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What does the evidence say are the best ways forward to solve these challenges?

Hamilton’s renaissance has brought new investments, new residents, and new ideas to the city. This report, however, also shows that not all Hamiltonians are benefiting from Hamilton’s economic upswing, and that some groups may be harmed by the unintended consequences of this growth. The findings from this report bring a caution that Hamilton’s renaissance may be short-lived if important foundations of the city’s economic growth such as young people and affordable housing are ignored.

One of the most effective ways to address the inequities present in Hamilton’s growth is to implement innovative policies that have been successful in other communities.  Some of the forward thinking and new relationships built by Hamilton’s renaissance present a unique opportunity to build win-win solutions that will foster a more equitable sharing of Hamilton’s prosperity. Together, leaders from all sectors, informed by the voices of those struggling without access to the benefits of Hamilton’s economic growth, can work to implement policies that will lead to more inclusive growth.

One common element from a review of recommendations from policy think tanks engaging in economic and social issues is not to look to the past for answers. Instead these organizations recommend better responding to current economic realities through modern solutions that are backed by evidence from successful implementation elsewhere.

Tom Zizys in Working Better: Creating a high performance labour market (a report for the Metcalfe Foundation) explained:

“We cannot turn back the clock, but we can decide in what ways we can shape the labour market to better serve our economic and social goals. We have replaced one labour market system with another without recognizing the structural transformation that has taken place and how it informs so much of what is wrong with our present arrangement. As a consequence, we have muddled through with peripheral, incremental, and patchwork responses. But we have choices. And our first choice is to decide that we want to do something about it.”[1]

Three major themes can be drawn from a review of policy recommendations from various Canadian think tanks and social policy commissions:

1) An emphasis on increased access to experiences and opportunities, especially for children and younger adults that help provide ladders into the middle-class.

For example

Youth jobs guarantee (Broadbent Institute), a proposal for:

  • opportunities for all youth under age 25 within four months of leaving formal education or becoming unemployed, by creating 186,000 three month full-time, co-op positions paid internship or summer job placement that pay a wage of $15 an hour, funded by large employers and the federal government.

Creating accessible opportunities for children and youth (PEPSO) by:

  • Reducing financial and scheduling barriers for after-school programs, sports and recreation programs for children and youth whose parents work in precarious jobs.
  • Prioritizing training that connects with real employment opportunities and that meets the unique needs of workers in precarious employment.

Adult Education and Training Strategy for Canada (Institute for Research on Public Policy), including:

  • an improved student loan system for people already in the workforce who want to upgrade their skills, by reducing expectations for spousal contributions and reducing risk to the student by making repayment conditional on improved income after training.
  • A rebuilt apprenticeship model for skilled trades, which would more closely resemble the format and accessibility of other forms of post-secondary education. This is especially urgent for Ontario, which has the lowest completion rate for apprenticeships among Canadian provinces, at less than 40% between 2000-2012.

For Hamilton, the findings in this report about youth access to jobs should spur action to ensure youth living in under-served neighbourhoods have better access to a first job in the early part of their labour force years.

Some local efforts that can be built on in the area of increased experiences and opportunities include:

  • ABACUS is a new Hamilton Community Foundation initiative focused on improving post-secondary access (including skilled trades and apprenticeships) among children who face barriers which may include no history of post-secondary attendance in their families. With research showing that skills shortages now and in the future will require prospective employees to have post-secondary credentials to be competitive, ABACUS reaches to students in the middle school years – and their parents – and uses a combination of academic upskilling, mentoring, goal setting and incentives to help children see post-secondary in their future and set a path to achieve it.
  • The City of Hamilton, has recently received funding from Ontario’s Local Poverty Reduction Fund to create a “Learning Annex” that would address some of the barriers some students face by providing personalized education and training navigation and related support services for youth in underserved neighbourhoods.[2]
  • As part of its broader access strategy, Mohawk College has opened the first of six mini satellite sites (called “City School”) in neighbourhoods with high unemployment rates offering tuition-free courses and access to computers and college resources.
  • The Hamilton Public Library now offers free access to video tutorials that teach digital and business skills as well as two digital media labs where residents can access necessary technology to explore and use these skills.
  • The United Way funds a variety of after-school and extra curricular activities for children in lower income neighbourhoods, as well as mentoring programs like Big Brothers and Big Sisters.
  • Workforce Planning Hamilton’s Labour Market Plan recommends learning from the new Hamilton Immigrant Mentoring Partnership program to draw lessons on how to build a successful employment mentorship program for other groups facing labour market challenges, including youth.

2) A call for the modernization of Canada’s social safety net and employment support programs, including child care and affordable housing, to reflect a changing labour market

For example

Renewing Canada’s Social Architecture (The Mowatt Institute), a series of policy papers on specific ways the social safety can be rejuvenated, through for example:

  • A drug benefit program and better retirement pension system for workers without employment-sponsored health benefits or pension plan.
  • Effective and improved childcare and child benefit policies.
  • Improved access to affordable housing for those priced out of market housing.
  • Enhancing the federal government’s role in disability supports.

Increasing the supply of affordable housing and ensuring a fair system of housing assistance (Wellesley Institute), including through: 

  • Provincial legislation empowering municipalities to implement inclusionary housing policies, such that a percentage of affordable units is required to be conveyed or otherwise provided as a condition of planning and development approvals.
  • A comprehensive system of rental assistance, integrated with other income security as part of the social safety net. It needs to transform the system of rent-geared-to-income (RGI) assistance, to make it equitable among renters in need, and among taxpayers.

Enabling flexible, quality childcare (PEPSO), including through:

  • Improved parental leave provisions in EI for precarious workers.
  • The development of an affordable childcare system that meets the needs of working parents in insecure jobs.

Transforming social assistance to include high-quality employment supports for all recipients and makes rates more adequately reflect the cost of basic necessities (Commission for the Review of Social Assistance in Ontario), more specifically:

  • Reduce the distinctions between the Ontario Works and Ontario Disabilities Program to recognize that all beneficiaries have barriers to employment and move towards a more collaborative approach to working with social assistance recipients in meeting their individual needs to pre- and post-employment services and supports (while continuing to support a disability supplement to recognize the additional living costs and lower earning potential of some people with disabilities).
  • Increase social assistance rates by at least $100 per month for singles to move towards a new basic measure of adequacy for all rates, while adopting a rational methodology to provide the necessary information for setting social assistance rates.

Taking inspiration from the Guaranteed Annual Income model to bring changes in the delivery of social assistance (Caledon Institute), more specifically:

  • The replacement of welfare and other stigmatizing need-tested programs, with a series of income-tested benefits specific to people’s individual circumstances including an enhanced Working Income Tax Benefit, a Basic Income and a Temporary Income benefit, along with access to income-tested services that help more people stay active in the labour market.

Locally, there has been work done to help move towards an improved social safety net:

  • Groups like the Hamilton Roundtable for Poverty Reduction, the Hamilton Legal Clinic and Hamilton Organizing for Poverty elimination (HOPE) have calling for the creation of a social assistance rates review board that would bring rates closer to the real cost of living and increase dignity within the social assistance system.
  • The Best Start Network in collaboration with Hamilton’s Neighbourhood Action Strategy has led a pilot campaign to increase the number of low-income parents registering their children for the Canada Learning Bond, which singed up close to 200 additional families for the federal government’s grant for post-secondary education, totaling over $1 million when the children graduate from high school.
  • After a successful pilot program funded through the Hamilton Community Foundation, school boards in Hamilton have now implemented vision screening in high-priority schools, which has alerted hundreds of families to previously undetected eye diseases and increased access to glasses and medical care.
  • The City of Hamilton along with partners in the private and community sectors is currently implementing its ten-year Housing and Homelessness Action Plan, with a goal of increasing the supply of affordable housing.

3) Improvement in employment conditions and access to labour market information

For example

Enable more secure employment (PEPSO), through measures such as:

  • Building a business case to show the bottom-line benefits for employers when they reduce precarious working conditions.
  • Addressing discrimination in hiring, job retention and advancement.
  • Expanding coverage of provincial labour standards to more worker.
  • Reducing scheduling uncertainty.

Improve enforcement of employment standards (Workers’ Action Centre), including:

  • Targeting sector with patterns of violations and high use of precarious employment.
  • Provide legal assistance to workers making claims of violation of employment standards.

Set minimum wage to $14/hour to ensure all full-time jobs lift workers out of poverty (Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives):

  • The increase to the minimum wage would bring Ontario closer to a living wage, which can decrease turnover costs for employers without negatively affecting employment levels.

Good quality labour market data and analysis (Metcalfe Foundation), including: 

  • Development and dissemination of local data on timely basis to track changes in local labour market to help both employers and employees.

In Hamilton, employment conditions could be improved for many workers through increased employer participation in the Living Wage campaign (Hamilton’s living wage is currently set at $14.95/hour, including benefits). In addition, the implementation of actions in Workforce Planning Hamilton’s Labour Market Plan would help support many policy goals outlined above.

Provincial policy steps towards action

There have been some recent shifts in provincial policy that are in line with important labour market reform recommendations described in this section, including:

  • Some recent improvements to the Employment Standards Act, along with increased enforcement. The results of the government’s current Changing Workplaces Review examining the Labour Relations Act and the Employment Standards Act will be a important opportunity for the province to further modernize the legislative environment to better protect insecurely employed workers.
  • The recently announced Youth Job Connection has the potential to link many of Ontario’s most vulnerable youth to meaningful job opportunities. The new program focuses on youth who face significant barriers to finding work including visible minorities and Aboriginals, youth with disabilities and mental health issues, youth who face poverty, have low literacy or who are in conflict with the law to give them paid training and work placements with supporting mentorship and coaching. This program’s focused target population and intensive supports has a high potential for success and could be the starting blocks for a broader program.
  • The provincial government’s proposal for a Ontario Retirement Pension Plan is an important step to bridging the gap faced by the growing number of workers without employer-sponsored pension benefits to ensure they have a more secure retirement. The participation of the federal government in broadening the CPP is a solution preferred by many groups, to reduce administrative costs and complexity, but in absence of federal co-operation, the ORPP will provide low- and middle-income workers with at least some measure of security they otherwise would not have.

These provincial policy improvements are a good start towards continued steps for a renewed economic support system that ensures a more evenly shared prosperity. The increased participation of the federal government in supporting provincial policy reform would benefit residents across Canada.  In particular, there have been calls echoed across the country for the federal government to take leadership and support funding for a National Housing Strategy, and to participate with provinces in modifying CPP to ensure a higher level of income security for workers without employer-sponsored pension plans.

In Hamilton, the attention of community leadership is needed to the ways local governments, employers and civil society can each take actions in their own sectors, sometimes staring with voluntary measures, pilot programs or collaborative advocacy. Increased attention and co-operation can boost the city’s ongoing renaissance to become one that brings prosperity to the entire community with benefits that get pushed into all corners of our city and our economy.

Policy reports cited:​​

Organization Author Title Year of publication
Broadbent Institute Not listed Towards a Youth Job Guarantee 2014

Caledon Institute of Social Policy Ken Battle Guaranteed Income or Guaranteed Incomes 2015

Caledon Centre for Policy Alternatives Trish Hennessy, Kaylie Tiessen and Armine Yalnizyan Making Every Job a Good Job:  A Benchmark for Setting Ontario’s Minimum Wage 2013

Commission for the Review of Social Assistance in Ontario Frances Lankin and Munir A. Sheikh Brighter Prospects: Transforming Social Assistance in Ontario 2012

Institute for Research on Public Policy Torben Drewes and Tyler Meredith If at First You Don’t Succeed:  Toward an Adult Education Training Strategy for Canada 2015

Metcalfe Foundation Tom Zizys Working Better: Creating a High-Performing Labour Market in Ontario 2011

Poverty and Employment Precarity in Southern Ontario (PEPSO) Wayne Lewchuck et al. The Precarity Penalty: Employment Precarity’s Impact on Individuals, Families and Communities and What to do about It 2015

Wellesley Institute Not listed Long Term Affordable Housing Strategy Submission 2015

Workers’ Action Centre Mary Gellatly Still Working on the Edge:  Building Decent Jobs from the Ground Up 2015

[1] Zizys, T. (2011). Working Better: Creating a High-Performing Labour Market in Ontario. Metcalfe Foundation:

[2] Wingard, J. (2014). Working Together: Examining Employment, Education, and Training Strategies for the Jamesville, Beasley, and Keith Neighbourhoods. City of Hamilton Neighbourhood Action Strategy, Mohawk College and Workforce Planning Hamilton.