Colombian official calls Lloyd Ferguson Bogota remarks 'ignorant'

Gil Penalosa, brother of Bogota's mayor, says comments made by Coun. Lloyd Ferguson calling Colombia a "backwards country" are ignorant. Ferguson says he's not apologizing.

Hamilton mayor trying to smooth relations as city courts trade with Colombia

A Colombia supporter attends a Pan Am Games soccer match at Hamilton's Tim Hortons Field stadium last July. The brother of Bogota's mayor has taken exception to recent comments by Lloyd Ferguson, an Ancaster councillor, during a city hall committee meeting this week. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

The brother of Bogota's mayor is calling out a Hamilton city councillor after he called Colombia a "backwards country" where the only wealthy people are drug lords.

"The comment I made publicly is that we shouldn’t be benchmarking off Colombia," says Coun. Lloyd Ferguson. "Why do I have to apologize for that?" (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

Meanwhile, Hamilton's mayor has reached out to Colombia officials to smooth relations, and the councillor who made the comments remains unrepentant.

Gil Penalosa, brother of Bogota mayor Enrique Penalosa, tweeted that Hamilton residents deserve an apology after Lloyd Ferguson, an Ancaster councillor and chair of the police services board, made some remarks about Colombia at a Feb. 1 city hall committee meeting.

"Great People of Hamilton Ontario deserve an apology for ignorant remarks by Councillor @clrFerguson," said Penalosa, who is chair of World Urban Parks and 8 80 Cities. "Not funny; sad."

The comments came during a budget presentation this week on transit from the head of Hamilton's transit authority, the Hamilton Street Railway (HSR).

As part of his presentation, Dave Dixon quoted the former and recently re-elected mayor of Bogota, Enrique Penalosa, who said a developed country is not a place where the poor have cars, but where the rich use public transportation.

Ferguson: Dave, when you quoted the mayor of Bogota…that was Bogota, Colombia?

Dixon: "That's correct, through the chair, yes."

Ferguson: "That's a place where only wealthy people, at least when I was there, the only wealthy people in Colombia are drug lords."

Dixon said Enrique Penalosa is a "progressive thinker" and believes a $300 bike should be equal to a $30,000 car in terms of movement.

Ferguson said, "When I was in Colombia, all I saw was chickens riding the buses, and just like you see in Romancing the Stone, they have people riding on the roof, and anyhow, it just seemed like a backwards country to be benchmarking off of."

I'd be happy to have a conversation with him and tell him about my experience.- Lloyd Ferguson

That got groans from councillors around the table, to which Ferguson responded, "Lighten up, guys. It was supposed to be funny."

Matthew Green, Ward 3 councillor, interjected later with "If you want to make jokes about stereotypes, don't." Then he outlined the favourable ways that Bogota compares to Canada.

Green also mentioned the 2015 Pan Am Games, when Hamilton announced some new economic ties with Colombia.

Hamilton joined Niagara for a new information and communications technology partnership called "Bring IT On with Hamilton Niagara." Through the partnership, Hamilton and Niagara companies will tap into the Colombia market and Colombia companies can do the same here.

In March, Hamilton economic development officials are also hosting a "Why Colombia?" export forum.

In an interview Wednesday, Ferguson said he didn't think an apology was necessary. He reiterated that Hamilton shouldn't be benchmarking off Colombia, which is a different country and culture. He also said he didn't think he'd hobbled Hamilton's economic development efforts.

Ferguson said he went to Bogota about 12 years ago and noticed "a high level of security" for business people, and it made an impression.

"It's the only place in the world I've experienced where as I walked out of the hotel, the security guards would stop me with rifles and say 'You're not leaving the hotel,'" said Ferguson, who is the former head of Dufferin Construction.

As for Penalosa, "I'd be happy to have a conversation with him and tell him about my experience."

Fred Eisenberger, mayor of Hamilton, issued a statement saying he's reached out to Alvaro Concha, trade commissioner with the Colombian Consulate in Toronto, to reassure him that Hamilton "continues to enjoy a positive working relationship."

"Stereotyping cultures has no place in society today and certainly doesn't around the city council table," he said. "All councillors are responsible for their comments and behaviour."


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