Ministers Ted McMeekin and Glen Murray confirm that the op-ed by Liberal candidates Javid Mirza and Ivan Luksic do not reflect Party policy on LRT funding.
By Ryan McGreal
Published February 26, 2014
On Monday, Ontario Liberal candidates Ivan Luksic (Hamilton East-Stoney Creek) and Javid Mirza (Hamilton Mountain) wrote an opinion piece in the Hamilton Spectator arguing that Hamilton's planned east-west LRT line is too expensive and that Hamilton should focus on all-day GO transit service with enhanced express bus service instead. (You can read responses on RTH here and here.)
RTH contacted representatives of the Ontario Liberal Party to ask whether this piece represents a change in Liberal policy seven years after promising full capital funding for two light rail transit lines in Hamilton.
Ted McMeekin, Liberal MPP for Ancaster-Dundas-Flamborough-Westdale and Minister of Community and Social Services, responded on twitter, writing, "In our party (unlike others), Mirza and Luksic are free to express an opinion. They are not articulating Liberal policy."
Asked to clarify what the Liberal policy is, McMeekin wrote, "we're [content] to work with City - don't want to build if not wanted. Will depend on revenue tools and a realistic view about same."
City Council voted unanimously in 2013 to submit its LRT plan to the Province, based on the promise of full capital funding.
Glen Murray, Ontario Minister of Transportation, also responded on twitter, writing, "Government supports Metrolinx GO expansion LRT A and B lines. Need to work with city, Metrolinx and community leaders."
Murray will be in Hamilton on Friday to speak at a luncheon organized by the Hamilton Chamber of Commerce.
Monday's op-ed by Mirza and Luksic is full of inaccurate, misleading claims and closely echoes the messaging of Hamilton Mayor Bob Bratina, who has spent the past three years undermining Hamilton's LRT plan after campaigning in support of it in 2010.
Bratina has claimed that Hamilton would have to choose between LRT and extending all-day GO service to Stoney Creek; that the city was "not hearing any kind of clamour from the public" and "no solid interest" from developers; that it was not clear where new infill developments might fit along the B-Line; that LRT would only make sense "if somehow a million people move to Hamilton over the next five years"; that the province never actually promised LRT to Hamilton; that ridership on the B-Line is not high enough to support LRT; and that the City's Rapid Ready LRT implementation plan is not actually a plan to implement LRT.
Bratina has often mentioned the LRT study by McMaster Institute for Transportation and Logistics (MITL) which concluded that LRT can be successful in Hamilton but needs a political champion to "realize success by marshaling resources, building coalitions, and resolving disputes."
The report goes on, "Coordinating institutions, streamlining processes, and minimizing red tape are seen as crucial in implementing TOD projects and are dependent on strong political leadership."
After last year's unanimous Council vote to support the City's Rapid Ready LRT plan, Bratina confirmed that he would begin to champion it. "Council has now provided direction with the expectation of 100 percent of capital funding and that will be our position dealing with the government."
Asked specifically whether he will "champion" LRT, Bratina responded, "Yes." But that didn't happen. Instead, Bratina just continued to misrepresent the facts, undermine the case for LRT and play divisive politics.
More recently, a few councillors have been quoted saying they won't support LRT if the City has to help pay for it. A few have even suggested that they would reject LRT if Hamiltonians have to participate in Provincial revenue-generating tools - like development charges, tolls, levies or fees - to raise the money to pay for the next phase of transit projects.
This, of course, is utterly absurd. It would be like refusing a hospital expansion in Hamilton because Hamiltonians have to pay the Ontario Health Premium.
It is extremely unlikely that the Province would exempt Hamilton from regional and provincewide funding mechanisms, so if we reject the LRT - or if we come across as diffident enough that the Province can use that as an excuse not to fund it - Hamiltonians will end up helping to pay for LRT in Mississauga and subways in Toronto while Hamilton gets left behind yet again.
Unfortunately, in the absence of political leadership or clear messaging, the public discussion has become overwhelmed by misinformation and silliness.
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