Last week the Toronto Star published an editorial urging members of the Ford cabinet to develop some backbone, stop applauding like trained seals and start pushing back against some of Premier Ford’s bad ideas. Ford has been forced to reverse himself on a number of proposals that were not well thought out recently, and the Star argued that experienced senior ministers like Christine Elliott and Vic Fideli need to speak out more to prevent these errors. Cabinet, after all, is supposed to be a forum for the free exchange of views, not an echo chamber for the Premier. The same could be said of some members of Hamilton City Council after last month’s “LRT update” at Hamilton’s General Issues committee meeting. It was a continuation of what has become a ritual in these LRT information sessions, –staff excitedly presenting information as if council’s only concern was getting on with the project. Meanwhile, the last time we surveyed members of council approximately half maybe more, are not in favour of the LRT. The number shifts around a bit, but based on some of the tough questions faced by staff last month, there is still plenty of healthy skepticism around the city council table. Even if council were more fully onside, and it’s not; there is the council-commissioned Forum poll showing a majority of the community against the project, especially in the 10 wards outside the lower city.
LRT opponents Brad Clark and Judi Partridge were the only members at the session who stated clearly their opposition to LRT, and in the case of Partridge the Mayor was overheard threatening to block the Waterdown bypass project as apparent punishment for her stand. If Bob Bratina had done something like that he would have been immediately censured by this council, but instead members sat back in silence at what was clearly a breach of Council’s code of conduct. Councillor Terry Whitehead asked a number of tough questions about LRT, but he’s done that before and still voted for LRT.
The question is, what do members of council who oppose LRT or are highly skeptical have to lose by taking a much more active stand against LRT? What is holding them back from at the very minimum picking up the phone and exploring with the government what alternatives might be available in terms of infrastructure funding? When the Minister of Transportation visited Hamilton last month to meet with the mayor, there was time placed in his schedule to meet with other members of council. None came forward, although it is understood that Coun. Whitehead did have a teleconference with him afterwards. Incidentally the Bay Observer for at least the fourth time, received confirmation from the Minister of Transport’s staff a few days ago that the government would consider spending the money on infrastructure other than LRT, contrary to what was suggested at the GIC meeting. If members of Hamilton City Council sincerely believe that LRT is a waste of scarce infrastructure dollars they have an obligation to oppose it openly and to work towards alternatives. Three members of the current council publicly opposed Fred Eisenberger in the recent election on this issue. They have absolutely nothing to lose. Councillors Jackson, Whitehead, Pauls and Johnson would risk nothing by following their instincts and joining Councillors Partridge, Clark and Pearson who have already voiced their opposition to LRT. Lloyd Ferguson has been a staunch supporter of LRT, but his sharp questioning of staff last month may reflect what he is hearing in his constituency. The provincial government can only react to what they are hearing from this council, and what they have heard so far is from the mayor.
If there is bullying and threats going on behind the scenes, there is only one way to deal with it and that is to stand up and confront the bully. The public also has a critical role to play. They can phone or email their councillor and let them know how they feel. Contact information for Hamilton Council can be found at https://www.hamilton.ca/council-committee/mayor-council/city-councillors