Editorial Cartoon by Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator – Friday July 21, 2023
Hot Potato Politics: Municipalities Left Holding the Homeless Bag
The plight of homelessness has escalated to a pressing concern across municipalities in Canada, demanding urgent attention from politicians and citizens alike. The homeless population has grown to such an extent that they are often seen as this nation’s internal refugees, constantly seeking resources and protection while being redirected to less visible locations.
The transformation of Canada’s population distribution, where now a significant percentage reside in cities, has outpaced the capabilities of our current federalism structure. Originally established in 1864 when the majority lived in rural areas, this system of power-sharing is no longer aligned with the realities of today’s urbanized society. Federal, provincial, and regional governments have been slow to adapt to this shift, hindering effective collaboration to tackle issues like homelessness and affordable housing.
While voices in Hamilton are only now coming together to tackle a problem that finds 1600 people living in encampments, it is essential to manage expectations realistically. Homelessness and affordable housing are national and provincial challenges that cannot be solved solely at the city level. Relying on property taxes for funding major initiatives, such as public transit, research and development, housing, education, healthcare, and environmental renewal, is inadequate and limiting.
Cities are often left in a disadvantaged position, having to plead with provincial or federal capitals for resources beyond their control. This failure of our federal system deprives municipalities of the essential resources needed to fulfill their responsibilities effectively. A new vision and imagination are required to rejuvenate the system, but it demands the willingness of senior authorities to initiate a municipal renaissance. So far, Ottawa and Queen’s Park have been content with minor adjustments instead of making meaningful investments.
Canada’s greatest talents lie within communities, but their full potential remains locked away due to outdated and neglectful systems that disregard local needs for increased investments. While there is a national homeless strategy, its effectiveness is hampered when the federal government withholds necessary funding to address the challenges adequately. Similarly, giving Ontario’s mayors additional powers without the accompanying resources is a fruitless endeavour.
Hamilton’s current effort to address homelessness is seemingly on the verge of coming together, but it may only serve as an innovative pilot project if the required funds are stashed away in senior government capitals. To fully capitalize on cities as Canada’s greatest strength, federalism must be brought into the modern era. Only when this happens can we unleash the true potential of our urban centres and effectively combat homelessness and other pressing issues that affect our communities. (AI) | Cartoon published in the Hamilton Spectator, and the Toronto Star.