By Brenda Duke

As published in The Hamilton Spectator, December 17, 2022 Redefining community consultation in Hamilton |

Thursday, December 1, 2022 was a busy day. Our new Council was sitting on the meeting for Emergency Services and Support. Hamilton Alliance for Tiny Shelters (HATS) was going before them, hat in hand to ask for money, lots of money to support their innovative ideas. Community members were nervously preparing to speak in front of everyone, some for the first time. They were there asking for something too; they wanted to keep a piece of the neighbourhood they lived in and loved.

I was there, and while I was not completely new to the experience, many of the new Council did not know me or the work I had done in my community over the years. I was there to support my community. In the face of statistics and the reality of our lack of adequate housing, I wasn’t sure that my words would carry much weight. My stand was not a popular one with many and I knew that I would face the usual barrage of social media verbal abuse.

But it was important for so many reasons. What came out of my presentation was relayed in a Spectator article. “Brenda Duke said residents felt “blindsided” by the plan and wanted more consultation.” “So we’re asking for you to wait. Let us fine-tune the project and support it and put it where it would do the most good.”

As residents of Ward 3, we have seen many new ideas to fix problems dropped on us with little or no notice. We want to see that change. Our city is at a place where they are prepared to find solutions and they have the heart to do that. How much more productive would it be for everyone if consultation was done before decision making?

Rather than a vague instruction to “do community consultation”, what if there was a standard operating procedure for community consultation? What if the neighbourhood groups, associations and invested individuals came together with the city and decided together what they needed in their neighbourhood? What if the service providers and developers had the opportunity to discuss ideas and learn about each unique neighborhood? What if we worked together instead of constantly working against these new ideas because we didn’t know they were coming?

I’d like to respectfully ask our City Departments and our Council Members to consider the possibilities that might open and the results we might see from proactive community consultation.

I’d like to understand the process from start to finish. When a project is presented to Council or City Departments, I’d like to see the list of related community groups/associations given to them. That list is readily available. I’d like to be part of the discussion with our Police Services, Fire Departments and Service Providers. That could easily be done in a series of round table discussions that included the community. I’d like to see the results of the Community Consultations available for public review. I’d like those results reviewed by the Departments involved and taken into consideration when our Council makes their decision.

I’m not alone in this, these are the things that people in the community have advocated for and found lacking. We have a voice and it deserves to be heard.

For some, the decision made to hold off on the proposed site for HATS at Barton and Earl was seen as win, but it really wasn’t. We still have neighbours sleeping rough, we still need housing and we still need community initiatives to help find the answers.

Brenda Duke has actively supported community and volunteer initiatives in the Gibson and Landsdale neighbourhoods and across Ward 3 for over ten years.