Campaigning Liberals promise to fully fund Hamilton 'rapid transit'

But do Ontario’s transportation minister and the Premier mean Light Rail Transit or Bus Rapid Transit?
Ontario Transportation Minister Glen Murray, now in the midst of a provincial election, got the Hamilton Twitter community's attention Tuesday evening when he tweeted a promise to fully fund rapid transit. (Cory Ruf/CBC)

Ontario’s transportation minister has promised via Twitter that a Liberal government would pay the full capital costs for Hamilton's proposed “rapid transit” line.

Glen Murray tweeted on Tuesday evening that a Liberal government “will fund 100 per cent of the capital costs” of a “rapid transit line.”

And Premier Kathleen Wynne has added her voice to the assurances. Wynne told the Hamilton Spectator Tuesday that the province's commitment to fully fund "rapid transit" in Hamilton hadn't changed. "The capital costs are what we've always committed to," she said in an interview with the newspaper at a Burlington Campaign stop. "It's the same way we worked with other municipalities."

But the comments still left many  questioning if the Liberals mean light rail transit (LRT) or bus rapid transit (BRT), and what would be required from the city.

It also shocked Monique Taylor, NDP MPP for Hamilton Mountain, who read the tweets at a school board meeting Tuesday night.

“Wow,” she said. “I’m really shocked to see that. I’m going to take it back to my team and see what’s going to happen with that.”

The Liberals announced $15 billion for transit in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA) during their budget last week. While it specified an LRT line for Mississauga, for Hamilton, it said only “rapid transit.”

It used that terminology, MPP Ted McMeekin said then, because that’s the term used in the city’s 2011 Rapid Ready transit plan.

A June 12 election was triggered after NDP leader Andrea Horwath announced that her party would not vote for the budget. There was no dollar value included in the budget for Hamilton transit.

It had some tweeting Murray, wondering if he meant the province fully funding a proposed $800-million LRT line from McMaster University to Eastgate Square.

“LRT was not mentioned, Rapid Transit was mentioned, what does that mean?” Hamilton resident William Mehlenbacher tweeted. “Do we always have to come begging?”

Coun. Brad Clark, a mayoral candidate for the October municipal election, said it’s clear to him now that Murray is talking about BRT.

“He is no longer talking about LRT,” Clark said.

“I’m reading the tea leaves pretty clearly. They don’t have the money. The $15 billion they have set aside won’t cover all the expenditures they have for the 12 or 13 communities across the GTHA."

Murray’s tweets are “frustrating, but it’s still specious,” he said. “We need a clear answer from the government in terms of what they’re expecting.”

Coun. Brian McHattie, a mayoral hopeful and vocal LRT advocate, said he was heartened by talk of full funding, even if it’s obvious campaigning.

He also doesn’t rule out that Murray is talking about LRT.

“If there’s some controversy and I don’t have to action the thing in the short term, I’ll just say rapid transit,” he said. “That’s just being a smart politician.”

If the Liberals are elected, McHattie said, the city should hold Murray to his tweet, which is a promise in writing.

“He shouldn’t be saying that if it’s not true,” he said. “That’s very definitive. We’ve been looking for that.

“Once the election’s over, if the Liberals are in place, we’ll call them on it.”

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