LRT questions still unresolved after city and province meet

The province said it is committed to fully funding the capital costs of a Hamilton transit project- which is exactly what councillors who were in a closed-door meeting Friday knew before the meeting. So what was accomplished?

The meeting between the advisory group and the minister has drawn controversy for being private

Mayor Bob Bratina and Transportation Minister Steven Del Duca answer questions from the media after a closed-door meeting about Hamilton transit on Friday. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

The province is committed to fully funding the capital costs of a Hamilton transit project, say councillors who were in a closed-door meeting Friday.

But it provided no new information on whether it will be for light rail transit (LRT) or bus rapid transit (BRT) — leaving the city in virtually the same position it was before Friday's meeting.

The mayor's government relations advisory group met with Transportation Minister Steve Del Duca Friday to discuss Hamilton's transit priorities, and what slice the city will get of a $15-billion provincial budget commitment for transit in the Greater Toronto Hamilton Area.

The meeting left councillors with varied opinions about what was accomplished. While an LRT advocate left the meeting heartened about future light rail in Hamilton, another said the Hamilton's bid for a more than $800-million LRT line was now destined to become the key municipal election issue. 

Del Duca told councillors he understood council's position that it wants LRT with full capital funding, said Coun. Scott Duvall, a member of the advisory group. And he said the province will give full capital funding for "rapid transit."

He also said he wasn't prepared to make an announcement today, Duvall said, but would be back in about three months.

LRT is 'the election issue,' Clark says

Del Duca mentioned "LRT" in the closed-door meeting, but not in the media scrum after it, said Coun. Brad Clark of Ward 9 in Stoney Creek, who's a mayoral candidate. He merely indicated he understood the city's February 2013 Rapid Ready report, which advocates a future LRT line.

City and provincial officials meet over the future of transit funding in Hamilton. (City of Hamilton)

"To summarize, we did not get any new information," Clark said in a written account after the meeting. 

Del Duca's refusal to use the phrase "LRT" during the media scrum could mean he's aware of "growing opposition" to LRT, Clark said.

"I expect that they are going to wait until after the municipal election before making any decisions. Yes, LRT just became the election issue."

Del Duca said after the meeting that he'd take council's position back to ministry staff and Metrolinx, which will map out a plan to move forward on transit improvements in the coming months. 

"My commitment to the mayor and members of council is to get back to them with a more refined answer," he said.

Expectations 'blown out of the water'

Coun. Brian McHattie, an LRT advocate and Ward 1 representative, said he felt "very positive" after the meeting.

"I didn’t have great expectations for the meeting, I have to be honest, and my expectations were blown out of the water," said McHattie, who is also running for mayor.

LRT is a proposed 13-kilometre line from McMaster University to Eastgate Square. It would cost the city more than $800 million to implement. 

Friday's meeting was introductory, Mayor Bob Bratina said, and there will be many more in the future.

The closed-door meeting drew controversy for being private. Coun. Sam Merulla, a member of the group, boycotted it. And local NDP MPP Monique Taylor asked to be in the meeting and was denied.

Other MPPs filing complaints

Taylor, who represents Hamilton Mountain, and NDP MPP Paul Miller from Hamilton East-Stoney Creek stood outside the meeting Friday, saying a meeting on such a major issue should be public. Taylor plans to complain to the Ontario Ombudsman.

“I just think this is a really big issue before us in the city,” she said. “The LRT has been talked about for many years. We know it’s a major issue. We know it’s a major infrastructure project and we all should be included.”

McMeekin is Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing. But his inclusion in the meeting is likely because he’s a Hamilton Liberal MPP, Miller said, which means other Hamilton MPPs should be invited.

“Ted’s in there because it sounds like it’s a Liberal gig,” Miller said. “They either want to raise the flag on what they’re doing on their own or they don’t want involvement from us and I find that rather insulting.”

“Why wouldn’t we be involved? What’s the secret? Are they going to invest money in Hamilton or not?”


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