Special Report: Light Rail

Bratina Digs in Deeper in Radio Interview

Hamiltonians deserve better than Mayor Bob Bratina's childish games.

By Ryan McGreal
Published March 07, 2014

Hamilton Mayor Bob Bratina went on the Bill Kelly Show on AM 900 CHML yesterday to try and clear things up with respect to his recent blog post on light rail transit (LRT). To put it delicately, mission not accomplished.

Note: you can listen to the audio on the CHML Audio Vault. Select March 6, 9:00 AM, and the interview with Bratina starts at 35:20.

Semantic Twister

He started out by playing a game of semantic Twister over whether or not he supports the city's east-west B-Line LRT plan, which almost immediately degenerated into tacky Red-baiting.

Well, I have to, uh, support Council direction, of course. I wouldn't say - you know, I have a personal view that there, ah, I think better ways of, um, of dealing with the transit issues in Hamilton. But that's not something that I'm speaking to cabinet ministers or anything else about.

But I certainly, as far as I understand we're a little different from, uh, from Russia, that you are allowed to say, you know (laughing), make personal comments about things.

Soon after he went on:

The first line of my blog, I have it in my hand, "Council has a stated on the future of transit for this city, which I, as Mayor, fully support. Of course I have my personal views." So that's my position and that's Council's position.

So he "fully" supports the B-Line LRT and also thinks it's not the right way to deal with Hamilton's transit issues.

I might have more sympathy for Bratina's point if he had actually done anything this term to articulate, develop and advance an alternative rapid transit plan.

But other than occasionally musing that maybe we should build the A-Line before the B-Line or maybe we should run LRT on the city's Rail Trails, his main contributions to the debate have been to release a steady trickle of confusing, misleading and straight-up incorrect statements about every aspect of the plan.

At various times he has claimed that: the city would need to choose between LRT and all-day GO Train service; the city would need to choose between LRT and extending all-day GO to Stoney Creek; LRT would only make sense if a million people move to Hamilton in the next five years; the B-Line doesn't have the ridership to justify LRT; it is not clear whether new developments would go; and so on ad nauseam.

Not a Champion of Very Much in Life

Throughout 2011 and 2012, Bratina maintained that he could not champion Hamilton's B-Line LRT without clear direction from Council to do so. (Apparently all of the unanimous Council votes supporting the plan up to that point were not sufficient.)

Then, in February 2013, after Council unanimously approved the Rapid Ready LRT plan, RTH asked Bratina whether he would begin to champion the LRT plan. Bratina replied, "Yes".

When Kelly pressed him on whether he has been a "champion" for that plan, Bratina replied:

Well, I'm not a champion of very much in life except that we all behave well, and, and, this question of championing, you're, you're not gonna make me say something I don't believe. However, I am going to state to, uh, senior government officials what the official position of council is.

Frankly, I'm sometimes a bit surprised the Province hasn't already told us to grow up. Notwithstanding the unanswered questions about how to finance the next phase of Metrolinx projects, that they haven't is a testament to how much the Province recognizes that Hamilton needs this investment, even if our own leadership doesn't.

Misinterpreting Rapid Ready

In case his position on championing the city's Rapid Ready plan isn't clear enough, Bratina also shared his unique interpretation of what the plan is about:

It's a good plan. Build ridership to the point where the next phase, you know, the higher order of transit, which techni- theoretically could mean LRT, could mean BRT as well, uh, ah, is in place.

This is essentially the same thing he said last April when Council reaffirmed its support for the LRT plan in light of Bratina's disparaging comments about it. When Council asked City Manager Chris Murray to clarify what Rapid Ready says, he replied:

[W]e've been focused on the B-Line for some time. Many years, in fact, and investing heavily into the design of it with the understanding that we'd be moving ahead with that project subject to the Province agreeing to the funding...

We've done our homework, we are ahead of everyone else. You know, we've been focused all along on the B-Line and advancing the detail of that B-Line so the Province can make a decision on the B-Line...

We think investing in transit, LRT specifically, in the City of Hamilton is something fundamental to our growth.

As for Bratina's oft-repeated claim that we need to "build ridership" before LRT makes sense, the same Rapid Ready report notes that the route of the B-Line already carries 13,000 passengers a day.

If the LRT was to open tomorrow, it would be in the middle of the pack for North American LRT systems on opening day. Given the existing pent-up demand for transit on the B-Line (the 2010 HSR Operational Review documented regular "pass-bys" as overstuffed buses failed to stop for additional riders), that ridership number has impressive growth potential.

Working with All Levels of Government

Last Friday, Ontario Transport Minister Glen Murray came to Hamilton to announce the construction of the James North GO Train station and give a lunchtime speech at an event organized by the Hamilton Chamber of Commerce. Bratina spent time with Murray on Friday morning and attended the luncheon.

When Bratina said he didn't know whether the Province is willing to prioritize transit-oriented development in Hamilton over congestion relief in other parts of the GTA, Kelly asked him whether he had posed that question to Murray when they were together.

Bratina answered:

Well, the Minister, yes, was in town and, and he, uh, I didn't have anything to say to him with regard to the Council position because he's aware of it and everyone's aware of it. He spoke strongly in advocacy of the promise of LRT in terms of development. He said that clearly, 'we think this is the way to go'.

But he did say that the decision lies in the hands, uh, with Council. And that's fair. And so perhaps, uh, Council needs to be more informed on, on all of this, but I, I don't think there's any need for a raging argument right now because our transit plan is in their hands.

Last Friday, Murray said he would be happy to accompany City leadership to Ottawa to ask the Federal government to contribute to the B-Line LRT (the Feds will not provide funding to a project that has already been approved and announced), but he needs a municipal partner to accompany.

So much for "work[ing] with all levels of government to bring Light Rail Transit to Hamilton" as Bratina promised in his 2010 Mayoral campaign.

Imaginary Controversy

Bratina struggled to reconcile his conflicting statements that he supports the city's B-Line LRT plan and also disagrees with it, and so he kept trying to shift the debate to an imaginary controversy over whether he supports LRT in principle.

This is the tactic he used when backpedaling from his blog post: he wasn't actually advocating his proposed LRT line on the Escarpment and Chippewa Rail Trails, he was just trying to demonstrate that he does support LRT, so there.

When Kelly challenged him on whether his blog post was helpful to the LRT discussion, Bratina said:

It's only academic now because this isn't gonna happen. There is, there's no LRT going up that rail trail, okay? Let's, it's, so, but what, what was murky were the continuing drumbeat of attacks that somehow the Mayor of the City of Hamilton does not want L, R, T. And that is a ridiculous statement, and it's based on ideology and zealotry and not on facts.

He plowed on, suggesting that the real problem with his blog post was that it was not dumbed-down enough:

I tried to write this blog for the average to better reader. Maybe I have to dumb it down even further to, to, to, to get the simple message across. You know, we had this crazy thing about where's the L in the LRT, you remember that, who put the bop in the bop-she-bop-she-bop. It's, ah, I don't know, it's really irrelevant to, uh, ah, to Council's position and how we're moving forward with our plan.

Except we're not moving forward with our plan. Bratina has spent the past three years expelling a thick cloud of confusion, doubt and misinformation about every aspect of the City's plan.

His latest ploy is to play the concern troll - someone who pretends to support an initiative in order to undermine it.

Leadership Desperately Needed

The Rapid Ready plan represents a shift in how the City has historically approached strategic infrastructure investment and has a whole-city scope that only a whole-city representative can carry. Light Rail Transit on the B-Line is part of a comprehensive strategy to put this city back to work, grow our tax base, leverage our historic urban centre to attract young entrepreneurs, and create new jobs for an innovation economy.

The B-Line itself is the first phase in a larger rapid transit network - called B-L-A-S-T - that will serve the entire city, with each segment built at the right time using the appropriate technology.

B-L-A-S-T Rapid Transit Network
B-L-A-S-T Rapid Transit Network

We need the Province to partner with us to realize this vision, and the Province wants to help. Last Friday Transport Minister Glen Murray made this very clear. He also made it clear that the Province needs to take its cues from the local leadership.

That's why it's so important for Hamilton to have a Mayor who understands how smart, strategic infrastructure generates a real return on investment.

Hamiltonians deserve better than Bratina's childish games. We deserve a Mayor with a real vision for the city, grounded in good evidence about how to achieve prosperity and bolstered by respectful community outreach and strong public support.

That's not "ideology" or "zealotry" but leadership.

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 sally forth (anonymous) | Posted March 07, 2014 at 13:52:07

There are politicians I disagree with but I at least get where they're coming from. Not this. This is shocking. He's not just wrong, he's baffling.

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By jason (registered) | Posted March 07, 2014 at 18:06:51

"Not a champion of very much in life"?? What is this?
Seriously, I don't get it. I mean 'platform schmatform' was cute, but is there really a huge majority of Hamiltonians who are enamoured by a leader with such a lack of zeal and vision??

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By bvbborussia (registered) | Posted March 09, 2014 at 23:09:25 in reply to Comment 98306

That is an astounding statement from a political leader.

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By ToMorrow (anonymous) | Posted March 07, 2014 at 18:25:11

He's clearly getting mayoral tips from Mr. Morrow on how to do a whole lot of nothing while wearing the chain of office.

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By MattM (registered) | Posted March 07, 2014 at 21:27:18

We need to get rid of this guy. Now.

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By HamiltonBrian (registered) | Posted March 08, 2014 at 09:14:14 in reply to Comment 98308

As much as I agree, I'm worried that he'll be re-elected. Hamilton needs a massive "Get Out And Vote" campaign.

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By Boyd (anonymous) | Posted March 08, 2014 at 14:42:37

I have to agree with you HamiltonBrian.. We as a city need this, and we really need a complete change with every seat available.. There are too many fossils that are re-elected year after year, and worse yet morrow is back in the picture.. "just for now" sorta thing..
Goodness.. Hamilton doesn't have a hope in hell with our local media not really questioning what is going on.. Sadly, we may get further using out of city news stations to get this going, as our local media is just as content to follow present counsels stance that the past has always been best for Hamilton, and 20 minutes everywhere isn't broken so no need to fix it attitude..
Current attitudes will only change once there is awareness that we can be better.. It's a possible reality if we as a city are shown something different with the right leadership..
I really do feel ill when I walk passed city hall daily on my way to work, knowing that Hamilton could be so much better.. It could.. and it would if only these incompetent baboons would all be shown the door!

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By BroBra2014 (anonymous) | Posted March 08, 2014 at 15:47:41

I like Bratina's new campaign slogan:

Bratina for Mayor - who put the bop in the bop-she-bop-she-bop?

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By bvbborussia (registered) | Posted March 09, 2014 at 23:07:45 in reply to Comment 98317

haha outrageous

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By Rational Optimist (anonymous) | Posted March 08, 2014 at 21:57:36 in reply to Comment 98317

This is going to be my next ring tone.

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By Noted (anonymous) | Posted March 09, 2014 at 18:27:27

232 days to go!

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By LOL_all_over_again (registered) | Posted March 11, 2014 at 09:42:09

And in the next civic election he will retain his office. LRT is waste of a huge amount of tax dollars. A billion dollars of pure unadulterated waste.

Hamilton is to spread out with with a relatively small population for transit to be feasible on such a large scale.

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted March 11, 2014 at 09:50:39 in reply to Comment 98365

So, is Mississauga's LRT legitimate? Because we'll be paying for that one too.

Should we subsidize Mississauga at our expense? That's basically what you're arguing for.

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By LOL_all_over_again (registered) | Posted March 11, 2014 at 09:55:56

Detroit is a city with an area of less than a quarter of Hamilton and a population larger than Hamiltons. Detroit is also the centre of an urban area that equals Hamilton's area but has a population of almost 4 million. This huge city has scrapped plans for their 18 KM LRT and are instead trying to build a 5.3 KM streetcar line. This is with a considerable amount of private or at least corporate funding.

Yet there is a small obtuse segment of our city that thinks an 18 KM billion dollar LRT boondoggle would be appropriate for this city.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted March 11, 2014 at 12:56:17 in reply to Comment 98367

You've managed to outdo yourself at doublethink. After years of insisting Hamilton is too different from every other mid-sized city that has LRT for their experience to apply here, you then compare Hamilton to a large, catastrophically failing outlier city with vastly different economic, cultural, political and physical circumstances. Really, bravo for sheer audacity.

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted March 11, 2014 at 11:25:03 in reply to Comment 98367

Well far be it from me to disagree with Detroit's approach to urban planning.

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