Ward 8 Councillor John-Paul Danko had it right when he told Bill Kelly that it is council’s job to set policies. Danko was discussing the fact that the LRT task force members have signed confidentiality agreements covering their discussions on how to spend the $1 Billion that was to fund the cancelled LRT project. As he told Kelly “council has been completely shut out of the process.”
They have indeed been shut out of the process… and it is entirely council’s fault. Since before Doug Ford was elected in 2018, indeed even when Patrick Brown was leader, the Ontario Conservatives have been saying that they would allow Hamilton to spend the $1 Billion earmarked for LRT on other projects if that was the will of the community and council.
Members of Hamilton City Council opposed to LRT, (and even in 2018, that would be a plurality of councillors), have had a year and a half to explore a possible plan B for the transit money. They could have established a subcommittee to work with staff to draw up a shopping list of projects, and they would even have been able to confer with the province to pre-determine if the province agreed with the suitability of the projects. The process could have been orderly and professional.
But not this timid bunch. Apparently afraid of risking the wrath of Mayor Fred Eisenberger and lower city LRT supporters, they tiptoed around the 900 pound gorilla in the room—how to spend a billion dollars in infrastructure funding, and now find themselves spectators as they were in the case in the Stadium debate, when the province was forced to step in to save Hamilton council from itself. They let the tail wag the dog.
Danko told Kelly that because the City representative, City Manager Janette Smith has signed a confidentiality agreement, she won’t even be able to avail herself of senior staff advice. Let’s hope she pulled some information together before signing the agreement. Council has done this community a grave disservice through their collective negligence. To use a legal term, whatever their views on LRT, they had a duty of care to explore alternatives that were clearly in front of them with an amount of money of this magnitude at stake, and they failed. One can only hope that wisdom prevails around the table at the task force because, sadly it is non existent at 71 Main Street West.