Publications, opinions, and speeches

Opinion

Look West!

Published on 16/03/2011

Look west to the narrow curve of Lake Ontario where the people of Hamilton are showing us a future worth aspiring to.

It isn’t a land of milk and honey, a fantasy land of castles and limousines. Steeltown hasn’t gone soft.

It is better than that. The people of Hamilton have decided to pull together to lift the poorest out of poverty, to heal the whole community by mending its wounds.

A dramatic signpost that something new was happening in Hamilton occurred on October 29, 2005 when the Hamilton Spectator’s front page was blank, bearing just this small message:

The stories have been removed from this page to remind us that nearly 100,000 children, women and men live in poverty in Hamilton, people whose stories rarely make the front page. We’re going to change that.

As Spec publisher Dana Robbins said, “The Spectator did not lapse into advocacy, we leapt into it.”

But The Spec was not crusading alone. They were building on groundwork done by the Hamilton Community Foundation, under the leadership of Carolyn Milne, and by the City government itself. Attracted to those efforts were business leaders like Mark Chamberlain. The Hamilton Roundtable for Poverty Reduction was created. Poverty became a civic concern.

Like most cities, Hamilton does not have the big levers of change to improve the lives of poor people. Those lie with provincial governments and the federal government. But unlike most cities, Hamilton has decided that poverty is a major civic concern, and they are pressing forward to make poverty in their community visible, and to force everyone in Hamilton to confront and own it so that action can be taken.

At the front of the charge, with the megaphone, remains The Spec. They have a continuing series they call Code Red which highlights stories of people struggling in poverty. The series name was prompted by Carolyn Milne, a former nurse, who said that when you needed a patient to pay attention, you gave them information they could not walk away from. That is what The Spec is doing with Code Red, giving Hamiltonians information about poverty in their community that they cannot walk away from.

Every community in Canada has poverty. Most have a growing gap between rich and poor. Few of them have Hamilton’s ability to create a sustained civic effort to map and combat poverty. Even fewer of them have a newspaper with the maturity and conviction to tackle the tough issues rather than the glib headlines.

We’d do well to look to the west end of Lake Ontario.

Summary

The Code Red project has spurred the people of Hamilton to a sustained civic effort to map and combat poverty.

Topic(s)

Poverty