Now that Premier Doug Ford has, for the umpteenth time, reaffirmed his position that Hamilton can use the $1 Billion in provincial funding for LRT—or not, there is no need for Council to get dragged into a “re-affirmation vote.” It is clear from his remarks, that the premier understands the local situation, including the fact that there is deep local division on the issue.
Given a growing sense that the LRT project is likely to cost significantly more than $1 Billion, and the fact there is no indication that the Province is prepared to increase its commitment beyond the $1Billion, council would be reckless to commit to something that after ten years still has no firm price tag in terms of either capital or operating costs. Another unanswered question is what would be the procedural impact of a positive affirmation vote? Right now, anything regarding LRT that comes before council requires a simple majority yes or no. A question we would like answered is would a positive affirmation by council make any subsequent vote on LRT subject to a two-thirds majority, as was the case in the previous council? For instance when the long-awaited operation and maintenance agreement is presented to council, and if the numbers are ugly, would a two thirds vote be required to turn it down? Council in past years has been repeatedly assured that the operating and maintenance agreement was the final “exit ramp” available to council.
Council has been misled and manipulated on the LRT issue over the past decade with the result that they found themselves confronted with the nasty surprise that they had affirmed the project 60 times when many of them believed they were only voting to allow studies and design work that could be halted at a future date. The fact is that sometime in 2019, council will finally get a look at both the construction cost of LRT and the ongoing operating costs. Only when both figures are available should council vote on anything. Ford doesn’t need any more LRT cheerleading from Hamilton. No more guessing– It’s time for facts.
Council also needs to get a crystal clear sense of the alternative that has been offered to them by Ford—the ability to use the funding for buses and non-transit infrastructure. Here some clarity from Queen’s Park would be helpful. Councillor Brad Clark has recommended that a committee of council formally seek answers from the government to determine exactly what kinds of capital projects would be allowed. It is important that both LRT and non LRT options be fully explored and that it be done so in a transparent manner. It’s important that such a committee should be composed of Councillors on both sides of the issue, so we don’t get duelling versions of what was said, as we did when Mayor Eisenberger met with Kathleen Wynne early in the last term of council. Clark, in making his recommendation, suggests that the point person on this fact finding mission should be Hamilton’s only government representative, MPP Donna Skelly. As it stands now it looks like the mayor is trying to work around Skelly owing to his animosity towards her that was repeatedly on display in the last couple of years. As someone who was an MPP representing Hamilton, Clark knows that approach will not work. Just as the community should accept the reality of the October municipal election; so too does it need to respect the outcome of the recent provincial election. Any other approach is petty and non-productive.
Whether we like it or not, the fact is that the LRT project has been advanced to its current point with too much behind-the scenes manoeuvring and not enough straight information. Metrolinx cannot be relied upon to provide clear answers as its credibility has been fatally undermined by a decade of political interference. The only thing that will restore any public confidence in the process at this late date is for this new council to take matters in their own hands and ensure that the entire $1Billion provincial offer is fully and transparently explored with the Ford government. Until that process is complete council should resist any attempt to manipulate them into staging a deceptive “show vote.”