Vital Signs 2015

Policy solutions

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:

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

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

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:

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:

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

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

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:

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

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

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

For example

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

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

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

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

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:

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.