What LRT cease­fire? The barbs keep on a-com­ing

White­head takes ex­cep­tion to Eisen­berger’s ‘build­ing bridges’ wise­crack

The Hamilton Spectator - - COMMENT - An­drew Dreschel’s com­men­tary ap­pears Mon­day, Wed­nes­day and Fri­day. adreschel@thes­pec.com 905-526-3495 @An­drewDreschel

What promised to be the be­gin­ning of a LRT cease­fire is off to a shaky start.

Less than 24 hours af­ter coun­cil­lors ap­proved mov­ing for­ward with the project in a new spirit of co-op­er­a­tion, Terry White­head was com­plain­ing about Mayor Fred Eisen­berger’s lead­er­ship style.

White­head is ran­kled that dur­ing the speeches Eisen­berger took a cheap shot at his call for “build­ing bridges” across the LRT di­vide.

“I do ac­cept the fact that Terry wants to build bridges and — I’ve said this to Terry per­son­ally — I’m on for build­ing bridges but it’s hard to cross a bridge when it’s al­ways on fire,” Eisen­berger said.

The duo have been prickly ad­ver­saries through­out the LRT de­bate, with Eisen­berger stead­fastly sup­port­ing light rail and White­head re­lent­lessly crit­i­ciz­ing it.

White­head thinks the wise­crack was out of line with the con­cil­ia­tory spirit of the mo­ment.

“I don’t know if he felt he was be­ing witty or funny, but it cer­tainly didn’t come across as mag­nan­i­mous.”

Boys will be boys, whether on the play­ground or in the po­lit­i­cal gym­na­sium. But in pro­mot­ing his griev­ance, White­head raises the in­ter­est­ing ar­gu­ment that part of the rea­son there’s so much po­lit­i­cal and com­mu­nity dis­sen­sion over light rail is Eisen­berger pulled a fast one on vot­ers.

He notes that Eisen­berger ran for mayor promis­ing to cre­ate a cit­i­zens’ panel to study all rapid tran­sit op­tions, but shortly af­ter be­ing elected, he scur­ried off to Queen’s Park to suc­cess­fully pitch LRT in pri­vate meet­ings with Premier Kath­leen Wynne and Trans­porta­tion Min­is­ter Steven Del Duca.

Ac­cord­ing to White­head, Eisen­berger acted alone and with­out coun­cil di­rec­tion, re­ly­ing solely on sup­port­ive mo­tions for LRT ap­proved in the pre­vi­ous term and not bind­ing on the new coun­cil.

“Who’s he to talk about set­ting bridges on fire?” said White­head.

“You’d think with lead­er­ship, cour­tesy and re­la­tion­ship-build­ing, you might want to go back to your coun­cil first to see if that’s still their po­si­tion or to reaf­firm that po­si­tion.”

For his part, Eisen­berger “regrets” his re­mark and re­it­er­ates he wants a more pro­duc­tive work­ing re­la­tion­ship with White­head. He says he was only try­ing to point out build­ing bridges works both ways and re­quires all par­ties to stop “ag­gra­vat­ing” is­sues.

As for his per­sonal ap­peal to Wynne, the mayor says he was act­ing on a stand­ing coun­cil pol­icy that was re­con­firmed prior to the $1-bil­lion an­nounce­ment.

None­the­less, White­head ar­gues that by se­cur­ing the fund­ing through his uni­lat­eral ac­tions and short-cir­cuit­ing his own tran­sit panel prom­ise, Eisen­berger un­der­cut the LRT ver­sus BRT de­bate and boxed coun­cil in.

“The $1 bil­lion be­came the driv­ing fac­tor be­hind the de­ci­sion and not the mer­its of the project.”

Lis­ten, it’s no se­cret that over the years Eisen­berger has been crit­i­cized for his lonewolf lead­er­ship style and in­abil­ity or re­luc­tance to per­son­ally work with coun­cil­lors to build con­sen­sus. Think sta­dium. He claimed to have learned his les­son af­ter his 2006-10 may­oral term, but for some that’s more talk than ac­tion. At heart, he’s still the same old Fred.

Cer­tainly when LRT was in im­mi­nent dan­ger of croak­ing, Eisen­berger strove to get the com­mu­nity on­side and in the fi­nal days be­fore the big vote, he was, ac­cord­ing to one source, re­duced to beg­ging coun­cil­lors for their sup­port.

Be that as it may, lead­er­ship takes many forms, in­clud­ing au­da­ciously siz­ing up and seiz­ing the mo­ment.

Any­way you look at it, Eisen­berger’s Mi­das touch meet­ing with Wynne was a bril­liant coup de main, the re­sults of which will be blessed (and cursed?) by Hamil­to­ni­ans for decades to come.

If, how­ever, to­day’s vot­ers dis­ap­prove of the end-run Eisen­berger did around his own cam­paign prom­ise, they’ll have the op­por­tu­nity to say so in the 2018 may­oral elec­tion.

Mean­while, now that White­head has got this off his chest, he’s back to cob­bling to­gether bridges.

He says he’s look­ing for­ward to work­ing with the mayor. “We’ve had some pretty good dis­cus­sions in the last few days.”

AN­DREW DRESCHEL

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