Last Month Fred Eisenberger was elected mayor of Hamilton for a second term. Joining the new mayor will be four new councillors– Aiden Johnson, Matthew Green, Doug Conley and Arlene Vanderbeek. Also last month, outgoing mayor Bob Bratina was acclaimed the candidate in Hamilton East Stoney Creek for the federal Liberal party. The Bay Observer sat down with Bob Bratina to get his thoughts on his term as mayor and his hopes for the future.
Observer: Why did you decide not to run for mayor again and instead to enter federal politics?
First of all I had explored the federal arena earlier when Mr. Ignatieff was leader, but for a variety of reasons it didn’t work out. Then as my 70th birthday approached I asked myself whether I would run for another term as mayor. Looking ahead I saw another 4 years with potential antagonism with some of council, or I could try to restore Hamilton’s voice in the Federal arena . We’ve got to get that influence back with the federal and provincial government. Thank god we’ve got Ted McMeekin at Queen’s Park. But federally, somebody has got to jump into the fray—and that’s me.
Observer: If elected federally what do you hope to accomplish?
All of the big transportation moves will require the financial support of the federal government. I am still committed to GO expansion to Stoney Creek and the Niagara to GTA corridor to the US. These corridors are important and hopefully I can influence good decisions by the federal government. We need the kind of federal presence and influence that we haven’t had since Tony Valeri and Sheila Copps.
Observer: Your sometimes stormy relations with council are well-documented. What do you think was the reason?
When I made my state of the city speech in 2011 I took aim at the so-called arms-length organizations asking whether they had the resources and frankly the capability to carry out their mandates. One of them—the Hamilton Conservation Authority responded by coming forward with a zero percent budget increase. We also disbanded HECFI—saving the city at least a million dollars a year. But when I questioned the Waterfront Trust, it became the lightening rod that led to the personal attacks, and really was the basis behind my censure—that pretty much ended my ability to build consensus. The loss of (former councillors) Murray Ferguson, Phil Bruckler, Dave Braden and Margaret McCarthy meant that there wasn’t anyone principled enough to stand up to the old guard. Look at the last meeting of the outgoing council, Robert Pasuta said he had regretted voting for censure.
Observer: Who controls council and why is it bad?
The Power clique is essentially the ward 1-8 group led by Councillors Collins and Merulla. It is a bad thing because it compromises the integrity of the bureaucracy. When bureaucrats feel threatened reports come forward that are not written on the basis of the findings of credentialed staff, but instead are written to appease councillors. I clearly remember one staff member (no longer with the city) who came to my office worried about a report where my view was vastly different than that of another councillor. You should have seen the look of relied on that staffer when I said ‘you write what you think is right.’ Soon after, that staffer found a job in another municipality—something that happens all too often. Agenda manipulation—a prime example of that was the demolition permit for Sanford Avenue School—There was a motion before Council to declare the building a heritage property, but somehow it never appeared on the proper agenda, thus allowing the demolition to take place. We were never able to figure out why.
Observer: Are you optimistic for Hamilton over the next four years?
I am very optimistic . We are the poster city for revitalization for all of Canada. Pittsburgh can learn from us rather than the other way around. I’d like to see a steady path based on the excellent work that’s already been done. I am very nervous about a strong divergence in the path we are on.
The lucky thing is that I have complete confidence in (Finance boss) Mike Zegarac to provide council with the right information. Mike is the best thing that has happened in our administration—if council listens to him they will be OK. The four new councillors are a great hope for a better council if they don’t fall into the trap of the past and get assimilated by the old guard. They need to maintain their individual perspectives. The easiest thing one can do on council is to put your hand up and say “carried.” I’d like to see the newcomers work together, take hold of an issue and make it theirs.
Observer: You were criticized for campaigning on the issue of re-visiting amalgamation but not acting on it once elected? Why did you not pursue the issue with council?
I did not bring forward a motion for council to review amalgamation because even the councillors in wards 14 and 15 were not pressing for it. I realized it would not pass and all it would do is divide council. So instead I asked the Municipal Affairs Minister if she would consider initiating a review of amalgamation, and she said she would. But in the last Provincial election the issue was not raised with any of the candidates. It’s now a dead issue.
Observer: Your critics have used terms like “missing in action” in describing your council leadership. How would you characterise your style?
Area rating is a good example. When council first was confronted with the area rating issue the division could not have been clearer. It was either going to be a 9-7 vote favouring the old city or it was going to be an 8-8 tie in which case the old city would lose. I decided to say nothing about my voting intentions even though I was under pressure to declare. What was the result?—a two person committee was ultimately struck to hammer out a compromise and that compromise was passed unanimously by council. Far from what was being portrayed in the media there was a strategy at play, forcing council to create a solution. If you don’t care who gets the credit you can get a lot accomplished.
Observer: Talk about what you see as the key achievements of your term?
If you look at the first 100 days, it was outstanding. We got a 4 year deal with CUPE that has provided the city with labour stability throughout the past term, we solved the area rating issue with a unanimous vote, and we came up with a solution to the stadium issue. And in the ensuing years since the first hundred days—just look at the speech Chris Murray gave to the Chamber of Commerce (October 31st) he said we’ve got challenges, but the city has made wonderful progress—the economy is the most diversified in Canada, downtown redevelopment is booming with condos and the McMaster campus, the unemployment rate is low, GO train expansion is underway—and I had a hand in most of those events. Anybody can write the chronicle but I will go to my reward knowing what I have accomplished.