It would seem only natural to assume that politicians represent the ideas and vision of the people when they are given a mandate to govern a community.
But that’s not necessarily so. For some politicians once they get elected they become distracted and embark on personal quests, or get caught up in the bureaucratic machinery.
A group of Hamilton citizens are trying to change the local municipal matrix and get potential politicians to listen to the public’s concerns. The Hamilton Civic League, with support from various social activist groups, such the Hamilton Chapter of the Council of Canadians, and the Campaign for Adequate Welfare and Disability, are encouraging people from across the city to participate in a series of forums over the next three months to identify the issues and possibly a vision for how they want their city to be governed over the next four years. The idea is to craft a list of issues that will become a “Peoples’ Platform” that candidates can either champion once they become councillors, or reject at their possible peril.
It’s not a novel idea for disenfranchised people who have become fed up with unresponsive governments to demand some form of accountability from their politicians. There is a sense among the public that politicians, especially incumbents, tend to forget about their constituents after they are securely elected, making only token appearances during the length of their tenure. There is a definite sense from the public that type of paradigm needs to be shifted.
The kick-off event for the campaign on July 15 attracted over 100 people to a Locke Street café. The ideas, from establishing a living wage, to protecting schools, to creating food forests and markets in parks, were more idealistic than practical. Yet, while the particular tenor of the proposals tended toward social activism, there are some common threads that cut across all demographics. (Lower taxes seems to be something that everyone wants.)
But can this People’s Platform process translate beyond the downtown activists? Will Flamborough and Glanbrook residents, whose issues and vision for the city may differ from the urban core, make their voices heard in a large enough number to impact on the final document?
Hamilton is a city with a divergent electoral base and competing interests that sometimes work at cross purposes. But, attempting to bring all Hamiltonians together to discuss the direction they would like to see their city take should help reengage voters and force future council members to remember just why they were elected in the first place.