Why is this provincially elected representative not allowed at meetings with the province?

When Haldimand County councillors meet with provincial ministers at the Association of Municipalities of Ontario (AMO) conference in Ottawa this August, Haldimand’s local MPP will not be in the room.

Councillors recently voted to tell Bobbi Ann Brady — who represents Haldimand-Norfolk as an independent — to stay home.

“Noting that she’s an independent and her relationship with the premier, I feel it would have a negative impact on our deputation, and potentially on our funding requests,” Coun. Stewart Patterson said at the June 19 council-in-committee meeting.

Haldimand, Norfolk and Six Nations are petitioning the province for hundreds of millions of dollars for a new water system that would connect the three territories.

Saying Brady’s presence “would be more detrimental to the county,” Patterson asked staff to send the MPP a letter saying Haldimand’s meetings with the province at AMO “are considered private, and that council does not wish (Brady) to attend.”

Premier Doug Ford has no love for Brady, who was former Haldimand-Norfolk MPP Toby Barrett’s parliamentary assistant for 23 years before being tabbed by Barrett to succeed him as the Conservative candidate in 2022.

Instead, the party went with former Haldimand mayor Ken Hewitt, whom Brady defeated in a stunning upset.

Brady has not been shy about calling out the premier at Queen’s Park, criticizing Ford’s recent appointment of Hewitt to the Ontario Land Tribunal as an example of political patronage. During a heated exchange in April, she accused Ford of focusing on the carbon tax as a “publicity stunt” to distract voters from “the Greenbelt scandal” and “the health-care crisis.”

Ford defended his government’s record and took aim at Brady.

“By the way, you won’t have a job next election,” the premier snapped.

Haldimand Coun. Patrick O’Neill wondered if the “contentiousness” between Ford and Brady means projects like long-awaited repairs to Caledonia’s crumbling nine-span bridge “get delayed over political influence.”

“The premier doesn’t dictate if she has a job. The voters do,” Mayor Shelley Ann Bentley retorted.

“The bridge in Caledonia’s been delayed for 18 years. It has nothing to do with Bobbi Ann Brady.”

Coun. Dan Lawrence gave Brady “an A-plus for effort” but said her “antagonistic” criticisms of the Ford government could be “counterproductive.”

“You’ve got to play ball with the provincial government, whether you like them or not,” Lawrence said.

Reached by phone on Thursday, Brady told The Spectator councillors are missing the big picture about how she can help advance Haldimand’s aims.

“The premier doesn’t decide on monies going out the door, and the premier isn’t sitting in at every single meeting at AMO. Cabinet ministers are,” Brady said.

“And I worked with these people for 23 years.”

Brady said contrary to the narrative put forth at Haldimand council, she has a good rapport with Conservative ministers and MPPs, pointing to invitations to appear at a funding announcement for affordable housing units in Dunnville and the groundbreaking for a new Caledonia elementary school.

As Brady tells it, she helped fast-track approval of amendments to Haldimand’s official plan, which languished in bureaucratic limbo for a year and a half before she intervened.

“I leaned on the desk of the minister of municipal affairs and housing, and guess what? It was passed,” she said.

Meanwhile, in Norfolk County, council has not formally declared Brady persona non grata at AMO, but the MPP was not told of two recent visits by Conservative cabinet ministers, a slight Brady considered to be bad form.

Brady said she is “not convinced” creating an inter-urban water system to connect Norfolk and Six Nations to a giant water treatment plant in Nanticoke is “the way to handle our water woes.”

“But I have told our councils, and I’ve told Six Nations, that if they believe (in it) and it is their wish to proceed with the water project, then I will advocate for them,” she said.

She rejected Patterson’s premise that being an independent MPP puts her riding at risk of having funding denied for political reasons.

“You tell me what money isn’t flowing to either county that’s flowed in the past,” Brady said. “Everything still flows. There’s nothing in jeopardy here.”

Ulterior motives

Brady told The Spectator she suspects an ulterior motive in Patterson’s motion to bar her from AMO, as it came one day after councillors narrowly affirmed their support for a request to the province for a “minister’s zoning order,” or MZO, to rezone 4,200 acres of industrial land around Nanticoke.

“For these guys to use the water situation as the reason for censoring me is a bait and switch, to be honest,” Brady said.

“I think they don’t want me there talking about the MZO.”

The rookie MPP was elected on her opposition to a proposal from Empire Communities to build 15,000 homes on land near Stelco’s Lake Erie steelworks, and in May 2023 she presented a petition at Queen’s Park from residents opposed to the plan.

“She was working against us — a decision we made as a body. That’s not supporting Haldimand council,” Lawrence said.

Brady contends council’s push for the MZO goes against the wishes of voters. But she said she can disagree with some councillors about Nanticoke’s future and still collaborate on other challenges.

“So if they want to base our relationship on that one issue, that’s their prerogative. That’s not how I want to do business,” she said.

Bentley called council’s decision to bar Brady from AMO “disgusting,” noting the MPP “has stepped up to the plate and supported us through this trilateral water issue.”

“Whether you like that person or not, or whether she’s an independent or not, she’s still our elected official,” Bentley said.

“And to have her shunned because you think that we’re not going to get the funding? Doug Ford wants to build (houses). We’re certainly going to get the funding, because he wants to pave over Haldimand and Norfolk.”

Patterson said his motion was not about Brady personally so much as the limitations of having an MPP outside the party system.

“It’s got nothing to do with personalities. That could be my best friend being the independent member of Parliament,” Patterson said.

“I’m looking out for the best interests of the people of Haldimand.”

J.P. Antonacci, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Hamilton Spectator