Commentary

Renters Also Have a Right to Democratic Representation

The idea that a voice in the affairs of the community is the exclusive domain of the landed gentry is archaic, offensive and undemocratic.

By Richard Gelder
Published February 06, 2017

I had the occasion to review a video recording of Dundas Councillor Arlene VanderBeek from the Hamilton City Council General Issues Committee meeting of February 1, 2017. I wish to address myself to comments Councillor VanderBeek made regarding the ward redistribution issue, specifically those regarding homeowners, renters and civic engagement.

In the end, VanderBeek voted essentially to preserve the status quo of distribution that has the suburban wards, with proportionally more homeowners and fewer renters, over-represented as compared to wards in the more urban areas of Hamilton.

Great for Dundas, many might say, but when one hears the classist logic used to defend it, an ugly picture emerges.

I cannot tell you how disappointed I am to hear VanderBeek suggest that renters are not as "invested in the community" as property owners, ostensibly to defend this status quo.

The evidence of civic engagement she offered seemed little more than how many constituents call her office with garbage collection concerns - as if that somehow entitles them to a heavier share of municipal representation. Talk about the squeaky wheel getting the oil!

VanderBeek indicated that she has had a struggle with representation being based on how many people live in her ward. Does she not understand that the very basis of democracy is universal suffrage? How is it that she is having so much of a "struggle" with the concept of one person, one vote?

That concept should hold whether you live in Stoney Creek, Dundas or the middle of Hamilton mountain. It is not contingent on whether or not you have the economic means to own your own home.

The idea that a voice in the affairs of the community is the exclusive domain of the landed gentry is archaic, offensive and undemocratic.

The implications of what VanderBeek said are clear. Wards with a higher percentage of property owners are entitled to more representation than are those with more renters, as a function of VanderBeek's perception of "civic engagement".

It is one thing to have failed to uphold the basic values of democracy through a move toward a more equitable ward distribution, but it is appalling to do so citing the reasons that property owners are more entitled to access to democracy.

As a civic leader, perhaps VanderBeek might be more interested in why renters are not as engaged, as she perceives.

May I suggest consulting with her colleagues in other wards in the city that have vibrant neighbourhood associations? She might find there are socioeconomic reasons why the first priority of a low-income renter might not be to call her/his councillor's office about a city or neighbourhood issue.

Disenfranchisement of the poor is a real thing.

However, the Dundas Councillor might find that, in spite of lacking the financial means and leisure to be on her office for mundane matters like garbage or whose street got plowed first, the "rental" population of this city are contributing in many other ways.

Their voices are no less important than is yours or mine.

I take comfort only in knowing that, as a homeowner and ratepayer, I may enjoy the privilege that VanderBeek might take my particular exercise in civic engagement more seriously than as if I was merely an apartment renter.

We are better than this.

A version of this was sent to Dundas Councillor Arlene VanderBeek as a letter.

Richard Gelder is an educator who lives in Dundas with his partner, Catherine, and two sons, Liam and Jamie. He commutes by bicycle and cares passionately about bicycles, track and field and all things Hamilton.

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By KarlAndrus (registered) | Posted February 06, 2017 at 17:36:15

"Tenants don't see their building's annual tax bills and may be unaware that they are indeed paying a tax rate that is three times higher than the 'residential property tax rate' their neighbors in the bungalow down the street are levied."

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