Government spending is about demonstrating values. The discussion around the LRT project is no different.
By Ian Borsuk
Published April 05, 2017
As we approach yet another contested Light Rail Transit (LRT) council meeting that is bound to be jam-packed with deputations by people arguing both for and against the project, the discussion has turned into a flurry of facts, statistics and numbers.
Those in the Yes LRT camp can confidently back up their positions with said facts and numbers, and they are doing so, while the No LRT side relies mostly on speculation - or as some would call it, FUD.
While these discussions around the specific details of the project are certainly important, I fear Hamilton will lose out on this transit project because those on the Yes side aren't making a strong enough case based on values.
To put it frankly, much (if not most) of the opposition to the LRT project is ideological. It's not a coincidence that many who have spoken out against the project online and in council chambers are the type to crusade against Big Government of all kinds, or to describe taxation as someone "taking my money".
When either side of the LRT issue uses facts and figures, they aren't using them because the data is what influences their position, they're using them because it reinforces their position.
The LRT project will drastically change downtown Hamilton. This is the basic fact we can all agree upon. The No LRT argument for many is based on the belief that this change will be bad.
The idea that government (it doesn't matter which) would spend a billion dollars to intensify the downtown core, and all the changes that go along with that, is simply something they cannot agree with.
It's important to note that the arguments against LRT often are the same arguments that come about when we talk about bike lanes, traffic calming, social programs, and so on.
It's also important to note that the main alternative transportation vision that LRT opponents bring up is based on free-market innovation completely devoid of any government involvement.
It doesn't matter that Hamilton (unlike other cities, such as Toronto) has done zero research on self-driving vehicles in any capacity. It also doesn't matter Ontario is the only region in the country to have a currently-approved automated vehicle pilot project, which won't be over until 2027 (three years after the LRT would be fully functional).
All that matters is those who are opposed to the project find it more appealing to bank on a speculative techno-utopian future than doing the hard work now to ensure Hamilton grows sustainably.
The best strategy that those on the Yes LRT side can take is to continue to bring in and amplify new voices. This has begun to happen. I've already received confirmation that first-time delegates have registered for April 19 who will be speaking in favour of the project.
We need to do more to appeal to those who are not inherently, ideologically opposed to LRT. As one councillor has said about the budgetary process, government spending is about demonstrating values. The discussion around this project is no different.
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