Special Report: Light Rail

Two Steps Forward, One Step Back on Hamilton LRT

With the Provincial election coming in June and the municipal election following in October, we all need to pitch in to make sure LRT stays on course.

By Ryan McGreal
Published April 16, 2018

The Ontario Government has finally issued a Request for Proposals (RFP) for the Hamilton Light Rail Transit (LRT) project.

This is an important milestone toward bringing the project to completion. First, the Province issued a Request for Qualificaitons (RFQ), inviting consortia to demonstrate that they have the qualifications to bid on a project to design, build and operate the LRT system.

Of the six companies that responded to the RFQ, three organizations were found to be qualified. With the RFP, they have now been invited to present their actual bids to build and operate the system.

Of course, this is Hamilton LRT and it wouldn't be an update without a two-steps-forward, one-step-back development to the project.

On March 27, Ontario Progressive Conservative Party leader Doug Ford said his party would honour the Provincial funding commitment for light rail transit (LRT) in Hamilton. At the time, he seemed to understand the benefits of LRT:

"I support building the Hamilton LRT because the people (of) this great city deserve a working transit system. This is an investment that will create jobs, countless new jobs and stimulate economic development," Ford said in a brief emailed statement.

Then Ford spoke to Donna Skelly, the Ward 7 Councillor for Hamilton and the PC Party's candidate for Flamborough-Glanbrook. Skelly was narrowly elected to the central mountain ward in a March 2016 by-election on a promise to honour the City's commitment to LRT.

That promise was quickly broken when Skelly became an active partner with the "No Hamilton LRT" group, corresponding and meeting with its leaders and undermining the LRT project around the Council table.

The March 27 article continues:

Skelly said earlier this week it is a "priority" for her to speak to Ford about LRT and "share my concerns and the stand I have taken in the past."

Sure enough, Doug Ford changed his tune a week later:

Speaking to about 500 people at Carmen's Banquet Hall on April 3, Ford told the enthusiastic crowd "if you don't want the LRT you are keeping the $1.2 billion."

"And spend it the way the people of Hamilton want to spend it. Who is Doug Ford to tell the people of Hamilton? It is up to the people of Hamilton to decide."

First of all, let's be clear: this is not a serious promise. It is extremely difficult to believe that Hamilton will ever receive a blank cheque from the Province to spend on whatever we want. That's just now how government works. Can you imagine the howls of outrage from other mid-sized Ontario cities?

Ford has already jettisoned the proposed carbon tax from former PC leader Patrick Brown's platform, cutting a $2 billion hole in his budget. On top of that, Ford has promised another $4 billion in savings, despite refusing to provide any detail whatsoever on how he would do that.

But more to the point, the people of Hamilton have already decided, again and again and again over the past decade-plus, to keep moving forward with the LRT plan. The winning mayoral candidates in 2010 and 2014 ran on pro-LRT platforms, and Council has voted literally dozens of times for LRT - including a crucial vote a year ago to approve the Environmental Project Report (EPR) Addendum.

Metrolinx has already spent or committed nearly $100 million on this project and has issued the RFP. Consortia are right now preparing detailed bids to build the system.

But opponents of progress always understand that the best way to kill a transformative change is through stalling and attrition. A project the size of LRT needs a hundred YESes to reach completion but can stop dead on a single NO.

Council wasted two months last year under pressure from the LRT opponents before approving the EPR Addendum. It was only the overwhelming, active support for LRT from many thousands of residents, hundreds of businesses and every single anchor institution in the City that eventually motivated them to stick with their own plan.

The project lost another four months after Council approved a surprise motion to make the HSR, hamilton's public transit organization, responsible to operate LRT instead of Metrolinx. Council eventually backed down once it became clear that they were not actually prepared to take on the legal, financial or operational responsibility.

As a result of these and other delays, the RFP is still in play. Originally, the RFP was supposed to have been finished by now so LRT could move forward without becoming an election football yet again.

And sure enough, the same long-discredited anti-LRT arguments are suddenly bubbling up again from the same small, angry group of PC partisans who care so much about killing LRT that they're willing to sacrifice a billion-dollar investment.

Over the coming days and weeks, we will be revisiting the arguments for and against LRT. And once again, we will need the help of LRT supporters across the city to keep the pressure up so that this essential investment doesn't get derailed by cheap electoral grandstanding.

With the Provincial election coming in June and the municipal election following in October, we all need to pitch in to make sure LRT stays on course.

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 writes a city affairs column in Hamilton Magazine, and several of his articles have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. He also maintains a personal website and has been known to post passing thoughts on Twitter @RyanMcGreal. Recently, he took the plunge and finally joined Facebook.

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By JohnVail (registered) | Posted April 17, 2018 at 02:07:35

have supported LRT since 2008 and let's get 'er done!

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By AP (registered) | Posted April 18, 2018 at 20:48:58

Thanks, Ryan. Can you set the internet to 'repeat' like a CD player? Replay all the same articles, tweets, meetings?! I am afraid we will need it all again, but confident we will rise to the challenge. Again. Thanks for all your efforts.

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