Stop Seniors' Discounts? A Day at the Summit
Was part of the Hamilton Summit about taking discounts away from seniors? The truth is that this was an actual recommendation from one of the expert panelists in the first half of the Summit, among other surprising calls to action.
But let's begin at the beginning. Why was I at the Summit, and what was the point of the thing anyway?
I attended the Summit, held on April 13, 2018, to speak to the need to get more RNs back into the healthcare system here in Hamilton. Healthcare, specifically impact on emergency medical services, is one of the 4 priorities being “advanced” by the Summit to the June 7 Provincial Election. The other three are Social and Affordable Housing, Infrastructure, and Municipal Financial Tools.
The Summit came about over the past months as City Council, concerned about the “growing issue of provincial downloading and its impact on the City of Hamilton” (see https://www.hamilton.ca/city-initiatives/priority-projects/hamilton-summit-2018), decided to create this event two months before the provincial election.
The concept was this: local MPPs and candidates for MPPs as well as concerned leaders and other citizens of Hamilton gathered to hear expert panels share their thoughts as well as to discuss the specific recommendations of the city with regard to its four priorities, and to give the MPPs, candidates, and Hamiltonians who wished to delegate a forum to speak to the issues.
Goals included better informing attendees on the problems of provincial "downloading", i.e. the province's propensity to get municipalities to pay for things that should be the province's responsibility, as well as presumably hoping that MPP candidates who win the June election will advocate for the province taking more financial responsibility for the four priorities, thus more thoroughly supporting Hamilton and relieving stress on the city budget.
Here are some highlights from the day I found significant. I live tweeted from @Ward2ForAll.
The link for the full brochure for the day is https://d3fpllf1m7bbt3.cloudfront.net/sites/default/files/media/browser/2018-04-09/hamilton-summit-2018-brochure.pdf
The first panel combined the two priorities of Social and Affordable Housing and Emergency Medical Services in a discussion on Equitable Access to Health. Paul Johnson, the City's General Manager, Healthy & Safe Communities, introduced us to the Hamilton's Village of 100 - https://d3fpllf1m7bbt3.cloudfront.net/sites/default/files/media/browser/2018-04-13/hamiltons-village-of-100-summit-presentation.pdf - and spoke about the social determinants of health and their impact on lives (https://www.healthypeople.gov/2020/topics-objectives/topic/social-determinants-of-health).
Dr Margaret Denton, Emeritus Faculty, Department of Health Aging & Society (McMaster), told us of the challenges older adults, especially those living alone in apartments, face. Tom Cooper, Director of the Hamilton Roundtable for Poverty Reduction, shared about the affordable housing crisis, a result of not having a National Housing Strategy. The new one won't really kick in until 2020. He also explained how the Basic Income Pilot has transformed the lives of the 1000 so far in Hamilton who are participating. (https://www.thespec.com/news-story/8317857-spotlight-shines-on-basic-income-poverty-pilot-project-in-hamilton/)
The more the moderator interacted with these 3 panelists, the clearer it became that the scope of what needs to be done far exceeds the municipal budget. Much more money is needed to meet these urgent needs for our city's most vulnerable inhabitants.
However, when the moderator moved on to infrastructure, the amount of money that the city does not have and therefore is not spending to maintain existing infrastructure and to build necessary new structures was seen to be nearly 200 million dollars per year. The resulting deficit is already alarmingly large.
Naturally, the morning concluded with financial experts who were there to recommend answers to where all this missing money might be found.
This is where things got exciting. Before the meeting, Dr Aaron Moore, fellow at the Institute on Municipal Finance and Governance at the Munk School of Global Affairs, University of Toronto had warned me people got upset when he spoke. However, the controversy actually came from Harry Kitchen, Professor Emeritus, Trent University. Harry was supposed to speak from this presentation https://d3fpllf1m7bbt3.cloudfront.net/sites/default/files/media/browser/2018-04-13/municipal-financial-tools-summit-presentation.pdf but actually talked off the cuff, with Aaron chiming in from time to time, saying:
the city should make better use of user fees to generate incomes, especially congestion taxes for drivers, and other fees like water taxes to discourage wastage
Though he understands there is huge outrage that comes in response to this suggestion, he believes many seniors are well off and that those wealthy seniors shouldn't get preferential rates
residential homeowners should be taxed at a higher relative rate than they are now vis-a-vis businesses (since they get most of the benefits that come from property tax money)
Aaron recommended that Ontario should pay for social services as some other provinces do.
He also noted that provinces provide money for new infrastructure but not maintenance of existing, further exacerbating the problem cities have not having enough money to maintenance of infrastructure.
since Police Services budget is such a huge part of the pie, it squeezes everything else. Harry chimed in that Ontario is the only province with Police Services Boards, and since they take up such a dispropriate part of the budget, they should be axed. This suggestion was met with great enthusiasm by the public.
Both Aaron and Harry felt property taxes and user fees could be raised if the public were better informed about how fair they are.
Final recommendation by Harry: the province should pay all school taxes so that all tax money now shared between both could go to the city.
While not all of the financial recommendations were going to be popular, they provided much food for thought for the public. I could see quite a range of reactions among those listening.
Regarding the candidates for MPP, Tom Cooper tweeted “9 female, 5 male provincial candidates - nice ratio around table.” Not surprisingly, MPPs Andrea Horwath and Ted McMeekin, took most of the 16 minutes available for the NDP and the Liberals to campaign.
The day ended with delegations from the public. I was second and then had to go to work right afterward. I left copies of my talk for other residents as well as information for organizations wishing to sign on to the Joint Statement by the OHC for better access and care in long-term care homes:
A day like this will never provide all the answers. But it does provide opportunities to engage meaningfully with big issues, including the extremely urgent one of infrastructure, consider possibilities thoughtfully and with an open mind, and continue to work together for a stronger future for Hamilton.