Accidental Activist

Hamilton CAN - if we want

It takes more than just a vote to make our democracy work. And it will take more than just a vote, or words on paper, to turn this town around.

By Ben Bull
Published December 14, 2005

Last year, in our previous incarnation as the "Green Berets," we attempted to bridge the gap between the oft-misinterpreted Vision 2020 and the "business as usual" approach to running our city adopted by many of our civic leaders.

Our 2004 Annual Report on the City of Hamilton was basically a compilation of complaints and ideas, noted during our various radio segments, activist meetings and everyday chit-chats with concerned citizens all over town.

The report was well received, although it did present us with one main problem: What to do with it?

As a grassroots organization and brand new media outlet, we had no cash, and, consequently, we couldn't afford any distribution. And we knew that, at over 20 pages in length, it would probably never even get opened if we chose simply to email it...

So we left it to sit on our site, in the hope that one day maybe somebody would read it, and find something useful to do with it.

At last, that day has come. Earlier this year a group of local residents came together with the express purpose of seeking out and promoting progressive candidates for the next municipal election.

In their first meeting, which I attended, the group's founder, a Mountain school teacher named Alice Smith, expressed her desire to make sure the group would be built on a solid foundation.

"We need some guiding principals to follow," she told the 20 or so of us in attendance.

"I have an idea..." I told her.

And so, for our inaugural 2004 Annual Report - a new lease of life was born.

As much as I love to craft words onto paper, in the end, to me, it all means nothing if nothing is changed.

This new group, Hamilton's Community Action Network or CAN for short, is all about affecting change in the most effective way possible - campaigning.

From the very early days of my own activist adventures, I was aware that one of the best ways to affect change in politics was to get your guy or gal elected.

I learned that having a like-minded person roaming the corridors of power sure makes it a hell of lot easier to get yourself heard.

It is a simple, and sad, truth that good campaigns get people elected. While we may wish to think that the best person for the job usually gets elected, in reality that's just not the case.

Politicians like Ward 7's Bill Kelly and ex-Stoney Creek Councillor Larry Di Ianni have won round after round of municipal elections on the back of their formidable 'campaign machines'.

Even a cursory look at many of our two-term plus Councillors' performance records will note that many of their pet projects, attendance statistics, campaign finances and voting records are less than stellar.

You can be as objective or subjective about this as you like, but a return on an investment is a return on an investment, an absentee rate is an absentee rate, and an alleged Campaign Act violation - is an alleged Campaign Act violation.

It is the firm belief of CAN, and activist groups all over town, that many of our Councillors are just not doing a good enough job.

December saw the first of CAN's "Help Wanted Ads," printed in MayDay magazine. In many ways this ad, which appeals for "conscientious, enthusiastic and progressively minded local residents to run for Council in the November 2006 municipal election," seems to capture it all.

This town needs good solid leadership - and it needs change.

We have less than one year to the next municipal, election. I urge you to check out CAN's Guiding Principles and determine if this is your vision for how you want Hamilton to be.

Whatever your thoughts, and whoever you decide to support in the campaign, I hope that you will find the time and the energy to actively support a candidate near you.

I guarantee you it will be a worthwhile experience. You'll learn a lot about politics and democracy and you'll gain a better appreciation of exactly where you fit in.

It takes more than just a vote to make our democracy work. And it will take more than just a vote, or words on paper, to turn this town around. We need to act.

There is a window of opportunity here in Hamilton - a real push for change. Please join me and all of us here at RTH, in growing this momentum. After all, as CANs motto states, "Together, we CAN make a difference."

Ben Bull is the official spokesperson for Hamilton's Community Action Network (CAN). Please visit for more information.

Ben Bull lives in downtown Toronto. He's been working on a book of short stories for about 10 years now and hopes to be finished tomorrow. He also has a movie blog.


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By adrian (registered) | Posted None at

In all seriousness, why don't you run? I can understand if you don't think you're cut-out for politics. I had some temporary political aspirations for city council myself and then had second thoughts. But if there is already a "group of local residents" looking for candidates, perhaps one or more of them is suited.

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By Rusty (registered) - website | Posted None at

Hey Adrian, Thanks for the suggestion mate; however, you are right on. Municipal politics is hard gig for sure. Despite my critisisms of the current council crew, I have never claimed their job is easy. I just wish they were able to acknowledge this more often, and work harder to understand some of the more complex issues, and learn from past mistakes. There is an 8-7 split in council right now. We just need to get a few more enlightened folks on the 7 side, and we'll start making progress. In reality, name recognition is a huge asset for a candidate, as is, of course - money. Personally I would run unless I had both of these in abundance. I think there is also the timing aspect to consider. I am still working through some goals in my current career. There is also the monetary aspect to consider. Municipal politics is not something I would choose to do for the money (and, worryingly, some do...). I would need to be financially quite secure to take it on. Thanks for your comments. Ben

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