Donna Skelly may well have been a “rookie” councillor as Mayor Fred Eisenberger recently stated; after all, she only had served three years on Hamilton City Council which isn’t much compared to a panel consisting of mostly lifers; but she is now arguably the most powerful politician in Hamilton. Whether she is chosen for cabinet or not, (and she was included in a “team” picture that Doug Ford organized to show off his talent pool) Skelly will be the sole voice of Hamilton with the new government at Queen’s Park. Her stance on issues like transit will be far different from that of her predecessor as Hamilton’s government representative, Ted McMeekin. Skelly has vowed to remove the gun, real or not, that was held to Council’s head on the issue of LRT, and allow Hamilton Council to decide whether it wants the expensive rail option, or an enhanced bus-based system; leaving money for other transit and infrastructure issues like GO and roads. She favours the latter, but in the end council will decide. This will have a ripple effect locally as potential candidates for mayor and council will have a clear cut wedge issue on which to campaign – “LRT or other infrastructure”, which is a lot more palatable than the “LRT or nothing,” option that was being peddled.
Donna Skelly is not one for taking down names; so despite Mayor Eisenberger’s intemperate blast at her over LRT and a similar angry denunciation from the seemingly perpetually angry Matthew Green accusing her of backing a white supremacist blog; she will still take their calls. Exchanging Christmas cards may be another matter. Skelly was recruited during the leadership of Patrick Brown, who for whatever his personal flaws, was determined to move the party back to the centre of the political spectrum and away from the socially conservative, angry old white guy image. Accordingly he went out to attract candidates who better reflected diversity and were social moderates, if fiscally conservative. Many of those candidates, and Skelly would be included in that group, remained on the Ford team and were elected last week. In the weeks leading up to the election, several of Skelly’s council colleagues, sensing change, quietly sounded her out about arranging meetings between them and Doug Ford. What they apparently missed is that any meetings between Hamilton councillors and the new government will be with Skelly, not Ford.