If the proposed Hamilton LRT project, with the current funding formula proposed by the Wynne Government were to be placed in front of council today, it would likely go down to defeat. With municipal and provincial elections looming, and heightened sensitivity to opinion at the ward and neighbourhood level, it appears candidates for re-election have realized the necessity of staking out a position on the contentious issue. The Bay Observer has been canvassing councillors on the subject and based on the responses received thus far and on declarations made by councillors in recent months there would be 6 definite no votes, 5 who would likely vote no if Hamilton had to provide significant funding, and only two who appeared to still back the project solidly, with 3 members who have not responded.

[box type=”info” ]The Bay Observer contacted councillors and asked them to respond to two questions: 1. Council is on record as favouring LRT if Hamilton does not have to contribute to the capital cost. If it turned out that this is not the case and that Hamilton’s share of LRT cost worked out to somewhere around $300 Million, would you still be in favour of LRT? 2. Do you believe LRT should take precedence over providing better bus service to underserved areas in the South Mountain and suburbs? [/box]

Mayor Bratina, Councillor Tom Jackson, Councillor Brad Clark, Councillor Duvall and Councillor Russ Powers all responded “no” to both questions. Councillor Lloyd Ferguson was opposed to paying for LRT, but thought it might be possible to resolve some of the Mountain bus shortfalls regardless of whether LRT is part of the transit scene or not. Councillor Jason Farr replied that while he still believes in LRT, he acknowledged that the province had apparently moved away from its promise of 100% funding and that he “would engage (Ward 2) residents at the same or greater level I did with the Casino debate when the time comes that the Province officially responds.” That was similar to responses from Councillors Terry Whitehead, Brenda Johnson and Maria Pearson, who all acknowledged that funding would be key to their decision. Brian McHattie, who has been the most steadfast supporter of LRT, nonetheless provided a nuanced response to the issue of whether he could support Hamilton paying for the rail line. “The fact is, the provincial government has committed to capital funding since it first proposed two LRT lines to Hamilton in 2007,” he wrote.

At press time Councillors Merulla, and Collins had not responded, but last June Councillor Collins was quoted as saying he was “not prepared to give (LRT) blind support,” and Merulla referred to the proposed provincial funding formula as “just another way of screwing (Hamilton).” With regard to prioritizing LRT against transit shortfalls in underserved areas Whitehead noted that “the LRT would in fact provide the opportunity to move all the buses that are displaced on the LRT route and have them redistributed to the under serviced areas.” Councillor Brenda Johnson said, “I have always advocated that we need to enhance and improve our current HSR system first or the LRT cannot be supported.” At press time, the only other councillors who had not responded to the questionnaire or had been recently quoted on the subject were councillors, Partridge and Pasuta from Flamborough and newcomer Bob Morrow who only assumed office three weeks ago.

It’s likely sometime in the next term of office council will be confronted with a more clarified question on LRT. But so far, the responses by councillors to the Bay Observer’s questions show they have come a long way from the notion that council is unanimous in its support of LRT, and that Mayor Bob Bratina was alone in his questioning of the scheme.

John Best has had a lengthy media management career, in television and radio and now print. As Vice President, News at CHCH in Hamilton, John oversaw a significant expansion of the news operation. He founded Independent Satellite News, Canada’s only television news service providing national content to Canadian independent TV stations. John is a frequent political commentator on radio and television, a documentary producer and author of a book and numerous articles on historical and political subjects. John is a past recipient of the New York Festival’s award for writing in the International TV category.

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