Councillor Brian McHattie reiterates Council's position on the east-west B-Line LRT and reminds the Province of its commitment to provide full capital funding.
By Ryan McGreal
Published February 27, 2014
Ward 1 Councillor and mayoral candidate Brian McHattie has written an open letter to Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne to reiterate Council's position on the proposed east-west B-Line light rail transit (LRT) system and remind the Province of its commitment to provide full capital funding.
The letter, issued as a news release this morning, calls on the Province to "ensure that Hamilton receives its fair share from the province for transit funding, whether from the province's general revenues, or from special revenue tools being considered currently."
It adds that Hamiltonians will not be happy to have to contribute to transit funding only to see their money used to build LRT in other cities but not Hamilton.
The letter also notes that some of the claims being made in the media recently about LRT are not accurate. One of the false claims circulating is that the B-Line does not have ridership to warrant LRT. McHattie writes, "If introduced today, LRT along our preferred route would already have ridership comparable with many successful North American systems including San Francisco, Portland and Minneapolis.
The letter concludes, "someone has to stand up for all Hamiltonians when it comes to ensuring promises made to our citizens are kept."
The Province has spent the past several years trying to decide on a set of "revenue tools" to pay for the next wave of Metrolinx regional transportation projects. The first wave, concentrated almost entirely in Toronto, was funded from general Provincial revenues.
Hamilton's B-Line LRT is included in Phase One of the Next Wave projects. Detailed planning and design for the line is already complete, including a required environmental assessment and a complementary land use study to ensure that the area around the line is zoned for transit-oriented economic development.
Recently, however, Premier Wynne told Nicholas Kevlahan she didn't know whether Hamilton wants LRT or bus rapid transit (BRT).
Hamilton Mayor Bob Bratina has steadfastly refused to champion Hamilton's LRT plan or, indeed, even to represent Council's position accurately, despite supporting LRT in his 2010 mayoral campaign. Instead, he has re-interpreted the city's Rapid Ready plan, which he voted for, to claim that it is not actually a plan to implement LRT.
When Councillor McHattie introduced a motion to reaffirm Council's support for LRT, the meeting turned into a debacle with Mayor Bratina insisting that Rapid Ready is not an LRT plan and having an altercation with City Manager Chris Murray after Murray confirmed that the report really is an LRT plan.
Murray told the councillors:
So in terms of where we've been all along, we've been focused all along on the B-Line and advancing the detail of that B-Line so the Province can make a decision on the B-Line. Okay? ... [The Rapid Ready report] puts the ball certainly in the Province's court to make a decision. We've done our homework, we are ahead of everyone else. You know, we think investing in transit, LRT specifically, in the City of Hamilton is something fundamental to our growth, and that, you know, it's really at the end of the day up to the Province to make a decision about what it is it wants to invest here in Hamilton.
Afterward, Bratina approached Murray and spoke aggressively, prompting Councillor Jason Farr to retort, "I heard what you said. I got it verbatim. You're being awful nasty, awful nasty."
Councillor Sam Merulla introduced a motion calling on Integrity Commissioner Earl Basse to investigate the incident. When Basse eventually submitted his report, he concluded that Bratina's "tone and comments to the City Manager ... were not appropriate" but he should not face a censure because he apologized to Murray, and Murray later said he did not feel intimidated or threatened.
This past Monday, Ontario Liberal candidates Ivan Luksik (Hamilton East-Stoney Creek) and Javid Mirza (Hamiton Mountain) penned an opinion piece in the Hamilton Spectator arguing against LRT and saying the city should focus instead on GO stations on James North and Centennial Parkway and BRT lines on the north-south A-Line, Centennial and the B-Line.
Between the misinformation in Luksik and Mirza's letter, Wynne's recent comments and Bratina's ongoing games, some people are wondering if the fix is in for Hamilton's LRT plan. The Province promised Hamilton two LRT lines back in 2007, and seven years later it is still not clear whether that promise will be kept.
Two prominent Ontario Liberals have said that Monday's op-ed does not reflect Liberal policy. Transport Minister Glen Murray, who is speaking in Hamilton tomorrow at a luncheon organized by the Hamilton Chamber of Commerce, wrote: "Government supports Metrolinx GO expansion LRT A and B lines. Need to work with city, Metrolinx and community leaders."
However, Ancaster-Dundas-Flamborough-Westdale MPP Ted 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."
Following is the full text of the letter:
Hon Kathleen Wynne, MPP
Toronto ON M7A 1A1
February 26, 2014
RE: Support for LRT in Hamilton
Dear Premier Wynne,
As you are aware, a lot is currently being said in the media, both mainstream and social, about Hamilton's LRT plans. Some of it is accurate. Some of it isn't.
Perhaps the most troubling statements are the ones suggesting that the provincial government will not honour its commitment to providing 100% of the capital costs of Phase 1 of Hamilton's LRT system.
While I have no reason to believe that the commitment made by your government will not be kept, I feel it necessary to assure you that Hamilton City Council stands by our stated support for LRT as approved by unanimous vote on February 27th, 2013.
Other GTHA cities, particularly Toronto, are already receiving provincial funding for their transit needs, with other cities also in line. Hamilton has a place in that funding line, and we intend to keep our place very near the front. Hamilton has spent the last several years completing its due diligence in planning for LRT so we will be ready to take the next steps as part of the Metrolinx strategy.
Hamilton must remain competitive, not only internationally and nationally, but also regionally. As you are well aware, modern transit is one important contributor to being competitive.
We want to ensure that Hamilton receives its fair share from the province for transit funding, whether from the province's general revenues, or from special revenue tools being considered currently. We know that such revenue tools will generate funding from Hamiltonians and we won't accept a lower quality transit investment locally, only to see our money go towards building higher quality subways in Toronto or LRT in Mississauga.
We want and need the province to be our partners in success. We are ready for LRT. If introduced today, LRT along our preferred route would already have ridership comparable with many successful North American systems, including San Francisco, Portland and Minneapolis. However, Hamiltonians simply can't afford to modernize our transit system and to achieve the benefits of moving more of our people throughout our city, nor can we afford to realize the proven economic development benefits of LRT, by ourselves. We need the provincial government to honour the funding commitments that have already been made.
I'm writing to you because I believe someone has to stand up for all Hamiltonians when it comes to ensuring promises made to our citizens are kept. In my view, we have to reduce the level of noise and mixed messages you have been receiving and increase the clarity and consistency in the communication of Hamilton's democratically approved priorities. I know my Council colleagues want the same thing.
Finally, I would appreciate hearing from you with an update as to where Hamilton stands in your plans for LRT funding.
Ward 1 Councillor
City of Hamilton
cc Hon Ted McMeekin, MPP, Minister of Community and Social Services
cc Hon Glen Murray, MPP, Minister of Infrastructure
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