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
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.