In a six-hour meeting to discuss the HSR’s 2021 budget some members of Hamilton Council sounded what might be interpreted as a warning to fellow councillors and staff to not engage in private lobbying of the Federal government for LRT funding that is not authorized by council. Ever since the LRT was cancelled over a year ago, and especially since figures were released that showed the project could not be built within the $1 Billion budget offered by the province, there have been concerted efforts among LRT supporters to try to get the Federal government to make up the shortfall. A committee of Hamilton Chamber of Commerce was the latest to stage a Zoom meeting with Federal Infrastructure Minister Catherine McKenna, at which LRT funding was raised. That meeting was not public and not available to the Chamber membership at large.
Council pushback on LRT Lobbying
Ward five Councillor Chad Collins started things off by asking Hamilton Transit Director Debbie Dalle Vedove directly if staff had been involved in any behind-the-scenes lobbying for LRT.
The “blindsiding” Collins referred to was the Wynne government’s pledge of a Billion dollars for Transit made in 2015 after a behind-the -scenes lobbying campaign of which council was largely unaware until the announcement was made. The discussion has taken on a different dynamic since the election of the Ford government which has promised to make the funding available for whatever transit option council asks for.
The director assured the councillor she had not. The question was then referred to City Manager Janette Smith who has served on the Tony Valeri task force that issued a report last spring recommending that equal weight be given to either LRT or Bus Rapid Transit. Smith told council she had heard nothing on the subject since then.
Councillor Judy Partridge also sounded a warning note about behind the scenes lobbying for LRT.
Councillor Tom Jackson took the discussion a step further when he urged Director Dalle Vedove to be ready for a plan B for Bus Rapid Transit should the province, which is studying the task force report, decide to scrap LRT—a suggestion that Committee Chair Brad Clark thought was a good idea.
With the province insisting that it will not exceed the $1 Billion it has pledged for Hamilton Transit, there is approximately $2.5 to $3 Billion needed to make up the difference if Hamilton is to proceed with LRT. In his most recent appearance in Hamilton, Premier Ford for the first time stated that Hamilton would have to come up with a share of the costs–something Hamilton Councils have repeatedly insisted they was unwilling to do.