Accidental Activist

Business as Unusual: How to Produce Change

If the citizens fail to fulfill our democratic duties, then we can be certain of one thing when everything stays the same: we'll have only ourselves to blame.

By Ben Bull
Published November 08, 2006

We at Raise the Hammer have made no secret of our contention that when it comes to Hamilton politics, something has to change. The Business-as-usual mindset that has defined this town's municipal affairs for so long has got to be reversed.

But as I look back on this year's election campaign I wonder: how is this going to happen?

I still have hope for some of Hamilton's ward battles - Dundas' Julia Kollek has a fighting chance against Russ Powers, and Sean Gibson in Ward 3 might yet upset Morelli the incumbent - but for the most part I realize that, when it comes to driving change in the Hammer it is we the citizens who will need to step up.

We know there will be some new faces in council: Bill Kelly is hanging it up and Murray Ferguson is making way due to ill health. Art Sampson has said his farewells as has 15 year veteran Dave "odd man out on council" Braden.

For the most part, however, come November 14 Hamilton looks like it will be doing what it does best: staying the same.

It's the same story in Toronto. With the exception of some bright sparks here and there - Ward 20 Spadina's Adam Vaughan shining brighter than most - it looks like we're in for more of the same old.

But as we've said over and over on RTH, it takes more than elected officials to make a change. Democracy doesn't work unless the citizens get involved.

So if we can't get any significant change in the make up and direction of our respective City Halls, what can we change?

We could start by changing the system. A Toronto Star article from last Thursday highlights the inability of our current governance structure to set and achieve goals. Author Asmara Arshad Mahmood writes, "As I learn more and deal more with municipal officials I discover more reasons why [Toronto] has not become a dazzler like many European or even Asian cities".

Star City Hall columnist Royston James has also set out his stall, advocating more political affiliations for City Councillors.

Let's not forget Hamilton's own Citizens at City Hall who have witnessed the incoherent and unworkable procedures at City Hall first hand and argued passionately and persistently for much needed Municipal reform.

After we're done with that we can move onto the newsmedia. Media reform is long overdue in the Hammer. Speaking on 93.3 CFMU's "The Other Side" program last week, outgoing Flamborough councillor Dave Braden made a telling statement about Hamilton's media plight:
One of the things we need [in Hamilton] is a fairly balanced press ... If CBC radio was in town we wouldn't have the same government and we would be dealing with the issues.

Finally, we could change our attitudes. One thing that irks me about our modern day democracy is how hands-off it is. Many of us seem to feel that as long as we read the paper, listen to Peter Mansbridge and make an effort to vote every other election, we're doing our part.

We trudge back from the voting booth and spend the next three or four years complaining about the lack of ideas and leadership, all the while hoping that someone else will come along and do something about it.

Change comes from within. Sure it helps if you have the right leadership, some bright minds on council, but it's we the people who need to drive the change we need.

If the citizens fail to fulfill our democratic duties by getting involved and staying involved, then we can be certain of one thing when everything stays the same: we'll have only ourselves to blame.

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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