Special Report: Light Rail

Ontario Liberals Clarify Position on LRT Funding

Ministers Ted McMeekin and Glen Murray confirm that the op-ed by Liberal candidates Javid Mirza and Ivan Luksic do not reflect Party policy on LRT funding.

By Ryan McGreal
Published February 26, 2014

On Monday, Ontario Liberal candidates Ivan Luksic (Hamilton East-Stoney Creek) and Javid Mirza (Hamilton Mountain) wrote an opinion piece in the Hamilton Spectator arguing that Hamilton's planned east-west LRT line is too expensive and that Hamilton should focus on all-day GO transit service with enhanced express bus service instead. (You can read responses on RTH here and here.)

RTH contacted representatives of the Ontario Liberal Party to ask whether this piece represents a change in Liberal policy seven years after promising full capital funding for two light rail transit lines in Hamilton.

Ted McMeekin, Liberal MPP for Ancaster-Dundas-Flamborough-Westdale and Minister of Community and Social Services, responded on twitter, writing, "In our party (unlike others), Mirza and Luksic are free to express an opinion. They are not articulating Liberal policy."

Asked to clarify what the Liberal policy is, McMeekin wrote, "we're [content] to work with City - don't want to build if not wanted. Will depend on revenue tools and a realistic view about same."

City Council voted unanimously in 2013 to submit its LRT plan to the Province, based on the promise of full capital funding.

Glen Murray, Ontario Minister of Transportation, also responded on twitter, writing, "Government supports Metrolinx GO expansion LRT A and B lines. Need to work with city, Metrolinx and community leaders."

Murray will be in Hamilton on Friday to speak at a luncheon organized by the Hamilton Chamber of Commerce.

Monday's op-ed by Mirza and Luksic is full of inaccurate, misleading claims and closely echoes the messaging of Hamilton Mayor Bob Bratina, who has spent the past three years undermining Hamilton's LRT plan after campaigning in support of it in 2010.

Bratina has claimed that Hamilton would have to choose between LRT and extending all-day GO service to Stoney Creek; that the city was "not hearing any kind of clamour from the public" and "no solid interest" from developers; that it was not clear where new infill developments might fit along the B-Line; that LRT would only make sense "if somehow a million people move to Hamilton over the next five years"; that the province never actually promised LRT to Hamilton; that ridership on the B-Line is not high enough to support LRT; and that the City's Rapid Ready LRT implementation plan is not actually a plan to implement LRT.

Bratina has often mentioned the LRT study by McMaster Institute for Transportation and Logistics (MITL) which concluded that LRT can be successful in Hamilton but needs a political champion to "realize success by marshaling resources, building coalitions, and resolving disputes."

The report goes on, "Coordinating institutions, streamlining processes, and minimizing red tape are seen as crucial in implementing TOD projects and are dependent on strong political leadership."

After last year's unanimous Council vote to support the City's Rapid Ready LRT plan, Bratina confirmed that he would begin to champion it. "Council has now provided direction with the expectation of 100 percent of capital funding and that will be our position dealing with the government."

Asked specifically whether he will "champion" LRT, Bratina responded, "Yes." But that didn't happen. Instead, Bratina just continued to misrepresent the facts, undermine the case for LRT and play divisive politics.

More recently, a few councillors have been quoted saying they won't support LRT if the City has to help pay for it. A few have even suggested that they would reject LRT if Hamiltonians have to participate in Provincial revenue-generating tools - like development charges, tolls, levies or fees - to raise the money to pay for the next phase of transit projects.

This, of course, is utterly absurd. It would be like refusing a hospital expansion in Hamilton because Hamiltonians have to pay the Ontario Health Premium.

It is extremely unlikely that the Province would exempt Hamilton from regional and provincewide funding mechanisms, so if we reject the LRT - or if we come across as diffident enough that the Province can use that as an excuse not to fund it - Hamiltonians will end up helping to pay for LRT in Mississauga and subways in Toronto while Hamilton gets left behind yet again.

Unfortunately, in the absence of political leadership or clear messaging, the public discussion has become overwhelmed by misinformation and silliness.

Ryan McGreal, the editor of Raise the Hammer, lives in Hamilton with his family and works as a programmer, writer and consultant. Ryan volunteers with Hamilton Light Rail, a citizen group dedicated to bringing light rail transit to Hamilton. Ryan writes a city affairs column in Hamilton Magazine, and several of his articles have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. He also maintains a personal website and has been known to post passing thoughts on Twitter @RyanMcGreal. Recently, he took the plunge and finally joined Facebook.

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By CaptainKirk (anonymous) | Posted February 26, 2014 at 16:21:55

Nice, but Luksic and Mirza still need to be properly informed.

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By EricGillis (registered) - website | Posted February 26, 2014 at 16:32:44

That's still a precarious response from McMeekin, the representative from Ancaster-Dundas-Flamborough-Westdale, who has a major student organization in his riding that is advocating on behalf of Light Rail Transit. Representing constituents?

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By highwater (registered) | Posted February 26, 2014 at 16:37:09 in reply to Comment 97959

Sadly the students don't vote, and I'm sure he knows it. I'm sure he also knows that Westdale is the only segment of his constituency that would be turned off by his mealy-mouthed approach to LRT.

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By LOL_all_over_again (registered) | Posted February 26, 2014 at 16:58:39 in reply to Comment 97961

Actually most of Westdale residents have absolutely no use for LRT and would be much happier if the idea is scrapped.

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By highwater (registered) | Posted February 27, 2014 at 12:13:24 in reply to Comment 97965

Ha! Meanwhile, we have others saying we shouldn't invest in LRT because the only people who are going to benefit from it are the richy riches in Westdale. You trolls really need to get your stories straight.

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By kevlahan (registered) | Posted February 26, 2014 at 17:00:17 in reply to Comment 97965

What do you base this claim on?

The Ainslie Wood/Westdale Homeowners Association endorses LRT.

And the McMaster Student's Union endorses LRT, and students are one of the biggest resident groups in Westdale.

The facts (rather than your "feelings") show pretty strong public support for LRT from the representatives of Westdale residents.

Comment edited by kevlahan on 2014-02-26 17:05:23

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted February 26, 2014 at 16:35:37 in reply to Comment 97959

It does seem to pretty firmly say "if Hamilton doesn't demand this, we're not going to stick our necks out for it".

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By highwater (registered) | Posted February 26, 2014 at 16:41:51 in reply to Comment 97960

It also firmly says "we are free to interpret your 'demand' any way we want". It doesn't matter how loud we scream, they can simply claim it just wasn't quite loud enough. They're positioning themselves perfectly to blame the victim if they decide to screw us out of LRT.

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By Fred Street (anonymous) | Posted February 26, 2014 at 20:44:54 in reply to Comment 97963

They're playing a similar hand to the one they did on ARC: We're just being responsible partners with school boards and trust them to make the best choices.

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By J McGreal (anonymous) | Posted February 26, 2014 at 18:20:05

Leave B-Line as this invest in BRT check out City of London Transportation Master Plan 2004. think outside the box Hamilton.#1 City of Hamilton Concentrate on modernize BRT with state of the art for 21st century Buses.
A-Line as LRT transportation route from airport to CITY HUB.
Is Hamilton THE MODERN AMBITIOUS CITY with forward thinking RESIDENTS
Tell City of Council The People want it Now !!2014

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted February 26, 2014 at 20:09:03 in reply to Comment 97975

Want to save inner-city neighbourhood schools? Revitalize the lower city with LRT and transit-oriented development and a lot of the conversations about declining enrolment and school closures will change quickly.

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By jason (registered) | Posted February 26, 2014 at 19:45:21 in reply to Comment 97975

Why not LRT for the B-line? It's the one with much greater development potential due to decades of stagnation. And why all the way to our dying, little airport?? That seems like a huge waste of money on tracks.
I would like to see both done as LRT, but perhaps to Rymal Road or the HSR depot.

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By mikeonthemountain (registered) | Posted February 26, 2014 at 20:42:25 in reply to Comment 97978

I find it very peculiar that GTA has such a lack of imagination when it comes to, you know, connecting to their airports. Going to either Pearson or Hamilton Airports is a royal pain in the arse without a vehicle. Schipol, Manchester, those are airports where LRT and trains are waiting outside, with, you know, signs to point the way. Hamilton is indeed as you say, a stagnant airfield out in the stix. Pearson may be surrounded by the rest of Toronto, but it too is still connected to the rest of the city like it's in the stix.

Thumbs up to LRT for both A and B line. A line being JamesN GO to Hamilton Airport, which may win further airline expansions. Upper James will certainly make use of it. As with the stadium, we seize the opportunity or lose it. These people are crazy for not seizing this opportunity.

Comment edited by mikeonthemountain on 2014-02-26 20:49:40

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By JeffRintjema (registered) | Posted February 26, 2014 at 22:26:09 in reply to Comment 97984

Distance from Ryckman's Corners to Airport: 6.8 km
Distance from Ryckman's Corners to Main and James : 6.8 km
Having an LRT built all the way to the airport would be overbuilt infrastructure. In fact, having 2 lanes of traffic to and from the airport is overbuilt infrastructure.

Comment edited by JeffRintjema on 2014-02-26 22:27:48

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By jason (registered) | Posted February 26, 2014 at 20:54:45 in reply to Comment 97984

Good point. A-Line LRT running from the water and James N GO station to the airport would probably help build the airport. These 2 LRT lines could revolutionize Hamilton. We've been doing this for 70 years. It's high time we actually follow through and build an LRT system.

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By Fred Street (anonymous) | Posted February 26, 2014 at 20:41:22

"In our party (unlike others), Mirza and Luksik are free to express an opinion. They are not articulating Liberal policy."

Although their free opinions do reflect Liberal policy.

A great shame that Metrolinx has been turned into a partisan poodle. Time was, the agency was tasked with depoliticizing the transit file.

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By jason (registered) | Posted February 26, 2014 at 21:02:15

Must reading for anyone interested in this topic:

http://forum.skyscraperpage.com/showpost...

http://hamiltontransithistory.alotspace....

Could have seamless integration with this proposal: http://transit.toronto.on.ca/gotransit/2...

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By anonymous (anonymous) | Posted February 26, 2014 at 22:02:11

Does anyone know the slope of the claremont access?

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted February 27, 2014 at 07:17:25 in reply to Comment 97990

Claremont is a gentle enough slope that LRT can ride up and down on it. However, when the City did its preliminary study on a north-south A-Line LRT, they suggested that it would be cheaper to tunnel into the Escarpment between James and Upper James, because going up the Claremont would be a long detour.

That's one of the challenges that will need to be addressed for the A-Line (personally, I'd love to see the lower-city LRT connect to the upper-city LRT via a funicular), but in the meantime the B-Line is already at an advanced stage of design and ready to proceed.

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By Balance (anonymous) | Posted February 27, 2014 at 00:52:05

My opinion solely. LRT is not required at this time as we are not a European Country...Please provide Bus Rapid Transit in the interim until ridership increases exponentially. Buses offer the maximum in flexibility in terms of routes etc.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted February 27, 2014 at 07:13:30 in reply to Comment 97997

My opinion solely.

Nothing wrong with that, but make sure your opinion is based on accurate information.

LRT is not required at this time as we are not a European Country

Plenty of North American cities of varying size, demographics and built form have LRT systems that are extremely successful and effective: Calgary AB, Edmonton AB, Vancouver BC, Ottawa ON, Charlotte NC, Portland OR, Boston MA, Philadelphia PA, Dallas TX, Denver CO, Phoenix AZ, San Jose NM, San Diego CA, Salt Lake City UT, St. Louis MO, Sacramento CA, Houston TX, Seattle WA, Tacoma WA, Pittsburgh PA, Memphis TN, Norfolk VA, Cleveland OH, Los Angeles CA, Mexico City and so on.

Please provide Bus Rapid Transit in the interim until ridership increases exponentially.

Ridership is already more than high enough to support LRT. If the B-Line LRT was to launch tomorrow, on opening day it would have average ridership for LRT systems, with plenty of room to grow. Kindly note that the B-Line buses are already way over capacity, with regular "pass-bys" as overstuffed buses drive past people waiting to board.

Buses offer the maximum in flexibility in terms of routes etc.

With LRT, the inflexibility is a strength, not a weakness. A bus route can be changed or canceled, but an LRT system is a fixed long-term investment in a community that gives people the confidence to invest in it. That's why LRT is so good at attracting new economic development around the line - people want to live near LRT and use it, and developers love the fact that LRT is permanent.

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By Ms Me (anonymous) | Posted February 27, 2014 at 08:29:15

Push for a referendum on the issue and see what happens...Let democracy dictate!

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted February 27, 2014 at 09:42:49 in reply to Comment 98002

A referendum - especially a rushed referendum - is poor democracy indeed. By law, a referendum ballot question needs to be announced at least a year before an election. I've been told that municipalities may request to have the minimum time waived, but the point of a year's notice is to allow for a fulsome public discussion - something we especially need in this case.

The public discussion on LRT has been confused by a steady stream of misinformation from the Mayor's office, endless foot-dragging by the Province on whether they will keep their capital funding commitment, and a City corporation that has effectively disbanded its Rapid Transit office and stopped all public communication and engagement on the issue. The public discussion so far has been extremely lopsided and filled with false objections and bad arguments.

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By Referee (anonymous) | Posted February 27, 2014 at 09:50:39 in reply to Comment 98006

It's worse than that, whoever gets to decide the wording of a referendum and what people have to choose from gets a huge say in the outcome. If Council gets to write the question, you can guarantee the options will strongly favour the status quo.

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By banned user (anonymous) | Posted February 27, 2014 at 11:35:30 in reply to Comment 98008

comment from banned user deleted

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By Robert D (anonymous) | Posted February 27, 2014 at 22:49:27 in reply to Comment 98016

Yet there are a great many areas of law where the "public's wishes" (which I take you mean what the majority result would be if there was a referendum) are not followed.

We have a representative democracy, not a direct democracy, and we rely on our representatives to make decisions that are best for the community as a whole. Sometimes these decisions are not popular with the majority of people (see capital punishment, spanking, and all forms of taxation). But that doesn't make it any less "democratic" that our ELECTED officials choose what is best for society as a whole.

If you think direct democracy is the only type of democracy, might I point out that where "the unwashed masses" are getting (mis)information from media owned and controlled by a select few, direct democracy is bound to be distorted by the will of the ones with the biggest chequebook.

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By DissenterOfThings (registered) | Posted February 27, 2014 at 11:40:38 in reply to Comment 98016

What are the public's wishes? Who is advocating for not honouring the public's wishes? How are you even coming to these conclusions?

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By democracy (anonymous) | Posted February 27, 2014 at 11:46:21 in reply to Comment 98017

This post was based on the reaction to public consultation by referendum.

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By democracy (anonymous) | Posted February 27, 2014 at 11:48:41

How are we to know what the public wishes are if we don't ask? Either polls and referendums are always acceptable regardless of outcome or they are not. Seems like people like to cherry pick

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted February 27, 2014 at 11:56:54 in reply to Comment 98019

The city engaged in an unprecedented level of community outreach for years during the LRT planning process, and consistently found that Hamiltonians overwhelmingly support LRT. In addition, a large number of civic, business and community organizations have formally given their support to the city's LRT plan, including the neighbourhood associations along the B-Line corridor.

However, for the past couple of years we have had a City Rapid Transit office that has been completely silent on LRT (contrast Edmonton, which is currently conducting a spirited community engagement process), while the Mayor has been busy spreading misinformation and confusion about every aspect of the LRT plan.

A referendum only makes any sense in the context of a highly informed public well-prepared with sound factual information, which is one of the reasons a referendum ballot question needs at least a year's notice. Emotionally charged manipulative populism is not democracy in any meaningful sense of the concept.

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By democracy (anonymous) | Posted February 27, 2014 at 12:25:40 in reply to Comment 98022

I agree. Thats why I believe opposition to such an undertaking is undemocratic. You may not appreciate the opposition that will occur once all of the facts such as total cost come out but it is what it is. This shift in attitude corresponded as much with the realization that the cost was enormous and unfunded by the province as with the mayor's objections. The opposition to added fees and taxes appears to be the driving force behind the shift but unless there is public consultation of some sort after new facts arise we really haven't had public consultation at all. The Big Move costs are at the centre of the opposition? The idea that the money will be spent is questioned because of the belief that there really isn't money available? Is this even a local issue but rather a provincial issue that the next general election will decide? With these fundamental questions unspoken during the original consultation process is it a real surprise that we are seeing a different mood?

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted February 27, 2014 at 13:01:47 in reply to Comment 98028

Nothing has changed. The province has been saying since at least 2008 that they need to come up with revenue tools to fund the next phase of Metrolinx projects. Yet even this is being spun in a misleading way: some LRT opponents suggest that we should turn down LRT if it means new tolls, levies or fees - as if Hamiltonians would somehow then be exempt from contributing to the Provincial transit fund. If we turn down LRT, we will still have to pay - only the money will be used to build higher-order transit in competing cities.

I am all in favour of an open, wide-ranging public discussion on LRT - indeed, I have spent the past several years trying to engage as many Hamiltonians as possible into joining precisely that discussion. What I oppose is the stream of FUD from political leaders that has overshadowed that public discussion recently, while the municipal organization that is supposed to be communicating good information has been silenced.

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By hrt (anonymous) | Posted March 01, 2014 at 12:50:03

The 2014 Ontario Budget is expected to clarify how the government will collect from its citizens in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area to pay the remaining $34 Billion of the estimated $50 Billion total capital cost of the Metrolinx "Big Move" transportation project. Only then we will know the upfront impact on the Hamilton taxpayer and whether that upfront impact will differ quantitatively if this city chooses LRT or BRT.

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