Council voted last night to ask the Province to confirm whether it will honour its 2007 promise to fully fund LRT in Hamilton. But what happens if the Province says no?
By Ryan McGreal
Published September 29, 2011
The Spectator reports that Council voted last night to approve Councillor Brad Clark's motion calling on the Province to confirm its "LRT commitment from the Province to fully fund Capital for two LRT lines and use of Gas Tax for operating costs."
At the meeting, Councillor Lloyd Ferguson spoke eloquently in support of LRT and voted in favour of Clark's motion. RTH asked him what he thinks will happen to the City's LRT project if the Province does not commit to funding LRT.
Ferguson said he doubts the work will continue, "as $800 million, or whatever the price, is not achievable for the residential taxpayer." However, he adds, "This question is hypothetical and should be left until we hear the funding commitment form the Province."
Councillor Brian McHattie, who also supports LRT, voted against Clark's motion. Asked why, he responded, "to move this motion some eight days prior to the election was mainly to embarrass the Liberal government and was not a smart/strategic move on the part of the people of Hamilton".
He and Councillor Farr still intend to move Farr's LRT motion at the October 13 General Issues Committee (GIC) meeting. McHattie says this motion, unlike Clark's, advises "an incremental approach to achieving LRT".
This includes a request to establish a dedicated King Street bus lane with signal priority in 2012 and a request for more money from Metrolinx to continue the LRT design work.
McHattie also believes the city must continue to make the case for LRT "to the land use development community, who need to buy into corridor redevelopment if this is going to make sense for Hamilton."
McHattie concludes, "In my view, Hamilton's best approach is to continue to work with the Provincial government of the day in a partnership fashion; grandstanding with a defiant motion demanding 100% funding is pure politics."
RTH asked Clark about the risk in his motion. He replied, "I fully expect that the province will reaffirm LRT funding or they risk losing the election. In Hamilton with two Liberal seats at serious risk, [Premier Dalton] McGuinty cannot answer 'no' or refuse to reaffirm their commitment."
RTH contacted Mayor Bob Bratina to ask why he voted against last night's motion and whether he will support a city commitment to complete LRT if the Province commits to funding it.
Bratina responded by forwarding a list of MoveOntario 2020 projects from June 15, 2007, which includes the east-west B-Line Rapid Transit line. He also forwarded a link to Clark's July 6, 2011 statement to the MyStoneyCreek blog, which Bratina called "a clear and comprehensive message regarding our LRT study".
Clark's July comment notes that planning staff have focused on the B-Line intensification study because of its connection with the LRT project, but Council has "not adopted or set any principles for corridor planning." Clark argued that James North and Centennial Parkway "have a sense of urgency" for corridor planning because of the proposed all-day GO train service extension to those locations.
Clark's statement also notes that the October 2008 Council vote was to approve "designating LRT as the preferred option for the City" and not to approve LRT itself. Clark concluded:
Nobody on council has stated that they oppose LRT or that we are reconsidering. We are acting with all due diligence, waiting for a decision from the province on funding at which point we must make a final decision. Respectfully, proponents of LRT are over-reacting to councillors' rational, reasonable and appropriate questions.
Since then, Mayor Bratina has publicly said that LRT is "not a priority" and would only be a serious consideration "if somehow a million people move to Hamilton over the next five years".
Soon after, Premier Dalton McGuinty said that all-day GO train service "was the No. 1 ask of the city. We've had some important conversations with the mayor, and this is their priority, which made it our priority. Over time, we can enter into other discussions about things like the LRT."
On hearing this, Clark concluded that Hamilton is "being played." Pointing out that nearly $10 billion in Toronto-area LRT projects have already been confirmed, Clark asked why anyone on Council would consider letting the same commitment to Hamilton slip away.
People in the media kept saying to me, Who really believes the Province was ever going to pay 100%? I said I believe it, because they're doing it in Toronto. So it's to our own neglect that we're not looking at what's happening in other municipalities, because Toronto asked for it and they got it.
Ted McMeekin, Liberal MPP for Ancaster-Dundas-Flamborough-Westdale and a candidate in the upcoming Provincial election, wrote to RTH: "I believe that light rail transit (LRT) has the potential to change the face of Hamilton for the better and the province has committed to working with the City as it relates to LRT."
However, he says Hamilton has "indicated that two-way all-day GO train was a priority" and the Province has committed to bringing full-day GO service to Hamilton.
At the end of last night's Council meeting, Mayor Bratina announced that the Province has also committed to paying the full capital cost of the all-day GO train expansion to Hamilton. Under normal GO policy, the Province pays the operating cost of GO service but municipalities must pay the capital cost.
McMeekin added that the City is undertaking a "feasibility study" that is "likely about six months" away from completion. In fact, the City completed its rapid transit feasibility study in 2008 and Metrolinx completed a benefits case analysis in February 2010.
The city is currently undertaking a class Environmental Assessment (EA) on the LRT project as part of its functional and detail design work. The EA is supported by a $3 million provincial grant.
Last Friday, Hamilton Light Rail launched a campaign calling on the City and the Province to "finish the job of building LRT". So far, several hundred people have signed onto the campaign.