Toronto didn't pay, so Hamilton shouldn't either, councillors say

Hamilton councillors will send a message to the province that they want the same treatment the Toronto area got when it comes to funding light rail transit (LRT).

Province footed the bill for $16 billion in transit projects in the GTA

Hamilton councillors wonder why the province funded $16 billion in Greater Toronto Area transit projects, while Hamilton taxpayers are faced with 11 options for new fees and taxes to pay for LRT. Coun. Brian McHattie, an LRT advocate, says the disparity is "old news." (Jessica Young/CBC)

Hamilton councillors will send a message to the province that they want the same treatment the Toronto area got when it comes to funding light rail transit (LRT).

The general issues committee voted Wednesday that it wants the province to foot the entire bill for LRT, much like it did for $16 billion in Greater Toronto Area Metrolinx projects in recent years.

There were 10 projects in the first phase of the Big Move, including improvements to Union Station and Toronto streetcar and subway lines. There were no new direct taxes to Toronto taxpayers for those projects, said Coun. Chad Collins of Ward 5 in the Red Hill area.


Yet for LRT, Metrolinx has given Hamilton a variety of funding options, such as increased sales or property taxes. Other options include a five-cent-per-kilometre toll on the Lincoln Alexander or Red Hill Valley parkways, a gas tax of five cents per litre, or increased per-employee or per-parking spot fees on private businesses. Whatever funding method is chosen will be applied across the Greater Toronto-Hamilton area to raise $2 billion annually for an indefinite amount of time.

That disparity is unacceptable, Collins said.

"It's pure politics based on seats," he said. "It's based on the amount of support (the province has) received from the Toronto area based on successive governments. It's extended well beyond transit funding."

He's received calls from Hamilton taxpayers on the issue, he said. 

"(They're) saying 'we're not interested in new taxes. Don't support anything unless it's 100 per cent,'" he said. "So I think the motion today is very clear that we're not on for any of them."

The proposed 13.5-kilometre LRT line would cost $800 million and run from McMaster University to Eastgate Square.

'LRT is seriously in jeopardy'

The city will send the resolution to Metrolinx. Coun. Brian McHattie of Ward 1 was the only councillor to vote against it, saying it was "rolling the dice" over whether LRT would happen at all.

"I think that Hamilton's LRT is seriously in jeopardy at this point," he said. "I think what we've seen from council is that support for LRT is about a centimetre deep."

As for the funding disparity, "that's ancient news," McHattie said.

"That was under a different economic regime and a different perspective on life," he said. "The government has changed significantly since then. The dynamics of the minority and the premiers have changed."

City staff will prepare a report for Metrolinx outlining why none of the 11 proposed funding options will work in Hamilton. Silence may be seen as agreement, said Coun. Brad Clark of Stoney Creek. And this city has a different ability to pay from others in the GTHA.

"Mississauga can pay for their transit in cash tomorrow," he said.

Precarious growth

Hamilton, on the other hand, is carrying about $792 million in debt, said interim finance head Mike Zegarac.

Tuesday's motion wanting funding parity is "the strongest comment we can make," said Mayor Bob Bratina.

The city is growing economically, but that growth is precarious without new taxes hindering shopping and development, he said.

Other GTHA mayors have the same reservations, Bratina said, especially when it changed from $2 billion per year for 25 years to being open ended.

Council will finalize the decision on May 8.The Metrolinx board will vote on how the projects should be funded on May 27.