Bratina has per­fect right to speak out against LRT

If it’s OK for MPs and MPPs to ex­press sup­port for city project, it’s OK to hear dis­sent

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

Aside from the self-serv­ing glo­ri­fi­ca­tion of his time as mayor, there was re­ally noth­ing wrong with Lib­eral MP Bob Bratina’s con­tro­ver­sial anti-LRT opin­ion piece in Wed­nes­day’s Spec.

I mean, if it’s OK for other Hamil­ton MPs and MPPs to trum­pet their sup­port for the di­vi­sive project, what’s wrong with one of them ex­press­ing the op­po­site view?

Ba­si­cally that’s what Bratina did, prompt­ing a hue and cry from LRT ad­vo­cates, in­clud­ing a snarky state­ment from Mayor Fred Eisen­berger.

But to my mind, if you’re go­ing to en­cour­age se­nior gov­ern­ment reps to lend their sup­port to a mu­nic­i­pal is­sue, then it log­i­cally fol­lows you have to be pre­pared to hear the other side.

You may re­call that last year Eisen­berger re­leased and made po­lit­i­cal hay out of an open let­ter from six MPs and MPPs stat­ing the provin­cially-funded $1 bil­lion project is the right thing to do for new in­vest­ment, jobs, and the en­vi­ron­ment.

The let­ter was signed by NDP MPs David Christo­pher­son and Scott Du­vall, Lib­eral MPP Ted McMeekin, and NDP MPPs An­drea Hor­wath, Paul Miller and Monique Tay­lor. In a sep­a­rate let­ter Lib­eral MP Filom­ena Tassi said she sup­ported coun­cil’s pre­vi­ous pro-LRT res­o­lu­tions.

At the time, Eisen­berger said it was im­por­tant for peo­ple to know how their elected reps view the project and who among them were un­will­ing to sign the let­ter.

Con­ser­va­tive MP David Sweet didn’t sign, he ex­plained back then, be­cause he doesn’t be­lieve in com­ment­ing on is­sues Ot­tawa isn’t di­rectly in­volved in. Then Tory MPP Tim Hu­dak didn’t sign be­cause he’s never sup­ported LRT. Bratina was un­avail­able for com­ment, but his as­sis­tant said the for­mer mayor didn’t sign be­cause he didn’t want to in­flu­ence coun­cil’s fi­nal vote.

Although Bratina wrote in Wed­nes­day’s op-ed that there’s still time to “re­visit” the plan, many LRT sup­port­ers be­lieve the re­cent 10-5 vote ap­prov­ing the project’s en­vi­ron­men­tal as­sess­ment ba­si­cally seals the deal. Be that as it may, it’s note­wor­thy Bratina waited un­til af­ter that cru­cial vote to put his two pfen­nigs in.

In his scathing ri­poste, Eisen­berger says he’s had a great deal of co-oper­a­tion and as­sis­tance from Hamil­ton’s MPs and MPPs with the “no­table ex­cep­tion” of one, adding it’s not too late for Bratina to join the team.

But surely there’s a dif­fer­ence be­tween join­ing “the team” and be­ing a trained seal. Far too many MPs and MPPs sac­ri­fice their per­sonal voices and po­lit­i­cal co­jones to pre­vail­ing or­tho­dox­ies and their party ma­chines. I’ll take elected of­fi­cials who speak their minds and are will­ing to take the con­se­quences over pup­pets ev­ery time.

Un­for­tu­nately, Bratina only par­tially fits that mould.

Dur­ing his years as councillor and mayor, Bratina was all over the map on LRT, seem­ingly some­times in sup­port, seem­ingly some­times un­der­min­ing it. If he had a bot­tom line, it was the sys­tem is pre­ma­ture for Hamil­ton’s tran­sit needs. Clearly he still be­lieves so.

I sus­pect Eisen­berger’s sharply-worded re­sponse was partly driven by Bratina’s sour tone and po­si­tion­ing of his may­oral years as a har­mo­nious golden age for coun­cil. Coun. Matthew Green came closer to the mark, how­ever, when he tweeted that Bratina for­gets that the “near una­nim­ity” back then was coun­cil “ral­ly­ing around his in­com­pe­tence.”

Truth be told, when I first read Bratina’s ar­ti­cle, it struck me as a boast­ful may­oral man­i­festo. I won­dered if he might be con­tem­plat­ing hang­ing up his Lib­eral togs in favour of another run at the mayor’s of­fice. Af­ter all, now that Eisen­berger has pub­licly an­nounced he in­tends to seek re-elec­tion in 2018, spec­u­la­tion has al­ready be­gun about who may run against him. And, as Eisen­berger notes in his state­ment, Bratina “seems to have grown tired of fed­eral is­sues dur­ing his short ten­ure in Ot­tawa.”

Un­for­tu­nately, I didn’t get a chance to ask Bratina. He didn’t re­spond to in­ter­view re­quests. His fail­ure to face ques­tion­ing on this leads me to con­clude that though Bratina may not be a pup­pet, he’s very much a pa­per tiger.

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