Special Report: Light Rail

Loomis: Rejecting LRT 'Would be Breaching the Duty of Good Faith'

The Hamilton Chamber of Commerce president pulled no punches in a recent interview with Bill Kelly on CHML.

By Ryan McGreal
Published March 27, 2017

Last Thursday, Hamilton Chamber of Commerce CEO Keanin Loomis was on the Bill Kelly Show on AM 900 CHML to talk about tomorrow's upcoming General Issues Committee (GIC) meeting to approve the next step in the Hamilton Light Rail Transit (LRT) project, and Loomis pulled no punches.

Council is set to receive an amendment to the Environmental Project Report (EPR) that Council originally submitted to the Province as LRT funding. The amendment is to bring the EPR up to speed on the changes in routing and alignment that the Province approved in its funding commitment, and it's necessary for complete the necessary Class Environmental Assessment on this project.

To be clear, this is a procedural vote to approve an amendment that Council asked staff to prepare on an environmental report that Council has already approved on a project that Council has approved, so the vote should be a mere formality.

But this is Hamilton, and it is not at all clear that the vote will go ahead at all, let alone go ahead without enduring a maelstrom of posturing, grandstanding, politicking, and a disingenuous campaign of Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt (FUD) over the project.

Loomis started the interview by pointing out that the Federal budget includes new transit funding for cities - $20.1 billion over the next 11 years, based on ridership and population. "I think that it's really important to understand as we talk about transit and the investments we make right now, the greater the ridership we're going to have going forward and the greater the investments in transit, the more money were going to be able to get from the federal government."

In other words, this is not a good time for Hamilton to fall even further behind other cities in its efforts to increase transit ridership.

He later added, "We know that our transit system is terrible. It really is. And great cities have great transit. So we can't be a great city if we're not going to invest in transit."

Next they moved onto LRT. The Chamber is a long-time supporter, and just joined nine other major anchor institutions last week to submit a strong call for Council to move forward with LRT and commit to building out the citywide rapid transit plan.

Loomis noted, "I can't imagine that there's ever been a time in Hamilton's history when the key anchor institutions have coordinated like this and made a statement this important and this loudly."

He went on to lament that it was necessary to make this unprecedented display of solidarity and support in the first place. "I look at these people as, I know them all very well. I think highly of them all. They're all great leaders and, and for me if you're not listening to these people, I don't know why you're serving in leadership in this community."

He later added, "I think, again, it is important for the voices of real leadership in this community to bring the temperature down and to really keep us focused on what matters most for this community, and that's about creating a great transit system."

He went on to point out that the City already signed a Memorandum of Agreement with Metrolinx and noted that Council "have a duty of good faith to make sure that this project gets done and gets done on time and on budget, and so their approval for this EA would be within that duty of good faith."

When Kelly asked if he was concerned about this not happening, Loomis replied, "I don't know if it's cluelessness, I don't know if it's sabotage, or cowardice, but this is certainly not leadership."

Loomis made the point the sheer inappropriateness of a Councillor - essentially a board member of the corporation of the city - trying to undermine and sabotage a decision already made:

You've got your major stakeholders recommending this, you've got experts recommending this, you've got a funder, a financier who is willing to inject a billion dollars uh into the heart of our economic engine, our cultural engine.

You've got your CEO recommending this, you've got your CAO recommending this. And this is one case in which you have to put your board hat on, and not your ward hat. And if you're not operating, if you turn this down, I think you would be opening yourself up to, certainly, to misfeasance as a board member and I think you would be breaching the duty of good faith that you've already agreed to.

Loomis closed by saying: "We have to be ambitious ... this is really about what type of city do we want to be."

Full Transcript

Following is a full transcript of the interview. (Huge thanks to Nicholas Kevlahan for transcribing.)

Bill Kelly, AM 900 CHML: Welcome back, I know that the you were in the most daring winter storm that we've had probably in the last ten years or so, and you were down in the sunny south.

Keanin Loomis, Hamilton Chamber of Commerce: Yeah, we felt very fortunate -

BK: Your timing is impeccable.

KL: I know we booked the trip over Christmas, so yes it was impeccable.

BK: Anyway, welcome back, good to have you back here. You're back in just in time, by the way, there's something about an LRT discussion that's going on next week at City Council, by the way, I don't know if you were aware of that.

KL: Oh, really, thank you for bringing that up -

BK: I want to bring you back up to speed. I know when you go away for a few days you tend to lose track of things. I want to talk to you about that in a minute, but first of all give me your thumb nail sketch, a quick read of what happened at the budget yesterday.

KL: Yeah, well, so, just in reading some of the analyses of the budget from the OCC and the CCC as well I think that there's a number of really points that we were happy with, certainly on trade-enabling infrastructure, which is something that we've been advocating for as Hamilton Chamber of Commerce for a long time both provincially and federally, there's a lot more spelled out in the agenda on that, as well as in the innovation agenda.

I was really pleased to see more meat put on the bones there and I think there's a really good opportunity for Hamilton to be receiving some of that money. And then, finally, really, it's some of the things we're going to be talking about later on is that, you know, the federal government laid out that it was going to invest $20.1 billion over the next eleven years, in, for transit for cities, working with the Provinces and the territories to find the right allocation based on ridership and population.

And so I think that it's really important to understand as we talk about transit and the investments we make right now, the greater the ridership we're going to have going forward and the greater the investments in transit, the more money were going to be able to get from the federal government.

BK: I wish they hadn't touched the ridership subsidy though, because ridership is down right across the country right now and that's an incentive I think to push people towards public transit and I hope that doesn't come back to, well it won't bite them. It will bite us because we're the ones that will suffer as a result because we're not going to get the funding for it. Anyway, those details will come out later on.

Let's get into this and, maybe we'll start it off by talking about the letter that was delivered to the Mayor and City Councillors yesterday. With a number of important and, I think, very influential businesses and institutions in the city have come on side here.

KL: Yeah, it's pretty remarkable and pretty impressive, actually, I don't know if, you know, I haven't been here nearly as long as you have, but I can't imagine that there's ever been a time in Hamilton's history when the key anchor institutions have coordinated like this, and made a statement this important and this loudly.

We have been, as you know, the quality of leadership at all of the anchor institutions right now in Hamilton is second to none, we have great people at all of these really great and important, really they're the biggest employers in town. And we have been, over the last couple of years, coming together on a quarterly basis to talk about ways in which we can coordinate, because you know there's a lot of overlapping agendas.

When we talk about community hubs, for example, and the need to coordinate between the school boards and the hospitals and, uh the uh institutions of higher learning and all of that it's really important that we have these types of meetings, and it's also a really great forum for us to discuss the big issues of the day, and of course LRT is the biggest one.

So it's something that we've been talking about as anchor institutions, and we've been able to realize that, you know, we're all really, really invested in the success of, not only of Hamilton, but obviously our transit system. And in the overall 25 year transit strategy, whether we're talking about, you know, the economic benefits that it will bring, whether we're talking about the health benefits that it will bring, the increased connectivity as well for the populations that the institutions serve, we all realize that LRT is really important to us and the entire BLAST network.

So it was important at this point in time, as you said there is a big meeting coming up on Tuesday so it was important for us to make a statement that this is really, really important for the future of this city.

BK: I know you're just back into town, but ... I'm just looking at this list here. You of course, are the Hamilton Chamber of Commerce are in here, as are Arcelor-Mittal Dofasco, Hamilton Health Sciences, both major school boards, the public and the separate school board are involved in here, and a number of other ones.

You realize that one councillor has actually suggested that the people who are driving the LRT file right now are a small, but vocal, group of elitists. This is a pretty impressive list of elitists!

KL: Yeah, I mean, certainly for me, I look at these people as, I know them all very well, I think highly of them all. They're all great leaders and, and for me if you're not listening to these people, I don't know why you're serving in leadership in this community because, -

BK: Well, what it does is I - I think it addresses the concern that the councillor had made that it's just a bunch of people from downtown that are driving this right now that want to see this happen, but there's not a whole lot of interest. When you see the boards of education getting together on this, and you see the Hamilton Health Sciences and you're getting together with the Chamber of Commerce, that represents and is the voice of business, and especially small business, I think it puts a different leg on the - the support that's there for the project.

KL: Yeah, I would expect that it should. Um, I don't, you know I - I tweeted yesterday I don't think a statement like this should be necessary, but obviously it is, and I think it's really important and this is - this pretty remarkable that these institutions came together to talk about this. And, you know, some of the criticism, well, you know, none of these institutions pay tax, well, you know Arcelor-Mittal certainly does and we represent a thousand businesses and private sector sector interests that you -

BK: How many people are employed -

KL: But, they employ more than tens of thousands of people in this city, and they serve tens of thousand more people -

BK: And how do those people get to those jobs, Keanin?

KL: Hmm, I don't know -

BK: Public transit, maybe, a lot of them?

KL: Yes, certainly that would be -

BK: That would be a specious argument to say that some of them don't pay taxes -

KL: Well -

BK: That's not their choice, this is not Donald Trump. I mean Hamilton Health Sciences don't pay taxes because the provincial law says they don't have to, so, but they do get, the city does get payments in lieu for that as well, so ... The, the let's be clear on that, okay.

KL: And what I've always said is, you know, look at the median salaries of many of these institutions as well, and those drive the economy as well and we know that the Hamilton economy has obviously evolved over the last number of decades and this is the reality of the situation. Um, but it's also why we're the most balanced economy in the entire country.

So I think, you know, that it's a good that we have these incredible, large, and very important institutions here in the city, they are helping drive the economy and it's important for them to step up and they have in this regard and I think people need to listen.

BK: I had a the discussion on the show the week you were gone with Ryan McGreal from Raise the Hammer and it was about civility in public discourse and debate, and for somebody to look at this letter and simply dismiss it and say, "well, some of them don't even pay taxes," I think just underscores my point, that, in other words, "I don't agree with this, so I have to denigrate the people that wrote this" and that's one of the major problems we're having right now.

You know the answer should have been, the answer should have been, "Well, thank you very much for your input, I'm glad that you're engaged in the process, I don't necessarily agree with you, but that will certainly be part of our discussion and part of our negotiations as we go forward," instead of simply saying wuh-wuh. That's small-minded and we don't need that here in Hamilton.

KL: Well, as we know there's a certain anti-intellectualism right now that's kind of in fashion across the globe and obviously we're not immune to that, but I think again it was important for these voices to speak up, and they have and, like I said I, I think it would be really difficult for anyone in a position of leadership not to notice and not to pay attention to this.

BK: One of my favourite TV shows, which is no longer on, was "The Newsroom" and I remember that speech that he gave in the college university which says that we used to celebrate intelligence, not denigrate it, and we're starting to get to that point in, not just here in Hamilton, in the political realm altogether and maybe that's one of the reasons why we're spinning our wheels on this, which coincides nicely the next questions I'm going to ask you. Why is this letter necessary?

KL: Well, I, at the last time that LRT was on the agenda at Council, they just decided that we apparently hadn't talked about LRT enough and, and have decided that we're going to add an extra meeting each month to talk entirely about LRT. And the way things are shaping up for Tuesday, I think, you know, it's going to be another long, exhausting day and I think it could be be embarrassing as well.

And I think, again, it is important for the voices of real leadership in this community to bring the temperature down and to really keep us focused on what matters most for this community, and that's about creating a great transit system.

We know that our transit system is terrible. It really is. And great cities have great transit. So we can't be a great city if we're not going to invest in transit.

We know that our transit system is terrible. It really is. And great cities have great transit. So we can't be a great city if we're not going to invest in transit. As we've said, a lot of the federal funding that's expected relies upon us to make these investments. We can't serve these anchor institutions, we can't serve the business community well if we don't invest in transit and so that's what I'm hoping that we're able to keep focused on.

The big issue is going to be the environmental assessment, that's going to be the big thing on the agenda. We're also there to talk about the Bay Street stop, but the big matter on the agenda is the update of the EA, which has already been approved by Council in 2011.

There is nothing really new or surprising is on the agenda for Tuesday and we would expect, if all things go right, that it would be just kind of a pro forma meeting and vote on the EA and we can get going on this project. This is a really critical step and I fear that some people are seeing this as maybe an opportunity to continue to undermine and sabotage the project.

BK: And this is why the vote is so important. And, by the way, they don't even have to vote on the EA. They already did. This is really the vote to send it to Queen's Park so that they can do the assessment on the EA themselves. So this is really a paper transaction. This is protocol. This is not an up or down. And anybody who doesn't support that stage, they're telling me that they've got other ulterior motives here.

That, I was somewhat redundant there, wasn't I? But the reality here is that really should be just a slam dunk. Yeah, okay, send it off to Queen's Park. Anybody that can't get their head around that on Council is clearly somebody that wants to try to subvert this process, and subvert this project and I think we have to hold those people accountable.

KL: Yeah, we have to understand that in the agreement that Council has already signed with Metrolinx, they have a duty of good faith to make sure that this project gets done and gets done on time and on budget, and so their approval for this EA would be within that duty of good faith. So I would expect that there should be no delays, again, especially because there are no surprises and it is just an update of the 2011 EA, which has already, again, passed Council.

BK: Are you concerned that Council is backsliding on this project?

KL: I, well, I don't think we ever expected this to be easy. You know, great and necessary changes aren't easy and so of course we knew that there would be challenges along the way. I am concerned, and I don't know what it is.

I don't know if it's cluelessness, I don't know if it's sabotage, or cowardice, but this is certainly not leadership.

I don't know if it's cluelessness, I don't know if it's sabotage, or cowardice, but this is certainly not leadership. And, uh, yeah I would expect that, uh, again good people would listen to the other good people and great leaders in this community that are speaking up and understanding just how important this is to, uh, this entire community.

BK: I mean, there are times when, as elected officials, I mean here we go again with this telephone thing. I don't want to get too wrapped up in that. I've already been pretty vocal about silly, how wasteful it is, to actually get a survey done. We already know where the support is and where the non-support is on Council, as a matter of fact, as well as in the community. We get that.

There's never going to be unanimity on a major project like this. There wasn't on the Red Hill Expressway, there certainly wasn't on the stadium, and there won't be on the LRT project. I get that.

But at the same time, and, you know I've had a number of people who've came in who've called up on this show and said, "Well, I just don't like it", I said, "Okay, I respect your opinion. I don't agree with you, but you the right to be, disagree, and be in opposition to that". I get that.

But the 16 people around that horseshoe at City Hall, they have a responsibility not just to listen, but to lead. And that's a big difference. You can sit there and just say, "Well, I've got a bunch of people that don't want..." we don't pay you to listen, we pay you to lead. That's your job. What, uh, listening is part of the process, but at the end of the day you got to lead. And they're not doing that. We're not getting that from all 16 people.

KL: Well, I always go back to, uh, Tom Murphy, the former Mayor of Pittsburgh, who's come to Hamilton a number of times and I've kept in touch with him. And we've become good friends and the one piece of advice he - I always remember him saying is that "you can either be popular or you can be effective."

And I think this is one of those cases, regardless of what any survey is able to generate, it's in this case you've got your major stakeholders recommending this, you've got experts recommending this, you've got a funder, a financier who is willing to inject a billion dollars uh into the heart of our economic engine, our cultural engine.

If you turn this down, I think you would be opening yourself up to, certainly, to misfeasance as a board member and I think you would be breaching the duty of good faith that you've already agreed to.

You've got your CEO recommending this, you've got your CAO recommending this. And this is one case in which you have to put your board hat on, and not your ward hat. And if you're not operating, if you turn this down, I think you would be opening yourself up to, certainly, to misfeasance as a board member and I think you would be breaching the duty of good faith that you've already agreed to.

BK: And it's, ah, I get the people that are going to critical of this and say, "Well, you know, there are weaknesses in this. It's not all it's propped up to be." It's not a silver bullet that's going to cure all the ills. And the reason why it's not, 'cause there is no such thing as a silver bullet for any city that's going cure every. it's a building block and it's a major building block in what we want to see our city become in the future.

I can't understand why they're vacillating the way they are on this. And, you know, there's a core group here that are strongly supportive of this. I can tell you right now Councillor Collins and Councillor Skelly are opposed to this. That's their right as Councillors. But it's time for the others to stand up and be counted.

KL: It is time and it is time for them to lead and, like I said, they are already locked in. We've already, we've been over this how many times? 52 votes, has it been? You know and, again, this is necessary change it's big change so it's not going to be easy.

But I think that if we all - we don't have to look any further than what's going on in K-W now, they're done with their project, they almost have trains running. and certainly the lessons that we're seeing from that the impact to the businesses, and then, of course, the development that it's unlocked.

All of those, those those answers, they're right there. They're right in front of us. And the lessons from that community and from so many other communities that have implemented LRT is not to not do this!

The lesson is that this is absolutely important and certainly if we're going to compete as a community within Ontario and beyond, you know, we have to make sure that we're keeping up with K-W.

They're doing an amazing job of growing a community out of something that was really, like, you know, that was a farming community not too long ago and they're now the economic engine within Ontario. And obviously we have a really great opportunity to join them and Toronto in this whole "tech North" innovation triangle.

But we really, we have to be ambitious and I think, you know, basically the whole reason why the anchor institutions leaders came together, not only does it really make a big difference economically and and for the delivery of their services to their employees and to the tens of thousands of people that they serve, this is really about what type of city do we want to be. And that's why these leaders, these visionary leaders have signed on and said that this is really important that we make this statement at this point.

BK: Well, let's see what kind of an impact it has. Tuesday, it's a Council meeting, but it's an LRT meeting because of a previous decision. Of course everyone on City Council is now part of the LRT sub-committee. And that's where all this stuff is going to be discussed. I know we'll be talking after. Keanin, thanks for coming in today. Good to see you again.

KL: Thanks, Bill.

BK: Keanin Loomis, president and CEO of the Hamilton Chamber of Commerce.

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.

0 Comments

View Comments: Nested | Flat

Post a Comment

You must be logged in to comment.

Events Calendar

Recent Articles

Article Archives

Blog Archives

Site Tools

Feeds