By Paul Takala and Suzanne Brown

In an era of uncertain facts and fake news, McMaster University Centre for Continuing Education and the Hamilton Public Library have come together to produce a six-part free speakers series Conversations that Matter. Our intention is to provide credible well-researched and practice-informed information to Hamilton citizens.

The themes for the sessions were determined by the 55,000 Hamiltonians who provided input into the Our Future Hamilton 25 Year Community Vision in 2015. Our fall series topics are: Community Engagement and Participation, Clean and Green, and Culture and Diversity. These topics are close to the hearts of our citizens and our series will bring academic and community experts to the podium so that we are an informed electorate, willing and able to cast our ballots in October.

The  three Fall sessions are scheduled to run for three consecutive Wednesday evenings prior to the upcoming municipal election on October 22, when Hamiltonians head to the polls to elect  city councilors and the mayor.

Voter turnout is the cornerstone of a healthy democracy yet we see in election after election voter turnout in Hamilton remains low. In the last municipal election, only 34 per cent of eligible Hamiltonians voted. This topic was enthusiastically discussed by the 430 attendees at the 2017 Our Future Hamilton Summit who then identified education as the top barrier to voter turnout. Many people said they did not know enough about the issues to make an informed decision on voting day.

This is validated by a Statistics Canada report (Turcotte, 2015), that states: “Among those who had not voted in the past federal election, 14 per cent of young adults age 25 to 34 reported the main reason was due to a lack of information on the issues.”

During our Spring Conversations that Matter speakers’ series, more than 150 people attended and more than 2,700 watched online through Facebook. The provincial election was a heated one in Ontario and had the strongest voter turnout in almost 20 years, with 58 per cent of Ontarians voting – an increase of seven per cent from 2014.

To help voters prepare for the municipal election on October 22, our Fall line-up of sessions includes Community Engagement and Participation on Wednesday September 26, Clean and Green on Wednesday October 3 and Culture and Diversity on Wednesday October 10.

The Community Engagement and Participation session will be moderated by past vice-president of the McMaster Student Union Shaarujaa Nadarajah, with panelists Sarah Jama from the Hamilton Centre for Civic Inclusion, Cassidy Bereskin from the Model City Hall project and Dr. Karen Bird from McMaster University to discuss the YWCA EXCELerator Project.

The Clean and Green session focuses on water quality in Hamilton Harbour, as well as climate change and air quality in the City. It will be moderated by Açeel Habboub, a community expert in sustainability, with panelists Chris McLaughlin from the Bay Area Restoration Council, Sandi Stride from the Centre for Climate Change Management and Dr. Sally Radisic from the Public Health Department at the City of Hamilton.

Last, but certainly not least, the third session, Culture and Diversity, explores the importance of cultural events, preserving heritage and how to create a welcoming community. The panel includes Dr. Olive Wahoush from Newcomer Health, Community and International Outreach at McMaster University and Ian Kerr-Wilson from the Culture Division at the City of Hamilton.

When all Hamiltonians are engaged in informed dialogue, we ensure our elected civic leaders best represent our collective interests. We are so fortunate to be able come together to share ideas and contribute to an even stronger, more vibrant city.

For those who are unable to attend the sessions, the sessions will also be live streaming from McMaster Centre for Continuing Education’s Facebook page.

All sessions are free. Online registration recommended: Sessions are at the McMaster Centre for Continuing Education, 1 James St. N., (Jackson Square), 2nd Floor. To find out more, visit

Paul Takala is the Chief Librarian of the Hamilton Public Library. Suzanne Brown is the Assistant Director of McMaster University Centre for Continuing Education.