Special Report: Transit

Councillor Issues Quasi-Apology for Colombia Comments

Instead of just owning his mistake, apologizing and promising to learn from the experience, Ferguson couldn't resist stirring in a dollop of rationalization.

By Ryan McGreal
Published February 18, 2016

Ancaster Councillor Lloyd Ferguson can hardly be accused of having an excess of humility or self-reflection, and his most recent strained apology is only the latest case in point.

During the February 1, 2016 General Issues Committee meeting on the transit budget, Ferguson jammed his foot firmly in his mouth when he challenged Transit Director Dave Dixon's use of an aspirational quote by Bogota, Colombia mayor Enrique Peñalosa.

The quote - "A developed country is not a place where the poor have cars, it's where the rich use public transportation" - so outraged Ferguson that he launched into a diatribe against Colombia as a "backwards country" where "the only wealthy people are drug lords."

He added, "all I saw was chickens riding the buses, and just like you see in Romancing the Stone, they have, uh, people riding on the roof."

When his colleagues objected to the comments, he shot back, "Give me a - lighten up, guys, it was supposed to be funny."

A few days later, a still-outraged Ferguson was complaining to Spectator columnist Andrew Dreschel that he was "offended" by the people calling him out for stereotyping a whole country.

That interview also dropped the facepalmer that Ferguson hasn't actually been to Bogota. He was basing his "impressions" on a visit 12 years ago to Cartagena, a different city over a thousand kilometres away.

Qualified Apology

Now, more than two weeks later, after a swell of calls for him to apologize - including Mayor Peñalosa's brother Guillermo, who lives in Canada and heads the 8-80 Cities livable streets organization - Ferguson has finally squeezed out a qualified apology in a letter to Nicolas Lloreda Ricaurte, Colombia's ambassador to Canada.

Instead of just owning his mistake, apologizing and promising to learn from the experience, Ferguson couldn't resist stirring in a dollop of rationalization by insisting that he was really objecting to the idea of comparing Hamilton to a city with different demographics.

Claiming that Hamilton normally benchmarks its transit "on similar municipalities like Calgary Alberta, Charlotte North Carolina and Portland Oregon", Ferguson writes that he took issue with the comparison to Bogota, "with a population of eight million" and "demographic differences based on population, climate and geography."

Ferguson's mistake, according to Ferguson, was to focus his objection on his personal impressions of Colombia rather than directly express his concern about comparing Hamilton to a much different city.

This is pure bollocks. At no point in Dixon's presentation did he benchmark Hamilton's transit performance against Bogota or even draw direct comparisons between the two countries. All Dixon did was include the quote from Bogota's mayor, a politician whose transportation policy aims to treat all people equally, regardless of how they choose to get around.

In Hamilton, an automobile-dominated city that continues to regard transit users and cyclists as an irritating afterthought, the real offense in that quote is the dangerous idea that a city should treat someone on a bike or riding a bus as equal in consideration to a wealthy person in a car.

Text of Letter

Following is the text of Ferguson's letter. You can also read the original PDF.

City Hall, 71 Main Street West
Hamilton, Ontario,
Canada L8P 4Y5
www.hamilton.ca

Lloyd Ferguson, Councillor - Ward 12
Phone: 905.546.2704 Fax: 905.546.2535
Email: Lloyd.Ferguson@hamilton.ca
Hamilton

Nicolas Lloreda Ricaurte
Ambassador of the Republic of Columbia [sic]
360 Albert St., Suite 1002
Ottawa, ON K1R 7X7

Feb. 17,2016

Dear Ambassador Lloreda

Further to my message to your office last week, I wish to publically apologize for the remarks I made regarding my trip to the South American country a dozen years ago. They were not intended to be hurtful to the Canadian/Columbian [sic] community.

I take pride in the business acumen I bring to Council and during our budget meeting, I let my personal impressions on my visit get in the way of a serious debate on public transit for the City of Hamilton. We have always benchmarked ourselves in the area of public transportation on similar municipalities like Calgary Alberta, Charlotte North Carolina and Portland Oregon. The populations and demographics of these communities mirror those of Hamilton. When comparisons were used for the city of Bogota, with a population of eight million, it was then I reacted the way I did and referenced my personal experiences rather than the demographic differences based on population, climate and geography.

I look forward to moving forward with my Council duties and the continuing 2016 Budget Deliberations along with working closely with staff as we face the challenges around public transportation, other infrastructure projects and social services in the City of Hamilton.

Yours sincerely

Lloyd Ferguson
Councillor, Ward 12

And yes, the letter misspells "Colombia" twice.

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.

13 Comments

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By Fergie (anonymous) | Posted February 18, 2016 at 08:02:17

Too little, too late

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By AnjoMan (registered) | Posted February 18, 2016 at 08:04:39

It's nice that he apologized but frustrating that he is tripling down on the false idea that we can't take lessons from communities that aren't identical in every way to our own.

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By Stephen (anonymous) | Posted February 18, 2016 at 08:21:29

They benchmark Hamilton’s public transportation against Portland, Charlotte, and Calgary? That’s incredible to me. How badly must they think Hamilton’s doing based on those benchmarks?

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted February 18, 2016 at 08:30:33 in reply to Comment 116555

Yeah, that one's a bit of a head-scratcher. Most staff reports I've seen, including the HSR Ten Year Strategy, benchmark Hamilton against other mid-sized Ontario municipalities - Brampton, Durham, London, York Region, Mississauga, Waterloo Region and Windsor. Meanwhile, the three cities in Ferguson's letter are the very cities he visited with a contingent from Hamilton back in 2008, the trip in which he was converted into an LRT supporter.

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By Laffer (anonymous) | Posted February 18, 2016 at 14:25:58 in reply to Comment 116558

Shows how much Ferguson cares about transit. He just grabbed the first 3 cities from memory and assumed they're the benchmarks for Hamilton instead of the transit plan DIXON WAS PRESENTING TO HIM when he went off on his idiotic Colombia rant.

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By vindicator (anonymous) | Posted February 18, 2016 at 08:23:28

What do you expect? This is the guy who shoved a journalist, apologized under duress after his apology was written for him by the city manager's communications officer said he was "vindicated" when the crown decided not to press charges. Forget crocodile tears, he can't even manage a crocodile sad face!

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By vindicator (anonymous) | Posted February 18, 2016 at 08:24:08 in reply to Comment 116556

Oops missing word, ...AND said he was "vindicated"

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By Too Much (anonymous) | Posted February 18, 2016 at 08:35:50

Good thing he prides himself on his "business acumen".

Appears that what he lacks is good old basic common sense.

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By moylek (registered) - website | Posted February 18, 2016 at 11:05:46

"Quasi-apology" is generous. The only thing about this that says "apology" at all is the part where Firgoson expresses his wish to publicly apologize ... an unfulfilled wish. Bless his heart.

This "Canadian/Columbian" is not and never was hurt, but neither is he (that's me, I mean) impressed - neither by cheap stereotyping, nor this non-apology, nor yet the goddamn inability to spell "Colombia" properly.

Comment edited by moylek on 2016-02-18 11:06:31

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By ergopepsi (registered) | Posted February 18, 2016 at 11:40:37

He's gone from local to international embarrassment. Reech for the stars Fergisen!!

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By jim (anonymous) | Posted February 18, 2016 at 12:04:10 in reply to Comment 116564

bumps you up a peg on the list of local embarrassments,reach for a dictionary and apologize to your parents

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By highwater (registered) | Posted February 18, 2016 at 13:05:09 in reply to Comment 116565

woosh!

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By Rimshot (anonymous) | Posted February 18, 2016 at 14:30:52

Fergusun.

Not a typo. World revolves around, clearly.

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