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Mayor Andrea Horwath: Connection, collaboration to shape Hamilton’s future

by Sean Meyer, Municipal World
in Leadership
May, 2023

Hamilton Mayor Andrea Horwath could be described as a political veteran. After all, she won her first campaign 26 years ago. But even more than that – and perhaps because of it – she is also a Hamiltonian through and through.

Before her 2022 election as mayor, Horwath spend 18 years – from 2004 to 2022 – serving as an MPP at Queen’s Park. But before her time with the Ontario NDP, she was elected to Hamilton council in 1997, 2000, and 2003.

As one might expect, a lot has changed in Hamilton since she first served on council. Then again, change is not something she worries about. In fact, Horwath said her first six months as mayor have certainly been a learning experience.

“It’s been awesome. There has certainly been a bit of a learning curve, although I have served municipally in the past. So it’s kind of recalibrating, if you will, to some extent,” Horwath said. “Being in the position of mayor, which is a fantastic honour, it also brings responsibility, particularly because we had a huge turnover of our council.”

Horwath points out Hamiltonians elected a council that was two-thirds brand new to their chairs at city hall. Horwath herself replaced the retiring Fred Eisenberger in the mayor’s office.

Local Government Perspective

Whether reflecting back on her pervious years in the Hamilton council chambers, or her time at Queen’s Park, Horwath said her thoughts on local government have not appreciably changed. She recalls many times as a city councillor bringing new ideas to the table while helping shape the path toward change.

And change did come. Horwath needs look no further than out her office window to see a much different Hamilton than has been there back in the 1990s.

“I look out my windows and I see cranes everywhere I look in the downtown. When I was a city councillor, that wasn’t the case. We were begging for a single crane. But now we see tons of them,” Horwath said. “That obliges us then to think about how we build the next iteration of what the city of Hamilton is going to be.”

From her perspective, Horwath sees two paths happening at the same time as a city councillor. For one, there is the time on the ground, responding to constituents needs. But then there is the big-picture vision of how to build the future that residents want to see in the Steel City. That vision, she said, is starting to take shape. Given the city’s population growth, there are opportunities already under way.

Horwath said that Hamilton has had issues around transparency and accountability in the past. She even heard about them on the campaign trail. That’s an issue facing to the public, but she is quick to add council also must take that approach as well.

Collaboration is Key

Her thoughts about local government have not changed much, but thanks to her new position, they have evolved. It should be no surprise she looks at things differently than she did back in councillor days.

It is about understanding the broader partnerships that exist. Being the mayor, she said, there is an opportunity to take advantage of those partnerships. If there has been an evolution of her perspective, it is around relationships. It is key to make connections with other orders of government that will help council achieve its goals at the local level.

Municipalities cannot go it alone, Horwath said. As such, a lot of effort goes into lobbying. This happens through organizations like the Association of Municipalities of Ontario or the Federation of Canadian Municipalities. But also important is making sure local voices are pulled into the discussion.

During the 2022 campaign, Horwath talked a lot about building a “Team Hamilton” approach. This has necessitated conversations with former colleagues, including those across the aisle at Queen’s Park. But those are relationships she has kept strong and connected. This includes conversations with everyone from Filomena Tassi, MP for Hamilton West-Ancaster-Dundas, to other members of Parliament who are in the Opposition. But whomever they are, Horwath is still meeting and talking to them. Most of all, she is making sure to always have good relationships across the board.

“The point is we’re all Hamiltonians. So when it comes to the love of our city and moving things forward for our city, and doing things for the people that we all represent in different ways, that’s the commonality,” Horwath said. “That’s the common bond. And making sure that bond is strong and that we’re leveraging it as much as possible. That’s what I’m bringing to the table.”

Steel City’s Shifting Future

These collaborations will be essential, Horwath said, when considering the issues she wants to address though the rest of her term.

Horwath said Hamilton is “in a state of flux right now.” There is an LRT that’s coming soon. Shovels, she said, could be in the ground as early as the first part of next year – and she is hoping for early. Even so, Horwath said she knows the project is going to cause significant disruption. There has already been a lot of angst around the impact that the LRT development is having on the city’s affordable housing stock. And she is not even talking about social housing, but rather rental units in the private market that had been affordable.

That said, she is looking forward to seeing that project get underway. After all, the mayor expects to see many benefits spring out of LRT, especially more social housing.

Hamilton needs transformation in terms of transportation and housing. There is a housing crisis in Hamilton, not unlike many other cities across the country. That includes affordable housing for the lowest income and most vulnerable people. It extends all the way to affordable home ownership. And it also includes everything in between.

Housing and transportation are key areas of focus for Horwath. But she said that Hamilton faces the same obstacles – from opioid addiction to climate change – that all cities are struggling with.

Even so, she does see a path forward toward real change. Some could call that expectation naïve. It could be seen as wishful thinking. But Horwath said she believes change is possible because she sees it happening every day. As she said, she sees change right outside her window.

“I know that change is possible. When I look at the transformation that our city has undergone from the last time I sat on council, for example. You know it’s possible.” Horwath said. “So, here’s the key though: you plan the work. We have a lot of great plans here at the City of Hamilton, a lot of great master plans – a climate plan, a transportation master plan, all of the plans. The key is not just to plan the work, but you got to work the plan.”

Personal Growth, Home Comfort

Horwath’s focus on doing the work is something she extends to both her personal and professional lives. She celebrated her first few months in the mayor’s seat, not only because “it’s been fantastic,” but because she has found it challenging. To put it another way, Horwath said her time as mayor has been “recalibrating,” which she always sees as a positive.

When someone is challenged and learns new things, or even changes their focus, Horwath sees this as a chance for growth. But that is not the only reason she has welcomed her new role. The reality is, she gets to experience this new growth and recalibration from the one place she has always felt the most comfortable – in Hamilton.

Horwath still lives the same “little townhouse condo” she has lived in for years. She of course had an apartment in Toronto throughout her Queen’s Park days. And over the years as leader of the Ontario NDP, and later as leader of the Official Opposition, she has travelled across the province. While she has always appreciated that opportunity, she was always happy to come home.

“I’m going to be really frank about it: I love being home. I just feel so honoured to have had those experiences. However, I missed being home. It’s kind of funny, I’m kind of like a home body. And so now I feel like I’m where I belong, at my own place,” she said. “That’s the other big positive change that it’s had for me, feeling back home, and grounded again in my own space and in my community, which I absolutely love.”  MW

Municipal World Executive and Essentials Plus Members: You might also be interested in Wes Guckert’s article: Revisiting BRT.

Sean Meyer is Senior Editor for Municipal World.

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