By Ryan McGreal
Published September 12, 2011
Last friday, I received the phone call I have been dreading all summer: Spectator reporter Emma Reilly contacted me to ask for my opinion on a quote from Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty:
[All-day GO train service] was the No. 1 ask of the city. We've had some important conversations with the mayor, and this is their priority, which made it our priority. Over time, we can enter into other discussions about things like the LRT.
In response to Reilly, I pointed out two things:
The public campaign to build LRT in Hamilton didn't really take off until the Liberal government promised, in 2007, to build "two light rail lines across Hamilton" as part of the Metrolinx regional transportation plan.
The reason Premier McGuinty sees all-day GO service as the Province's top priority is because that's what our Mayor says is the City's top priority.
Essentially, we've given the Province an excuse not to fulfill their commitment to build LRT in Hamilton. It's a diabolically self-fulfilling plan on Bratina's part to de-prioritize LRT to death, even though Council has never voted to instruct staff to stop planning LRT.
This, of course, is exactly what I've been worried about ever since Mayor Bob Bratina and City Manager Chris Murray began their public disinformation campaign against light rail transit back in May.
In mid-July, Murray unilaterally issued an order to suspend all work on LRT aside from what the City is contractually obliged to complete under a $3 million funding arrangement with the Province and announced a new task force to pursue the city's new top priority, all-day GO train service.
This policy change was never ratified by a Council decision, but it resulted in the near-elimination of the Rapid Transit Office as staff were redeployed to other projects. We only know about it because RTH obtained a copy of the email the following Monday and published it.
Before Murray's email came to light, Councillor Brad Clark suggested that LRT supporters were overreacting:
Nobody on council has stated that they oppose LRT or that we are reconsidering. We are acting with all due diligence, waiting for a decision from the province on funding at which point we must make a final decision.
Now Clark seems to have changed his mind.
After the Spectator published Reilly's article on Saturday, Councillor Brad Clark posted an entry on his blog in which he quips, "The Spec's scoop was so exclusive that council was not aware that our position on LRT had changed!"
Clark notes that Council never voted to change its position on LRT: "Clearly, the Mayor did not have a resolution authorizing his representation to the premier that the expansion of Go Transit was council's #1 priority."
He also notes that if the City does not continue developing its LRT plan, the $3 million class environmental assessment will be wasted. "If we flush LRT now than we will have to complete the studies all over again because EA work must be current!"
Clark remains skeptical about the utility of all-day GO train service. "Go Transit has considered all day service on a number of occasions. Each time, the business case has always shown a significant loss."
Clark reiterates the Liberal government's 2007 promise to build two light rail lines in Hamilton and notes that Toronto has "seized their opportunities with ten projects worth almost $10 billion under construction. Toronto is not paying a penny."
Finally, he points out that Hamilton Council was desperate not to lose the 56 percent capital funding from the Province on the Pan Am Stadium, even though it committed the city to cover the other 44 percent; and yet the Mayor seems willing to walk away from a Provincial commitment to pay 100% of the capital costs for LRT.
Councillors Jason Farr and Brian McHattie plan to introduce a motion in October to reaffirm Council's commitment to LRT.
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