By Adrian Duyzer
Published March 28, 2007
In yesterday's non-binding vote on the proposal to increase transit fares, which passed, many people were surprised to see Councillor Brian McHattie's name on the list of those who supported the proposal.
Councillor McHattie had previously indicated that he was not in favour of the proposal, and that he would instead propose that city staff find the necessary funding for improved transit in the tax levy.Raise the Hammer contacted Councillor McHattie to find out why he changed his mind. He gave two main reasons for his decision.
First, the recently released provincial budget left Hamilton $5 million short.
To maintain funding for social services that were downloaded to Hamilton by the province, the Ontario government gave $19.5 million to Hamilton in 2004, $15 million in 2005, and more than $20 million in 2006.
This year, the Ontario government sent Hamilton a paltry $12 million, much less than Hamilton was expecting.
As a result, McHattie felt he had to weigh the needs of families who depend on the National Child Benefit against other priorities such as transit, deciding that "ensuring that the NCB clawback monies go back to families (many single mother-led families) is the most important thing to do from a low income-poverty perspective."
Second, McHattie explained that a recent city-funded social services program that will help low-income individuals and families deal with the transit increase influenced his decision.
"Our social services dept has come out with a Fair Fare pilot program targeted at assisting low-income folks with affording the fare increase."
McHattie made it clear that this was a hard choice, one that he isn't happy about.
He said, "This is the very difficult balancing act that someone like me must work through: a Councillor keen on transit and poverty issues but working within a system that is radically underfunded and with some colleagues who are not keen on either issue."
The councillor is open to finding other sources of funding for transit, however. He has established a Transit Area-Rating Sub-Committee of the Transit Steering Committee to explore what impact a change in Hamilton's area rating system might have on public transit.
Personally, I hope that creative ways are found to adequately fund Hamilton's public transit and social services, whether they are related to area rating or not.
According to the Your City, Your Future survey, a majority of Hamiltonians support making the Red Hill Creek Expressway a toll road. Maybe the HSR should get its funding increase from that.
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