Eisenberger clashes with Bratina over LRT
Blasts ex-mayor for remarks against plan
Hamilton’s mayor has returned fire in a public war of words over LRT with predecessor Bob Bratina, calling the Liberal MP’s editorial criticizing the project a “great disservice” to the city.
Mayor Fred Eisenberger was responding to an opinion piece in Wednesday’s Spectator written by his former council colleague — and sometimes political foe — that criticized the “dysfunctionality” of council and suggested members could “revisit” the provincially funded light rail transit plan.
Bratina’s public sally against LRT came two weeks after council decided to continue with LRT following an agonizing debate.
Given that decision, “to have him attempt to throw a wrench in the works now is unfortunate and unnecessary,” said Eisenberger following Wednesday’s council meeting. “I don’t know why he put it out there, but I felt it appropriate to respond.”
In a widely distributed statement, the mayor rejected Bratina’s arguments against the 14–kilometre planned line between Mc-
Master University and Eastgate Square.
“Rather than de-railing Hamilton’s renaissance, as Mr. Bratina alleges, our LRT project is propelling it forward,” he wrote.
The mayor suggested it’s not too late for Bratina, a longtime LRT skeptic, to “join the team.”
But at the same time, Eisenberger suggested the MP seems “to have grown tired of federal issues” and accused him of being “uncharacteristically silent” on important federal issues to Hamilton like the fate of pensioners under the Stelco court-ordered restructuring process.
Bratina was in Ottawa Wednesday and The Spectator was unable to immediately reach him by email or phone.
But in his opinion piece, Bratina compared the current “dysfunctionality” of council with the “near-unanimity” among councillors for big projects under his leadership.
Bratina, who was criticized by LRT fans during his mayoral term for prioritizing GO transit improvements over light rail, said in his op-ed the project is contributing to unhealthy division on council and in the city.
“The notion that a light rail transit system ... should occupy most of the energy of our City for the next ten years in my opinion would reverse the momentum we are now experiencing,” he wrote.
Bratina also referenced Eisenberger’s recent musings about mayoral veto powers, suggesting such a move would only “further diminish the voices of our suburban ward councillors.”
It’s not clear why Bratina chose to go public with pointed LRT criticism now, after the latest pivotal council vote. The next time council can vote to kill the project is likely in 2018, when an operating agreement is presented by Metrolinx.
Bratina did tell the Hamiltonian in April, however, that “council should now consider presenting options that benefit all area ridings based on the Premier’s commitment to Hamilton transit funding” as a result of a poll commissioned by councillors that showed a slim majority of polled residents opposed LRT.
The federal Liberal government came to power vowing to spend big on transit and Eisenberger specifically brought up LRT and possible add-on funding during a meeting at City Hall with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau last year.
Eisenberger said he isn’t concerned about Bratina’s opinion affecting the city’s chances to obtain federal cash for future rapid transit.
The Prime Minister’s Office didn’t respond directly when asked if Bratina’s opinion on LRT represents the view of the federal Liberal government, instead forwarding the question to Infrastructure Canada.
“The government’s position is that we support the public transit decisions made at the local level and work with our partners to move those priorities forward,” ministry spokesperson Brook Simpson said in a late email.
Some councillors declined to weigh in on the LRT-inspired exchange.
But Coun. Matthew Green didn’t hold back on Twitter after seeing Bratina’s op-ed published online. “I can’t even begin to count how many sides of his mouth @BobBratina speaks from,” he wrote in a self-described “rant” of tweets.
Liberal MP Bob Bratina
Mayor Fred Eisenberger