The new Hamilton City Council that will be elected in October will have at least four new faces thanks to redistribution and incumbents choosing to move on. But unless there is some kind of seismic voter revolt, which frankly seldom happens, there will be familiar faces around the council table come November. Whoever is elected they will be called upon to make a decision on transit and infrastructure that will have far reaching consequences for years to come. We could go on about how successive Hamilton Councils were asleep while LRT zealots incrementally pushed the scheme forward step by step; alternately assuring council that the key decisions were yet to come, and then telling councillors they had voted on the matter 60 times and it was too late to turn back. The propaganda, junk science and outright lies about the benefits of this project are well documented. We have shown in this journal how the public consultation process was rigged from the beginning to eliminate more practical transit solutions from consideration. It culminated a year ago in May with an orchestrated power play where council was threatened with losing the $1 Billion earmarked for transit altogether, unless they voted for LRT.
But that is all behind us now. The bullies have been sent packing. A new government is in place with a promise to allow Hamilton to spend the transit money as it sees fit. The door is open for the new council to make a bold move that will greatly enhance transit in Hamilton through implementation of the bus-based BLAST plan that will serve both city and suburbs—extending transit to all; and at the same time provide funding for GO and other pressing infrastructure needs.
The only element in question is whether there is leadership enough on council to change direction. The province has removed the threat of losing the funding, which was the main factor in last May’s vote. As ATU President Eric Tuck, who knows something about transit, has said elsewhere in this edition, the money spent planning LRT so far is not wasted. That research and planning will still be of value when we reach a point sometime in the future where we are actually ready from a ridership perspective for LRT. So it really comes down to council, because the province has opened the door but they are not going to carry council across the threshold.
The irony here is that in its so-called 60 votes in favour of LRT (a complete fiction, by the way); Council has also approved the Ten Year Transit Plan which involves buses first, building up ridership to an eventual justification for higher order transit. Right now Hamilton transit usage is only about half of what is normally considered sufficient for Bus Rapid Transit. It’s really time to end the madness. Voters need to question candidates closely on this issue and not settle for the “qualified yeses” and “not necessarily’s” that some of our council members provided in the recent Spectator questionnaire.