Special Report: Light Rail

Chad Collins vs. Chad Collins

The Ward 5 Councillor said he was "not going to try to kill" LRT, and then decided to try to kill LRT.

By Ryan McGreal
Published October 04, 2016

An editorial in today's Hamilton Spectator makes the very sensible argument that if there was ever a time for a referendum on the city's Light Rail Transit (LRT) plan, that time was long in the past.

It just needs one point of clarification: editorial author Howard Elliott writes, "while [Collins] is wrong to oppose LRT, he has at least been consistently wrong and voiced his opposition — at least since he switched to the no side about 2008."

That is incorrect. Collins consistently voted in favour of LRT until after the Province committed full capital funding.

Consistent Votes for LRT

In particular, Collins voted in February 2013 to approve the Rapid Ready LRT report and submit it to the Province for funding.

He voted in May 2013 to reaffirm Council's commitment to the Rapid Ready report in the face of misleading nonsense from then-Mayor Bob Bratina.

He voted in June 2014 to implement the Action Plan contained on pages 43 and 44 of the Rapid Ready LRT report.

He did not start speaking against the plan until the October 2014 municipal election. In March 2015 he voted to add a request for $300 million in local transit capital funding to the City's Rapid Ready LRT capital funding request. By this point he was saying he had serious concerns about how LRT would affect businesses along Queenston Road in his ward.

He did not actually vote against LRT until after May 2015, when the Province approved full capital funding for LRT and a new Centennial GO Station.

Instead of going all the way to Eastgate Square as originally planned, this first phase of LRT would terminate at Queenston Traffic Circle and a spur line would run north-south on James to the West Harbour.

This decision was made at least in part because Collins had recently begun saying he did not want LRT in his ward, and the Province did not want to force rapid transit into a ward that did not want it.

Collins was absent for August 2015 the vote to approve the staff report "Fostering the Light Rail Project", though by this point he was already writing that businesses on Queenston Road "dodged a bullet" by not getting LRT in the first phase.

It was not until the October 2015 motion to establish Interim Control By-Laws along the LRT corridor (to give staff time to develop an LRT-oriented land use plan) that Collins actually cast a vote against LRT - and he cast the sole dissenting vote.

He also cast the sole dissenting vote in March 2016 against the motion to sign a Memorandum of Agreement [PDF] with Metrolinx to collaborate on implementing the LRT line.

Broken Promise

Just after the Provincial LRT and GO funding announcement, Collins celebrated the GO station and also said, "I'm not going to try to kill (LRT); it's done."

So much for that promise. Last week, Collins announced he wants to make the LRT project a referendum question in the next municipal election, which won't be held for another two years.

Since a contract to build the line will already by signed by the 2018 municipal election, as Collins himself acknowledges, any serious decision to hold a referendum would also entail suspending work on the project in the interim.

Indeed, that seems to be the real purpose of the referendum: not to put LRT to a vote, since it would be non-binding anyway, but rather to sabotage and kill it pre-emptively by throwing the entire project into two years of turmoil and uncertainty.

In any case, Council would need a two-thirds majority vote to reverse its decisions to accept Provincial funding, sign a Memorandum of Agreement with Metrolinx and dedicate staff to implementing it.

Reckless Gamesmanship

With the Federal Government looking to make transformative investments into sustainable infrastructure, Collins can't possibly not be aware of the calamitous message it would send to Ottawa and Queen's Park alike if Council was to follow his anti-leadership and backpedal from LRT.

Council recently voted to request funding for the city's entire B-L-A-S-T rapid transit network. What government would actually be willing to spend political capital to give us money for subsequent phases of its implementation if we suddenly reject already-approved funding for the first phase?

Citywide 'B-L-A-S-T' rapid transit network
Citywide 'B-L-A-S-T' rapid transit network

Instead of using his position of power and leadership to move Hamilton forward, Collins has let himself get tangled up in political gamesmanship. He surely understands that he is putting the city's future at risk with these reckless ploys, but he seems to have lost sight of the big picture.

Let us close with another statement from Collins, this one from October 2011 after Council voted to curtail then-Mayor Bratina's powers to communicate with the Province after Bratina took it upon himself to tell Queen's Park that LRT was "not a priority" for the City:

“The last thing we need to do is to allow the interpersonal conflicts and egos to stand in the way of the decisions that we need to make to move this municipality forward,” said Collins. “We have made good progress and we have done that as a team, not as individuals."

It's a nice sentiment. If only 2016 Chad Collins would listen to 2011 Chad Collins. Imagine how much better things would be if all the time and energy that has gone into trying to undermine and subvert the City's LRT plan was instead directed into setting us up for maximum success.

h/t to Alistair Morton for finding the quotes from Collins.

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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