The Hamilton LRT will procced to its conclusion without any more “off ramps,” as Mayor Eisenberger, had previously stated; although the LRT Memorandum of Understanding that was approved Wednesday by an 11-3 vote has more than a dozen items that need to be negotiated, and which will apparently come back to council for approval. It’s not clear what would happen if council were to reject any of those items. One item that will not come back to council as part of the LRT deal is affordable housing. That was made clear in response to a question from Ward 3 Councillor Nrinder Nann.
The prospect of LRT triggering a windfall of affordable housing has been held out by proponents since the beginning of the discussion of LRT a decade ago, After Clr. Nann was elected she referred to affordable housing as one reason for her support of the project, although she did express concern earlier this year that to date, the LRT project had so far only resulted in the displacement of residents from affordable homes.
When the critical $1.7 Billion in federal funding was announced earlier this year by former minister Catherine McKenna she declared that affordable housing was a “condition” of the federal funding along with “community benefits” that made up a “triple bottom line.” The Bay observer, in communications with McKenna’s Ministry, MTO and Metrolinx could find no evidence of anybody who had a clue about where the money would come from for affordable housing or how the condition would be enforced. As for community benefits, Metrolinx CEO Phil Verster talked about helping merchants get their storefronts cleaned during construction and assistance with pedestrian access.
In his delegation to the Committee, community advocate, Karl Andrus of the Hamilton Community Benefits Network expressed concern about affordable housing as well, citing the oft-touted Kitchener LRT as an example.
The issue of whether or not the HSR would actually operate the LRT, once believed to be a settled matter, was thrown open again, when MTO Assistant Deputy Minister James Nowlan told Councillor Brenda Johnson that The Ministry and Metrolinx, as owners of the project had to have final say.
Amalgamated Transit Union President Eric Tuck told the Bay Observer “they’ve (MTO and Metrolinx) have been vague on that from the beginning, our preference will be that the LRT be run by ATU members and that it be done as part of the HSR in order to have consistency, “adding, “they are trying to keep some of these questions from being talked about before the municipal election, but we are going to make it an issue.” He also said he was disappointed with the lack of language in the deal for affordable housing and intends to make that an issue as well.
Three members of council maintained their stance against the LRT—Maria Pearson, Brenda Johnson and Judi Partridge who summed up her feeling about the project.
Mayor Fred Eisenberger, expressing satisfaction with the approval of the MOU, thanked a list of people, but he omitted Joe Mancinelli. Regional VP of LIUNA, who the Bay Observer has learned from multiple sources was the single key figure in securing the Federal and provincial funding though relentless lobbying efforts at both levels. LIUNA was credited with the personal defeat in Woodbridge of current Liberal Leader Stephen Del Duca in the 2018 election for his role in passing legislation that disadvantaged LIUNA vis a vis the Carpenters Union. LIUNA has a large membership in numerous key ridings in the GTAH and knows how to mobilize its members in political campaigns as demonstrated by Del Duca, hence his influence with both the PM and Doug Ford.
In paying tribute to Mayor Fred Eisenberger’s “tenacity” in securing the LRT, Councillor Brad Clark reminded the mayor of his debt to LIUNA.
Metrolinx Boss Verster refused to be pinned down on a possible start or completion date for the project, although he suggested the utility relocation work could start sometime in 2022, a year when both provincial and municipal lections will take place. Staff have been given the go-ahead to negotiate the setting up of an LRT office which will involve secondment of City staff to the project. Those wages will be paid by Metrolinx.