By Kevin Werner, News Staff
Ontario Transportation Minister Glen Murray tried to be a neutral observer when it comes to deciding if light-rail or bus rapid transit is the best fit for Hamilton.
But at times, it seemed the minister veered off into one direction.
The former mayor of Winnipeg pointed out the province is investing in municipal infrastructure again, an area where the federal government has ignored, he told about 100 people at Sarcoa Restaurant last week while he was in town for a $44-million GO Transit announcement. But that infrastructure investment needs full value to benefit the municipality. He pointed out in Edmonton, and Portland, LRT has resulted in millions of dollars in commercial and residential investment.
Hamilton politicians are wrestling with the estimated $1 billion cost of a LRT, which has been endorsed by council and city officials. But that approval is contingent on the province providing 100 per cent of the cost of the project. A decision has to be made on how to raise the revenue for the project, and who will pay for it.
“We will find an affordable solution,”Murraytold reporters after his speech, which was hosted by the Hamilton Chamber of Commerce. “There is only one citizen that pays taxes. We like what Hamilton and the mayor is doing. That works more toward a LRT solution.
“Hamiltonians have to figure that out,” he added.
The decision between LRT and BRT, Murray said, should be based on economics, which hasn’t been properly reviewed yet.
“A lot of people know the price of it, but not the value of it,” he said.
Still, Murray pointed out that an LRT system would assist in buildingHamilton’s tax base by increasing the value of the surrounding lands.
“We need to change the context from cost to value,” he said.
Murraysaid the province is paying up to 100 per cent for infrastructure projects in some municipalities based upon their ability to pay. How the province treats Hamilton will be based on any financial arrangement the city and province agree to that makes sure the municipality gets its fair share, he said.
“It has to be within the means of the city,” said Murray. “It’s situational.”
Murray and Hamilton Liberal cabinet minister Ted McMeekin, who joined the minister during his tour of the city, dismissed the idea that other local Liberals have said a BRT is better suited for Hamilton.
They also downplayed a recent letter sent by Ward 1 councillor Brian McHattie that seeks to reinforce council’s support for LRT. McHattie, who is running for mayor, was prompted to send the letter to Premier Kathleen Wynne believing Mayor Bob Bratina hasn’t been as forceful to the province to pursue LRT funding as he should be. Bratina has acknowledged he has some questions about the LRT cost.
“We are all Liberals,” said Murray. “We like discussion. (Premier Wynne) actually likes conversation. Let people write letters and go on the record (and) you have an open discussion and you don’t force people to drink the Kool-Aid before signing up to be on your team.”
Murraysaid the differing views on LRT and how to improve the city’s transportation infrastructure is healthy and instructive for the province.
“I think they reflect the views of a lot of Hamiltonians,” he said.
Murray told the crowd that it will be up to residents to determine what type of transportation system they want.
McMeekin chimed in saying there is no reason for Liberal MPP candidates Ivan Luksic (Hamilton East-Stoney Creek) and Javid Mirza (HamiltonMountain) to face any backlash from the party for their actions.
“They wanted to stimulate discussion,” said McMeekin. “They did that.”