Not only does Bratina change positions as quickly as the wind changes direction but his position appears to change depending on the day's circumstances or the audience to whom he is speaking.
By Adrian Duyzer
Published October 17, 2011
On August 7, 2010, Ward 2 Councillor Bob Bratina took the stage at a rally supporting the West Harbour location for the Pan-Am Games stadium. In an unforgettable moment, he tore off his dress shirt to reveal a bright yellow t-shirt emblazoned with "WEST HARBOUR".
It was a shock, and not just because of the theatrics. Previously, Bratina had not supported the West Harbour. In 2009, he wanted the stadium built at the site of Sir John A Macdonald high school. In February 2010, he said, "After reviewing the documents related to a Pan Am Stadium site selection, I have to declare my total opposition to a West Harbour Site, and the creation of a Stadium Entertainment Precinct."
Then on July 15, 2010, he said he favoured "genuine 'Downtown' locations" for a stadium. Maybe he was warming up to the West Harbour. It was hard to tell, because he also said that "city building is not served to any great extent by stadiums and arenas".
All doubts were cast aside on August 7 when he tore off his shirt and declared that the east mountain location the Tiger-Cats demanded was "crap" and that the West Harbour had become "the best decision for the community".
That was music to the ears of cheering West Harbour supporters. Unfortunately for them, Bratina didn't carry the tune for long. On August 31, he voted in favour of considering building the stadium at the McMaster Innovation Park instead. Four days later, on September 3, he said that Confederation Park was "probably still the best overall site" for a stadium.
In the end, no one really had any idea where Bratina thought the stadium should go. He became mayor and somehow we ended up with a brand-new stadium at Ivor Wynne, even though we thought we were paying for a renovation.
Now consider light rail transit (LRT) and ask yourself: does Bob Bratina support LRT?
He did when he was Ward 2 Councillor, or at least he said he did, but let's just focus on Mayor Bratina for now.
On June 30, The Spectator reported that Bratina had reservations about LRT. "We're not hearing any kind of clamour from the public on that file," he said. This triggered quite the clamour indeed, and he was forced to clarify his position, which he said was simply that he's waiting for staff to finish studying the LRT proposal.
"We're still in the LRT game," he said, "LRT has not changed on the priority list," and "The LRT file is fine."
In other words: don't worry, be happy, and don't listen to people who voice concern. It's all just a "Spectator brouhaha" and "boosterism by certain groups". "The only damage seems to be occurring among a small group of dissident local residents", he claimed.
It's impossible not to notice, however, all of the other things he said that contradict this position. He has repeatedly said that all-day GO Transit service is a higher priority for the city, even though Metrolinx has said GO Transit and LRT are not an either-or proposition. He has said that "no solid interest has materialized" from developers for LRT.
On August 31, he came right out and said that LRT "is not a priority", but that planning for it would continue "ad infinitum": "if somehow a million people move to Hamilton over the next five years and we have traffic congestion all over the place, we will look at all transit options including LRT."
It's also impossible not to notice that his actions and those of City Manager Chris Murray have gravely jeopardized the future of the LRT project. On July 15, Murray suspended all work on the LRT project except for the work that had to be completed as part of the $3 million funding agreement with the province to study it.
Since then, Jill Stephen, the manager of the City's Rapid Transit Office, has resigned, and Premier McGuinty has said that GO Transit outranks LRT as a priority based on "important conversations with the mayor". "Over time, we can enter into other discussions about things like the LRT," McGuinty said.
By the time you read this, the situation will probably have changed yet again, but if the past is any indication, you still won't have a clear picture of where Bratina stands on the issue.
The economist John Maynard Keynes once responded to criticism that he had flip-flopped on policy by saying, "When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?" Keynes was right. There is nothing wrong with changing your mind when new evidence emerges.
Bratina's behaviour is different. Not only does he change positions as quickly as the wind changes direction but his position appears to change depending on the day's circumstances or the audience to whom he is speaking.
Combine this with a new culture of secrecy at City Hall, a series of questionable in-camera meetings, and musings by Bratina's Chief of Staff Peggy Chapman about controlling information, and it's hard not to ask the question: is Bratina being forthright and honest with the public?
When Bratina says something, do you believe it? If not, what does this say about the office of mayor under Bratina's leadership?
Here's one more quote to ponder. Speaking about the B-line LRT route - the one that passes through downtown and its many surface parking lots - Bratina said, "you can drive up and down our proposed LRT route all you want and you don't see large parcels of land waiting to be developed".
That's just unbelievable.
This article was first published in the October issue of Urbanicity.