Ancaster Councillor Lloyd Ferguson has formally apologized for comments he made about Colombia earlier this month when he called it a "backwards country" where the only wealthy people are drug lords.
The decision to apologize is a complete reversal for the councillor, who initially insisted no apology was necessary for his comments about the South American country.
Ferguson made the remarks during a Feb. 1 city hall committee meeting. On Wednesday, he wrote a letter to Nicolas Lloredo Ricaurte, ambassador of Colombia, saying he was sorry.
"I wish to publically apologize for the remarks I made regarding my trip to the South American country a dozen years ago," reads Ferguson's letter, which misspelled the name of the country. "They were not intended to be hurtful to the Canadian/Columbian community."
Ferguson originally made the remarks during a transit presentation by Dave Dixon, head of HSR.
The exchange was as follows:
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.
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Ferguson, who also chairs the police services board, 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."
That got groans from councillors around the table, to which Ferguson responded, "Lighten up, guys. It was supposed to be funny."
The comments inspired Gil Penalosa, chair of World Urban Parks and brother of Bogota mayor Enrique Penalosa, to tweet that Ferguson's remarks were "ignorant."
"Great People of Hamilton Ontario deserve an apology for ignorant remarks by Councillor @clrFerguson," Penalosa tweeted. "Not funny; sad."
Mayor Fred Eisenberger also wrote to Alvaro Concha, trade commissioner with the Colombia Consulate in Toronto, reassuring him that Hamilton "continues to enjoy a positive working relationship" with the country.
During the 2015 Pan Am Games, 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 will also host a "Why Colombia?" export forum.
In the days following the Feb. 1 meeting, Ferguson doubled down on his comments, saying what he'd said was reflective of his trip to the country 12 years earlier.
But on Wednesday, he expressed regret in a formal letter.
Full text of the letter
Here's the full text:
"Dear Ambassador Lloreda
Further to my message to your office last week, I wish to publically apologize for 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 community.
"I take pride in my 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 in the City of Hamilton. We have always benchmarked ourselves in the area of public transit 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."