Special Report: Light Rail

Premier: 'I Honestly Thought That the Conversation Was Done'

A flustered Premier Kathleen Wynne was "surprised" to learn that suddenly Hamilton City Council is not sure whether it wants the LRT funding it spent the past eight years requesting.

By Ryan McGreal
Published May 26, 2016

CBC Hamilton reports that Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne was asked about Hamilton's recent light rail transit (LRT) controversy at an unrelated May 24 press conference. A flustered Premier Wynne replied, "I honestly thought that the conversation was done. I was very surprised when I heard that it was being revisited. So my hope would be that they'll be able to go through this process and we'll have a final answer sooner rather than later."

Video still: Premier Wynne announcing full capital funding for LRT and GO expansion on May 26, 2015 (Image Credit: The Public Record)
Video still: Premier Wynne announcing full capital funding for LRT and GO expansion on May 26, 2015 (Image Credit: The Public Record)

Wynne said, "We've been having this conversation since 2010" when she was the Minister of Tranportation, and "the conversation was whether it's going to be BRT or whether it's going to be LRT." She added, "I thought that it had landed on LRT and that that's what was going to be built."

BRT, or bus rapid transit, is a rapid transit system similar to LRT but using articulated buses running on dedicated lanes instead of electric trams.

The City's Rapid Transit Feasibility Study recommended LRT over BRT because it has a higher maximum capacity, lower per-passenger operating cost and a bigger potential for economic uplift. The Metrolinx Benefits Case Analysis came to the same conclusion, finding that LRT has the biggest overall benefit.

Today, the Premier said, "There's a new kind of spirit in Hamilton in terms of their new economy. I think building transit is part of that so I would just like to get on with that and I hope we'll get a decision soon."

She added, "It's never been LRT or nothing. I really want to hear what Council's decision is and I hope we can put this to bed."

Doubtless, some people will interpret this to mean we can go back and revisit the case for building BRT instead of LRT, but it's vitally important to understan how this would work.

Billion Dollars Not Transferable

If Hamilton turns down the fully-funded LRT plan, which Metrolinx and the Province have already approved, the billion dollars is not set aside for us to use on something else. Instead, the money is released back into the GTHA transit fund to be used on the next project in the priority list.

The City would then have to develop a new transit proposal and submit it to Metrolinx for consideration. It would start out behind other already-approved projects and have no dedicated funding.

Given the $15 billion total budget of the GTHA transit fund and the number of projects already waiting for approval, the timeline for implementation would be pushed back years instead of being confirmed for contract signing in 2018 and construction starting in 2019.

With a Provincial election in 2018, it is an open question what the budget and priority criteria for transit projects in the GTHA will be by the time the Province gets around to considering Hamilton's transit funding request again.

So have no doubt: the recent talk about reconsidering BRT is not a serious transit proposal. It is nothing more than an attempt to confuse the issue, misinform uncertain residents and undermine the project altogether.

If we turn down the LRT money that has already been confirmed for us, the most likely result is that we will end up with nothing at all. Even if we do end up with something, it will be years farther down the road.

And of course, a BRT system would be more expensive to operate, have a lower overall capacity and produce a smaller economic uplift than LRT. Talk about a lose-lose situation!


Please take a few moments to tell Council to take YES for an answer, reaffirm its support for LRT and accept the full capital funding from the Province that Council has consistently voted for since 2008.

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 wrote a city affairs column in Hamilton Magazine, and several of his articles have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. His articles have also been published in The Walrus and HuffPost. He maintains a personal website, has been known to share passing thoughts on Twitter and Facebook, and posts the occasional cat photo on Instagram.

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By Skellytons (anonymous) | Posted May 26, 2016 at 06:36:59

Donna is quoted last week as saying she will vote "no" to such a waste of money.
Today she says she will not vote against this project, due to the amount of money coming into the city.

Donna is scary.

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By Transit Authority (anonymous) | Posted May 26, 2016 at 07:32:16 in reply to Comment 118786

And despite what all of the experts and studies have shown she isn't sure if she agrees with the route. Really?

Without a stitch of formal education or training on the topic.........let the ward heeling begin!

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By Deleted User (anonymous) | Posted May 26, 2016 at 07:04:04

Comments with a score below -5 are hidden by default.

You can change or disable this comment score threshold by registering an RTH user account.

Comment edited by JimC on 2016-05-26 07:06:00

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By Gregory (registered) | Posted May 27, 2016 at 16:36:54 in reply to Comment 118787

Exactly, $1 down and $312 billion to go - Hamilton leads the way with responsible government.
Actually, I think Brampton was first, but we all need to get on board.

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By mdrejhon (registered) - website | Posted May 26, 2016 at 11:08:12 in reply to Comment 118787

Legitimate Ontario debt concerns aside, and semantics aside (asset, debt, deficit, budget, whatever).

...Semantically, the $1bn is a budget item that is planned to be spent regardless as part of the Moving Ontario Forward fund. If the money needs to be spent anyway, a great place to spend is transit, and Hamilton is a good place to spend it on.

We are actually morally obligated to say yes. I say yes even though I disagree with the Hydro One sale. But that horse has left the barn and if they want to mandatorily spend that "budget" in transportation infrastructure -- Hamilton LRT is one of the best-ever opportunities and one of most moral place to spend that budget (deficit as it may be), given the huge benefits to Hamilton and large long-term ROI.

Morally, we cannot be left out.

Even though Council is wavering, we have to remember they did not do a "Motion to a Stop Work Order on LRT" -- the money is already being spent right now.

Looking behind the council theatrics, my perception is the LRT office is actually working more efficiently than the HSR office at the moment. I hope Hamilton, for their sake, hire someones for HSR that will work more efficiently hard towards an HSR expansion integrating with the LRT (push forward the 10 year Rapid Ready plan).

Comment edited by mdrejhon on 2016-05-26 11:10:35

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By Gregory (registered) | Posted May 27, 2016 at 16:46:57 in reply to Comment 118805

I would say morally, we need to address the 5,600 waiting list for low-income housing in Hamilton. Everything goes better when people have a stable roof over their head. The nature of work is in a huge transition. Consider the level of automation happening (even in China where about costs are relatively cheap) with robots replacing the bulk of factory workers. It is happening! Once we figure out how to allocate the fruits of these labours in an appropriate manor, the nature of commuting and transportation needs will change beyond our imagination. It might sound very futuristic, but the sooner we face up to it, the sooner we can provide input towards the outcome. Don't get left behind.

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By Gregory (registered) | Posted May 27, 2016 at 17:04:56 in reply to Comment 118873

Should say "labour costs", not "about costs". Sorry.

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By sickening (anonymous) | Posted May 26, 2016 at 08:19:10 in reply to Comment 118787

You morally backwards SOB, you would then be saying "no" to a cleaner environment, to combating climate change.

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By Poof! (anonymous) | Posted May 26, 2016 at 07:35:29 in reply to Comment 118787

When we bought a house the money to buy it didn't exist either. We borrowed it and are paying it back and enjoying an asset we can live in that will improve our quality of life and hold its value. It's called investment and governments do it too

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By Think Much? (anonymous) | Posted May 26, 2016 at 07:34:14 in reply to Comment 118787

Good plan. It's not like we're competing with neighbouring municipalities for jobs. Let them have the money and we'll just continue on like some backwater township forever frozen in time.

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By Steve on George Street (anonymous) | Posted May 26, 2016 at 07:20:41 in reply to Comment 118787

Jim.. there are no morals here when it comes to funding.. If we don't take this money now, it's going to be justified to morally give it to another community who would like to build more transit.. Your bias is showing regarding Wynne, that is what this is truly about here.. Regardless how you feel about our current provincial government, I think you should only want the best for the city you live in.. Regardless that your car ride may be interrupted for a while or not.
Through this investment, it will spark spinoffs where the government will be able to collect more and pay down our current deficit. There has been no real investment in a long time in this city and it shows. Ontario can run that debt up all it likes, as long as Hamilton is given some of that money on tick.. There is not enough money in this world to pay off every debt. The monetary system is based on false credit, and the money coming really doesn't exist anyway. So I'm morally fine with this investment in our city..

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By Steve on George Street (anonymous) | Posted May 26, 2016 at 07:06:57

I'm sincerely troubled with our council. It seems time after time it's the same type of people who get elected actively choose to keep Hamilton in the dark ages.. This should not be brought up again for discussion. It was voted and the money is there to do a great service for the city. I cannot believe there are foolish councillors who want to say no to this money??
Absolutely unreal, and truly an embarrassment to everyone watching.. They certainly are not speaking for me, and I wish there was a way to wake this city up..
It would be helpful if our wonderful bunch at city hall would spend more time promoting a wonderful thing. Too bad some of them have an emotional quotient of a teen in high school worrying about some silly complaints from a business in the international village whose business wasn't going to make it any way.. So many come and go in that area, and I think with the completed LRT it will only be an area highly sought after in the end. Too much ignorance on an issue in a city where the status quo has always been the highlight of the day..
Sad really!

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By Haveacow (registered) | Posted May 26, 2016 at 08:13:31

The City of London which was planning a combined LRT and BRT based rapid transit system recently decided via their experts that, just a BRT only system was best. This was primarily based on the cost, $500 Million instead of $880 Million for the combined LRT and BRT system. Upon hearing that Hamilton's Council might turn down their free transit money, London's Council is prepared to officially ask the provincial government for Hamilton's $1 Billion for their entire combined LRT and BRT system. They realized that Their BRT decision was primarily based on capital cost and a BRT only system is just more affordable but as designed will move fewer people and attract far less development for their city. However, if there is now going to be $1 Billion extra flying around for LRT well, why not ask?

Halton Region (primarily Burlington and Oakvilleis also asking that they get the Hamilton's funding for their Dundas Street Rapid Transit proposal. We will probably here from Brampton soon as well! Toronto has 4 rapid transit projects ready to be funded and there is still phase 2 money needed for Ottawa's or Waterloo's LRT Systems. Come on Hamilton Council, S* or get off the pot!

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By kevlahan (registered) | Posted May 26, 2016 at 08:32:41 in reply to Comment 118793

Do you have any references for these claims that other regions are already asking for Hamilton's transit money or is it just hearsay or supposition?

I wouldn't be surprised, but it would be helpful to see the source.

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By Haveacow (registered) | Posted May 26, 2016 at 10:24:07 in reply to Comment 118795

London Free Press is the source.

This is exactly what happened after Brampton turned down their $400 Million ($387 Million really) for the last 3 km of the Hurontario Line. The line still ends in Brampton but at Steeles Avenue not at Brampton's downtown GO Station. Officially the Province breaks down its funding for these transit projects first as in the GTHA and outside the GTHA. The province is spending roughly $29-30 Billion for both categories.

Unofficially, through a contact of mine inside the "Lets Move Program" over 65 requests came in for Brampton's money from across the province, most but not all were for transit related projects. The problem created by Brampton losing this money, actually showed many hard to ignore realities, few of the projects already in the "Lets Move Project" official project list were ready to be funded. Many are still in the planning stages officially. This was the problem with Brampton's funding there were few ready projects (not already started) that could be built with just $387 Million.

The other issue was Toronto and York Region, at the time, they were the only transit operations inside the GTHA that had projects approved and ready to go. It would not have looked good politically if that money was instantly shoved to them. Especially, when phase 2 projects in both Waterloo and Ottawa both are only missing a single funding component, the province's portion of the funding.

This brings up another thorny issue, both Ottawa's and Waterloo's phase 2 LRT project are being 1/3 funded locally. Its getting harder and harder for the provincial government to give away 100% funding of LRT projects in other cities while these 2 areas are forced into making very tough long range funding choices. All while Brampton's and maybe Hamilton's council, continue to play political games with free provincial rapid transit money.

These political games as I call them, are based on behind the scenes knowledge that I have acquired working in and with the provincial level of government as a consultant. The whole controversy is mainly based on the fact that, its free "Liberal" money. Most of the councilors whom are refusing this free money are Conservatives who want to be well positioned in 2018 when, they believe the Premier's government will most likely be defeated. You would not believe the extreme and mostly homophobic comments of Conservatives when Wynne was elected in 2014. They knew they couldn't state these comments publicly but boy behind the scenes, you would have thought the world was about to end. They were worried that because and I quote, "the huge numbers of all those fucking freaks, who voted that dyke bitch into office may make it almost impossible for a good wholesome conservative government to ever be elected into power again in Ontario". It never occurred to them that the public didn't accept that, there message which was mainly, "no we can't do anything until the budget is balanced in 2018". The fact that, their messages' harsh nasty tone and the way there points were delivered to the public were part of the problem, those points never seem to cross their minds!

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By stone (registered) | Posted May 26, 2016 at 11:45:28 in reply to Comment 118803

You mean to say that a politician will sabotage a city changing project out of self interest and not look out for the public they claim to represent? Next thing you're going to tell me is that Santa Claus isn't real!

It's amazing how often those that decide to become elected officials are the ones least suited to lead.

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By Ugh (anonymous) | Posted May 26, 2016 at 12:10:10 in reply to Comment 118813

We have some councillors who are clearly unintelligent, couldn't find work as middle managers, below mediocre quality, and we deserve much better.

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By Waitandsee (anonymous) | Posted May 28, 2016 at 09:28:29

Since Wynne has pushed up the provincial election to the spring of 2018, and construction on the lrt is supposed to begin 2019; all of this discussion may be a waste of time and energy. The next party in power, and I hope it isn't the free spending Liberals, may just scrap the billion dollar transfer because the province is in such a financial mess.

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By kevlahan (registered) | Posted May 28, 2016 at 10:26:10 in reply to Comment 118881

Ontario is not necessarily in such a financial mess:

Ontario can balance budget in 2017-18 after 9 straight deficits: fiscal watchdog

Kathleen Wynne's Liberal government is positioned to reach its target of balancing the budget in 2017-18, after nine straight deficits, according to a new report from Ontario's independent fiscal watchdog.

http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/on...

Ontario’s path to balanced budgets diverges from Alberta’s ballooning deficits

http://www.bnn.ca/News/2016/2/26/Ontario...

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By PLUTO (anonymous) | Posted May 28, 2016 at 13:11:44 in reply to Comment 118882

What planet do you come from. We are twice as indebted as California with half the people meaning 4x worse than one of the worst in the U.S. with similar infrastructure and demographics. Ontario is the most indebted jurisdiction in North America and is about to become Greece. Name any growing industry in Ontario other than Government of government paid!!

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By notlloyd (registered) - website | Posted May 30, 2016 at 15:53:38 in reply to Comment 118891

How can this comment be greyed out. It's not offensive. The planet part is a little rude but the bulk of the comment is not even close to being offensive.

The fact that the truth here appears to be offensive is why I rarely read this site anymore let alone post. Shame.

Comment edited by notlloyd on 2016-05-30 16:02:58

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By jim (anonymous) | Posted May 30, 2016 at 18:21:33 in reply to Comment 118925

don't let the lunatic fringe chase you off, your voice needs to be heard, especially here

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By Dylan (registered) | Posted May 30, 2016 at 18:38:01 in reply to Comment 118930

Agree with those who support the Liberals (at least on the issue of transit funding) or not, you'd have to completely ignore the fact that the Liberals have won two elections by majority in the last two years to call these folks the lunatic fringe.

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By notlloyd (registered) - website | Posted May 31, 2016 at 11:50:54 in reply to Comment 118932

This is a good comment. People who voted for the Liberals are not lunatics. They are just either ignorant, misguided, selfish or a combination of all three.

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By dur (anonymous) | Posted May 29, 2016 at 04:27:22 in reply to Comment 118891

And your plan is what... More highway lanes?

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By PLUTO (anonymous) | Posted May 29, 2016 at 07:02:52 in reply to Comment 118899

tu quoque arguments add nothing. throwing gas on a fire is not going to help Ontario. Saying Ontario does not have a financial problem is silly.

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By dur (anonymous) | Posted May 29, 2016 at 10:01:46 in reply to Comment 118902

Not investing properly in transit is a huge part of the economic issue in ontario. If not now then when? The result of ignoring this need will be more and more highway infrastructure deficit

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By notlloyd (registered) - website | Posted May 30, 2016 at 15:59:45 in reply to Comment 118903

So you finally admit there is a problem at least (can't see how you couldn't)and then you you say that what, building LRT and spending a billion dollars in Hamilton will go a long way to solving the problem? Is that what you are saying? I can't tell because your reply is essentially a histrionic "if not now when."

I posit that if the government of Ontario gave us a billion dollars to make Hamilton a 1 gig city, like Chattanooga TN, we would grow our tax base and thereby our infrastructure ten fold to what the LRT is going to do.

We are being bribed and threatened with our own money.

Comment edited by notlloyd on 2016-05-30 16:02:01

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By dur (anonymous) | Posted May 30, 2016 at 19:54:33 in reply to Comment 118926

I never claimed there wasn't a problem. What you don't understand is that the problem is a total lack of any infrastructure spending other than on highways and private car accommodations. Until that turns around the problems will worsen.

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By notlloyd (registered) - website | Posted May 31, 2016 at 11:42:12 in reply to Comment 118937

I understand fully. I applaud the LRT. I just think is is the wrong route and not necessarily a priority of spending. I also don't like the idea of the take it or leave it approach. But that does not make me ignorant of the fact that our province is in crisis.

Over 80% of the budget of this province is wages and benefits. We used our prior revenue not on infrastructure, but on mollifying unions. This started in the early 1980's when the transit plan spending was stopped. Every successive government has ignored the problem and now it is our crisis. These are the chickens coming home to roost. These are the times when we as children of those people need to look backward and say "what did you do to us?"

To say there is no financial crisis is folly. And to believe that the LRT is the best solution at this time to that crisis is wishful thinking at best. I understand all too well.

Comment edited by notlloyd on 2016-05-31 11:46:36

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By Haveacow (registered) | Posted May 30, 2016 at 17:15:48 in reply to Comment 118926

Yes that's great. The 1 Gig/sec system broadband and smart grid managed to lure a Volkswagen auto plant to Chattanooga, a city with less than half the urban population of Hamilton, Ontario and considerably less area population. The Volkswagen plant doesn't pay property taxes to the city and its pay roll taxes are paid by the state government. The auto plant is a non union shop and both Volkswagen and the state's Republican government are under investigation by US National Labor Relation's Board for actively and illegally blocking a vote to Unionize. Sure, the high speed broadband and smart grid is why Volkswagen located there.

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By Haveacow (registered) | Posted May 30, 2016 at 17:17:43 in reply to Comment 118928

The workers at that plant also make considerably less than other US and Canadian auto workers.

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By what (anonymous) | Posted May 30, 2016 at 19:01:13 in reply to Comment 118929

Let me get this straight. You are opposed to cities being wired for high speed internet?

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By Haveacow (registered) | Posted May 31, 2016 at 07:35:01 in reply to Comment 118934

If my choice is wiring a city for very,very high speed internet that is expensive and most people of modest means in Chattanooga can't afford, requires my hydro bills to subsidize it, is really only useful to people whom use the computer and internet a lot or require it for work all the time and could be obsolete in as little as 7 years, then no.

Light Rail helps everyone rich or poor have better mobility, has enormous latent passenger carrying capacity, far more than BRT, can act as a big catalyst to change entire neighborhoods for the better, limits car dependent sprawl, something our cities can no longer afford environmentally and financially, with proper maintenance will still be carrying a lot of passengers 40 years from now and is easily expanded into a larger network.

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By notlloyd (registered) - website | Posted May 31, 2016 at 11:48:47 in reply to Comment 118942

You wont get or lead the world with a 3d printer industry or advanced medical industries without 1 gig fiber optics.

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By jim (anonymous) | Posted May 30, 2016 at 10:23:16 in reply to Comment 118903

there is no compelling need, hence the general disinterest and widespread opposition. We will do "it" when "we" need to

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