Editorial Cartoon by Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator – Wednesday May 19, 2021
Liberal MP Bob Bratina sticks to his guns on LRT
Give Hamilton East-Stoney Creek Liberal MP Bob Bratina this much: When it comes to LRT, at least, he’s a politician of conviction.
This week Bratina announced he will not seek re-election, because he disagrees with his government’s decision to invest $1.4 billion in light rail transit in Hamilton.
“I just can’t defend it,” Bratina said in an interview with The Spec’s Matthew Van Dongen this week. “They are saying this is a good project for Hamilton but I know in my heart it is not … I don’t know how I could continue as a member of the governing party.”
In his own party, Bratina’s opinion is an outlier. Infrastructure Minister and Hamilton native Catherine McKenna, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Labour Minister Filomena Tassi, who also represents Hamilton-West-Ancaster-Dundas, all support the project. Tassi reportedly cheered during the announcement.
Hamilton’s other high-profile political voice, Ontario NDP leader Andrea Horwath, and her party, also support LRT. So do other local MPs and MPPs, although it’s not clear where Conservative MP David Sweet stands — he, too, is not running again.
No doubt the decision is hard to swallow for Bratina. He has long opposed light rail in this city, and tried to derail it repeatedly when he was on council and then in the mayor’s office. To rub salt in the wound, Bratina says he was not consulted about the agreement between the federal government and the provincial government, and that his concerns about “affordability” were totally ignored.
So be it. Bratina is at least consistent in his opposition, and he cannot be accused of hypocrisy on this file. No doubt the Liberals will find another strong candidate to compete in the riding, and the NDP has also been historically competitive there.
To digress with a bit of political gossip, there is a juicy rumour circulating that Bratina plans another run for mayor in the next municipal election coming in 2022. Bratina won’t rule that out, but says he is focusing on his job as MP for the remainder of his federal term. He referred to the rumour as “speculation.”
The plot, if he does run, looks like this. Anti-LRT Hamilton councillors successfully push for the matter to be deferred to a referendum question on the next ballot, and we could see incumbent Fred Eisenberger running on a pro-LRT ticket while Bratina runs on an anti-LRT platform as Eisenberger challenger Vito Sgro did last election.
It’s good political drama, but unlikely to unfold that way. Bratina may well seek another term as mayor, and he could possibly win. But Ottawa and the provincial government have been clear that this $3.4-billion LRT investment is for LRT only, and they want an answer sooner rather than later so the thousands of jobs generated during construction could serve as a post-pandemic jobs recovery project. That doesn’t work if shovels aren’t in the ground until after the local election in the fall of 2022.
All the smart money says if the project is delayed that long the provincial and federal investment will be off the table. That would mean the end of LRT, and also that local taxpayers would be footing the bill for infrastructure investments (underground services and the like) along what would have been the route.
That won’t stop anti-LRT councillors and others from trying to stall or outright kill the project. Which raises an interesting question: Where is Progressive Conservative MPP Donna Skelly in all this? She has always been strongly anti-LRT, but her government now supports the project. The Spectator reached out to Skelly for comment on the matter, but she has yet to respond. Her response will be interesting. (Hamilton Spectator)