Those ideas that really can transform the city are coming not from the usual suspects but from the grassroots.
By Ryan McGreal
Published May 05, 2009
When I read yesterday's Spectator article on the upcoming Economic Summit, I started a personal countdown until receiving a press release from Councillor Sam Merulla, who was quoted saying, "Ideologically, I can't support it." His reasoning is that the event amounts to political lobbying by corporate special interests.
Yet it took until today's editorial, titled "Snubbing an Opportunity", for Merulla to pipe up. On behalf of the Spec editorial board, editor Howard Elliot started:
For new disturbing evidence that too many members of Hamilton City Council just don't get it, look no further than the revelation that up to half of them won't be attending this week's economic summit co-organized by the local chamber of commerce and the Jobs Prosperity Collaborative.
Merulla's comment is silly. Even if you argue the chamber is a special interest, and that's debatable, you can't make the same argument about the Jobs Prosperity Collaborative, or other co-sponsors which include Mohawk College, McMaster University, the province, City of Hamilton and numerous local businesses.
If there's a special interest at work here, it's that all the stakeholders have a special interest in seeing Hamilton's economic prospects improve. The fact that the councillor is ideologically opposed to an event with that goal says more about him than the organizers.
That proved too much for Merulla to resist. He released the following response to local media:
I have no intention of attending the Economic Summit this week for the following reasons:
1) The Economic Summit is a private, invitation-only, for profit event that is not open to the community/public, which snubs access to opportunity.
2) The agenda lacks social justice and environmental sustainability issues.
3) The nearly $400 price of a ticket is ludicrous and the nearly $250 gift to Council members in the two-tier pricing system breaches the maximum allowable amount a council member may receive as a gift as outlined in the Council Code of Conduct guidelines.
4) The Economic Summit should be hosted by City Council, it should be free to attend and most importantly open to the public. At present this meeting is the epitome of an event formulated by exclusion.
5) Without providing the opportunity to all community stakeholders The Hamilton Spectator is endorsing the snubbing of the community by preventing access to opportunity. Without all community stakeholders invited and involved this event is not representative of this community and incomplete.
6) Only together with all stakeholders in this community can we work toward a solution, not just words of a select few who are fortunate to be invited or fortunate to afford to pay nearly $400 for the summit.
7) Based on the selective nature of this for-profit private event, this event is incapable of being a collaborative effort.
8) Which begs the question [sic]: why would the Hamilton Spectator endorse an event that snubs the very people they claim to be a voice for in our community?
It's hard to argue with any of this. The price of admission is daunting and the closed nature of the event belies its claim to cast the net wide and engage the community (for the record, Raise the Hammer did not receive an invitation). From the outside, this looks like exactly the same kind of top-down, interested, boys' club approach that has held this city captive for decades.
The Jobs Prosperity Collaborative, which grew out of the old Hamilton Civic Coalition and came under loose municipal oversight, was supposed to break the city out of the old-school, Chamber of Commerce / Home Builders Association death grip and infuse new and inclusive thinking into the city's economic planning strategy.
Clearly, this hasn't happened. It seems no one really listened to the words of Richard Florida, last year's keynote speaker, who warned civic leaders to open the city's planning up and engage the larger community.
Some five years ago, I originally joined the project that would become Raise the Hammer with the firm belief that the real ideas and momentum for change can only come from outside the nexus of comfortable municipal leaders who benefit from the status quo.
My experience since then has only reinforced this belief. Those ideas that really can transform the city are coming not from the usual suspects but from the grassroots.
We will work our way out of the city's long funk not through more ivory tower summits but through deeper and broader civic engagement - real participation, not more patronizing "public consultation" on middling policies developed from the top down.
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