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Clinic Advocates Pro Poor Policies at City Hall

December 6, 2012 Poverty Reduction

Yesterday (December 5th) Hamilton City Council’s General Issues Committee (GIC) looked at a report from city staff recommending the establishment of a three year community economic development pilot project that would be put together through a consultation process with stakeholders. (You can read that report here http://www.hamilton.ca/NR/rdonlyres/E2946A4C-B81B-44DE-B7CB-F271F83185E7/0/Dec05EDRMS_n382333_v1_8_1__PED12189.pdf)

The clinic supports this initiative but believes that ‘pro poor’ or ‘poverty reduction’ economic strategies be explicitly included in the economic development strategy.

We also believe that the pilot project should take a ‘bottom-up’ approach involving local residents in the design and implementation of the pilot, and that the pilot project also consider poverty reduction as part of its mandate.

Craig Foye, a staff lawyer, brought these concerns to the GIC. A slightly edited version of his remarks appears below. Unfortunately, the General Issues Committee did not support our recommended approach.

Introduction

I appear before you today in order to express the Clinics support for the staff recommendation of a Community Economic Development strategy and pilot project, and also to express the clinic`s recommendation that the City include ``pro-poor`` or poverty reduction economic development strategies in the City Economic Development Strategy. This is a combination of Options 1 and 2.

This staff report arises out of recommendations from this committee last summer in response to a presentation by me and Dr. Atif Kubursi regarding Dr. Kubursi’s report “The Economic Impact of Social Assistance in Hamilton.” Unfortunately, Dr. Kubursi is unable to be here today due to but he has offered some brief input with regard to pro-poor economic development which I will convey to you in this presentation.

Community Economic Development Pilot Project

The Clinic supports the staff recommendation of a community economic development pilot project. The Clinic recommends that the pilot however necessarily involve significant control and input from local residents. While the clinic applauds the work of staff with regard to Business Retention and Expansion, and recognize the importance of this work to the local economy, we suggest that the Community Economic Development Pilot Project take a more ‘bottom-up’ approach involving local residents in the design and implementation of the pilot, and that the pilot project also consider poverty reduction as part of its mandate. It is hoped that the pilot project will lead to the inclusion of community economic development strategies in the next iteration of the City Economic Development Strategy.

Pro Poor Economic Development or Poverty Reduction Economic Development

While the Clinic acknowledges that pro poor economic development is primarily employed (at least in name) in developing or transitional economies, we suggest that the current lingering poverty crisis in our community recommends an approach to economic development that recognizes the critical importance to our economy of improving the lives of “poor” individuals and families within our community.

Dr. Kubursi provides a helpful definition of pro-poor growth as growth that “that reduces absolute poverty and hunger while simultaneously slimming down existing inequalities in distribution.” Dr. Kubursi indicates that pro-poor policies are not restricted to third world or developing countries, but rather he indicates that the entire development approach of the UN adopted at the Economic and Social Commission is a pro-poor, rights based development. (1) With regard to the trickle-down approach to poverty reduction, Dr. Kubursi notes that this does not work: “Wealth and income are more like glue they stick to the hands that first touch them”.

Countless research papers, government submissions, and community presentations, have made the case that rate and depth poverty in our community remains relatively stagnant and takes a very high human toll on community members. In addition, numerous reports, in particular the CODE Red series, published by the Hamilton Spectator in partnership with McMaster University, have highlighted the desperate level of inequality within our community where health outcomes vary drastically between the rich and poor neighborhoods of Hamilton. The Clinic has regularly joined the chorus or experts and community members who have appeared in front of City Council to brief you on these critical and pressing matters.

It should also however be noted that these matters also affect our economy, both directly through the absence of buying or tax-paying power, and indirectly through the high costs of services to deal with poverty (such as social services, health services, etc) and the effects of obvious and prevalent poverty on the quality of life and culture of our community for all. The City of Hamilton, through the Hamilton Roundtable for Poverty Reduction, has adopted the aspiration of making Hamilton “the best place to raise a child”. We suggest to you that this will necessarily involve applying a poverty reduction lens to city services, plans and strategies that affect “poor” individuals and families and levels of poverty in our community.

We further suggest to you that the City Economic Development Strategy is certainly closely related to issues of poverty in our community and has the potential to help reduce levels of poverty in our community. Some examples of economic developments strategies that might be considered “pro poor” or applying a poverty reduction lens would include: living wage strategies, micro loans, community economic development, targeted business development such as supermarkets in poor neighborhoods, etc.

You will note that the city is already engaging on many of these issues on an ad hoc basis. The Hamilton Community Legal Clinic suggests that “pro poor” or “poverty reduction” economic strategies be explicitly included in the current economic development strategy. In the alternative, we ask that such strategies be included in the next iteration of the economic plan.

What are we recommending?

1. That the General Issues Committee approve the staff recommendation of a Community Economic Developments pilot project and that the Community Economic Development Pilot Project take a ‘bottom-up’ approach involving local residents in the design and implementation of the pilot, and that the pilot project also consider poverty reduction as part of its mandate;

2. That the General Issues Committee recommend to Council that “pro poor” or “poverty reduction” economic strategies be explicitly included in the current economic development strategy. In the alternative, we ask that such strategies be included in the next iteration of the economic plan.

[1] “Macro Economic Policies Promote Pro-Poor Growth Strategies: ESCWA’s Perspectives”, Dr. Atif Kubursi, Undersecretary General and Acting Secretary, United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (undated, provided to the author by Dr. Kubursi)

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