Hamilton Votes

Province still committed to $1B and won't intervene on LRT decision: Skelly

It's true there's no $1 billion with Hamilton's name on it sitting in a bank account at Queen's Park, says Donna Skelly. But the province is still committed to the light rail transit (LRT) money, and it's not going to intervene.

Donna Skelly and Bob Bratina participated in a telephone town hall with mayoral candidate Vito Sgro

Donna Skelly, MPP for Flamborough-Glanbrook, says the province is staying out of Hamilton's LRT decision. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

It's true there's no $1 billion with Hamilton's name on it sitting in a bank account at Queen's Park, says Donna Skelly. But the province is still committed to the light rail transit (LRT) money, and it's not going to intervene.

That was the message the Flamborough-Glanbrook PC MPP delivered last night in a telephone town hall with mayoral candidate Vito Sgro.

Sgro is campaigning against LRT. He's focused largely on what else he'd like to do with the $1 billion — namely, express buses and other infrastructure projects. He said the conference call was the first part of his citywide "Stop the Train" tour.

Skelly and Hamilton East-Stoney Creek Liberal MPP Bob Bratina were part of the call. Both were against LRT as city council members. But last night, neither criticized light rail.

Instead, Bratina said Ottawa has various pots of money for transit and infrastructure, and will work with the city.

Skelly said the money is still there. The Ford government stands by its commitment to pay for LRT – or whatever approved infrastructure projects the city wants to fund with it.

Mayoral candidate Vito Sgro held the telephone town hall Wednesday. He says he plans a citywide "Stop the Train" tour. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

"The final decision as to whether the LRT is built or not does rest with the new city council."

More than 7,000 people participated in the "virtual town hall," Sgro's team said. They invited "tens of thousands" of people via robocalling.

Most callers were against LRT, although some supported it.

Under the plan set out by the previous provincial Liberals, LRT would be financed against future revenue the system generated. One caller said the Ford promise doesn't add up.

"It seems like you're promising money you can't possibly guarantee," she told Sgro.

"No one has suggested there's a bank account sitting with $1 billion that the city can simply access," Skelly said. But whatever decision the city makes, the money will be there.

The BLAST network is a rapid transit plan. The city's 10-year transit plan includes building up ridership on the network. (City of Hamilton)

Sgro wants to spend about $300 million on express buses along the citywide BLAST network. The plan, as per the oft-cited 2013 Rapid Ready report, is to build ridership for eventual rapid transit.

He told the audience of largely suburban voters that he'd like to spread projects throughout the city. A council committee would examine projects and assess them based on cost and need, he said.

'As fair as possible'

Then council would look at that list and "we'll go from there," he said. It would be "as fair as possible."

Those opposed feared the eventual operating costs of LRT. Those are unknown until Metrolinx chooses a consortium to design, build, finance, operate and maintain the system.

Sgro said if LRT doesn't meet ridership projections, "and it won't," Hamilton taxpayers will have to make up the difference.

Incumbent mayoral candidate Fred Eisenberger, meanwhile, says Hamilton's B-line already has enough riders to justify LRT. 

He also said Tuesday that LRT isn't as big of an issue as Sgro is making it out to be.

"I don’t think it’s the riveting issue some are trying to make it," says Fred Eisenberger of LRT. "Other issues are resonating a lot more." (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

Some criticized Skelly and Bratina for participating in the first place. The citizen group #yesLRT issued a statement. It's not legally wrong, it said, "but morally it stinks."

'Pretty unusual'

David Siegel, a Brock University municipal politics expert, said their participation is "pretty unusual."

"Federal and provincial parties worry about the optics of appearing to interfere in elections at other levels," he said. "There is no upside for the members or the parties. 

"These people could get drawn into appearing to make some commitment on behalf of their party, except party members have no right to do that. So, now the party has been drawn into a local election controversy, which can only have a downside."

Edward HC Graydon, Phil Ryerson, Nathalie Xian Yi Yan, Todd May, Carlos Gomes, Ricky Tavares, Ute Schmid-Jones, Paul Fromm, Jim Davis, Henry Geissler, Michael Pattison, George Rusich and Mark Wozny are also running for mayor in the Oct. 22 election.

Pattison tweeted that without parameters around how the $1 billion can be spent, talking about the options is like asking Hamilton what colour unicorn it wants.

About the Author

Samantha Craggs

Reporter

Samantha Craggs is a CBC News reporter based in Hamilton, Ont. She has a particular interest in politics and social justice stories, and tweets live from Hamilton city hall. Follow her on Twitter at @SamCraggsCBC, or email her at samantha.craggs@cbc.ca