Two-thirds of city council would have to vote to reopen the LRT debate

It may be the saving grace for a much-debated project. LRT planning will continue until Hamilton city council votes to stop it — and to do so, two-thirds of councillors would need to agree to reopen the issue.
A rendering shows LRT in the central lower city near Tim Hortons Field stadium. (City of Hamilton)

Light rail transit (LRT) planning will continue until Hamilton city council votes to stop it — and to do so, two-thirds of councillors would need to agree to reopen the issue.

This is according to a new legal opinion city councillors almost made public on Wednesday — but stopped short of doing after some heated debate.

The report, written by municipal lawyer George Rust-D'Eye, says the city has already accepted LRT. That means having a referendum on the project would require two-thirds of council voting to reconsider the issue, CBC News has learned. 

And that makes the project — which Metrolinx and the city have been working on all year — even harder to kill. It also means Coun. Sam Merulla's motion earlier this year to accept the $1 billion project from the province is redundant.

Councillors couldn't agree what to do with the four-page report at Wednesday's city council meeting. Some wanted to talk about Rust-D'Eye's opinion in open session, while others wanted to put it off until a special meeting about LRT on Oct. 25. 

The design has LRT running in the same lanes as cars on James Street North. (City of Hamilton)

In the end, they voted 9-5 to defer it.

The report has been kept under wraps because of solicitor-client privilege. But city council could have voted on Wednesday to waive that and make the report public. Instead, the report remains confidential for nearly two more weeks.

Aidan Johnson, Jason Farr, Matthew Green, Sam Merulla and Mayor Fred Eisenberger — all pro-LRT councillors — pushed for Rust D'Eye's opinion to be made public Wednesday.

Others said they hadn't had time to digest it. 

"I didn't even see it until I opened it up there," said Robert Pasuta of Ward 14.

This rendering shows what LRT could look like in west Hamilton. (Metrolinx/City of Hamilton)

As for Merulla's motion, Merulla said Wednesday that he wants to withdraw it.

But that may not be an option. City clerk Rose Caterini said the city's general issues committee has to vote to do that, possibly on Oct. 19.

Most councillors surveyed Wednesday said they were willing to let Merulla's motion go.

"Let him withdraw it," said Pasuta, who describes himself as "on the fence" about LRT. "I got a couple of emails today from some residents that are supportive of it." 

But Coun. Donna Skelly of Ward 7 said she'll vote against any attempts to kill the reaffirmation motion.

"I'd like to see it go forward," she said. "This is what has triggered all this discussion."

Metrolinx is building the LRT system, which would run alternately along Main and King streets from McMaster University to the Queenston traffic circle, and down James Street North to the West Harbour GO station.

Who voted in favour of deferring the discussion

Tom Jackson (Ward 6), Donna Skelly (7), Terry Whitehead (8), Doug Conley (9), Brenda Johnson (Ward 11), Lloyd Ferguson (12), Arlene VanderBeek (13), Robert Pasuta (14), Judi Partridge (15)

Who was opposed

Mayor Fred Eisenberger, Aidan Johnson (1), Jason Farr (2), Matthew Green (3), Sam Merulla (4)


Chad Collins (5), Maria Pearson (10)

samantha.craggs@cbc.ca | @SamCraggsCBC