Ontario Progressive Conservative leader Tim Hudak grabbed headlines during the early days of the provincial election campaign by vowing to slash 100,000 civil servant jobs and spur the creation of one million private sector positions.
The Tory chief and Niagara West-Glanbrook MPP is prescribing similarly eyebrow-raising medicine to bolster Hamilton's economy, proposals that stand in stark contrast to those of his Liberal and NDP rivals.
In a Friday telephone interview with CBC Hamilton, Hudak said if he's elected premier, his government would spike a Liberal plan for the province to fully fund a rapid transit line in Hamilton's lower city, opting instead to boost GO train service. A Hudak government would also build the long-discussed mid-peninsula highway, but he stopped short of clarifying whether the road would be privately or publicly owned.
Hudak also weighed in on the Queen's Park funding formula that dictates how school boards decide which schools to close, build, renovate or replace—a process he described as "cookie cutter."
Here's what he had to say.
The Liberals have said they would cover 100 per cent of the capital costs of a rapid transit plan in Hamilton. Would a PC government do the same? If not, what would you do to fund rapid transit in Hamilton?
'When I talk to real people, not Liberal politicians in Hamilton, I don’t hear support for the LRT.' —Tim Hudak, Ontario PC leader
We have a very different plan. When I talk to real people, not Liberal politicians in Hamilton, I don’t hear support for the LRT. When I hear from real people — commuters, mums and dads who are scrambling get their kids to school and catch a GO Train — their priorities are more frequent, higher-quality two-way GO service, their priorities are improving local highways. That’s my plan, not the LRT.
There have been discussions about building a bus rapid transit system in Hamilton as alternative to LRT. Are you saying that a PC government wouldn’t fund either plan?
I just believe we need to focus on what works in our system and what people want to use. That’s why I am going to expand GO service into Hamilton, improve its quality, expand rush hour service and two-service. Look, if you want the LRT and you want to rip up the roads in Hamilton and slow everybody down, vote for Andrea Horwath and the NDP or vote for the Liberals. But if you want a leader and a team who will help with your commute in the [Greater Toronto Area] and Hamilton, then look at my plan.
Are we talking about two-way, all-day GO service to Hamilton?
That’s right. Our plan is to build on what people want to use. How do we get people out of their cars so it clears up the mess on the highway? The best way to do that is two-way GO service — more frequent service, more rush hour service, better quality of service, like putting WiFi on our GO Trains. I also believe, though, that we need to have a balance and that also includes improving our highways.
Do you have a timeline for bring two-way, all-day service to the city?
The first thing we need to do is expand the amount of trains in the rush hours. Right now, far too many mums have to get up at five in the morning to try to make sure they can get the kids to school and they have to rush to get that last GO train. And too many dads are having to decide whether they get the kids to school on time each day or rush off to the GO station. So let’s expand the number of trains available, let’s expand rush hour to 9 a.m. And in the evening, if you’re coming back home to Hamilton, let’s expand the last train out to 8 p.m. That will be my first objective, and that will start next year.
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But no timeline for two-way, all-day GO?
As quickly as possible. Look, I’ll sit down with GO and I’ll work with the mayor and council. I just think that the vast majority of people living in the Hamilton area are saying, “You know what? If we have a limited number of dollars to spend, it’s much smarter to expand the opportunity for more frequent GO, the number of rush hour trains we have, the hours we can catch them, and improve our highways like Highway 6 rather than rip up streets to put in an LRT that nobody's going to use.
You're on record as being in favour of the Mid-Peninsula Highway. Is this still the case? If so, what would your government do to move forward on that project.
'I think this highway would be the biggest project I can think of in generations that can bring more jobs to Hamilton and Niagara.' —Tim Hudak, Ontario PC leader
I’d build it. I think this highway would be the biggest project I can think of in generations that can bring more jobs to Hamilton and Niagara. I think first we build it from Niagara and the QEW to the Hamilton airport. That will clear the way for more efficient and safer travel for drivers.
But I also think it’s going to open up for more jobs. Part of our transportation strategy is to make sure that we can break gridlock and improve our highways. We think that there are going to be about 96,000 new jobs as a result of new industry and new businesses moving on highways. Because, as much as you try, it’s pretty hard to get auto parts or steel to market on a bus.
Would the highway be publicly or privately owned and operated?
Well, you look at all of the options depending on the engineering studies, the frequency of travel.
To me, it’s important to just get going. So I would do it from Fort Erie to Highway 6 at the [Hamilton] airport. And then from there, the idea that I think is the wisest — that Mayor Bratina has been talking about, and other mayors — is gathering interest in the Kitchener-Waterloo-Cambridge area. So the next leg towards the west would head out in that direction. I see that as a major jobs corridor that’s going to make life better for all of us and create more jobs.
Back to my question: Are you considering making it a private toll road like the 407-ETR, do would you keep it a provincial freeway?
First things first, and that’s to get the engineering, get the property and get the highway built. And then you look at the different options on how you finance it.
My best goal is to make sure that we make long overdue decisions to spend within our means.
School closures have been a hot issue in Hamilton. In particular, the provincial funding formula that dictates how boards decide which schools to close, renovate or build has come under fire recently. Do you have any plan to change that process?
I do. I think [Ancaster-Dundas-Westdale-Flamborough PC candidate] Donna Skelly has been a very strong spokesperson to say, “Let’s use some practical sense here. Let’s not use the cookie cutter.
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The Liberal approach has been to treat every school the same, whether it’s in downtown Toronto, downtown Hamilton, in Flamborough or in the countryside. I think we need to use our heads here and realize that rural schools need to be treated differently than urban schools. You can’t have a one-size-fits-all model.