By Kevin Werner, News Staff
Hamilton Mayor Bob Bratina and Ward 1 councillor Brian McHattie are on a collision course involving how to solve the city’s light-rail transit funding dilemma.
In a letter dated Feb. 26 and sent to Premier Kathleen Wynne, McHattie stated that “someone has to stand up for all Hamiltonians when it comes to ensuring promises made to our citizens are kept. In my view, we have to reduce the level of noise and mixed messages you have been receiving and increase the clarity and consistency in the community of Hamilton’s democratically approved priorities.”
But Bratina told reporters that McHattie, who is running for mayor, is campaigning, and his letter does nothing but promotes his own views.
“I was elected to do that (stand up for all Hamiltonians),” said Bratina when he read a portion of the letter in front of reporters. “And I’m doing it.”
He called McHattie’s letter nothing more than “electioneering.” If the councillor had to send a correspondence to the premier, he should have done it on his own letter head and not use the city’s.
“It was inappropriate from the point of view that he’s a registered candidate to run for mayor,” said Bratina. “I’m not. And there is a good reason why I’m not.”
McHattie told reporters he sent the letter to reinforceHamilton’s position that it wants light-rail transit and that the province pay 100 per cent of the cost, estimated to be about $1 billion. Council voted unanimously on that issue last year, said McHattie.
Yet he isn’t confident Bratina is following council’s wishes.
“My sense is he continues not to do that,” said McHattie. “He represents a different position. He talks about different funding arrangements verses 100 per cent provincial funding. We need to show leadership on that and what we need is LRT.”
Bratina shot back “how does he know” how he has represented council’s position to the provincial government? He talked with Bruce McCuaig, president and chief executive officer of Metrolinx the day McHattie sent his letter to the province, asking if the government understands the city’s transportation position.
“The province has Rapid Ready (Hamilton’s transportation report). It’s sitting on their desks. They know what the plan is,” said Bratina.
Bratina has acknowledged he has been cool to the idea of funding LRT because of the high cost and whether the transit system can be sustainable at this time. He has been advocating to the provincial government for GO transit, and all-day GO train service at theJames Street Northlocation. He has also indicated that Hamilton taxpayers wouldn’t want to help pay the cost of LRT.
He said that since 2008 council has said “not one dime of city money goes into it.”
When asked if he still supports LRT if the province doesn’t fund it completely, McHattie hedged, saying “I’ll wait to see if we get to that decision and we’ll have to compare the cost and benefits,” he said. “But I think at this point in time there is no double we need 100 per cent funding. Hamilton deserves LRT.”
This isn’t the first time McHattie and Bratina have butted heads over LRT. Council, at the urging of McHattie took the mayor to task last year for what they believed was his inability to properly represent the views of council on LRT to provincial officials.
McHattie said he isn’t circumventing council by sending out his letter. He insisted that councillors regularly discuss issues with MPPs and MPs, including Liberal cabinet minister Ted McMeekin, so this letter is no different in corresponding with a provincial politician.
But McHattie took another shot at the mayor, saying he didn’t need to clarify Hamilton’s position to the provincial government if the city had a “clear or well thought out government relations strategy.
“Hamilton doesn’t have one,” he said.
Bratina said he won’t take any action against McHattie, but will leave it up to council to decide if anything will be done.
“We have lots of issues, the budget and so on and I’m trying my best to behave as the mayor and fulfill my functions,” said Bratina.
A few councillors, though, questioned McHattie’s actions. Stoney Creek councillor Brad Clark said McHattie is running for mayor and his action speaks more about campaigning than leading the city.