Special Report: Light Rail

Murray: Two-Thirds Majority Council Vote Needed to Kill LRT

The City Manager has reconfirmed that Council would need to approve a reconsideration motion with a two-thirds majority to cancel the Hamilton LRT project.

By Ryan McGreal
Published October 01, 2016

An email from City Manager Chris Murray reconfirms that Hamilton City Council would need to approve a reconsideration motion with a two-thirds majority vote in order to stop work on the Hamilton Light Rail Transit (LRT) project.

The email, dated Friday, September 30, 2016, reads:

Arising out of today's article in the Spectator and in response to the question about Councillor Merulla's reaffirmation motion, I reached out to both the City Clerk and the City Solicitor, for their opinions as to what it would take to stop the LRT project.

[City Clerk] Rose Caterini and [City Solicitor] Janice Atwood-Petrovski have both advised that in light of the actions taken by Council during the current term, it would require a 2/3 majority vote of Council on a reconsideration in order to stop the LRT project currently underway.

This confirmation throws into disarray a ploy by a small coterie of Councillors to stall, undermine and kill the LRT plan.

At least six councillors - a little more than one-third - are staunchly in favour of the LRT plan, and several others have indicated that they are also supportive, albeit more circumspect.

Reconsideration Needed to Change Decision

This clarification from Mr. Murray is entirely consistent with the email response that RTH received from Deputy Clerk Janet Pilon on May 24, 2016.

Asked what would happen to the LRT project if Council voted against a proposed motion by Ward 4 Councillor Sam Merulla to reaffirm Council's support for LRT, Ms. Pilon wrote:

If Councillor Merulla's LRT reaffirmation motion is voted down, it is only the reaffirmation motion that is voted down, the original decision would remain in place.

The current Council is bound by the decisions that have been made in the past, however, the current Council can amend or reopen or debate again on a matter and any actions that can't be undone can't be reopened or debated again.

As decisions on this matter have been made by previous Councils and the current Council the need for reconsideration motions would have to be determined.

A follow-up email from Ms. Pilon clarified:

A motion to reconsider a decided matter shall require the approval of at least two-thirds of Council present.

Councillor Merulla was planning to introduce his LRT reaffirmation motion at a special General Issues Committee (GIC) meeting on October 25, 2016, but that might change with the new confirmation from Mr. Murray.

In an email response to RTH, Councillor Merulla wrote:

The purpose of the reaffirmation was to ensure a two thirds majority would be needed to overturn the project. We've received legal advice stating the MOA that was approved dictates a two thirds majority need to overturn the project; hence the motion is now deemed redundant.

I will however leave it on the books for now.

What is not yet clear is whether a reconsideration motion and a two-thirds majority would be necessary for Council to add a referendum question on supporting the LRT project to the October 2018 municipal election ballot, as Ward 5 Councillor Chad Collins has proposed.

A referendum question would almost certainly be non-binding, since a referendum needs participation by more than 50 percent of eligible voters and municipal elections typically attract only a 30 percent voter turnout.

RTH contacted the City Clerks office on Friday to ask for clarification on this but has not yet received a response.

Council LRT Support Timeline Since 2013

Council submitted its LRT plan, called Rapid Ready, to the Province with a request for full capital funding in February 2013. Phase one was an east-west LRT line from McMaster University to Eastgate Square, with a north-south LRT line from the waterfront to Hamilton International Airport as phase two.

In May 2013, Council to reaffirm its support for the LRT plan with full capital funding after then-mayor Bob Bratina tried to argue that the LRT plan was not really an LRT plan.

In June 2013, Council voted to begin implementing the local transit service improvements identified in the Rapid Ready plan to prepare for LRT service.

In April 2014, Council voted to ask Glen Murray, then the Ontario Transportation Minister, for a meeting to discuss the city's LRT plan.

In June 2014, Council voted to begin implementing the transit action plan recommended on pages 43 and 44 of the Rapid Ready LRT plan.

In March 2015, Council voted to append a request for full capital funding of the HSR Ten Year Transit Strategy to its request for full capital funding of the LRT plan.

In May 2015, the Province announced a commitment to full capital funding for LRT on the B-Line from McMaster University to Queenston Traffic Circle with a spur of the A-Line from King and James to the West Harbour to connect the new GO Station. The announcement stated that this was phase one of the city's rapid transit network, and a subsequent phase would extend the B-Line to Eastgate Square and the A-Line up the escarpment.

In August 2015, Council approved a motion called "Fostering the Light Rail Transit Project" (CM15014), which: created an LRT office to coordinate work with Metrolinx and engage with the public; established an LRT Sub-Committee to report to Council on the project; retained transportation consultant Steer Davies Gleave to work on the Environmental Assessment (EA) Amendment for the approved route; and to develop a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) between the City and Metrolinx.

In October 2015, Council approved Interim Control By-Laws along the LRT route to give staff time to develop a land use and zoning plan for the corridor to ensure transit-oriented development.

In February 2016, Council voted to adopt the MOA with Metrolinx, which commits the City to work with Metrolinx on implementing LRT, facilitating and expediting any by-law changes necessary, and adopting supportive land use and transportation policies to ensure a successfufl LRT implementation.

Reaffirmation Motion

In May 2016, Councillor Merulla brought a notice of motion to reaffirm Council's support for LRT, triggering a political crisis of confidence in the LRT plan that has been unfolding ever since.

The rest of Council closed ranks and deferred the motion after a barn-burner of a speech by Merulla calling out a few of his Council colleagues for creating "a situation of inconsistency, unpredictability and chaos" and challenging them to "come out of the closet" and admit they no longer support the project.

After the deferral, Merulla agreed not to reintroduce the motion until the October 25, 2015 GIC meeting.

Two councillors have now stated publicly that they oppose the LRT plan: Councillor Collins, who consistently voted in favour of LRT before the Province committed full capital funding; and Ward 7 Councillor Donna Skelly, who won the seat in a March 2016 by-election and promised that she would support Council decisions already made, including the LRT plan.

Ward 8 Councillor Terry Whitehead claims he supports LRT but has been aggressively concern-trolling the project.

Last month, Councillors Skelly and Whitehead hijacked a public information meeting to grill Metrolinx and City staff with questions and negative comments about the LRT plan.

Last week, Councillor Collins announced his intention to introduce a motion to put the LRT project on a referendum question added to the October 2018 municipal election ballot.

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.

9 Comments

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By DowntownInHamilton (registered) | Posted October 01, 2016 at 17:02:53

I was really glad to read this earlier today. Hopefully this puts to bed all the divisiveness, rudeness, and general lack of decorum that Whitehead, Skelly, and company have been displaying for the past few months.

GET BACK TO WORK ON CITY-BUILDING, INSTEAD OF EMPIRE-BUILDING IN YOUR WARDS

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By jordanfranks (registered) | Posted October 03, 2016 at 00:50:18 in reply to Comment 120220

lol. Is this Jason Farr?

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By mdrejhon (registered) - website | Posted October 03, 2016 at 10:34:00 in reply to Comment 120228

I read enough of DowntownInHamilton's posts over the years, and his opinions (about half of the time) don't line up with Jason Farr. Also from past postings that DowntownInHamilton has made, he/she/they lives downtown just off a 1-way street, while Jason Farr is widely known as a Crown Point resident who lives off a residential road that's a 2-way street. Also, writing style does not match. Definitely no beep on this.

Comment edited by mdrejhon on 2016-10-03 10:39:36

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By kevlahan (registered) | Posted October 03, 2016 at 13:12:29 in reply to Comment 120230

We should let DowntownInHamilton speak for him/herself, but he/she said that they used to live downtown but moved to the Rolston neighbourhood on the Mountain a few years ago.

Comment edited by kevlahan on 2016-10-03 13:16:53

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By DowntownInHamilton (registered) | Posted October 03, 2016 at 15:41:51 in reply to Comment 120233

Hi!

Yes, I lived in Corktown (John/Charlton) for over 5 years then moved up the Mountain to Rolston. I also grew up in Dundas.

Thanks for your interest :)

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By jordanfranks (registered) | Posted October 03, 2016 at 00:54:15

Lets call a spade a spade: The City of Hamilton is corrupt.

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By JPDanko (registered) - website | Posted October 03, 2016 at 14:31:15 in reply to Comment 120229

This is a weird situation where all the usual suspects accused of undue influence on council decisions - the development community, business community, chamber of commerce, unions, contractors, healthcare institutions, educational institutions and even "activists" are all firmly in support of LRT!

Maybe these groups don't have the influence they sometimes are accused of wielding?

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By kevlahan (registered) | Posted October 03, 2016 at 15:12:21 in reply to Comment 120234

Not to mention Environment Hamilton, various BIAs and neighbourhood associations and dozens of small businesses!

Here is a partial list of 224 business and community group supporters in addition to the over 3000 individual supporters and who've registered their support on the Hamilton Light Rail site and endorsements of seven past Mayors and regional chairs:

http://hamiltonlightrail.ca/lrt-supporte...

I can't think of any other major infrastructure project in Hamilton (or anywhere!) that has had such a broad range of support. And yet some councillors have changed their minds and are trying to stop the project!

One does begin to wonder why the externally funded LRT project is now being held to an unrealistically high level of demonstrated community support, especially after Council has pursued LRT for the past eight years...

Comment edited by kevlahan on 2016-10-03 15:16:33

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By RobF (registered) | Posted October 03, 2016 at 18:12:18 in reply to Comment 120235

People who like it really like it. I'd say most of the support is a mile-wide and an inch-deep, which is typical. The naysayers and serious opponents think if they obstruct enough and ask enough questions -- some relevant, but most not -- then it will plant a seed of doubt in the minds of the soft-supporters. And referendums, like recall campaigns, are great for merchants of doubt ... tons of free media exposure and conflict sells, so both sides are built-up.

The upshot is once it is built there will be something tangible for other parts of the city to see and want. The anti-LRT crowd in Toronto is mostly pro-subway and want a subway because that's what downtown and surrounding core neighbourhoods have. As they say about the SRT: second rate transit. So they say we don't want second rate transit. Give us the subway we've been promised and deserve ... nevermind that a modern LRT system is better suited to medium density environments where right-of-ways are wide enough to accommodate rapid transit at grade.

But alas, we aren't dealing with what's most rational here.

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