After publicly challenging Hamilton decision-makers to meet with him to discuss the future of rapid transit in the city, Glen Murray is getting his wish.
Councillors on the city’s general issues committee voted Wednesday to invite Ontario’s transportation minister for a question-and-answer session in council chambers on a funding partnership for a planned light-rail transit line for the city.
'I think we should welcome the minister’s initiative and respond accordingly.' —Bob Morrow, interim Ward 3 councillor
On Tuesday, a day after Premier Kathleen Wynne announced a plan to fund $15 billion in public transit projects in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA), Murray urged Hamilton councillors and Mayor Bob Bratina to meet with him to work out a deal.
"I need something a little more clear from Hamilton City Council than, ‘Pay for it all,' " Murray said on CHML’s Bill Kelly Show.
He suggested the city could put “skin in the game” without having to dip into property tax revenues to raise money.
“We need to sit down and give the people in Hamilton the kind of creative leadership to solve these problems without putting any great burden on them,” he said. “I need that process to start soon and I need these meetings to start happening soon so we can do a deal.”
On Wednesday, councillors on the city’s general issues committee said they’re frustrated at the suggestion that the city has been lagging on the transit file.
More than one mentioned that council voted in February 2013 to tell the province that Hamilton wants an 14-kilometre LRT line along the B-line corridor — which runs King Street from McMaster University to Eastgate Square — under the condition that the province pick up 100 per cent of the estimated $800 million in capital costs.
“It is kind of unusual to hear minister of transportation telling us to roll up our sleeves and put the coffee pot on to work this out,” said Ward 2 Coun. Jason Farr.
And Ward 4 Coun. Sam Merulla said it would be “incredibly delusional” to think that it’s council’s fault that a deal hasn’t been reached on LRT.
However, interim Ward 3 Coun. Bob Morrow, who is filling the post until the next in the wake of the death of Bernie Morelli, offered a “slightly different take” on Murray’s comments.
“I think we should welcome the minister’s initiative and respond accordingly,” he said. “He’s inviting us to take part in discussions. I think we should do that.”
Ultimately, councillors voted unanimously to ask Murray to defend his position in council and also to invite Metrolinx CEO Bruce McCuaig to meet with city managers to discuss funding options.
The province is set to announce in its spring budget how it plans to pay for a slate $29-million slate of transit and transportation projects. Wynne has said the funding tools won’t include a hike in the gas tax or an increase in income taxes for low-and-middle-income earners.
Supporting documents for Wynne's announcement say rapid transit in Hamilton is one of the next major projects that the province is looking to fund. Those documents talk about "rapid transit" and not specifically LRT, leaving some confusion about the province's intentions for Hamilton. However, some councillors said they believe it’s unlikely Queen’s Park will pay for the full cost of an LRT line — leading some to push for a cheaper bus-rapid transit option.
“We have to manage our expectations," Stoney Creek councillor and mayoral hopeful Brad Clark said earlier this week.
"Premier Wynne has realized that her predecessor over-promised and she's doing what she can with a finite amount of money."