By Graham Crawford
Published July 19, 2011
You'd think I would have learned my lesson after the Pan Am stadium debate. But no, stupidly I couldn't resist and I confess my error here and now. Yes, I listened to the Bill Kelly Show. The reason was Bill's guest, Bob Bratina.
As if Bill's random-word generated logic wasn't enough to cause a rise in my blood pressure, when Bob tried calming the waters stirred by RTH, local business people, and the Spectator, I almost threw my pen at the radio, such was my frustration.
I didn't throw the pen. I'm more civilized than that.
But rather than rant, I decided to quote. That way, you can decide for yourself what you think of Bob's leadership, logic, vision, intelligence, etc. I have added some bridging text and/or labels so that you will understand the focus of each quotation.
Lest you think I'm pulling his comments out of context, you can listen to the interview online through CHML. The quotations I include were transcribed by me, so I can attest to their accuracy.
NOTE: It was only after I wrote the paragraphs you just read when the news broke that City Manager Chris Murray has suspended work on LRT. To quote his email to staff and Council that was sent out on Friday, July 15, "I have made a decision to suspend all current direct and indirect activities of the Light Rail Transit Initiative other than any work activities required to be completed under the agreement."
So, that means Bob Bratina appeared on Kelly's show with the full knowledge of Murray's "independent" decision to suspend LRT work, and that LRT staff would be reduced from 6 or 7 to 1. Either that, or he doesn't read his emails from the City Manager. You be the judge.
So, if he did know about the decision, why did he say the things he did? Why did he not share this rather significant decision with Bill Kelly and his listeners? Why did he say that he could not understand what the Spectator was getting at when they printed their concerns about LRT going off the rails.
Bratina, as has always been his way, will say that he never said anything that was not accurate. He mentioned only Jill Stephen, and she is still involved in LRT. He said they were still working on LRT. He said there were still many unknowns.
All of these are convenient truths. Why not simply share the facts with us? All of them? Instead, we get carefully worded responses that cause us to think one thing, when an entirely different decision has been made. I guess Bob thinks this is all very clever on his part. I don't agree. Neither, I hope, do you.
Here's how Bill Kelly introduced the show.
We're going to beat the LRT shuttlecock around once again. Not too long ago we had Hamilton Mayor Bob Bratina and City Manager Chris Murray with us here in studio to talk about the status of LRT and where we were standing. I thought it was a pretty informative session. Obviously, it's not good enough for some people.
The local daily ran some stuff on the weekend that basically suggested that Hamilton politicians seem to be falling off the bandwagon when it comes to LRT. That's not the impression I got from the Mayor and City Manager and a lot of people on Council. What they have shown is the audacity to ask some questions about whether or not this is actually feasible and workable for Hamilton. God forbid we should get some answers before we spend a billion dollars.
No, this is not the point where I almost threw the pen, although when transcribing it I almost threw my laptop.
Bob expressed deep confusion over the reason the Spectator decided to run multiple stories and a pretty direct editorial and intense editorial cartoon in Saturday's paper.
I really don't know what the whole weekend Spectator brouhaha was all about because life is unfolding, the work continues to take LRT from concept stage to a full strategy with funding. We have no idea what the details of the funding will be. And there a lot of other issues. We're not even sure, for instance, on the route where exactly we would park the vehicles. So, there are a whole series of questions......There's nothing before Council upon which to make any decisions whatsoever, so I'm really not sure what all of that weekend Spectator articles were all about.
On the reason that all-day GO service is a priority (implying that LRT is not a priority just yet).
A million people a day go into Toronto. That's the critical mass of people that's going to change Hamilton and the people who are moving in and out of the city, not moving within the city going from Eastgate to downtown. And that's fine. We'll deal with LRT when it's time to deal with it...
Someone from Stoney Creek would be able to drive to that (GO train) parking lot, somewhere around Centennial, and get on a GO train and be in Toronto in an hour, or save 8 minutes going on a streetcar to the west end of the city. There's no comparison in the impact of those two entities. GO is ready to go. We're working hard to make it go, and I know the province has been dealing with us in an open and fair manner and we feel they will see things our way.
On showing leadership and championing LRT.
I'm not about being a champion. If I'm the champion of anything it's about keeping Hamilton affordable and sustainable. I talked about that a lot during the election because we wasted too much money and made bad decisions, so we're going to be very careful about how we spend our money. That's what I'm the champion of. This question of champion, I mean someone championed the west harbour and placed third in the election. So what's championing all about? Somebody wants to be a champion, go ahead. I'd rather be the guy in the corner wiping the cut stuff on the guy's face, keeping him going.
I sent an email to Bill Kelly as I listened to the show. Bill read the first half of my email on air:
Bob's spin on GO being in front of us right now, versus the seeming longer range mystery (at least to Bob) of LRT, is a false dilemma. Bob Bratina was talking about all-day GO service 5 years ago. Was he premature in his support? Wasting his and our time with a dream? This is not about all-day GO versus LRT. The province is talking about both at the same time. Why can't our leaders? It's called multitasking.
You have to remember that when I wanted a return passenger service to the James Street North station, the mayor was against it, of the day, the planning department were against it, of the day. They were looking at Copetown as a place to put a station. And, to be fair, the Minister of Transport was against it. So, I was fighting three levels of government and now it's on the verge of happening. So, I guess I did champion that.
Bob on the unknown costs of LRT.
Some people say they're (the province) going to pay 100% of the capital costs. What does that mean? Nobody knows what that means, so how can someone who purports to be caring about the poor arbitrarily impose tax increases on their humble houses of say 7, 8, 9, 10%? How do you do that? I have to care about those people too.....What do these people want Council to do today? There is no recommendation before us at the moment and there won't be for a while yet. at best it would be 9 or 10 years before anybody would be riding on an LRT.
Bob on having a clear vision for the city.
Someone accused us of having no vision, no direction. OK, here it is. All-day GO service, McMaster comes downtown, waterfront. Those three things are active files, moving ahead quickly.
Bob on why LRT might work in Kitchener-Waterloo.
We estimate that there are about 60,000 students in Kitchener-Waterloo and around those places like the RIM's and the Wilfred Laurier's are huge empty spaces which can be filled up with development. And you can drive up and down our proposed LRT route all you want and you don't see large parcels of land waiting to be developed. There are some in the downtown core I grant you, but you need 500 people very 10 minutes to get on at Walter Avenue or Parkdale or down there to come downtown.
Bob on saving heritage buildings and downtown cores.
Some cities who missed the (downtown demolition) wave are now reaping the benefit of not having done that. The cities who went hell bent for leather knocking down their old parts. In Europe, in the eastern block countries, cities like Prague. Prague is a jewel. It's one of the most loved cities in the world because nothing happened there in that horrible period of the sixties and seventies because there were no investments and they didn't tear all their old city down. So, in retrospect, sometimes it's a hard way to learn a lesson.
Bob on increasing commercial property tax revenues and LRT.
The real hole in terms of the downtown is the north side of King between Catherine, or say John, just take the two blocks between John and James where you have the peep show, the thrift store, bingo. All of the two blocks contribute a total of $340,000 in taxes to the city. That should be like $2 million. So, how do we go off on other investment tangents when we know if we have that problem there that has to be fixed?
Bob on where he thinks LRT should go (NOTE: It seems as if the studies, and the investments in those studies, are too focused on an LRT route that Bob, according to his own words, does not support. What better way to stop focusing on the B-Line than to pull resources and to announce a suspension of all direct and indirect activities related to LRT? That way, you can get your act together to perhaps focus on the A-Line route instead? Maybe, but who can tell from this kind of foggy communication from Bratina and Murray?)
Everyone who has come to my office in the last year, or six months, has had to go through the boredom of me unrolling my map of where the LRT should go. And the City Manager, "Oh not again, here he goes with his map. We have an LRT line sitting waiting to go that goes from the airport to the GO station, goes through the two business parks in Glanbrook, goes through the 20,000 home sprawl, which I didn't want to support that but we're going to get 20,000 new houses in the southeast you know up around Summit Park and that way.
So I have a map in my office that shows the corridor it comes down and it hits Rymal, Stonechurch, Limeridge, Mohawk and then you get this nice sweep. We own the property. There are no sewers. There's nothing underneath that. I would easily guess it would be a third of the cost of the B-Line. And it would then subsequently connect to the waterfront.
So, it comes from the airport, goes through all that growth that I said that will happen, not might happen, then it goes to the GO station. Now it could go along Hunter to Bay down to King and then branch off to McMaster or continue down Bay say to the waterfront. You got it all connected at a third of the price. Hello. (taps the microphone) Is anybody there? So, why wouldn't we do that?
Bob on the costs of building LRT on top of existing underground infrastructure.
Most jurisdictions who do this find that the costs escalate dramatically. A good example is Edinburgh. 80% of the 500 million pounds has been spent. 28% of the work is done.
The last word is mine, at least within the body of this article. Bob can respond if he sees fit. In closing, please permit me a few questions.
Why did Bratina not even mention Murray's email and its rationale and its implications when he had a full, uninterrupted hour to do so over the airwaves?
Why did he say he couldn't understand the Spectator's concern about LRT going off the rails when he knew that resources (staff and money) were being pulled?
Why did he not speak about the Public Information Centres happening (or are they?) Tuesday and Wednesday evening about the B-Line route?
Why are citizens being treated with such disrespect?
Why indeed. Perhaps the most challenging of the questions I'll pose for now is: how can the City of Hamilton possibly survive this leadership vacuum?
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