This speech was delivered by Mariam Ibrahim of CCAR:


Mister Mayor, City Councillors, Staff, and Fellow Citizens:

I am here today on behalf of the Community Coalition Against Racism (CCAR) to speak out against the proposed budget.

First of all, I wish to register a complaint about the anti-democratic measures your council has used to limit citizen participation in the budgetary process.

At first, you made only a few copies of the whole budget available at public libraries, most of which were closed last weekend. Then, you gave the public only a few days to study a 1600 page document and to submit written comments on it. And you have only allotted the individual  taxpayer five minutes to make a presentation on a 1600 text. Though I have now heard that  the input process will be slightly extended due to negative public reaction, it is clear that, as a council, you do not welcome public input.

Now, let me get down to our specific criticisms.Our principal concern  is that your proposed budget will adversely affect

those who can least withstand the rampant cutting and slashing of jobs and programs that you have built into your proposed budget. I am referring to measures like the closing of HSR bus service at midnight, the reduction of buses to an hourly schedule after 9 pm, and the rise in fares. I am referring also to closing of outdoor swimming pools and wading pools and the reduction of staff and hours at other recreational facilities. I am referring as well to the reduction in funding to arts programs and health programs. I am referring as well  to ending support for seniors programs and to raise fees for children’s swimming classes and for ice rentals. If I had the time properly to research your budget document and the time to make a longer presentation, I could probably find fifty or sixty more areas in which your council plans to cut and slash away at the quality of life in this community.

The Community Coalition Against Racism is an anti-racist organization that is trying to build a better community in Hamilton by promoting  racial  equality  and by opposing those things that harm people of colour and native people in our community. Your budgetary cutting and slashing harms the poor in Hamilton. It harms them very much. Among the poorest of the poor are generally new, non-white immigrants to Canada, as well as native people resident in Hamilton. We are not saying that all non-white immigrants or native people in  Hamilton are poor. On the contrary, some are very well off or have done very well for themselves in Hamilton. However, the sad fact is that most new non-white immigrants and native people in Hamilton have few material resources and marketable skills. The reason they come to Hamilton is due to the cheaper standard of living here compared to Toronto, for example, yet the relatively equal access to community services.      

 Now you, as a council, are proposing severely to cut these services. What will the cleaner, who was a teacher in Africa, and who just arrived in Hamilton, do when she has to go home after midnight from cleaning offices? Take a cab and use up a couple of hours pay at minimum wage? What about the engineer from Asia who is working in a restaurant that closes at 2 pm? When the single, native mother needs help from social services and there is no staff available to help, what does she do then? When the senior who just arrived from South America needs the services of the health department and can’t access that help due to job cuts, a life might be at stake.

When policies and programs adversely affect people of colour more than other people, we call that phenomenon racism. Now don’t get me wrong! I am not suggesting that any member of this city council is deliberately trying to be racist against the citizens of colour or the native people of this city. However, the practical effect of the built-in, institutional actions and attitudes that adversely affect people of colour, more than the general population, is called systemic racism. What this council is proposing to do in the 2003 budget is just the same as the well-documented worse treatment that natives and people of colour receive at the hands of certain police services in this province, at the hands of the provincial  judicial system and at the hands of its prison system. It’s systemic racism, and we will no longer put up with it!

And why are we being subjected to this worse treatment? The answers are clear. First, the federal government is not doing its job in revitalizing older cities like Hamilton in the same way that the US federal government has poured billions into urban renewal in that country. Secondly, the provincial government has downloaded all kinds of provincial responsibilities on the municipalities. We cannot do anything about the two senior levels of government at this hearing today.

However, there are some things this city council can do to rectify its budget process. First, it can give its mulish fixation on building the Red Hill Expressway, which will produce no real growth for Hamilton except a bonanza for a handful of land developers on Stoney Creek Mountain. It will turn out to be an environmental nightmare that may bankrupt this city. Secondly, it can stop cutting business and industrial taxes, which force the residential rates to rise and also results in job and program cuts. CCAR does not believe that the idea of the poor subsidizing the rich, also known as the “trickle-down theory” will produce any real growth for Hamilton either. The “trickle-down theory”, in which money is supposed to be thrown at the rich so that a few crumbs will fall off their table to the poor below in the form of jobs, has been tried in dozens of places around the world and simply does not work, except to make the rich richer. Finally, we can do without the hoopla of the Commonwealth Games, costing Hamiltonians as much as $10 million a year. Experience with the Olympic Games shows that the billions spent on hosting the Games in various cities around the world produces only temporary benefits, lasting months, not years. These games are only a short-term bonanza for the media and for the hospitality trade.

It is our considered opinion that one of the chief engines of economic growth in Hamilton is the influx of new visible minority immigrants to our city. Every time a new immigrant arrives, he or she needs accommodation, food, clothing, tools, transportation, entertainment, health care, and education, among other things. In turn, these needs provide a great stimulus for employment and growth in our city. On the other side of the coin, the new immigrants satisfy the growing needs for labour-power in the area, especially at the lower end of the wage scale.

Right now, Hamilton is said to be the third destination of choice for new immigrants to Canada, because the cost of living is relatively low here and the demand for labour relatively high. The cuts being proposed in the budget will severely erode the living standards of new immigrants to Hamilton and may discourage prospective immigrants from choosing to live here. In such a scenario, Hamilton would lose the strength of this engine of economic development, which is more promising than either the Red Hill Expressway, the Commonwealth Games, or the tax breaks for the wealthy.

I hope you will consider this advice carefully and I thank you, on behalf of CCAR, for entertaining this brief.


Read the Hamilton Spectator article "Councillors Snub Citizens" about this meeting


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