to the community, rather than focusing solely on percentage increases, to ensure that those most impacted by the pandemic are being provided with the supports they need.
 
The pandemic has presented us a unique opportunity to rethink the way we prioritize our spending and respond to the deep needs in our community. It is our hope that city councillors will embrace the bold vision we’ve put forward.
 
And please, if you support our recommendations, reach out to your city councillor before Monday’s budget deliberations and let them know you support our work. The pandemic has shown us that we are stronger if we work together — and with your help, we can create a just recovery for all.
 
***
 
The Just Recovery Coalition is a group of non-profit organizations in Hamilton advocating for a fair and equitable recovery from COVID-19.
 
 
***
 
 
 
 

 

Sign up for ACORN's newsletter