By Kevin Werner,
Ontario’s new Transportation Minister, Steven Del Duca, remained in low gear during a meeting with Mayor Bob Bratina and a number of councillors, refusing to commit to funding Hamilton’s long-sought after light-rail transit system.
City politicians, though, had more questions than they received answers about when and how the province will provide the necessary funding out of a $15 billion transit pot, which was approved along with the provincial budget this week by the Liberals, for its LRT project.
“I support 100 per cent of the capital construction cost for additional rapid transit,” Del Duca repeated to reporters after the meeting. “I’m not in a position to make an announcement today. Today was an exercise in coming here to hear directly (from politicians). I heard their message loud and clear.”
Del Duca said the information he received from Hamilton politicians and officials about the city’s transit needs will be relayed to his staff and representatives of Metrolinx. He said the province over the next few months will be crafting an implementation plan on how to distribute the money to various communities for their transit projects.
“I’m encouraging the municipality to keep working,” said Del Duca, who was accompanied by Bratina and Liberal cabinet minister Ted McMeekin.
The July 25 meeting lasted for over an hour, and attended by Bratina, mayoral candidates Brad Clark and Brian McHattie, Mountain councillor Scott Duvall and Dundas councillor Russ Power, along with city staff, including city manager Chris Murray. Murray presented a series of transportation topics to the minister that included Hamilton’s transit challenges, including LRT and GO transit. Del Duca, who did mention LRT during the meeting, but didn’t refer to it during the media conference, told Murray and the group that the province and the city can do “some extraordinary things” together in the future.
Councillor McHattie, a strong proponent of LRT, praised the meeting afterwards saying it allowed for a good transaction of ideas.
“I didn’t have great expectations for the meeting,” he said. “My expectations were blown out of the water.”
But McHattie did come away from the get together with still more questions, including how the 100 per cent funding will be used, and if the LRT would be the project to be funded. Hamilton council has approved a number of times motions to support LRT, contingent on the provincial government paying 100 per cent the capital cost of the project, estimated to be over $800 million. The LRT project would stretch 13-km from McMaster University along King Street and end at Eastgate Square in Stoney Creek.
Councillor Clark, who represents Stoney Creek, was more circumspect with the meeting’s outcome. He called the discussion “generally positive,” but noted the minister identified the 100 per cent capital funding was for construction, and he pointed out the money would go towards rapid transit rather than for LRT.
“(The funding) could be for anything,” he said.
Still, anytime politicians can have the ear of a minister it’s worthwhile, he said.
“We were able to express our challenges on transportation and transit. He’s aware we need to improve our local transit.”
The meeting did turn into a controversial event, with a few LRT proponents camped out at city hall criticizing the backroom secrecy, while some councillors and NDP MPPs Paul Miller and Monique Taylor added their voices to the cause.
“This meeting should be a public meeting,” said Ward 4 councillor Sam Merulla. “Public officials should conduct public issues in a public setting. There was a Berlin Wall. We now have a Bratina Wall.”
Taylor, who has filed a complaint to the Ontario Ombudsman’s office over the event arguing it violated the Municipal Act’s open meeting requirement, said other area MPPs should have been invited to sit in on the meeting.
“We are talking about large infrastructure dollars between the province and municipality,” said Taylor. “This definitely concerns us all. People have the right to know.”