Special Report: Light Rail

Hamilton Deserves a Straight Answer from Province on LRT

The Liberals have been bobbing and weaving around the LRT issue ever since former Premier Dalton McGuinty first backpedaled from his government's funding commitment.

By Ryan McGreal
Published February 06, 2015

On Monday, January 27, Hamilton Mayor Fred Eisenberger met with Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne to discuss the city's rapid transit plans.

Mayor Eisenberger came out saying he heard the Province was "unequivocally" committed to full capital funding for light rail transit (LRT) along the east-west B-Line between Eastgate Square and McMaster University, which the Ontario Liberal Party has been promising since 2007.

But Premier Wynne stopped short of saying "LRT" or committing to a dollar figure when asked in a media scrum following the meeting. Instead, she continued the Ontario Government's practice of calling it "rapid transit" without specifying a technology:

We have said all along that we were committed to building the rapid transit in Hamilton. That's a commitment we've had in place for a number of years. You will know there's been a back and forth in Hamilton about exactly what that would look like, what the rapid transit would be.

For the past year, Wynne has been repeating that she needs to hear from Hamilton about whether we want LRT or bus rapid transit along the B-Line.

Horwath, McMeekin Spar

On February 4, the Hamilton Spectator published an op-ed by Andrea Horwath, Ontario NDP Leader and MPP for Hamilton-Centre, which accused Wynne of "talking out of both sides of her mouth" on the rapid transit file.

The premier must either put up full capital funding for our LRT, or tell us why her Liberal government doesn't think Hamilton's transportation needs are important.

Horwath pointed out that the Liberals have been promising LRT since 2007 but have yet to deliver on that promise. "When it comes to our LRT the Liberals have a bad habit of writing cheques that Hamilton can't ever cash."

The back-and-forth continues today with another op-ed in the Spectator, this one by Ted McMeekin, Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing and MPP for Ancaster-Dundas-Flamborough-Westdale.

McMeekin still infuriatingly refuses to write "LRT", but he comes as close as the Liberals have come to an LRT funding commitment:

We have been very clear that we remain committed to fully funding the capital costs of a Hamilton rapid transit project, in whatever form the community decides on. [emphasis added]

The question then becomes: what will it take for the Liberals to accept that "the community" has decided on LRT?

Council Approved LRT Plan

Hamilton City Council unanimously approved the Rapid Ready LRT plan in February 2013 - two years ago.

A few months later, Council reiterated its support for the LRT plan and clarified that it is, in fact, an LRT plan after then-mayor Bob Bratina tried to claim that it was not.

In last June's provincial election, the Ontario Liberals fielded candidates in Hamilton Mountain and Hamilton East-Stoney Creek who opposed the City's LRT plan, instead making a misleading and fearmongering bus rapid transit proposal. Both candidates lost to the respective ONDP candidates, who were on record strongly supporting LRT.

In his op-ed, McMeekin rubs Horwath's nose in the fact that the NDP voted against the Ontario budget that allocated $15 billion for transportation projects across the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area, triggering an election in which the Liberals won a majority government again.

Indeed, the NDP have had difficulty explaining how they would pay for the Regional Transportation Plan despite their steady support for it.

Morass of Uncertainty

But no amount of posturing can cover the fact that the Liberals have been bobbing and weaving around the LRT issue ever since former Premier Dalton McGuinty first backpedaled from his party's LRT funding commitment in September 2011.

Certainly much of the blame falls on Bratina, who ran for election in 2010 on a pro-LRT campaign but then spent most of his mayoralty doing everything he could to undermine, mislead and confound the city's LRT planning process.

But that does not leave the Liberals scot-free - especially considering Bratina's close partisan ties (he is now the Federal Liberal candidate for Hamilton East-Stoney Creek) and the party's willingness to field candidates who were parroting Bratina's talking points.

An uncharitable interpretation of the Liberals' tack is that they are simply running down the clock until City Council's support for LRT collapses under the weight of politicking, uncertainty and sheer lack of vision that so often characterizes municipal government.

After all, the original point of creating and funding Metrolinx was to elevate regional rapid transit planning above the parochialism and limited funding options of local councils.

McMeekin ended his op-ed by referring to Mayor Eisenberger's proposal to run a citizens' forum on rapid transit. If the Liberals really are serious about keeping their seven-year-old promise to build light rail transit in Hamilton, this is all they have to say:

If the conclusion of that process is that light rail transit is the best technology to meet Hamilton's rapid transit needs, the Ontario Government will support that decision with full capital funding.

Until that happens, the LRT file will remain stuck in a morass of uncertainty.

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.

13 Comments

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By Tadd Axon (anonymous) | Posted February 06, 2015 at 09:08:05

Did investments in Toronto's transit require a citizens' forum? Just asking...

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By @garrisonkel (anonymous) | Posted February 06, 2015 at 09:38:42 in reply to Comment 108779

I think we all know what the results of a citizen's forum in Hamilton would be. If Hamilton wants to be taken seriously about LRT city council needs to say "YES" now or this is not going to happen. I was hoping this was going to be my last car.

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By Haveacow (registered) | Posted February 06, 2015 at 10:24:12

Although, I have no doubt that the provincial Liberals are doing exactly what Rian's article suggested, "running down the clock" when it comes to LRT funding but, I don't believe its for denying Hamilton funding. As an outsider, It's been my impression that there is still a fundamental debate going on about transit in Hamilton and its not BRT vs. LRT. Its more like, do we need rapid transit and if we do, why? Cities like Toronto, Ottawa and Vancouver are also having transit debates but, its really about a preferred technology and ultimately the proper sequencing of lines inside their rapid transit networks. On top of that, how they plan to pay for everything? But the question of rapid transit itself is settled, its a needed part of the total transportation system of those cities. I just do not get the feeling that Hamilton has really finished that basic debate about rapid transit itself and its position in the city.

I now there is a big push for LRT on this website and many of the people are already sold on the LRT idea. When you are not on websites similar to this but, newspaper comment sections or just in the community at large (outside of downtown Hamilton) and you ask about rapid transit what is the answer you get about it? I seriously doubt that even 30-40% would identify it as a priority, yet. Go into a suburban Tim Horton's and ask if Hamilton needs an LRT line, the answer you will most likely get will surprise and ultimately disappoint you! I picked this feeling up by an occasional visit to Hamilton, looking at magazine, newspaper and other internet site comments. Do not crap on the province because it is picking up the same rumblings I get and might be dragging its feet about funding an LRT line. Hamilton can't even get its component community's to pay the same amount for the funding of transit across the built up areas of the city and you want the province to dump up to a Billion dollars into your lap for an LRT line!

You guys really need to start more transit talks like you had yesterday (Thursday Feb. 5, 2015) outside of the downtown and then build up support in the real world, not just on line and in downtown Hamilton. LRT is a good concept and goodness knows here in Ottawa where I live, we fought long and hard to get our O-Train starter line (100% of capital funding was local) and our $2.1 Billion Confederation Line (which we had to pay 33% of the capital costs) from the entrenched BRT(Transitway) people in all levels of our transit system and city management. To be fair, we do have a very successful BRT system so it was a big deal that we got rail funding at all. Ultimately here in Ottawa we developed a hybrid system of BRT lines and LRT lines something that, purists on both sides of the transit technology debate bitterly fought but, seems to be working, so far. Now if we can just get our own PM to stop publicly trashing the city of Ottawa (he loves his Calgary and definitely not Ottawa) we will most likely be ok.

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By hamster (anonymous) | Posted February 06, 2015 at 12:05:47 in reply to Comment 108781

Thanks for the submission, absolutely correct. There is a huge segment of this town absolutely uninformed about the project yet with a knee jerk opposition to it, and 2/3 of council is beholden to these people.

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By MissingPartOfTheStory (registered) | Posted February 07, 2015 at 17:50:05 in reply to Comment 108790

The opposition is not knee jerk, and often not uninformed either. Don't assume that the other side is ignorant, stupid or adversarial. Appeal to their interests instead. People on the mountain, Ancaster, Stoney Creek and Waterdown would be happy to go with 1 car instead of 2, to save costs if nothing else. The savings from LRT could pay for a lot of increased service to the suburbs.

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By Haveacow (registered) | Posted February 06, 2015 at 10:38:51

Sorry, that should be 42.85% of the Confederation LRT line is locally funded, $900 million out of the $2.1 Billion, on top of the $600 Million each from both the Feds and the Province.

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By Noted (anonymous) | Posted February 06, 2015 at 11:26:40

The Minister of Ornament.

goo.gl/fwcwme

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By KevinLove (registered) | Posted February 06, 2015 at 12:58:43

Andrea Horwath accuses Kathleen Wynne of talking out of both sides of her mouth? What rich hypocrisy.

While giving lip service to LRT, Ms. Horwath has consistently opposed all provincial taxes to pay for it and the rest of The Big Move. Perhaps on the theory that it will be constructed by magic fairies and unicorns that work for free?

Before the recent election, Ms. Horwath was leader of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition in a minority parliament. She had the clout to push through, for example, the tax increases endorsed by Ontario’s Chamber of Commerce to pay for The Big Move.

But she chose to demonstrate that she is more right-wing that Ontario’s Chamber of Commerce by killing ALL proposed revenue tools to finance Hamilton’s LRT and the rest of The Big Move. In the real world that myself and other grown-up adults live in, good things cost money and have to be paid for by taxes. Something that the Ontario Chamber of Commerce understands by endorsing tax increases to pay for The Big Move. They are able to think like adults. Too bad Andrea Horwath cannot.

By giving lip service to LRT and The Big Move, but opposing all taxes to pay for them Andrea Horwath demonstrates not just gross hypocrisy but gross immaturity.

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By DowntownInHamilton (registered) | Posted February 06, 2015 at 21:42:03 in reply to Comment 108800

Comments with a score below -5 are hidden by default.

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By a (anonymous) | Posted February 06, 2015 at 17:18:48

Comments with a score below -5 are hidden by default.

You can change or disable this comment score threshold by registering an RTH user account.

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By Cultosaurus (registered) | Posted February 09, 2015 at 11:01:18 in reply to Comment 108832

You don't know how to use the Internet do you?

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By A (anonymous) | Posted February 08, 2015 at 21:57:10 in reply to Comment 108832

Funny....say something true about hamilton and they HIDE your comment. Wearing blinders is no way to develop a bedroom community of Burlington. It's true though, Hamilton is a dead zone. Stop trying to be Toronto. I don't care though, I live in Halton, so tax away Hamilton, tax away.

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By urban dude (anonymous) | Posted February 08, 2015 at 17:35:17

Actually...Province Deserves a Straight Answer from Hamilton on LRT

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