Thursday’s provincial budget allocated $15 billion for transit in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton area (GTHA). But whether that means light rail or bus rapid transit for Hamilton will depend in part on the city’s political will, says Ted McMeekin.

Thursday’s budget pledged money for “Hamilton rapid transit” without specifying if it was LRT or BRT. But the lack of an “L” doesn’t mean anything, said the MPP for Ancaster-Dundas-Flamborough-Westdale.

Transportation minister Glen Murray will meet with Hamilton city council soon, said McMeekin, who is also the Minister of Community and Social Services. And those meetings will help determine how much Hamilton receives, and for what.

“We don’t want to spell out something that’s not in keeping with what the minister and council will arrive at,” McMeekin said.

“Nothing’s dead in this budget. Everything’s alive.”

The budget specified other GTHA transit projects, including:

  • A Hurontario-Main LRT line linking Mississauga and Brampton.
  • The electrification of the GO Kitchener line.
  • An expansion of GO rail service, with more two-way, all-day and rush-hour service.

No dollar amounts have been attached to the projects, McMeekin said, and Hamilton’s share hasn’t been determined. The budget used “Hamilton rapid transit” because that’s the term specified in the Rapid Ready report the city submitted to the province.

Lack of the L 'not particularly encouraging'

But the generic term worried Ryan McGreal, a local transit activist. 

“It’s certainly not particularly encouraging,” he said.

Hamilton’s future for LRT rests in its political leadership, he said. In Mississauga, politicians have sent a unified vision to the province. That’s not the case in Hamilton.

“If we end up not getting it, it was ours to lose,” he said. “We pulled the football out from under us.”

Murray and the city haven't set a meeting date, said Mayor Bob Bratina. “We sent the invitation out and we’re eagerly awaiting a response.”

Could trigger an election

The Rapid Ready plan, Bratina said, outlines that the city will grow its ridership with BRT and eventually implement LRT. He expects the discussions to revolve around “rapid transit which sometime in the future will lead to LRT.”

Coun. Brian McHattie, a mayoral candidate and LRT advocate, saw the budget as positive. He hopes the city conveys to Murray “the vision we were all excited about a year and a bit ago,” which was LRT in Hamilton.

The Liberals announced a $130.4-billion budget, which projects a $12.5-billion deficit. The Conservatives have already voted against it, leaving the balance of power in the hands of NDP, which is led by Hamilton Centre MPP Andrea Horwath. If the New Democrats vote against it, it will trigger a provincial election.

Horwath didn’t attend Thursday’s session, nor did she take media calls. She will make a statement at 10 a.m. Friday.

“I will read the budget carefully and will talk with you all tomorrow morning,” she tweeted.

Money for hospitals, child care, minimum wage

Other budget highlights:

  • $29 billion over the next 10 years for transit and infrastructure, with $15 billion for Toronto and Hamilton and $13.9 billion for the rest of the province. That seems to mean the city won’t get a share of the money to help with roads, bridges and other infrastructure, Bratina said.
  • $11.4 billion on 40 hospital expansion and redevelopment projects in the next 10 years, along with hundreds of millions in deferred hospital maintenance.
  • More than $11 billion in capital grants for schools over the next 10 years.
  • A proposed plan to collect contributions from workers and employers for a new Ontario Retirement Pension Plan. The new plan is positive, said Tom Cooper, head of the Hamilton Roundtable for Poverty Reduction, and deserves examination. “We could be looking at a significant increase in seniors poverty if we don’t address this.”
  • Increasing minimum wage to $11 on June 1, which still leaves too many Ontarians below the poverty line, Cooper said. 
  • An increase to the Ontario Child Benefit of $1,310 per child.
  • An increase of one per cent to social assistance, which will “simply not cut it,” Cooper said. The budget “did not contain the social assistance reforms we’d hoped to see.”

City staff will take a closer look in the coming days at what exactly the budget means to Hamilton, Bratina said.

“Generally speaking, there’s not enough clarity,” he said. But “the messaging is good.”