Special Report: Light Rail

Collins' LRT Referendum Ploy Would be a Cowardly Cop-Out

Ward 5 Councillor Chad Collins wants council to hide behind a referendum instead of standing behind its decision.

By RTH Staff
Published September 30, 2016

Ward 5 Councillor Chad Collins is reportedly planning to introduce a motion in spring 2017 to put a referendum over Hamilton's Light Rail Transit (LRT) on the 2018 municipal ballot.

Phase 1 LRT implementation map
Phase 1 LRT implementation map

After consistently supporting LRT since the City first started planning it in 2008, Collins switched to opposition and began voting against the plan after the Province finally committed full capital funding in May 2015.

Council has overseen this project for over a decade and has already accepted the Provincial funding commitment, signed a Memorandum of Agreement to implement the plan and established an LRT office to work with Metrolinx on doing just that.

Now Collins is saying he wants to set all of that aside and put the project to a referendum two years from now!

Disingenuous Proposal

This disingenuous proposal is not about holding a legitimate plebiscite to allow the people to make a decision directly. Rather, it is a procedural ploy to suffocate LRT in a two-year circus of political theatre and operational paralysis.

Municipal elections only attract 30 percent of eligible voters and a referendum needs to have over 50 percent participation to be binding. That means the results almost certainly will not be binding. But Collins is already saying he doesn't care:

Collins maintains it's immaterial if the referendum is legally binding or not because one way or another it will send a clear signal to the newly-elected council and provincial government.

Collins is treating this as a glorified opinion survey following a two-year delay, and he does not mind that it has no chance of reaching the 50 percent participation level to make it binding.

It is likely that we would see a participation rate similar to the last election, about 30 percent. If 50 percent of those voters opposed LRT, that would be only 15 percent of eligible voters, with the other 85 percent either supporting or abstaining.

That would not suggest strong opposition, but Collins and other LRT opponents would still interpret this as a mandate to kill LRT.

Meanwhile, it allows Collins to get around the fact that he does not have the two-thirds support around council for a reconsideration motion to reverse Council's previous votes to move ahead with implementing LRT. Instead of killing LRT outright, he gets to hit the pause button for two years and throw the project into crisis.


Hamilton has not held referenda on any other major infrastructure or policy issues in living memory. Why is a provincially-funded transportation investment that will boost the local economy and pay for tens of millions of dollars in local infrastructure upgrades being held to a different standard than previous contentious transportation investments?

Collins is aware of the fact that LRT was a major issue in the last two municipal elections, and in both cases candidates who campaigned on pro-LRT platforms defeated opponents who campaigned on anti-LRT platforms. (In the last provincial election, explicitly anti-LRT Liberal candidates in Hamilton East-Stoney Creek and Hamilton Mountain lost to their pro-LRT opponents.)

His very weak response to this is that the 2003 election, in which Larry Di Ianni defeated David Christopherson for Mayor, was a de facto referendum on the Red Hill Valley Parkway - but somehow the 2014 election was not a de facto referendum on LRT.

It is even more absurd when you consider that unlike the Parkway, LRT is a project funded entirely by the Provincial government, so it is not even a question of residents having a say in how their municipal tax dollars are spent.

Abdicate Responsibility

A referendum at this late stage would result in Council abdicating its responsibility to actually make decisions, and to be consistent with its own previous decisions.

Council is elected and empowered to govern: that is how Canada's parliamentary democracy works. The referendum would not decide anything, since it would almost certainly be non-binding, but simply by agreeing to hold the referendum, Council would throw the whole LRT project into chaos and confusion. That, of course, is exactly what LRT opponents like Collins want.

This shirking of responsibility, with devastating and hugely costly consequences for the City, would be gross dereliction of Council's duty!

Destroy Hamilton's Reputation

Doing this would destroy Hamilton's reputation as a trustworthy partner with other levels of government. Council has spent over eight years steadfastly pursuing LRT with full provincial funding.

They've spent many millions of dollars of both municipal and provincial money to do this. They have signed a Memorandum of Agreement to support the Province, and they have hired staff and set up an office. Metrolinx is now in the implementation phase.

It would be hugely irresponsible to change our minds and set a referendum for November 2018, ten years after Council (including Collins!) originally voted to pursue an LRT plan, and more than three years after the full funding commitment from the Province.

Any higher level of government would have to think very carefully about entering into any other funding agreements with Hamilton after this.

Reckless Political Game

There is a reason City Council has consistently and repeatedly voted to request Provincial funding for this LRT project: it clearly provides the biggest overall benefit to Hamilton, as documented consistently across City, Provincial and independent studies over the past decade.

Collins is playing a reckless political game with Hamilton's future. At stake is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity: a billion-dollar investment in the first phase of a high-quality rapid transit network that will serve the entire city once it is fully built out.

Citywide B-L-A-S-T rapid transit network
Citywide B-L-A-S-T rapid transit network

Tens of millions of dollars in badly-needed municipal infrastructure renewal we can't afford ourselves. 6,000 person-years of construction jobs. Hundreds of millions of dollars in new private investment. New property tax revenues to ease pressure on tax rates. A thriving downtown that becomes an economic engine for the entire region. A competitive local housing and employment market so Hamilton can attract more young professionals. The chance to plan ahead so Hamilton isn't snarled in Toronto-style traffic congestion in 20 years.

It would be an appalling failure of leadership for Council to run and hide behind a referendum now, instead of standing behind its decisions, supported by strong evidence, multiple election mandates and broad public engagement.

It would throw the LRT implementation into turmoil and uncertainty, once again dissipating the momentum and great work of dedicated staff carrying out Council's will.

It would signal to the Provincial Government - and all three major Provincial parties - that they should not bother sinking a lot of political capital in a city that cannot stick to a decision.

It would likewise signal to the Federal Government, which is currently rolling out an historic infrastructure investment, that we are not a reliable partner.

It would broadcast to the rest of the country that Hamilton is not serious about becoming a great place to live, work and do business.

And all this for a glorified public opinion poll that will not actually settle the one question its proponents claim it can answer!

Adopting Collins' motion would be breathtakingly cynical and self-destructive, even for Hamilton.


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By LeeEdwardMcIlmoyle (registered) - website | Posted September 30, 2016 at 07:10:40

A staggering abuse of his authority on council. Much like Councillor's Whitehead and Skelly, Collins is squandering political capital--both his own and that of the city--doubling down on this seeming conviction that Hamiltonians would rather cut off their noses to spite their own face than accept real change. I know there aren't many people out there with the name recognition of Collins, but I dearly hope he finally gets unseated in '18. He's been in there too long, and doesn't have any sort of real vision for the whole of the city. He's playing divisive, parochial political games to stay in power, nothing more. I feel bad for the people of his ward who believe he has their best interests in heart, because he's revealed himself to be a cynical politician of the old school variety, and clearly has lost sight of the needs and hopes of the city and its future. And what for? So folks can keep their SoV commute times down? This and a GO station to divert people around the core makes him look like an embittered outer ward councillor, when his ward--the ward I grew up in--has always been a part of the City of Hamilton, from the first breaking of ground past Parkdale up to amalgamation and beyond. Is he hoping that the Wal Mart on Concession will magically become his own city hall if and when amalgamation ever gets repealed (Pro Tip: Don't bank on it, Chad, because it won't happen)?

I honestly don't get him. A dear friend assures me he's a great guy, but his maneuvering and conservative approach, especially of late, make me think of reptilian politicians twice his age, and he's around my age! I know that us East Enders aren't noted for our intellectual acumen, but he actually makes me wonder if he has any idea what city building in the 21st Century actually entails. He certainly shouldn't be deciding policy for a growing metropolis. All he's done in the last few years is increased traffic flow on some of the scariest streets I've ever seen, in a part of town so divided by five lane highways and Hamiltonian driving habits that there is barely any community spirit left in all but a few areas, where they've galvanized and formed a couple of NAs to combat the decay that has continued in the more residentially dense, less commercial areas of his ward.


Chad, I don't pretend to understand all of the challenges you face in serving your ward, but do you think you can get your nose out of the 1950s Robert Moses playbook long enough to look at a calendar, buddy? Wider roads don't solve anything. They never did. Induced demand isn't another leftist smoke screen for publicly funded studies, any more than climate change is. This is the reality we live in. The roads have gotten wider and longer and faster, and yet we still have people waiting at traffic lights (the HORROR!) on Queenston and Nash, and people running to get across five lane intersections before the lights change. The sidewalks are just about wide enough, but it's still one of the least walkable wards I know of, because it's optimized for cars, not people. I'd estimate that a quarter of your ward is made up of parking lots and roads, and few if any small businesses, as walking traffic is so restricted, particularly along Barton and Queenston, that nobody knows where anything is except the gas stations on Centennial and the U-Haul on Nash. You WANT people traveling to and around your ward. You WANT pedestrian and cycle friendly travel. A lot of your residents can barely afford to run a car anywhere buy into the ground. Cut them some slack and make some decisions that actually help them get around. You have three and a half bus routes that run through your entire ward. They're separated by some of the largest blocks in the lower city. Kids and poorer families have to scramble along some pretty dangerous streets, in all weather, to get anywhere. You have grocery stores on nearly every block, I'll grant you, but they're almost a mile apart, and only the very young will walk or ride to any of these so-called destinations (along back streets, because the main streets are lethal), unless they're in a car.

Did you hear the one about the millennial who traded in his bike and headed to the used car lot? No? me neither, because it doesn't happen. Millennials figured it out. Car ownership is a trap these days, with skyrocketing insurance and gas costs, and repairs that can only be done in expensive modern garages (unless you're driving a beater, in which case, why bother?). You have to take the lousy job to afford the car you needed to buy to get to your lousy job. Millennials don't do that. Comes to that, a lot of us Gen Xers don't, either. Cars, and especially combustion engine cars, are going away. Not overnight, but they are going. Doubling down on more roads and parking lots is old school thinking. You may not want to upset your older Boomer constituents, but you can't win any more political capital selling them roads to get through and around ward 5 with no real destination locations except Eastgate Square (still my favourite mall, but honestly, it doesn't even have a movie theater, let alone a venue for larger crowds; for that, you need a thriving downtown core, and you need reliable, safe transit to and from).

Just trying to help you out, guy. Good luck in 2018... you're going to need it.

Comment edited by LeeEdwardMcIlmoyle on 2016-09-30 07:25:05

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By JasonL (registered) | Posted September 30, 2016 at 10:02:53

Growing up my entire life one of the most common refrains I heard was "we all pay taxes to upper levels of government but TRAWNA gets all the money spent there. What about Hamilton??!'

Now I understand why. If I was the province, I wouldn't spend another dime here.

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By notlloyd (registered) - website | Posted October 03, 2016 at 11:36:18 in reply to Comment 120181

Toronto gets the money because for the most part they vote Liberal and we vote NDP. Hamilton has had no serious political clout since Ross and Munroe. They had some under Copps but she ruined it. Now we have virtually none.

Comment edited by notlloyd on 2016-10-03 11:37:39

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By Haveacow (registered) | Posted September 30, 2016 at 10:07:38

Please forward to Councilor Collins.

I am a independent urban planner who lives in Ottawa but grew up in Toronto and still have many friends and family members throughout the Greater Golden Horseshoe. I have experience in Transportation, Environmental and Historic planning. Although I enjoy it far less I am also very experienced in project management and policy planning. I have been involved in various capacities for several BRT and a few LRT projects, as well as few other rail based projects. I was part of small group of people and community organizations that helped start up Ottawa's original O-Train Diesel LRT/Commuter Rail Hybrid Line in the mid 1990's (now referred to as the Trillium Line).

Councilor Collins, I can see and understand you are mainly concerned that without the public endorsement of a referendum, you can't support the B-Line LRT project. However you must consider these facts first. There have been more than two dozen studies involved in this project going back to 2008. This process for LRT in Hamilton, has lasted threw 2 local election cycles and has still survived public knowledge and approval. The people who are against this project are doing it for there own selfish political and commercial interests and I can tell you they are very much out of step with the norms in this province. The project's opponents are backward thinking and if your name is attached to them then, for all time your name will be attached to a moment in history when a bad decision was made that was in the long term, very destructive towards your city. Proponents of this project including the majority of the development community and commercial sectors of this province look forward to help develop your city's core by establishing a city wide backbone LRT system that future extensions will radiate outward from. Your BLAST Network of LRT lines is a good step towards the future. New technology like driverless cars will only make the traffic problems worse because they take up a large amount of road space, even more than today's cars with just single driver occupancy because they can drive back to and from home driverless and take up greater amounts of road space instead of being forced to park your car today. There will also be very little funding for any future road project from the Federal or Provincial government for a considerable time period. The negative attention these projects generate will forever limit new expressway and major road projects until they are absolutely critically necessary. Transit, cycling and other active forms of transportation are the future for the vast majority of Ontarians.

Communities of greater and greater density will become the norm and the suburbs that do not adapt to that form will become the "slums of the future". The future is in greater density because you simply can't afford anything else, the middle 20th century form of low density suburbs are dead because they are unaffordable. The people who live there will be forced to accept not only higher costs (reflecting the much higher costs of servicing low density development) but be comfortable with also greater density inside those existing communities, whether they like it or not. The easiest way to proceed forward has been happening naturally already in your downtown core. However, greater and greater investment levels must be made in your downtown area and LRT systems like the B-Line is the anchor that will pull in that greater and greater level of development and its greater and greater levels of taxes. BRT for the record, will ever not do that to the same extent. Even if it is real BRT, with a physically segregated right of way not just painted bus lanes, these faux BRT pretty express bus systems with great marketing names and nice hi tech bus stops won't either. Although they will to a very minor extent improve transit ridership. BRT has a problem that is not discussed much by its proponents. The busier the system gets, the more money you have to invest in its operational infrastructure. That infrastructure very quickly is no longer easy and cheap to install but becomes bigger and out of need grander in scale and complexity. This results in very high operating costs. The higher operating cost of BRT will cause financial and thus political issues if it is successful. Unless your system is designed to be easily converted to some other operating technology in the future, changing the operational technology will be painful, complex and you will have to spend a lot of money at some future time, to actually convert it. Trust us here in Ottawa its a lot harder than it sounds. Just build LRT instead, from the beginning and you will have a big head start. It is much cheaper and easier to add capacity to a LRT system than a BRT system. This is something we also discovered in Ottawa after 33 years of experience with high capacity BRT service.

The City Council in Brampton, Ontario rejected a 3km section of the Hurontario LRT project for "a better made in Brampton line routing". They are now at the back of the line for any provincial funding and will not likely get any for a considerable time. Unfortunately for the people of Brampton, there city has been turned into a laughing stock in my industry. There is just no nice way of saying it. Don't be a Brampton! They may have also lost there long sought after bid for a university campus because of it. Essentially forward thinking cities don't do stupid things like this for lets be honest, provincial political party loyalty reasons.

Referendums are a callous political way of avoiding decision making. It's just normal human psychology that, most referendums will fail regardless of the merit of what is being proposed. It is easier to just say no! This is a politically calculated idea that is negative in nature and in anyone's educated opinion, has a better than average chance of killing the this transit project.

I say, if you do this to the gift that you have been given from province of Ontario then, all major local transport projects including road proposals also must then also be subject to referendum. I have also heard often the cry from many local politicians against certain projects, to force projects they don't like to a business case analysis. By the way, most transportation projects whether they are road or transit projects also fail business case studies as well. That's why most municipal road departments never subject their road projects to them. That's why the road production industry and suburban development companies in Ontario screamed at the provincial government when they were forced to subject expressways and major road projects to those same studies. The same studies that transit projects have been subjected to for over 3 decades.

You are getting for free what it took us in Ottawa a decade and a half of lobbying by senior Federal, Provincial, and influential local politicians. We still have to pay 1/3 of the bill for our LRT line! Just like your neighbor, the Region of Kitchener-Waterloo and its Ion LRT Line. In Ottawa, phase 1 and 2 of our LRT system building program will cost $5.1 Billon. Approximately, $1.9 Billion or about 38% is funded locally. Real BRT lines at the end of our LRT lines are still being built as well. We currently are building 3km of BRT right of way at the moment. These are being 100% locally funded. When the stage 2 LRT lines come on line around 2023-24, we will have 50-55 km, of LRT lines and still 20+ km of BRT lines.

This does not come cheap for the tax payers of Ottawa, we actually municipally speaking, get less money from our property taxes because the provincial and federal governments don't pay property taxes. They give us cash in lieu of property taxes. The amounts they pay are decided by them not us. In fact, compared to current property tax values we get roughly only 40% of the money from the federal government owned property including Parliament Hill, than we would receive if it were privately owned. The problem here is that we have a lot of federally owned land. This has meant that we take in 20-30% less than if it were all privately owned. The provincial rate is around 70% this year.

You are getting your starter line for free! Yes, there are operational details regarding concerns like, where the money from the fares will go, which with projects like this are usually decided at a point further down the implementation process and will not be known until then, but you already know that don't you councilor? Your job is to make your constituents understand that, if you didn't know that then you need to do some more studying since that kind of knowledge is municipal politician 101 and should have been explained to you on day 1 of your appointment to council.

There are no fewer than 30 Ontario cities who would immediately apply for your Billion dollars if you chose not to except it. It will not be there for you when at some point in your future when your city's council comes to some decision about what Hamilton really wants and or needs regarding rapid transit. The cash will simply not be held for you, it is LRT now or nothing. saying otherwise is just lying to yourself. Too many other municipalities in Ontario like Ottawa, Toronto, the Region of Waterloo, Peel Region (both Mississauga and Brampton) Durham Region, Niagara Region, the City of London, Halton Region (both Oakville and Burlington) and even the City of Peterborough have rapid transit projects ready to go, all they need is the funding. Promising taxpayers that maybe nervous or have concerns about the LRT project that the money will be there waiting when your city finally decides on the perfect solution is just not admitting the reality of the actual situation. If you say no, to LRT, the money will not be there for a decade or more. Just tell us now if you don't support LRT and let us here in Ottawa warm up our lobbying effort for your LRT cash, will take it no questions asked!

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By kevlahan (registered) | Posted September 30, 2016 at 10:09:47 in reply to Comment 120182

Please email your letter directly to Chad Collins:


also, cc the Mayor:


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By ergopepsi (registered) | Posted September 30, 2016 at 10:33:58 in reply to Comment 120183

Fix the spelling first though. There. Threw. Gotta admit after two mistakes my credibility meter goes into the red and I stop reading.

Comment edited by ergopepsi on 2016-09-30 10:34:14

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By kevlahan (registered) | Posted September 30, 2016 at 10:38:43 in reply to Comment 120185

Yes, it does need a bit of editing and polishing before it gets sent if you want it to be taken seriously (and not just a rant, as much as that is a rational response to political maneuvering aimed at ensuring one's city retroactively turns down $1 billion in funding for a multi-generational transit system that the City itself asked for!).

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By Haveacow (registered) | Posted September 30, 2016 at 11:27:25

Thanks for the advice, it was done very quickly in a coffee shop this morning.

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By kevlahan (registered) | Posted September 30, 2016 at 13:22:10 in reply to Comment 120191

In fact, since Council as a whole might end up having to vote on this self-destructive resolution, why don't you cc Council?

Their emails are here:


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By bobby2 (registered) | Posted September 30, 2016 at 13:50:09

Unfortunately many people fail to read the fine print? The budget is $1B & covers infrastructure repairs related solely to LRT project. The Liberal Gov't has stated if the project starts going over budget, the LRT system will be reduced/re-jigged to fit the budget constraints! Just think what unknowns are underground of a 100 years plus infrastructure? This project system will not look anything near what it does today in the current plan! You know it, I know it, cold hard truth but heck can't give up a $1B gift???

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By kevlahan (registered) | Posted September 30, 2016 at 14:04:55 in reply to Comment 120204

This is a very conservative budget with a large contingency built in to cover just this sort of issue (remember that we've built LRT in Toronto, Ottawa and Waterloo so we already have a pretty good idea of what sort of costs are involved ... Hamilton is not exceptional). Compare the per km cost with other LRT systems: $1 billion is already very high.

Are you really saying we should refuse the entire investment because there is a chance $1 billion might not build the full LRT system that's been proposed? That is very strange logic!

Would you only accept 100% payment of capital costs by other levels of government in Hamilton if there is an unlimited budget? That's ridiculous and irresponsible. I guess you would oppose any infrastructure project at all, especially those the City has to fund, on those grounds.

Comment edited by kevlahan on 2016-09-30 14:05:19

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By JPDanko (registered) - website | Posted September 30, 2016 at 15:36:21

The proposal to include this on the ballot in the 2018 municipal election is interesting.

In my experience there are very small numbers either for or against LRT - while the vast majority of public opinion on LRT is either total apathy (don't care - the city is going to do what the city is going to do) or extremely fluid - meaning if you lead with a positive opinion on LRT you're likely to get a pro LRT opinion back. If you lead with something negative, you'll get an anti LRT opinion back.

Waiting until 2018 gives the anti-LRT crowd two whole years of bad press towards LRT - its doesn't matter if its true or not - only if it generates a sustained negative emotion and uncertainty towards the project. Lumping it in with a general election also removes the pro-LRT side's ability to really mobilize if necessary - splitting resources from election campaigning to LRT campaigning. It also ensures the maximum number of anti-LRT voters are mobilized (older people who traditionally vote in municipal elections) vs pro LRT voters who would likely be very mobilized to vote in a one-off referendum (with an online ballot?) if not in a general election (for example McMaster University students could probably single-handedly swing a referendum vote if there was an online ballot).

Since incumbent Councillors are pretty much untouchable in a municipal election, I strongly suspect that the results of the referendum would mirror the opinion of each individual councillor - the only question is if two years is enough time to generate and grow enough bad emotion to swing two or three fence sitting councillors to the anti side.

My cynical side says that it probably would be...

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By ergopepsi (registered) | Posted September 30, 2016 at 15:42:09 in reply to Comment 120207

Fear always seems to win over reason.

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By bobby2 (registered) | Posted September 30, 2016 at 16:32:25

Love how some who are Pro about an issue refuse to consider law of probabilities & downsides of an issue? Yes, you do need to list all pros & cons of any huge project & determine if on balance it makes sense. Not going to Eastgate Mall but stopping at Queenston Circle makes no sense. This whole idea seems to surround McMaster as the destiny & it serves mostly visitors to our City while attending University & contributing zero property tax dollars to this project. The whole LRT Line serves a very small portion of Hamilton citizens that are only concentrated in that area. If anyone thinks this white elephant isn't going to cost property tax payers huge amounts for operational & maintenance costs needs to work at Disney Land. Finally, this project is about 9 years away from completion, Wynne will be long gone & who knows who will make decisions about reducing the current project plan and/or what the City has to share in the costs because it's gone so far that it must be completed. An enhanced modern rapid bus project seems so much more viable! And guess what, if ridership demand changes in the future, it can be accommodated. I'm not trying to be against LRT just for the heck of it, I just really believe for Hamilton, it's a train wreck just waiting to happen!

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By JasonL (registered) | Posted September 30, 2016 at 19:09:30 in reply to Comment 120209

why did we build the QEW then when it wouldn't connect to Hamilton Mountain? Why did we build the Linc when we knew Red Hill wasn't happening at the same time? Why did we build the 403 knowing it wasn't going all the way to Brantford?

It's called phase 1 of a multi decade plan that will touch every part of the city.

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