In a candid interview, Councillor Brad Clark argues that Hamilton is running out of time to get a decisive commitment from the Province to keep their promise to build two light rail lines in Hamilton.
By Ryan McGreal
Published September 12, 2011
In a phone interview with Raise the Hammer, Councillor Clark expressed frustration and raised concerns with the way the City has handled the light rail transit (LRT) file in recent months.
Back in July, Clark suggested that the LRT supporters were overreacting to ominous comments about LRT from Mayor Bob Bratina and that Council was merely doing its due diligence.
Asked whether he still feels that way, Clark replied, "I'm a little concerned now." He explained that he and Councillor Collins did not want to commit more resources to planning LRT until Council had a clearer picture of how much the Province was prepared to pay toward the capital cost.
Today, "everyone seems to have forgotten the original promise from the Province to pay 100% of the capital cost of LRT."
He explained, "I was under the impression that we were going to go to the Province and ask, Is this commitment still on or not? And then we could make decisions."
At the same time, Clark says, "it sounded like the Mayor and [City Manager] Chris Murray were backpedaling on LRT." Contrasting his own comments from the time, Clark explains, "From my perspective, we were simply asking questions to verify that we were getting the money."
But after reading Premier Dalton McGuinty's comments to the Spectator on Saturday, Clark said, "Now I'm not so sure."
Asked to explain what changed his mind, Clark said, "It sounds to me, based on what the Premier said, I gather the Mayor went to Toronto and the folks in charge and indicated that GO train expansion is our priority and not LRT."
That, said Clark, must have been "music to the Premier's ears, because he had an over-promise on LRT, based on dollars committed and what he had promised" through the Metrolinx Regional Transportation Plan. Since then, "the GDP shrank and the Premier has to find savings. Metrolinx has already had to find $4 billion in savings" on what it was planning to spend.
When McGuinty "heard from the Mayor in Hamilton that his priority is GO Transit, that frees up $1 billion of LRT money that had been promised to Hamilton."
Clark pointed out that the shift in priority from LRT to GO transit does another thing: "No one's talking about this, but GO transit capital expansion is paid for by the municipalities," not the Province. "This has been the case for quite some time."
When Clark was the Minister of Transport in the Harris Government, he uploaded the operating costs for GO Transit to the Province, but "we maintained that a portion of GO capital was to be paid by municipalities. There have been a number of iterations since then, but for now the capital cost goes on development charges to the city. If we don't have the money, we have to tax for it."
According to Clark, when the Premier promises GO Transit expansion over the next ten years, the capital cost is on the City's dime, not the Province's.
He said, "That's an easy promise to make. Unless they're going to change that formula, which they have not done - and you never ask policy questions during an election - I'm fearful that because of misguided intentions, Council finds itself in the position where we lose the committed capital dollars for LRT in exchange for a commitment to expand GO Transit trains to all day service, which becomes a part of our capital cost. No one's talking about this."
Clark noted that when he was the Transportation Minister, he looked at expanding to all-day GO Train service. "It's very costly and there's no business case for it. It's a commuter train service, with less volume in off-hours. It's very expensive."
He also noted that commuters leaving Hamilton go to Burlington, not Toronto. "There has not been an economic development case for expanding all-day GO Transit service. If it's such a great win, why didn't GO Transit do this in the last 20 years? They have looked at it time and time again. They have to justify the service based on demand."
Asked whether increased frequency of GO Trains would attract more riders, Clark said, "We did increase train runs and increased bus service for GO Transit. Back in 2001 we had pilot projects to see whether or not you would pick up more passengers. The reality is that the statistics show the demand is simply not there. Our population growth has not increased significantly since then to change that demand."
Asked about City Manger Chris Murray's July email suspending all LRT work beyond what the City was contractually obligated by the Province to complete, Clark said, "Now, when you're starting to see where we are with the Premier's announcement that GO Train is the priority, whose decision was it?"
"Did the Mayor and City Manager make that decision? Because council has not made that decision. It was never brought to us to have a discussion."
With respect to Go Transit, "The last that Council had heard, Metrolinx indicated they were going to go forward with expansion of train service to Niagara through Hamilton, but on their schedule. There's never been any Council discussion about all-day train service."
Asked what he thinks Mayor Bratina and Murray are trying to do with LRT, Clark said, "I don't know what the motivations are, but by talking about - I guess there's some misquided intentions here. You have one item that is a Provincial bailiwick - GO Transit, that's not our issue. Then we have LRT, which is a municipally-initiated project, but the Province was the one that committed to paying for it."
Contrasting the two, Clark said, "One would think we'd be fighting tooth and nail to get the Province to keep their promise to pay 100% of the capital cost for LRT, instead of GO, which is a capital cost to our development charges."
He added, "These discussions have not occurred in Council and have occurred in a vacuum, without the enlightened conversation that would asist people in making appropriate decisions."
Councillor Jason Farr has introduced a notice of motion to be presented at the October 11 Council meeting that would reaffirm Council's support for LRT. Clark warned that October 11 is too late, given that the Provincial election is October 6.
Clark has submitted a notice of motion to the City Clerk that he wants to bring to Council before the election. "I want Council to say to the Province before the election - I want Premier McGuinty and his Regional Minister to say: yes, we promised two LRT lines and you wouldn't have to pay for that, and we're committed to that. Because if they're not committed to that, you're going to have Councillors say, We don't have any money so we're done."
"My challenge - and Councillor [Lloyd] Ferguson is also saying there's a problem here - is that we had an election promise in 2007." Clark noted that the Ontario Government promised Hamilton two rapid transit lines in June 2007, and then the Liberals promised "two light rail transit lines across Hamilton" in September as part of their re-election campaign.
He noted that the Province has already committed to LRT projects in Toronto. "There's a clear record of documentation on this project. Toronto has $9.5 billion in LRT under construction right now at no cost to Toronto. I would expect that we'd be fighting to get the same thing."
Asked whether he thinks Council is willing to go against the Mayor's will in support of LRT, Clark said, "I think we'll get support for it. Council wants to find out where the Province is. In my discussions with some of my colleagues, we said from the beginning that we wanted the Province to pay. That's their promise. I want to put that forward before the October 6 election."
This past July, Clark and Councillor Chad Collins told a planning committee that they felt Council was being "backed in a corner" on LRT and that Council had to "regain control of its destiny".
LRT supporters worried that this, combined with Mayor Bob Bratina's disparaging comments about LRT in the news media, suggested the City was losing focus on its LRT plan.
Asked what he meant by that, Clark said, "We were being backed into a corner with all of the studies and reports, without verifying that we're not going to have to pay anything. As I said, if we don't secure the money from the Province now, we're going to find ourselves backed into a corner. They'll say to us, You've done all this work, how can you not agree to pay?"
Clark believes enough work has already been done for the Province to commit to a capital funding promise. "We have sufficient work done now to give an excellent estimate on the amount of cost for capital construction of the project."
He thinks the Province needs to come clean. "The province should be stepping up and say, Yes, we promised this and we're going to fulfill it, or Yes we promised this but we didn't mean it."
Clark repeated that it was the Province that encouraged Hamilton to study LRT based on the promise of full capital funding. "The City of Hamilton should not be giving them the 'out', and that's what this has become. They made this commitment - the Province committed to the lines. They sang the praises of LRT, they coughed up the money [for an environmental assessment], here's the future with LRT."
He also repeated, "Other municipalities have secured 100% capital funding for their projects. They were all at different stages of planning, but regardless of where they were in the process, the promise wasn't based on how much work was completed, it was based on the end goal of ensuring the line was constructed."
He points to speeches given to the Toronto Board of Trade: "'We understand, Toronto, you don't have the money. We're not going to make you pay.' Gee, we don't have the money."
Clark emphasized that citizens who support LRT "have got to get involved. They've got to start writing to their MPPs, calling campaign offices to demand candidates' opinions on this. I find it frustrating that these candidates who campaigned in 2007 are not held to account today."
He added that Hamilton does not need to prove to the Province that the Hamilton LRT line is viable. "Metrolinx did it with their own study," the February 2010 Rapid Transit Benefits Case Analysis that concluded LRT, though more costly, also provides more return on investment.
Referring to Liberal MPP Ted McMeekin and Minister Sophia Aggelonitis, Clark said, "It was McGuinty, McMeekin, Aggelonitis who stated clearly in 2007, if we want two LRT lines, they needed to be voted back in."
Clark cannot understand why Council seems willing to let the offer of 100% capital cost for LRT slip away. "It is incredibly frustrating that we were promised this commitment and now this Council has jumped through hoops to get the Pan Am Games money, and the entire argument was, 'Why would you turn down 56% of the money?' Well, I'm curious: why are we going to look the other way on LRT when 100% of the money was promised by senior levels of government? I don't get it."
Asked about Mayor Bratina's claim that Hamilton might have to pay $150 million toward the cost of LRT, Clark replied, "I keep hearing that we're going to have to pay. Where did that come from?"
He noted that Waterloo Regional Council agreed to cover some of the capital cost to fast-track their LRT proposal after years of development, but that Hamilton should not be held to the same cost breakdown.
"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."
He concluded, "There's a very limited time now, because if we don't get a commitment before the election, we don't get a commitment at all. If the Province can throw this under the carpet during an election - if people don't know they're going against one of their primary promises from 2007 - then we're making a huge mistake for Hamilton. we're being played. I don't like being played."
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