Cambridge mayor wants to look at cost of cancelling LRT

Cambridge Mayor Doug Craig breaks two years of silence on the LRT debate after a judge gave him the all-clear on a conflict of interest he declared on the issue in 2011.

Doug Craig favours bus rapid transit

A conflict interest put behind him after a judge's ruling, Cambridge Mayor Doug Craig has jumped back into the rapid transit debate, saying the regional government should look at the cost of cancelling the $818 million light rail transit system. (Region of Waterloo)

Cambridge Mayor Doug Craig is wasting no time in jumping back into the debate over light rail transit after a two-year hiatus, saying the Region of Waterloo should look at all its options when it comes to the $818-million project, including cancelling the project altogether.

"If we stop the LRT system now, what would the cost to the regional community be?" Mayor Doug Craig told The Morning Edition host Craig Norris on Tuesday. "I think the public should know that."

While Craig called for examining the cost of the potential cancellation of the LRT, he stopped short of providing what would constitute a reasonable price tag, saying instead that he believed the region could easily opt out of its current plan in favour of something else, even though construction on light rail had already started.

"Look at what's going on in Toronto, they're just cancelling things all over the place," he said.

Two years of self-imposed silence

The comments from the outspoken politician come after two years of silence on the debate.

Craig originally declared a conflict of interest in 2011, after seeking advice from Aird and Berlis LLP, a well-known Toronto law firm specializing in municipal law.

At the time, much of the debate swirled around the rising value of property located near the LRT route.

Lawyers with the firm advised Craig to declare the conflict of interest after his son bought a property across from the Ainslie Street station in Cambridge. But in June, Craig started an effort to get the judicial all-clear to engage in the debate once more.

That effort was rewarded Friday when the Ontario Superior Court ruled that the conflict was "so insignificant and so remote that it cannot reasonably be regarded as likely to influence."

Craig said it's been personally frustrating sitting on the sidelines in a debate over the largest public transit project the region has ever seen.

"I think [Cambridge has], to some extent, been lost in the debate and the debate has really focused in the last two years strictly on Kitchener and Waterloo and the implications of rapid transit there," he said.

"I don't think [Cambridge] should be paying for something we're not getting."

Rapid buses instead of light rail

Craig said that the region is investing in the wrong system and should consider cancelling light rail transit, in favour of building a system of rapid buses.

"Right now we're using the wrong system there's no question in my mind about that," he said.

"It should have started with rapid bus and it would have been a lot cheaper and certainly you could have had buses running in neighbourhoods that could have connected through into the rapid line, the dedicated line, the train system is a lot more inflexible and you have to look at it from that point of view." 

Craig said he needs to get back into the debate, in order to give his constituents a proper voice in the controversy over the future of transit in Waterloo Region.

"It's about a matter of bringing Cambridge back into the debate and the implications of not getting a system and what it means to us."

"I think what the issue here is, Cambridge for the next 25 years is going to be paying for a rapid transit system it doesn't use. If in fact the rapid transit system in Kitchener-Waterloo potentially raises land values, I mean it really is a detriment to the City of Cambridge in terms of economic development," he said.