Whether one favours LRT or is opposed, our story on the behind the scenes sell-job that surrounded the Hamilton LRT in its early days should be a cautionary tale about the dangers of government trying to drive public opinion rather than respond to it. Whether it was a fledgling Metrolinx trying to flex its muscles, or a vocal minority in Hamilton trying to fast track their vision of urbanism, the taxpayer ended footing the bill for $9 Million dollars worth of studies and public relations (and regrettably, in some cases public relations disguised as technical studies), that nonetheless fell short of making a credible case in either the  economic or transit spheres  that would justify suspending the best part of a Billion dollars of public funds. Some of the early studies supporting LRT even claimed it would help prevent premature death and would reverse obesity. Reading those early  municipal staff reports on the subject one sees a kind of breathless enthusiasm in the language and tone of the documents that is rarely seen by those used to reading what are normally bone-dry staff reports. Somehow an artificial sense of urgency was created, perhaps brought on in part by the unrealistic suggestion that Hamilton could have the LRT in time for the Pan Am Games; but nonetheless the city was being urged to “get ready” for LRT, much as TV evangelists urge their flock to “get ready” for the Second Coming. Metrolinx played a large role in setting up a dynamic where Hamilton was made to feel they were in an urgent “race” with other communities to scoop up the billion dollars in cash that was just waiting to be claimed. “If you snooze, you lose,” or so it seemed, and to some degree that impression persists today. But time and time again when the government was asked how much funding was actually available and where Hamilton actually stood in the LRT queue; eyes would be averted and the city would be encouraged to ‘stick with it.’ From a public policy perspective the most outrageous transgression has been the argument that if Hamilton doesn’t jump up and take the billion dollars, like some dolphin at Marineland, that the money will go somewhere else. That implies that a project even less supportable than Hamilton’s LRT will get the money. For a senior government to allow such a suggestion to stand is an admission that they haven’t got a clue what they are doing on this file. Here’s the case Hamilton should be making—“Since one way or the other Hamilton will be paying its fair share of the Big Move and maybe more—give us the billion dollars for transportation, not just transit, and let us decide how it will be allocated.” What is being promoted now is what a respected senior public servant once described as “the Santa Claus school of infrastructure spending.”

Written by: John Best

Providing a fresh perspective for Hamilton and Burlington

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