Ford reaffirms pledge to free Council on transit Funding
As much as Hamilton Council has dithered and dodged on the LRT issue, it appears the day of reckoning is coming. The battle lines over LRT are firming up at a number of levels—in the mayoralty race, in the lower city-vs mountain and suburbs, and at the provincial-municipal level. With the close of nominations July 27 there were 15 candidates for mayor and 89 candidates seeking the 15 Councillor posts.
In response to a questionnaire in the Hamilton Spectator the candidates for council, at least those who gave a coherent answer, were pretty much evenly split on the issue—29 in favour, 30 against. But when the responses were broken down geographically a major shift was evident. Candidates in the five lower city wards where the LRT would be located favoured LRT by a margin of 18 to 8. But in the remaining 10 wards, it was LRT opponents who led by a margin of 22-11.
Interestingly at least three sitting coun-cillors who voted for LRT in May of 2017 showed signs of being prepared to change their vote. Chad Collins who had opposed LRT for years but changed his vote last year, now lists himself as a “qualified” yes on the subject. He did not elaborate on his reason for the qualification, but the only thing that has changed since his last vote is the election of the Ford government and Ford’s pledge to allow Hamilton’s transit money to be spent as it wishes. Similarly Terry Whitehead, running in Ward 14 has moved from yes to “not necessarily.” 30-year council veteran Tom Jackson, who voted yes last time, alluding to the Ford pledge to allow Hamilton to decide how the provincial money would be spent, said he had always reserved the right to change his vote, “My preference, that I have stated many times publicly was that if given the “choice”, I would spend the money on much needed infrastructure projects, expanding the HSR (and DARTS) and on other projects that would provide “Community Benefits.”
The Bay Observer contacted MPP Donna Skelly who affirmed that Ford will keep his promise. “As you can see from some of the other actions taken in the last few days, this government believes that a promise made is a promise kept,” she said. She has conferred with the Premier’s office and the Ministers of finance, infrastructure and trans-port and says they all are on-side with the plan to allow Hamilton latitude on the transit funding, but, she adds, “it will be council who will have to decide.”
Meanwhile the Bay Observer caught up with Amalgamated Transit Union President Eric Tuck at a union conference in Newfoundland to discuss the staffing implications for LRT in Hamilton. Ottawa recently announced that 380 driver jobs would disappear as a result of that city’s new LRT. He estimated about 36 operator positions would be lost in Hamilton. Tuck says as union head he has to prepare his members for LRT, but he also said Hamilton does not have the ridership to support LRT. “You have to have ridership first, before you can go to LRT,” he said. “Once the ridership is established, then you can consider higher order transit.” He also says he doesn’t believe the money that has been spent on LRT so far is wasted. “If we build rider-ship to justify LRT, all that planning will be of value to us. I just don’t think we are there yet.”
Looking beyond the LRT issue, Eric Tuck says with the possibility of autonomous vehicles coming on stream, the future for his membership will be in the maintenance and IT side of the business.