The real issue hiding behind the noise machine is a strategic mission for changing how people will be able to live, work and travel and invest in Hamilton over the next 50 years, vs. remaining with the status quo.
By Ryan McGreal
Published June 03, 2016
A small faction of Councillors has recently decided to make some political hay out of taking a position of deep skepticism or even opposition to the ciy's Light Rail Transit (LRT) plan, which Council has consistently supported since 2008 and which the Province agreed to fully fund a year ago.
It is not always possible to avoid wading into the sewer pipe of objections that these few select Councillors have been spraying out. Indeed, there is an important public value in confronting the barrage of misinformation head-on, as, for example, Nicholas Kevlahan did in his recent critique of one councillor's grab-bag of false and misleading claims.
However, it's equally important to recognize that getting bogged down in the sludge is exactly what the opponents and opportunists want.
It's a lot easier to make up a litany of bogus criticisms than it is to do the research and set the record straight, so the people making stuff up will always have the upper hand.
If we get too distracted battling the hydra-headed beast of obstructionism, the real underlying issue retreats to the background and is allowed to hide there unchallenged.
This debate is not about whether the city should get LRT or BRT, or whether the first phase should go on the B-Line or the A-Line, or whether peak passenger ridership is high enough, or whether LRT saves two minutes or five minutes or ten minutes compared to current driving time, or any of the other secondary or tertiary issues that are being tossed around.
These are all important considerations, and in the context of the broad-based, long-term strategic planning exercise that produced the city's LRT plan, they have already been considered carefully or are currently being finalized through the LRT implementation process.
To be blunt, any incumbent councillor who doesn't already know why the City and Province chose LRT over BRT or why the B-Line is being built before the A-Line has not been paying attention for the past eight years.
Given that they participated in the literally dozens of Council votes that led to these decisions, we would have to ask whether they were in dereliction of their fundamental duty to understand what they're voting for.
The very councillors who are most opposed to LRT today were the ones who led the charge to kill the King Street transit-only lane, a successful pilot project whose greatest weakness was that it did not go far enough.
It is just not plausible to accept the notion that the people who have opposed investing more money in improved local transit are suddenly opposed to LRT because they don't think it does enough to improve local transit.
No, the real issue hiding behind the noise machine is a strategic mission for changing how people will be able to live, work and travel and invest in Hamilton over the next 50 years, vs. remaining with the status quo.
Through an ever-increasing collection of vision statements, master plans and other imperatives, the City of Hamilton has formally adopted a strategic mission to become a community that is:
If you accept that strategic mission and work responsibly and pragmatically through the details of bringing that strategic vision to life, you will end up with a plan that looks very much like the LRT plan the City adopted and the Province agreed to fund.
Indeed, the city adopted its plan after undertaking that very work, and the Province agreed to fund the city's plan because it fits nicely with the Province's strategic plan for Ontario Cities as articulated in the Regional Transportation Plan and Places to Grow framework.
So what happens if you don't actually agree with the city's strategic mission?
What if your political constituency is built on stoking resentment and divisiveness rather than building on common values and interests? What if you are cynical about the city's ability to achieve its mission? What if you benefit, politically, from the stagnation and under-performance of the city? What if you just don't think strategically at all?
If you reject some or all of that vision - curbing sprawl or revitalizing the downtown or rebalancing the transportation system or cultivating an engaged population of enthusiastic young people and well-connected senior citizens - then you will feel threatened by any strategic plan to execute on that vision.
You can't come right out and say you don't believe in your own city's strategic mission, of course - especially after consistently voting in support of it. That would make you look foolish or disingenuous.
Instead, you would react by throwing out a spray of noise and distraction to try and confuse and undermine the plan so that the city fails to make progress in implementing it and remains stuck in the status quo.
Just this week, Hamilton Spectator columnist Andrew Dreschel reported that Ward 5 Councillor Chad Collins hopes people will turn against the LRT project as they learn more about the construction impacts:
Collins thinks new information on how the 11-kilomtere B-line from McMaster University to the Queenston traffic circle will disrupt and divert traffic may raise red flags and change people's understanding of the ripple effects of the project, which is expected to begin major construction in 2019.
Collins explicitly wants this project to get lost in the weeds and grind to a halt. He is aided and abetted by Ward 8 Councillor Terry Whitehead, who has been working full-time to manufacture as many obstacles, barriers and challenges as he can come up with.
That is not leadership, it's anti-leadership.
A leader is consistent, focuses on the big picture, takes a strategic view, navigates through challenges, unites disparate groups under a common set of values, and inspires people to share a vision for the future.
An anti-leader does the opposite: changes their position based on short-term interests, distracts attention from the big picture, ignores strategic goals, emphasizes challenges and plays up difficulties, drives a wedge between different groups, and undermines the shared vision that might otherwise bring people together under a common cause.
Collins and Whitehead are anti-leaders. If they are allowed to have their way, Hamilton will lose a once-in-a-generation opportunity to build a more hopeful future for everyone.
That is the real choice before us: transformative change that shifts Hamilton's growth trajectory over the next half-century, or a reactionary retreat to the underwhelming, unsustainable status quo they have both played a prominent role in maintaining over the many years they have represented their wards.
The choice is leadership or anti-leadership. Everything else is just noise.
Please take a few moments to tell Council to take YES for an answer, reaffirm its support for LRT and accept the full capital funding from the Province that Council has consistently voted for since 2008.
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