On May 1, Kathleen Wynne's Liberals introduced a provincial budget. The Ontario PC and NDP parties said they would not support it, prompting the Premier to call an election. The election is June 12.
Here are six issues Hamilton residents should care about, and how they impact your day-to-day life.
1. Light rail transit
Most impacted: transit riders, downtown drivers and businesses
Transit is probably the highest profile election issue for Hamilton, and LRT sits at the heart of that debate.
The city has already spent $3 million in Metrolinx money to do preliminary designs for a light rail line from McMaster University to Eastgate Square. City council supports LRT as long as the province foots the whole $811 million to build it.
The budget promised $15 billion for transit in the Greater Hamilton and Toronto Area (GTHA). That included “rapid transit” for Hamilton, although the Liberals said whether that meant LRT or bus rapid transit would depend on talks it had with the city.
Either way, whichever party wins, that’s likely who holds the immediate future of LRT in their hands.
The Liberals say they will provide full capital funding for rapid transit in Hamilton. The NDP say they support full capital funding but haven’t said how they’d pay for it. Ontario PC party leader Tim Hudak has said he is against LRT.
- RELATED: Council support softens for LRT in Hamilton
- RELATED: Campaigning Liberals promise to fully fund Hamilton 'rapid transit'
- RELATED: Transit budget announcement for Hamilton 'missing the L'
2. Money for schools
Most impacted: parents, students, neighbourhoods impacted by school closures
The province has a tight hold on education. It sets most of the targets, from standardized tests to guidelines for class sizes to how long students can spend on a bus. It even does the bulk of the negotiating with teachers’ unions. So the ruling party’s approach to education matters.
Locally, the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board (HWDSB) needs money to build new schools. The board is in the midst of a sweeping accommodation review where it will soon vote whether to ask the province to pay for three new elementary schools in exchange for closing 11 older ones.
Specifically, it could ask the province for:
- A new 350-student school at the Beverly Central site, or nearby Beverly Community Centre, in West Flamborough.
- A new 525-student school at Spencer Valley in West Flamborough.
- A new 550-student site at Viscount Montgomery in east Hamilton.
The province also has the power to modify the increasingly-controversial per-pupil funding formula that critics say has led to school closures.
- RELATED: HWDSB holds final consultations before school closure vote
- RELATED: Why a Flamborough school bus ride takes as long as a Toronto commute
Most impacted: Anyone who drives on local roads or crosses local bridges
The city has a dire lack of money for infrastructure that’s threatening to sink its credit rating, and a dwindling industrial tax base to help pay for it. So local politicians will pay extra attention to any election talk about money for infrastructure.
The city has a $2-billion deficit to fix roads, bridges and other amenities. A Standard and Poor’s credit report from October says it’s so bad that the debt burden could reach 60 per cent of the city’s operating revenue by 2017.
- RELATED: Powers from AMO: Hamilton needs more infrastructure money from province
- RELATED: Hamilton has a strong credit rating, but trouble looms
4. Health and homelessness
Most impacted: Hamiltonians with low incomes
In 2012, the Liberal government cut some health and homelessness prevention funding for low-income Hamiltonians.
There were two pools of money:
- The Community Start-Up and Maintenance Benefit fund helped people in danger of homelessness with, for example, first and last month’s rent and catching up on their utilities.
- The discretionary benefits program, which helps people on social assistance with benefits such as dental care, orthotics, funeral services and low-cost transit passes.
The province combined them both into one fund and offered less money, resulting in a shortfall of about $7.6 million per year.
Council, unwilling to see the programs die, voted to cover the shortfall until a long-term solution was found. The Liberals seemed poised to provide it — the budget pledged $42 million for the Community Homelessness Prevention Initiative starting this year, and money for health benefits.
Then the budget failed.
On Friday, the Hamilton Roundtable for Poverty Reduction and partners will announce plans to push poverty issues during the election. It will also unveil a plan to encourage low-income Hamiltonians to vote.
- RELATED: Hamilton council will temporarily cover social assistance programs
- RELATED: Hamilton woman's teeth at stake in council decision
5. Provincial downloading
Most impacted: property taxpayers
It’s an issue so occasionally heated that it prompted Coun. Sam Merulla to call on Wynne to stop “screwing us over” last year — the issue of provincial downloading.
In the late 1990s, the Mike Harris government downloaded the cost of a number of provincially regulated services to municipalities. This included social services, social housing and ambulance.
Since 2008, the Liberals have uploaded the cost of some of those services again, with a pledge to continue uploading until 2018. That includes Ontario Works, the Ontario Disability Support Program and drug benefits for people on social assistance.
- RELATED: Merulla calls Premier Wynne 'a liar' for comments on uploading
- RELATED: Wynne to Merulla: Uploading has saved Hamilton millions
- RELATED: City hires auditor to prove Ontario wrong
But the province and city disagree on how much money that’s saved the city. The Liberals say $78 million and the city says $11.8 million.
This much is certain: according to the city’s head of finance, at least 20 per cent of the tax bill goes to provincially regulated services such as public health, police and ambulance. These are services the local government bills property taxpayers for but can’t control (Merulla often cites this number as being as high as 40 per cent).
Key questions for candidates will include whether their party plans to continue the uploading, and how their policies on uploading will impact Hamilton taxpayers.
6. Mid-Peninsula Highway
Most impacted: Local drivers, rural communities.
It’s been dormant a dormant issue for a while, but Hamilton city staff and some of its politicians still want to see a highway that runs from Niagara to the GTA. And its likelihood of happening depends on whoever wins the election.
Last September, the Ontario Ministry of Transportation published a development strategy that would hold off on the superhighway until future studies are completed. But council wants the province to push ahead on a transportation plan for the area, which could include the highway.
Tim Hudak, Niagara-West Glanbrook MPP and head of the Ontario PC Party, is a vocal fan of the mid-Peninsula highway.