In terms of actual legislative action, last month’s Hamilton General Issues Committee looking at LRT, nixed the proposed Bay Street stop and deferred consideration of the Metrolinx environmental assessment until later this month. Neither action appeared to have much to do with the merits of either proposal. Rather, it appeared a majority of council appear reluctant to approve any more steps in the LRT time line. Councillors who have been skeptical of the project in past feel they were misled in various votes they took over the past few years to allow what were termed as studies or other routine matters to proceed. As they voted they received assurances from staff that none of the moves were definitive in terms of green lighting  the project; only to be told last year that they had, by the aggregate of various votes, effectively approved LRT 52 times and that it would take a two-thirds vote to stop the project. Mistrust is the subtext of this debate.

At last month’s special LRT meeting; In receiving delegations from 40 individuals and organizations, Hamilton councillors once again displayed their expertise in asking leading questions—typically, a councillor making a long rambling speech and then asking the presenter, “wouldn’t you agree?” After several speakers were heard opposing LRT, an exasperated Mayor Eisenberger raised a point of order that the meeting was not called to debate the merits of LRT; but should be confined to the three agenda items—the Environmental Assessment, the proposed Bay Street Stop and the possibility of Metrolinx investment in community benefits. Chairing the meeting Clr. Arlene Vanderbeek, who did a good job of maintaining a semblance of discipline in what was an uproarious 14 hour session, agreed with the mayor. The ruling was almost immediately disregarded however, when speakers Keanan Loomis, President of the Hamilton Chamber of Commerce, and LRT advocate Ryan McGreal made back to back presentations that, coupled with friendly questions from councillors, amounted essentially to a 40 minute pro-LRT presentation. Thereafter speakers on both sides of the issue were more or less allowed to address whatever subject they wished. Following the committee vote against the Bay Street LRT stop, Loomis vented his displeasure on the Bill Kelly show saying it was “cluelessness, cowardice or sabotage,” that produced the decision to nix the Bay Street stop, not leadership.

Carol Lazich, a King Street merchant, heading a group opposed to LRT, triggered some controversy when she quoted Maclean’s editor Peter Shawn Taylor, an LRT foe in his native Waterloo, who wrote: “Forget AIDS or SARS, there’s a new billion-dollar contagion popping up across the country. Symptoms include visions of grandeur, severe loss of reality and a propensity to enact massive tax hikes. It’s called LRTS: Light-rail transit syndrome.” Lazich was pilloried in social media for insensitivity towards AIDS and SARS victims.

Katie Yelovich accused Metrolinx, the Mayor and the 4 pro-LRT councillors in the lower city of misleading the public. “Mr. Mayor and the councillors of ward 1,2,3 and 4, I suggest you update your resumes because election 2018 is coming,” she called out, triggering an outraged response from Ward 2 Councillor Farr who declared he wasn’t being driven by fear of losing his job.

In her presentation Sarah Warry Puljanski drew a strange response from Mayor Eisenberger when she reminded councillors that the premier had last year said, “It’s not LRT or nothing.” The Mayor challenged the assertion, saying the premier’s comment had been “corrected” by the Minister of Transportation. Puljanski shot back, “Kathleen Wynne is not going to be premier in a year so I don’t care what she thinks,” to which Eisenberger replied, “to be hoped.” The comment surprised observers who assumed that Eisenberger and the Premier were on better terms since it was she who had okayed the Billion dollar funding for LRT sought by the mayor.

Meanwhile there is some turmoil at the top of Metrolinx as CEO Bruce Mc Quaig and two senior executives have departed. There is also the increasingly acrimonious lawsuit between Metrolinx and Bombardier over the latter’s failure to deliver LRT vehicles for the Toronto LRT projects, leading some to question whether Hamilton’s project could be hit with equipment delays as well.

Sources familiar with the situation told the Bay Observer Metrolinx was originally inclined to support the Rapid Ready funding request, seeing the proposal as a partial solution to Metrolinx’s own money worries.  At the time there was uncertainty as to where the Hamilton LRT Billion was coming from; but political intervention put the LRT funding back on the front burner.

Some councillors contacted by the Bay Observer, say the project has been undermined by the continually shifting scope of the project and a series of changing rationales. Initially LRT was promoted as a transit solution. When the numbers suggested Hamilton’s transit usage would not justify LRT, the argument shifted to LRT as an engine of economic uplift. Yet the Metrolinx Main-King Business case showed the most optimistic economic uplift projections would be a fraction of the assessment growth Hamilton is already experiencing without LRT. Most recently the story has shifted again—the latest is that we will get a massive sewer and water rebuild for free with LRT thrown in almost as an afterthought.

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