HCM’s Jeff Martin sat down with Mayor Andrea Horwath to gain insight into her vision and key priorities for the coming term for the new Hamilton city council. She discussed the issues and challenges that she and council will be dealing with this year, including a new budget. Horwath also shared some of her favourite pastimes and things to do in Hamilton, including how and where she’d spend a lazy Sunday afternoon. Here’s the first of a two-part interview with Mayor Horwath.
You were formerly the Hamilton Ward 2 councillor, leader of the Ontario New Democratic Party, Leader of the Opposition at Queen's Park, so you bring a wealth of knowledge, experience, skills, understanding and connections to the role of mayor of Hamilton. Of all your experiences, what do you think will be the most advantageous to your new role?
I gave this a lot of thought, because, of course, there's knowing the structural pieces of government and how it works at the various levels. There's building a team because as a leader of a political party that's what you have to do, you build a team not only in terms of the people that are elected, but also the team in terms of the staffing team. Really what those two things are part of, and what the bigger picture that I think is the biggest advantage, is relationships – not only the relationships I've built, but knowing which relationships I need to work on to get things done.
I think having relationships at the federal level, at the provincial level and at the municipal level because these are people I've dealt with over the years – many of the mayors I already know from the work I've done, as well as First Nations community leadership. That's what I really think it is, the relationships, both built and the capacity for further building of relationships.
What are your top three priorities for the coming year?
The priorities come from two places. One is what I heard as a mayoral candidate on the campaign trail, but also what I've heard from our (new) council members on our bus tour. We got to know each other a little bit more, and there's a couple of pretty clear priorities. One is housing – affordable housing, the affordability of housing, the access to housing. Another is making sure that we are always keeping our eye on the economic development of our city. Where are the opportunities? How do we drive them forward? How do we keep jobs – green jobs, tech jobs – on our focus as we go through this next year? Because there is stiff competition these days for attracting investment, and we have to make sure that we are getting those jobs. The third priority is our environment, and I say that writ large.
Writ large not only because of what's been happening in some of the negative pieces, which we'll probably talk about, but also in terms of the opportunity. We have some great plans in terms of our climate action plan, we need to start driving those plans into action, and that's what I'm looking forward to. We have some new staff coming on, as you've heard. Really amazing.
Taking some of that great work that's already been done – and it's huge. Anybody who's interested in where the city stands when it comes to environmental initiatives, you just need to look at that plan. It is multifaceted, it has a lot of great goals, but we need to start making them happen. I'm really excited about getting going, I shouldn't use this analogy, but the rubber hitting the road, the bicycle rubber.
What do you think is Hamilton's single greatest challenge right now, and the greatest opportunity?
I think our challenge is we're in a transition. We really are in a transition, and we need to grasp hold of that and push it forward in the most positive way, while not leaving people behind. It's making sure that the excitement and the energy that I feel and that people like you feel and that folks around here feel, that the new council feels translates into a swell of positivity and excitement for the future. We see the investment coming, we see cranes in our downtown, we see some of our local communities in the larger city with thriving main streets and communities. We see people wanting to move to Hamilton so there's pressure in that regard.
Those things are all positives, let's keep it positive and push forward on those exciting things. But when it comes to our challenges, we do have challenges around affordability in our city.
We have challenges around infrastructure, for example. But I think overall our biggest challenge is to recognize that we can manage the problems, manage the difficulties, and not get mired in self-loathing when it comes to some of it. I don’t like using that term, but sometimes we get down on ourselves, and for good reason. I mean, we've seen some things happen in the last little while that have made people feel less than happy. So whether that's the road safety issues with cyclists and pedestrians and accidents, we're making changes to actually address that. Whether it's some of the tougher issues around homelessness and poverty, we are constantly aware of that and trying to find solutions. I know this council particularly is very, very motivated in that regard, which is a good thing, so it's acknowledging that we have the challenges, but not letting them drag us down.
What's the biggest challenge facing the new council in 2023?
I thought about this carefully because I wasn't sure how to tackle that question, but because we've talked about some of the other more situational issues, I thought that I would respond more as a council. We have a lot of new people with different levels of experience, with different understanding of not only how the City works, but how politics works. There's a learning curve and different councillors will be at different places on that learning curve, so I think that the challenge for the council is how to maintain the really positive space that we've already carved out.
We have a respectful relationship with each other, we've had respectful conversations. We have a tough budget coming up, one that's going to create a lot of pressure, and so I think our biggest challenge in this coming year is to get through the budget process, understanding the pressures on the city and the services that we need to deliver to the people of Hamilton—as well as their ability to foot the bill.
To do all of that work, which can be fraught in a way that's dignified, that's respectful, that's not personalized but also gives people the space – that gives the councillors the space to have voice; that gives community the space to be engaged and have voice, and come out the other side having built a path forward that's solid when it comes to some of the problems that people have identified in the past, in terms of relationships amongst councillors, with the community and relationships between councillors and staff.
Those things came up during the election, so we have an opportunity now with so many new people that are new with excitement, with the diversity that exists around our council table to play the game from the high road. That means to do the job as city councillors, as leaders in our community, as people that have big decisions to make to stay on the high road, and to do that in a way that our citizens, our residents are proud of the way that we behave.
What are your three favourite things to do in Hamilton?
I thought about this too because there's just so much to do in this city. It's festivals, I love festivals. It's the markets and farmer's markets. I love doing those kinds of things as well. Festivals, markets, and arts and entertainment – we just have so much of all of those things, and so it's about exploration. One of the things I was able to do during this election campaign is go to some of the festivals that I haven't been to in a long time. Not only do we have our major market in downtown Hamilton which I've been to many times, but there are also small neighbourhood markets: Ottawa Street, Locke Street, Binbrook. There's all kinds of different markets that we have and it's really great because not only do you get to buy some of the local produce and locally-produced goods, but you also get to meet and mingle with people from all parts of our community, it's really cool. Those would be some of the things.
When you're not at City Hall, how do you like to spend your free time in Hamilton?
I like to walk around. I like to walk when I have time and there's so many places to explore. I'm privileged to be able to live in a neighbourhood where I can walk through my neighbourhood, which is an historic neighbourhood in Hamilton. But I can walk not too far and be on the Rail Trail, I can walk and be on James Street North or South or Locke Street. If I feel like it, I can actually walk down to the waterfront or I can drive down to the waterfront and walk. I can drive down to the lakefront and walk, it's a great way to explore the city. I can go up to Ancaster or head to Dundas and walk through their downtowns. Walking is a great way to absorb your community.
What are a few of your favourite foods or where do you like to go to eat if you're going out?
First, I thought, ‘What are my favourite foods?’ But the list goes on and on and on as I have very few not favourites, and so that didn't work. Then I thought, ‘Well, there's clusters of great food,’ and so whether it's James Street North where there's a great number of restaurants or King William Street. There's some great places up in Ancaster and we've got amazing restaurants in Dundas, on Locke Street of course, James Street South and Augusta Street. Then you get some amazing old standards like the iconic Village Restaurant in Stoney Creek. We have these districts of great food, of great community and it's like a roulette wheel where no matter where the ball lands, it's a great place to eat and have community. Yes, it's the food, but it's also the community, it's the people, it's the neighbourhoods, it's all of that stuff. And all different vibes.
What's your favourite way to spend a lazy afternoon?
There's summer and winter. So here we are now in the winter months. So, a lazy afternoon for me would be putting on some kind of braised meal, so get the Dutch oven going, throw something in the oven and I know it's going to sit there for two to three hours. Then I get a glass of wine and my book, and I curl up on the couch and read a book and have a glass of wine. That's my midwinter. It's a nice, lazy Sunday afternoon.
Summertime is a little bit different because you don't want to be inside, but unplanned, as it's not like, ‘OK, I've got to go here, I have to be there at this time. I would wander out my door then head down to, for example, Locke Street or James Street, grab brunch or sit and have a coffee, maybe bring my book and people watch. And it's a great way to get to know what the neighbourhood is all about.
But there's no clock, it's not something that's timed. If I think, ‘Oh, maybe I'll take a walk out to Locke Street tomorrow and just hang out, because I've got nothing on the agenda on Sunday afternoon,’ but I don't have to, and that's the difference. I have this space to do what my spirit wants me to do.
Be sure to watch for part two of our interview, in which Horwath addresses the perceived culture of secrecy with the past council and the need to move toward greater transparency and cultural change at City Hall. She also elaborates on the importance of Hamilton’s farmland and agriculture sector, and the need to protect the city’s urban boundary and its vital farmland, despite the push from the Ontario government to remove hundreds of acres of land for suburban development.