While Mayor Eisenberger parses words over whether the Province made an offer to support the East Mountain, the question remains: why were higher levels of government trying to influence the city's decision?
By Ryan McGreal
Published August 23, 2010
Mayor Fred Eisenberger has issued a statement denying that he received a monetary offer from the Province to make the East Mountain Pan Am stadium location viable for the city.
Two weeks ago, Mayoral candidate Larry Di Ianni claimed he had heard from "impeccable sources" that Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty offered money to develop the West Harbour if the City voted to locate Pan Am stadium at the East Mountain, the site preferred by the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.
At the time, Eisenberger flatly denied the allegation, stating that had an offer been made, he would have brought it to Council.
That story changed on the weekend with a front-page article by columnist Andrew Dreschel in Saturday's paper in which the Mayor acknowledged that the Premier's office had, in fact, contacted him when the Federal Government announced that it would only fund an East Mountain stadium, but had not offered any specifics.
The suggestion of assistance came earlier this month during a phone call with Premier Dalton McGuinty's office, informing Eisenberger that the province was tagging along with the federal government and would only fund a stadium on the east Mountain, the site preferred by the Tiger-Cats.
Eisenberger says he was also told during that "quick and shocking" conversation that the city now needed to start thinking about what it needed to make that work.
"We didn't get into any specifics," Eisenberger recalls.
He says he reiterated that the city wants a light-rail system and mentioned other projects that are already in the provincial funding queue.
No commitments were made, says Eisenberger. No dollar figures were tossed around.
He says the phone call ended with the premier's proxy saying the province had fiscal restraints, but they would get back to him to talk about the city's needs.
In a terse statement issued yesterday, Eisenberger reiterated, "At no time has the Premier or his designate made an offer, financial or otherwise, to make the East Mountain stadium location viable for the City of Hamilton ... to assist the City of Hamilton in developing the West Harbour site ... [or] to accelerate other major city projects in need of provincial funding in order to advance such projects."
The statement concludes, "Any suggestion to the contrary is inaccurate, false and misleading."
This situation raises embarrassing questions about why Eisenberger didn't mention the call sooner and actively denied Di Ianni's claim that the Province had intervened. It's a weak reconciliation to admit that a call was made but insist that there was no specific offer and hence nothing to report.
In fairness, it appears Eisenberger asked the Province to come back with something more concrete, but that follow-up never happened once Ottawa backtracked from its insistence on the East Mountain location. However, he still ends up looking like he shielded Council from information that would have influenced their decision.
But the biggest unanswered questions remain:
Just what was going on in the background to cause the Federal Government to announce, using Provincial MPPs Ted McMeekin and Sofia Aggelonitis as mouthpieces, that its funding was contingent on the East Mountain; and
Why did the Province go along with this to the extent of offering some form of assistance, before both levels backed down in the face of massive public outrage?
It's likely these questions, which lie at the heart of this tangled political skein, will get lost in the inevitable recriminations over why Eisenberger didn't disclose the call to Council - not to mention what role Di Ianni may have played in the background, given his circumspection over the stadium location and his ties to the Ticats.