Ontario Election 2018

Donna Skelly's Shameless Trail of Broken Promises

Skelly's short, nasty political career is characterized by empty demagoguery, lack of basic preparation, backroom dealing, interfering in other wards, undermining professional staff and using voters as a stepping stone.

By Ryan McGreal
Published May 29, 2018

Donna Skelly, currently the City Councillor for Ward 7, is running as the Progressive Conservative (PC) candidate for Flamborough-Glanbrook in the upcoming provincial election. This is just the latest broken promise in a short, shameless political career full of broken promises.

Donna Skelly lawn sign in Jerseyville (RTH file photo)
Donna Skelly lawn sign in Jerseyville (RTH file photo)

A Stepping Stone After All

Skelly won her Council seat by just 92 votes in a March 2016 by-election, making her the shortest-serving Councillor at City Hall. In all, she received just 1,967 votes out of 41,332 eligible Ward 7 voters, or 4.8 percent.

Skelly had previously run twice provincially for the PC Party and lost, but she claimed that she was no longer a party member. After the election, she insisted that she was committed to the Council job and would not seek higher office. "It's not a stepping stone," she said.

She obviously rejoined the party soon after saying that, because she was abruptly acclaimed as the PC candidate by former leader Patrick Brown for the newly-created riding of Flamborough-Glanbrook last October, just 17 months after winning her Council seat and promising not to jump ship.

The PC local riding association board was taken completely by surprise when Skelly, who had never even met with the nomination board, was unilaterally parachuted into the job.

Two other local nominees who had spent the previous year selling party memberships tried to insist on a new nomination contest in March after Brown was ousted over sexual misconduct allegations, but their request was denied.

Ironically, during her by-election campaign Skelly accused fellow candidate Uzma Qureshi of "political interference" because Qureshi received support from Hamilton Mountain NDP MP Scott Duvall, whose departure from Council had triggered the by-election, and Hamilton Mountain NDP MPP Monique Taylor.

Right-Wing Populist Media Attacks

It's no wonder Skelly feels at home in Doug Ford's PC Party. She has styled herself as a right-wing populist, making Trumpist noises about government waste and attacking the media.

In November 2016, Skelly elicited groans at a Council meeting to discuss installing a protected cycle track on the Claremont Access, where Jay Keddy, a teacher living on the west mountain, had been killed in a hit-and-run collision while commuting home from work.

She suggested, "Let's look at one very quick fix, which could be adding bicycle racks to the front of a bus, and then including the bus on the access itself."

Skelly, who claimed to be a regular transit user, had apparently not noticed that every HSR bus already had a bicycle rack. Reporter Joey Coleman of The Public Record tweeted, "Donna Skelly says the City should look at installing bike racks on the front of HSR buses as an alternative to Claremont Bike Track".

After the meeting, Skelly accused Coleman of lying, to which he responded by posting the full audio recording of the statement and its context.

In January 2017, demonstrating a worrisome propensity to wade into issues without bothering to do her homework, Skelly elicited more outrage by questioning the public library's budget at the beginning of a library budget presentation that she hadn't even read yet.

Skelly claimed that a Spectator article had misrepresented her and that she was only questioning the request for a budget increase, but she literally asked whether libraries are still "relevant" and mentioned the total budget four times in a little over 300 words.

This past Christmas, she touted an alt-right website at a campus conservative dinner for McMaster University and Mohawk College students. The website, "Free Bird Media", includes content from notorious white supremacist Paul Fromm, anti-Semitic blogger James Sears, anti-Muslim blogger Kevin Johnston, and neo-Nazi supporter Faith Goldy.

At the event, where she was a featured speaker, Skelly held up a red MAGA-styled "Free Bird Media" ballcap and gave a "shout out" to the hate site. At a minimum, this reflects Skelly's lack of research and preparation, and her willingness to just wing it (pun intended) with empty demagoguery.

Donna Skelly holding red MAGA-styled 'Free Bird Media' hat at campus conservative event (Image Credit: Press Progress)
Donna Skelly holding red MAGA-styled 'Free Bird Media' hat at campus conservative event (Image Credit: Press Progress)

LRT Sabotage

Skelly ran in the 2016 by-election on the following Seven Goals for Ward 7:

  1. Enhance infrastructure
  2. Expand seniors services
  3. Address affordable housing
  4. Create jobs
  5. Improve transportation routes
  6. Promote arts and culture
  7. Get things done!

Nowhere does it mention sabotaging the city's light rail transit (LRT) Project. To be fair, Skelly has never made a secret of her opposition to the plan, but as a candidate she said she would support Council's decision to move forward with LRT. Clearly, that didn't happen.

That May, Skelly said she had "questions" about LRT, "But to reject $1 billion? I don't think anybody is that foolhardy."

Meanwhile, she was working closely with the "No Hamilton LRT" group led by Carol Lazich to undermine public and political support for the plan, which Council approved in February 2013 and the Province confirmed in May 2015. This included a turn as the guest at an anti-LRT public meeting on July 16, 2016 held at Erskine Church in Ward 1. It was here that Skelly publicly introduced her argument that the City should push the Province to make the $1 billion LRT capital cost available for other projects.

By September, Skelly was crashing public information meetings on LRT in order to undermine the project by accusing the City staffers running the meeting of "a way to quash any dissension and to present a very positive, rosy picture" - again, on a project that Council had already approved and the Province agreed to fund.

Skelly directly argued against the LRT plan, falsely claiming, "We're not ready, we don't have the ridership, we're years and years away from this" at a public meeting.

In October, Skelly claiming during a General Issues Committee meeting that the City should use the money to build a network of express buses, even though the Province had made it clear that the money was for rapid transit, not local service, and that the City would have to reapply for funding if it wanted the money for something else.

Billion-Dollar Bait-and-Switch

On Mach 27 of this year, PC leader Doug Ford said his party would honour the Provincial funding commitment for Hamilton's LRT, citing its benefits:

"I support building the Hamilton LRT because the people (of) this great city deserve a working transit system. This is an investment that will create jobs, countless new jobs and stimulate economic development.

In response, Skelly said it was a "priority" for her to speak with Ford and "share my concerns and the stand I have taken in the past" against the project.

Sure enough, a week later Ford changed his position, announcing that Hamilton would be able to spend the billion dollars on whatever we want. "Spend it the way the people of Hamilton want to spend it. Who is Doug Ford to tell the people of Hamilton? It is up to the people of Hamilton to decide."

Of course, Hamilton has already decided, over and over and over again, to support the LRT project. Council has consistently voted for LRT literally dozens of times since 2008, and the winning mayoral candidate in the past three elections has always been pro-LRT.

Last year, in response to obstruction from Skelly and the "No Hamilton LRT" group she has been working with, Hamiltonians spoke up in the thousands to reaffirm our support for LRT, including hundreds of business and community organizations and every one of the city's anchor institutions.

In any case, no one can take Ford's promise seriously. No premier in history has granted a city a billion dollar cheque to spend on whatever they want. The precedent alone would destroy the province as other cities lined up to get theirs.

Further, Ford has made at least $10 billion a year in campaign promises to increase spending and cut taxes with no platform and absolutely no plan for how to achieve those promises.

Skelly and Ford's promise is a classic bait-and-switch: the goal is to kill LRT for political reasons and deal with the fallout later.

Moral Disarray

Modern conservatism is chiefly characterized by shamelessness. Despite its enduring poll numbers, the Ontario PC Party is in a state of moral disarray. Skelly fits in perfectly. Indeed, she has already been touted as a potential cabinet minister if they win the election.

Skelly's short, nasty political career is characterized by empty demagoguery, lack of preparation, backroom dealing, interfering in other wards, undermining professional staff and using voters as a stepping stone - much like that of her party leader, Doug Ford.

She approaches complex policy issues with hollow slogans, attacks professional staff when their research undermines her baseless claims, and even panders to hateful right-wing extremists.

Is this really what we want Ontario to become over the next four years?

Ryan McGreal, the editor of Raise the Hammer, lives in Hamilton with his family and works as a programmer, writer and consultant. Ryan volunteers with Hamilton Light Rail, a citizen group dedicated to bringing light rail transit to Hamilton. Ryan writes a city affairs column in Hamilton Magazine, and several of his articles have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. He also maintains a personal website and has been known to post passing thoughts on Twitter @RyanMcGreal. Recently, he took the plunge and finally joined Facebook.

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted May 29, 2018 at 10:06:31

She suggested, "Let's look at one very quick fix, which could be adding bicycle racks to the front of a bus, and then including the bus on the access itself."

Also, there is no bus on the access itself.

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By ScreamingViking (registered) | Posted May 29, 2018 at 22:02:23

Is Skelly collecting her city salary during the campaign, or did she give it up for the duration? (question applies to Partridge too)

A Spec story from a few years ago noted the lack of rules for councillors who run provincially or federally, but that they generally forego their city paycheque. I'm not aware of any changes since then to establish an official requirement.

Would be another example of shamelessness, considering all her questions about costs during her term (with few or less asked about value)

Comment edited by ScreamingViking on 2018-05-29 22:04:41

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