The Liberals have been bobbing and weaving around the LRT issue ever since former Premier Dalton McGuinty first backpedaled from his government's funding commitment.
By Ryan McGreal
Published February 06, 2015
On Monday, January 27, Hamilton Mayor Fred Eisenberger met with Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne to discuss the city's rapid transit plans.
Mayor Eisenberger came out saying he heard the Province was "unequivocally" committed to full capital funding for light rail transit (LRT) along the east-west B-Line between Eastgate Square and McMaster University, which the Ontario Liberal Party has been promising since 2007.
But Premier Wynne stopped short of saying "LRT" or committing to a dollar figure when asked in a media scrum following the meeting. Instead, she continued the Ontario Government's practice of calling it "rapid transit" without specifying a technology:
We have said all along that we were committed to building the rapid transit in Hamilton. That's a commitment we've had in place for a number of years. You will know there's been a back and forth in Hamilton about exactly what that would look like, what the rapid transit would be.
For the past year, Wynne has been repeating that she needs to hear from Hamilton about whether we want LRT or bus rapid transit along the B-Line.
On February 4, the Hamilton Spectator published an op-ed by Andrea Horwath, Ontario NDP Leader and MPP for Hamilton-Centre, which accused Wynne of "talking out of both sides of her mouth" on the rapid transit file.
The premier must either put up full capital funding for our LRT, or tell us why her Liberal government doesn't think Hamilton's transportation needs are important.
Horwath pointed out that the Liberals have been promising LRT since 2007 but have yet to deliver on that promise. "When it comes to our LRT the Liberals have a bad habit of writing cheques that Hamilton can't ever cash."
The back-and-forth continues today with another op-ed in the Spectator, this one by Ted McMeekin, Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing and MPP for Ancaster-Dundas-Flamborough-Westdale.
McMeekin still infuriatingly refuses to write "LRT", but he comes as close as the Liberals have come to an LRT funding commitment:
We have been very clear that we remain committed to fully funding the capital costs of a Hamilton rapid transit project, in whatever form the community decides on. [emphasis added]
The question then becomes: what will it take for the Liberals to accept that "the community" has decided on LRT?
In last June's provincial election, the Ontario Liberals fielded candidates in Hamilton Mountain and Hamilton East-Stoney Creek who opposed the City's LRT plan, instead making a misleading and fearmongering bus rapid transit proposal. Both candidates lost to the respective ONDP candidates, who were on record strongly supporting LRT.
In his op-ed, McMeekin rubs Horwath's nose in the fact that the NDP voted against the Ontario budget that allocated $15 billion for transportation projects across the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area, triggering an election in which the Liberals won a majority government again.
Indeed, the NDP have had difficulty explaining how they would pay for the Regional Transportation Plan despite their steady support for it.
But no amount of posturing can cover the fact that the Liberals have been bobbing and weaving around the LRT issue ever since former Premier Dalton McGuinty first backpedaled from his party's LRT funding commitment in September 2011.
Certainly much of the blame falls on Bratina, who ran for election in 2010 on a pro-LRT campaign but then spent most of his mayoralty doing everything he could to undermine, mislead and confound the city's LRT planning process.
But that does not leave the Liberals scot-free - especially considering Bratina's close partisan ties (he is now the Federal Liberal candidate for Hamilton East-Stoney Creek) and the party's willingness to field candidates who were parroting Bratina's talking points.
An uncharitable interpretation of the Liberals' tack is that they are simply running down the clock until City Council's support for LRT collapses under the weight of politicking, uncertainty and sheer lack of vision that so often characterizes municipal government.
After all, the original point of creating and funding Metrolinx was to elevate regional rapid transit planning above the parochialism and limited funding options of local councils.
McMeekin ended his op-ed by referring to Mayor Eisenberger's proposal to run a citizens' forum on rapid transit. If the Liberals really are serious about keeping their seven-year-old promise to build light rail transit in Hamilton, this is all they have to say:
If the conclusion of that process is that light rail transit is the best technology to meet Hamilton's rapid transit needs, the Ontario Government will support that decision with full capital funding.
Until that happens, the LRT file will remain stuck in a morass of uncertainty.
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