Hamilton Councillors seek to add unelected ‘diverse voices’ to Board of Health

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The current board has 16 members, all of whom are elected members of Council. Photo credit: PlusVG Architects


Some Hamilton City Councillors are attempting to increase the number of members on the Hamilton Board of Health in order to include more “diverse voices.”

In July 2022, the previous City Council requested information from the province on whether the council has the authority to add citizens to the board. 

A number of community activists shared their views with Hamilton Council as delegates, including Lyndon George, the Executive Director of the Hamilton Anti-Racism Resource Centre, and Kojo Damptey the former Executive Director of the Hamilton Centre for Civic Inclusion.

The current board has 16 members, all of whom are elected Councillors. 

Some Councillors and multiple activists are pushing for the inclusion of unelected citizens and medical personnel on the board.

Since March 2021, activists have been calling for changes to the board. The Toronto and Ottawa Boards of Health already allow select citizens to sit as members.

Council received a response from Ontario Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Kieran Moore that Hamilton has two options: they can form an advisory committee that would work in addition to the Board of Health or they can create a semi-autonomous Board of Health like Toronto and Ottawa.

Some Councillors, such as Brad Clark and Cameron Kroetsch, wanted to change the Board of Health immediately.

Cameron Kroetsch introduced a motion at the February 8 Council meeting to push ahead with adjustments and created a board of six councillors, six community health professionals and an education representative. 

That was then withdrawn since the majority of Councillors were hesitant to move ahead so quickly.

Councillor John-Paul Danko then brought forward a motion to direct staff to write a report detailing all the different options Council can take, such as possible make-ups of a new Board of Health. 

The study will reportedly come back in Fall 2023.

If the board were to operate at arm’s length from City Council, as is the case in Toronto and Ottawa, decisions made by the board would not automatically go to City Council. 

However, the board would have recommendation authority over some budget items and key appointments, such as Hamilton’s Medical Officer of Health. 

The creation of an independent board requires provincial cooperation and even changes to provincial legislation, which Dr. Kieran Moore seemed to indicate would be feasible.

Councillor Tom Jackson opposes the restructuring of the board since adding members would involve choosing people who were not elected by the community. 

There are additional concerns that changing the structure of one board would lead to calls for reforming other boards, eroding the role of elected officials.

While the potential for adding an advisory committee was suggested as an option by Dr. Kieran Moore, Hamilton’s Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Elizabeth Richardson, says that route would be difficult for staff and would slow down decision-making.

Adding an advisory committee would mean that decisions would have to go through three separate bodies: an advisory committee, the Board of Health, and City Council.


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