[spacer height="20px"]This past municipal election came with special significance.
It served as a pivotal moment for Hamilton, a moment that would decide whether the city would be moving forward with the $1 billion light rail transit system or not. While I’m grateful for those who fought tirelessly to bring something so obviously important to a city like Hamilton, I’m disappointed.
I’m disappointed that so few councillor candidates discussed the issue of affordable housing at length when today, Hamilton has the highest inflation rates in rental properties across Southern Ontario.
I’m disappointed that so few councillor candidates discussed the issue of poverty and homelessness in our city when poverty rates in Hamilton are higher than both the provincial and national averages.
I’m disappointed that so few councillor candidates discussed the surge in hate crimes in Hamilton, when the city has the highest rate of police-reported hate crimes in Canada.
Most of all, I’m disappointed that despite the fact that the city has conducted countless votes and approvals, the LRT turned into an election issue when the top mayoral challenger ran on a single-issue platform, leaving the other issues that the city faces in the dust.
Sure, there are a wide range of reasons to be against the LRT, but these reasons weren’t even touched throughout the campaign period of this election. Instead, those who were against the implementation used obvious lies to persuade voters, claiming the LRT is inaccessible, expensive and privately owned. All of these things can be so easily fact checked to prove otherwise.
Hamilton is a city with complex issues, from affordable housing, to poverty, to economic development or to the surge in hate crimes in our city. Implementing the LRT is not a complex issue, nor a debate. It’s an obvious choice, now let’s move on from this.
For a municipal election to turn into a referendum on whether or not we should be moving forward with the LRT says a lot about the “ambitious” city. Are we really that ambitious of a city if we’re afraid of change? More importantly, are we really that ambitious of a city if we’re not showing up for those who need us?
There are more prominent issues at the table to be so obsessive, yet divided, on a crucial investment for Hamilton. While I’m glad we can finally put this argument to rest, let’s work together to be the ambitious city that Hamilton needs.
[spacer height="20px"]By Angela Dittrich
As young adults, we experience a lot of exciting and important milestones — getting our driver’s license, attaining legal adulthood and entering university, college or the workforce. An often overlooked milestone is becoming a voter, or rather, becoming individuals with a rarely-exercised right to vote.
McMaster University students are a vital part of the Ward 1 community, and yet we continuously fail to show up to the polling stations. And before I continue, yes, you can vote here. Not only can you vote here, you should — whether you live in residence, in a student home, or commute from another part of the city.
On October 22nd, 2018, The Municipal Elections will take place to determine the new Mayor and Ward Councillors for the Hamilton area. Get your voice heard by voting is upcoming election. #MacVotes https://t.co/Q9arEqrdc0 pic.twitter.com/kALkZgbmTw
— McMaster Humanities (@mcmasterhum) October 12, 2018
Hamilton, for better or worse, is your home for on average four years of undergrad, and potentially beyond. Electoral issues such as housing, transit, and safety affect every one of us on a daily basis. If we speak up and elect a councillor willing to listen, we can influence real change in this city. This election, I urge you to consider some of these major issues, evaluate what matters most to you, and make certain your opinion is heard.
With 25,000 undergraduate students and only 4000 beds on campus, navigating through off-campus housing, landlords, and leases is part of the typical McMaster student experience. Unfortunately, there are homes packed to over-capacity, absent or negligent landlords and rising costs of rent which create levels of stress beyond what students should be experiencing.
As well, safety has become a major concern for many student housing neighbourhoods due to an increased number of break-ins this year. We are much more than university students; we are members of this community. We need to elect a councillor who will make housing a priority, hold landlords accountable, and address our safety concerns to make our neighbourhoods a better and safer place.
One of the most defining features of this election is transit. The fate of our proposed light rail transit system hangs in the balance as Doug Ford threatens to revoke the promised provincial funding. While transit is not the most exciting issue, it significantly impacts our everyday lives. McMaster would house an LRT terminal, providing us with a faster and more reliable way to get around and explore the city. The McMaster Students Union has taken a pro-LRT stance, and if we want this project to succeed, our Ward 1 councillor and mayor must be on board.
A more current issue is the Hamilton Street Railway. In 2017, students voted to increase tuition fees in exchange for expanded HSR service. However, last fall, there were over 200 hours of missed bus service each week, to the point where students could not rely on public transit to arrive to their exams on time. McMaster students are the HSR’s largest rider group, contributing over $4.5 million annually, yet we are constantly overlooked in times of financial stress. By voting, we show the city that our transit needs must be valued, and that the level of service provided needs to match our financial contributions.
If you’re still unsure, think about it this way — your voice is just as powerful, just as important, and just as valued as those who have lived in Hamilton for decades. We are all impacted by at least one key issue in this election: housing, transit, safety, the environment, student relations, student job opportunities, or economic growth.
But voting comes with great responsibility. Take the time to research the Ward 1 and mayoral candidates, as well as their stances on the key issues. Many young adults feel like their vote doesn’t matter, and unfortunately, by the way we are viewed by most of city council, that feeling makes sense. But this can change if we vote.
Go out to lunch with your friends and swing by the voting station. Talk to your classmates about why you’re planning to vote. Make a post on social media about your voting experience or issues that matter to you. We should all leave a place better than we found it, and making your voice heard in this Hamilton election is an incredible first step. On Oct. 22, make your vote count. See you at the polls, Marauders.
For information on Ward 1 councillor candidate platforms:
[button link="https://www.thesil.ca/meet-your-ward-1-councillor-candidates" color="red"]VIEW ALL CANDIDATE PLATFORMS[/button]
Questions on how to vote?
[button link="https://www.thesil.ca/ward-1-voting-101-a-voting-guide-for-mac-students" color="red"]WARD 1 VOTING GUIDE[/button]
In about a month, cities all over Ontario will hold their municipal election, elections which will dictate the political landscape for these cities for years to come. The results of this election can bring all sorts of changes to the neighbourhood and yet the city offers little to students to participate, further exemplifying that the city of Hamilton doesn’t care about McMaster students.
Voting stations are scattered all throughout Westdale and Ainslie Wood, mostly at churches and public schools. The voting station for McMaster University’s address, 1280 Main Street West, is at Binkley Church, which is 1570 Main Street West, far away from any major student residences.
For first-year students living in on-campus residence, putting a voting station on campus would not only allow them to vote with ease, but it would also help foster an interest in municipal politics and stress the importance of participating in the electoral process at all levels of government.
It’s not as if having a voting station on campus is unheard of; during the 2015 federal election, McMaster University had a voting station which allowed students to vote on campus. I was a first-year student at the time, and I distinctly remember my classmates excitedly voting for the first time because of the convenience.
There is also little evidence of any sort of outreach program by the city. There has not been any major social media campaigns promoting the election and outside of some postering in Westdale and Ainslie Wood, there is no trace of the election in these neighbourhoods outside of candidate campaigning. The McMaster Students Union has launched its usual voting campaigns, but the job of getting students invested in municipal politics should not fall on the student union.
The Municipal Election is Monday, October 22 - in addition, there are 5 ADVANCE poll dates available for voters. Full Election details: https://t.co/tt4eeHHe9x. #HamOnt #HamiltonVotes18 pic.twitter.com/4rcLntjLa1
— City of Hamilton (@cityofhamilton) September 20, 2018
McMaster students time and time again prove that they’re politically engaged; we consistently have one of the highest voter turnouts for our student union elections and have a multitude of candidates at every level of student politics. There are even two recent McMaster graduates running in the municipal election.
The city of Hamilton has a contentious relationship with McMaster students, as evidenced by their rather extreme reaction to last year’s Homecoming block party in Westdale. During the whole frenzy surrounding that event, the city seemed to have forgot that the party was immediately cleaned up the next day by a group of volunteers.
This year, the city of Hamilton increased policing in student neighbourhoods, despite there being little evidence of such a party happening again.
Compared to other universities, such as Queen’s University and the University of Western Ontario, McMaster students are downright boring. Could you imagine the number of volunteers that would be necessary to clean up Western’s FoCo or any other similar event? McMaster volunteers were able to clean up Dalewood Street in a single Sunday.
McMaster students are an important part of the Westdale and Ainslie Wood community, and yet they are blamed for issues like landlord negligence, made obvious through the city’s decision to increase by-law policing in Ward 1, despite multiple students pointing out that by-law maintenance usually falls under the landlord’s jurisdiction.
The city of Hamilton does little to limit the movement of talent away from their city, and instead antagonizes students. Putting voting stations on campus would not only allow more students to vote in this upcoming election, it would also act as an act of good faith; the city offering an olive branch in the form of the electoral process.
Like a lot of McMaster students, I enjoy living in Hamilton. It’s been my home for over three years now and I would prefer to stay here when I graduate. But the city’s failure to even attempt to engage young people in municipal politics only illustrates that our voices are not important to them. If the city expects students to stay in Hamilton, they’re going to have to completely revamp their approach to municipal elections.
In the coming months, the city of Hamilton will see another election, this time to vote in the new city council. Ward 1, the ward in which McMaster University and many of its students reside, is known for having a relatively high voter turnout; during the 2014 election, Ward 1’s voter turnout was 40.7 per cent, while Hamilton’s overall turnout sat at 34 per cent. But a lot can change in four years, and the city keeps on changing. Here’s a look at the major changes.
Ward 1 stretches from Osler Drive at its western border to Queen Street to its east. It contains popular student neighbourhoods such as Westdale and Ainslie Wood in addition to well-known streets like Locke Street. Currently, Aidan Johnson is Ward 1’s city councillor after taking on the role from Brian McHattie back in 2014.
The last time census data was taken for each individual ward was in 2011 and 2006, collected and presented by the city of Hamilton. Over those five years, numbers have fluctuated but the same narrative arises again; a ward full of well-educated people paying too much for rent.
In 2006, Ward 1’s population was 34,409. Recently landed immigrants made up 5.7 per cent of the population, which contrasted Hamilton’s 3.3 per cent in 2006. 36.3 per cent of Ward 1 residents held some form of post-secondary education, a much higher percentage than Hamilton’s overall 18.8 per cent. The unemployment rate for Ward 1 sat at 7 per cent, slightly higher than Hamilton’s 6.5 per cent.
At the time, 45.7 per cent of Ward 1 residents were renters, with 45 per cent spending over 30 per cent of their income on housing. Only 31.7 per cent of all Hamiltonians rented during 2006. At this point, McHattie had been Ward 1 councillor for three years, and would continue to hold that role until 2014.
The most recent data, as reported by the city of Hamilton, paints a similar picture filled with change and uncertainty. As of 2011, Ward 1’s reported population sat at 29,764. It also appears that Ward 1 had remained a relatively popular destination for recently landed immigrants, with the proportion of recent immigrants in Ward 1 slightly higher than the proportion throughout all of Hamilton, sitting at 5.8 per cent and 2.9 per cent, respectively.
Just over half of all residents have attended a post-secondary institution, with 50.9 per cent of residents holding some sort of degree. The unemployment rate for Ward 1 sat at 9.6 per cent, while Hamilton’s overall rate was 8.7 per cent.
This additional education still does not guarantee housing tenure, though; 47.5 per cent of residents are tenants, and 46.6 per cent of tenants report that they spend over 30 per cent of their income on housing. Ward 1 has also has a higher proportion than renters, with Hamilton’s overall percentage sitting at 31.6 per cent, with an overall 42.8 per cent of renters spending over 30 per cent of their income on housing.
By 2011, McHattie had been Ward 1 councillor for eight years.
What It Means
A brief survey of Ward 1 statistics points to a clear story that has been consistent for the last decade or so; Ward 1 residents are well-educated, but lack secure housing.According to the Wellesley Institute, a non-profit think tank based in Toronto, anyone spending over 30 per cent of their income on rent may be considered at risk, meaning that a significant number of Hamiltonians in Ward 1 live in precarious housing.
According to research released in Nov. 2017 by Rentseeker, a real estate website, the average rent price for a two-bedroom apartment in Hamilton sits at $1,103. In comparison to other cities in the Greater Toronto Area, Hamilton is one of the cheaper options, with cities like Burlington and Mississauga sitting at $1,366 and $1,333, respectively.
To add to the overarching issue of affordable housing, research released by the Social Planning and Research Council of Hamilton in June 2018 also discovered an increase in evictions occurring in Hamilton.
The SPRC argues that a lack of rental protection is the cause of such high eviction rates, pointing to Quebec City and its low eviction rates as the model for Hamilton to follow. The SPRC argues that in order to stabilize rental prices in Hamilton, policies must be enacted that allow tenants to know how much their units previously cost before signing a lease, and financial barriers such as expecting the first and last month’s rent must be taken away.
The SPRC argued that Quebec City and Hamilton share enough similarities, such as similarly proportioned growth, to qualify for comparison.
As of now, only two candidates have registered to run in the Ward 1 municipal election: the incumbent Aidan Johnson and McMaster graduate Sophie Geffros. The official nomination period will not end until July 27, meaning candidates have nearly two months to make their candidacy official.
While it’s unclear what these two candidates plan to advocate for, common themes have arisen through even the briefest of looks at census data, pointing to affordable housing issues, questions about unemployment or underemployment and other issues that affect students.
Whether McMaster students vote depends on many factors, but as of now, precedence does not lend itself to suggesting McMaster students will vote en masse: the last McMaster Students Union election saw a voter turnout of 28 per cent. But overall, the Ward 1 election holds one of the higher voter turnouts in the city.
Statistics have their limitations and can’t tell you everything about a race and candidates may decide to focus on issues other than the ones listed above. Since census data for Ward 1 is not available, it is unclear how Ward 1 fared while Johnson was city councilor, but likely will not be out before the municipal election is over. With that said, it still looks like it will be an interesting race.