Special Report: Light Rail

If We Reject LRT, We Will Still Pay

Given that we will have to pay our share of the whatever revenue tools the Province imposes either way, it only makes sense that we demand the best value for that money.

By Nicholas Kevlahan
Published February 19, 2014

Despite a dramatic headline, there is nothing new in today's column by Spectator writer Andrew Dreschel.

If the province doesn't provide full capital funding with no strings attached, several councillors say they'll no longer support the proposed $811-million lower city project.

Of course, the councillors quoted in the piece are simply repeating their longstanding position that the Province should pay for light rail transit. The problem is that they are now imagining some alternate reality where any new revenue tools would exclude Hamilton and we would get a free ride:

For councillors, full provincial funding means exempting Hamiltonians from paying special gasoline taxes, fees, road tolls or any other levies the Liberal government might implement to finance Metrolinx's $34 billion GTHA transit strategy, including a light rail line from McMaster to Eastgate.

This is so far from reasonable that it is laughably naive. At the recent Toronto Region Vision (TRV) 2014 conference, it was made clear that many of these fees and taxes would be imposed province-wide.

In her keynote presentation, Ontario Premier Wynne talked about selling the plan to residents of Thunder Bay and Sudbury - let alone Hamilton, which would be one of the biggest beneficiaries!

If Hamilton decides not to accept LRT, we should expect that we will still have to pay the new taxes and fees - but the benefits will go to Toronto, Mississauga and other competitors.

So there is no way Hamiltonians would be able to opt out of whatever revenue tools are finally approved, since these taxes and fees will be implemented regionwide and some will be implemented for all Ontarians. In any case, if there are road tolls and you drive to Toronto, you would still pay!

Dreschel acknowledges this in his column: "Metrolinx warned there would be no opportunity to 'opt out' of its transit vision or the funding tools designed to pay for it."

Yet he still muses over whether Hamilton would be forced to accept an alternative Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system even if Council rejects the LRT.

Given that we will have to pay our share of the whatever revenue tools the Province imposes either way, it only makes sense that we demand the best value for that money.

Why on earth would we reject a transformative Provincial investment, only to help pay for similar transformative investments in other cities with which we are competing for residents and jobs? That is self-abusing craziness.

Finally, all the supposition about weakening support for LRT is self-fulfilling. While Council kept reaffirming their support for LRT, they have done nothing for the past two years to explain and promote it to the community.

The City has not communicated strongly and unambiguously in favour of LRT, and has apparently disbanded the Rapid Transit Team, who were the only ones trying to communicate this message.

When city staff were still engaging with Hamiltonians, they undertook the most extensive community outreach in living memory and found overwhelming support for LRT in all parts of the city.

Now, even before the revenue tools and funding formulas have been decided, Council is simply giving the Province yet more reasons not to invest $1 billion in Hamilton.

Nicholas Kevlahan was born and raised in Vancouver, and then spent eight years in England and France before returning to Canada in 1998. He has been a Hamiltonian since then, and is a strong believer in the potential of this city. Although he spends most of his time as a mathematician, he is also a passionate amateur urbanist and a fan of good design. You can often spot him strolling the streets of the downtown, shopping at the Market. Nicholas is the spokesperson for Hamilton Light Rail.

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By The Hamilton WTF paper (anonymous) | Posted February 19, 2014 at 11:49:56

I'm telling you, the Hamilton Scepticator needs to be reined in with its constant cynical and pessimist coverage of LRT. What point do their articles serve other than to create doubt, confusion, and the sense that Hamiltonians are undecided on LRT.
What a terrible name for a newspaper. Hamiltonians don’t need journalist who would sit back and spectate as though being entertained. We need activist journalism, like here on RTH. Thank God we have this source where the writers actually have skills.

I say down with the Hamilton Scepticator. Their ugly building is an eye-soar, and it spews ugly ‘journalism’.

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By Reality (anonymous) | Posted February 19, 2014 at 12:30:24 in reply to Comment 97697

Hamiltonians don't need a newspaper that acts like a cheerleader for lost causes. LRT was never going to happen, no matter how many on this site and you are few, wished for it.

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By mikeonthemountain (registered) | Posted February 19, 2014 at 12:50:54 in reply to Comment 97705

One of the key traits that differentiates between successful growing people and mediocre stagnant people, is the ability to see Reality better than it is, then work to make it that way.

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By kevlahan (registered) | Posted February 19, 2014 at 11:58:08 in reply to Comment 97697

To be fair, the editorial position is to strongly support LRT. Although they have not actively defended LRT and explained why they strongly support it recently. Dreschel sells controversy and claims to represent the "ordinary guy". His claims to know what ordinary Hamiltonians really think are often just cover for his own personal feelings and prejudices.

This was made obvious during a past municipal election when he claimed that he had discovered that the residents of Ward 1 were turning against McHattie and were going to elect Tony Greco. In the end, Greco turned out not to be a serious candidate and McHattie won in a landslide. We must remember that an editorialist often aims to direct public opinion by claiming to represent it.

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By jason (registered) | Posted February 19, 2014 at 12:07:33

It would be par for the course for Hamilton to turn down an opportunity to build a prosperous, successful future. We turned down the 'Skytrain' before Vancouver had a skytrain and look at the following 4 decades each city enjoyed/endured. We will do the same here. Turn down LRT, and contribute taxes so K-W, Mississauga, Toronto and Ottawa can build LRT systems and leave us as the perpetual donut hole in the middle of Canada's most prosperous region.

Comment edited by jason on 2014-02-19 12:09:48

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted February 19, 2014 at 12:15:59

... I get why they object. They see the eastern congestion from the bus-lane and see the inevitable growing pains of installing such a system. I don't think it's even about the money... everybody knows we're paying either way, and that commuting in the GTHA is so horrible that we should pay either way for some real improvements.

But seriously, don't any of the nay-sayers travel? Ever? It's not hard to find cities that don't look like Hamilton and are actually pleasant and successful downtown. How hard is it to step back and think about the kind of place you want Hamilton to be, rather than thinking about what makes Hamilton convenient right now, today? Other cities have great ideas, and we should steal them, and LRT is one of those.

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By Noted (anonymous) | Posted February 19, 2014 at 12:27:10

"The problem is that they are now imagining some alternate reality where any new revenue tools would exclude Hamilton..."

Agreed. Nothing new. Except for that new bit.

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By Build Canada Fund (anonymous) | Posted February 19, 2014 at 14:18:31

What are Hamilton politicians going to do to ensure that we get a share of the $14 billion Build Canada Fund coming out of the federal budget, approximately $10 billion of which is to be dedicated to regional infrastructure??? Rob Ford has already said his eyes are on getting some of that money. What is our mayor going to do to make sure Hamilton is not left out?????

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By Bobra (anonymous) | Posted February 19, 2014 at 16:14:33 in reply to Comment 97711

He's going to play the clarinet and talk about the good old days...

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By banned user (anonymous) | Posted February 19, 2014 at 17:04:27

comment from banned user deleted

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By kevlahan (registered) | Posted February 19, 2014 at 17:25:59 in reply to Comment 97717

If the revenue tools are implemented, then we will pay regardless of whether we accept LRT/BRT or nothing. This is the point of the article.

You are suggesting that the Liberals will lose the election and therefore not be able to implement the new revenue tools. They may lose the election, but it is not "obvious" (and it is certainly not "disingenuous" to consider what would happen if the Liberals are successful).

You seem to insist that revenue tools = taxes, but revenue tools also include user fees and development charges. Why should the using a road be free, while you pay for tap water, electricity, food and other basics of life? I guess socialism is fine for driving, but not for anything else (I pay for the road through my taxes whether I use it or not).

The NDP could also try to finance the Big Move (which they support) by other taxes (they favour taxes on corporations). Relying only on corporate taxes is completely unrealistic, but it would still mean taxes paid by Hamiltonians.

If the Big Move is killed, then the question is moot.

Comment edited by kevlahan on 2014-02-19 17:27:40

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By Mover (anonymous) | Posted February 19, 2014 at 17:25:36

People, email the NDP party to advise that you support the Metrolinx's Big Move plans and would support an increase in ontario-wide taxes or new revenue tools for this purpose.

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By KevinLove (registered) | Posted February 20, 2014 at 00:10:08 in reply to Comment 97719

Those people, like me, who live in the riding of Hamilton Centre have as our local MPP the leader of the NDP party. Please write to her and tell her that your decision about whether to vote for her re-election for her own seat is dependent upon her support for the 10 cent per litre gasoline tax.

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By KevinLove (registered) | Posted February 20, 2014 at 00:05:34

Using these Councillor's logic, I think that everyone in Hamilton should be exempt from paying income tax. But still get health care, education and all the other things the income tax pays for.

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By positive1@cogeco.ca (registered) | Posted February 20, 2014 at 01:01:49

In the interests of generating some opposition to the NDPs stand on rejecting revenue tools to fund new transit initiatives, I am publishing my letter to the provincial leader, Andrea Horwath. I urge others to do the same.

Dear Ms. Horwath,

As a Hamiltonian, living in and NDP riding, I would like to express my support for new revenue tools to support transit initiatves (Metrolinx) like the proposed light rail in Hamilton.

Far from burdening us with more taxes, it would free up money that would be repaid many times over in economic growth resulting from light rail transit infrastructure (see hamiltonlightrail.com for compelling fact for light rail in Hamilton). This, along with transit-oriented development may be a key factor in renewal of Hamilton's core. As for the middle class and the 'underclass' which the NDP often claims to support, affordable, efficient rapid transit is just what some families need to commute to and from jobs without the ability to afford an automobile.

It is also clearly a winner from the environmental standpoint (lower carbon footprint, less pollution).

I cannot believe the NDP is not supporting this initiative. By the way, it does not have to be simply revenue from taxes.
Development charges, highway tolls and auto licence fees among other tools can be utilized.

Taxes fund much of our infrastructure (including roads for cars), as well as schools, hospitals etc. Why they would not fund transit (like they do in many other countries) is puzzling at best.

I have voted NDP in the past and will consider it in future, provided that their stance on this issue if reconsidered or justified.

I respectfully await your reply.

Sincerely,

Grant Ranalli Hamilton

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By Stinson (registered) | Posted February 20, 2014 at 01:34:41

Not that a spec survey matters, but but the looks of it, more votes needed for Support LRT regardless. http://www.thespec.com/hamilton/

Forget LRT period : (44%) Support if province pays all : (35%) Support LRT regardless : (21%)

Comment edited by Stinson on 2014-02-20 01:35:10

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By kevlahan (registered) | Posted February 20, 2014 at 10:31:21 in reply to Comment 97730

But it is still encouraging that a clear majority supports LRT if a suitable funding arrangement is worked out. And "The province pays all" should include new revenue tools implemented at the provincial level since all provincial funding ultimately comes from Ontario taxpayers!

The original position of council was that "the province pays all" meant that property taxes (i.e. municipal taxes) would not be used. It really is changing the rules half way through to now claim that it means that the province cannot raise its own taxes to pay for it!

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By Mal (anonymous) | Posted February 20, 2014 at 17:47:09 in reply to Comment 97743

Anything goes at this point, yes?

Nothing is predetermined except that (a) the city needs a broad range of transit infrastructure investments; and (b) the province needs to fund it because the city won't.

On the bright side, the wait should pass quickly enough. We've been waiting about 13 years for two-way conversions, and 15 for cycling network. Ten more for rapid transit, if that's what it comes down to, should be a breeze.

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By banned user (anonymous) | Posted February 20, 2014 at 22:22:17

comment from banned user deleted

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By jason (registered) | Posted February 21, 2014 at 09:27:06 in reply to Comment 97785

If anyone cares about these types of polls it should be noted that today 45% of people are saying no, while 55% are saying yes. Some want the province to pay as has always been the case and promise from Queens Park. About 25% of respondents believe so strongly in LRT they are saying to go it alone even if the province won't pay.

Only our esteemed mayor could spin those numbers into saying "support isn't there". Despite 4 years of trying to kill the project and continually lying to the public about the Metrolinx/provincial funding plan there is still 55% of people who want to see it happen. A couple of years with a leader in office, furthering a vision for a vibrant, successful Hamilton would surely see these numbers swing even more in favour of LRT.

When one considers the smear job LRT has taken the past 4 years, AND the demographic of the typical Spec reader, it's quite remarkable to see 55% of people still support it.

But I guess now that the Spec poll has swung this way, we'll hear the usual dismissals that it "only represents a handful of citizens", kind of like the Chamber, Home Builders, BIA's, neighbourhood associations etc......

Comment edited by jason on 2014-02-21 09:28:32

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By jason (registered) | Posted February 21, 2014 at 00:06:34 in reply to Comment 97785

which is why we elect men and women to make decisions to build the city and move us towards a successful future. If we let citizens run the city we'd sit paralyzed and do nothing. It's impossible to please everyone all the time. One thing I know is the 49% won't be complaining about massive new investment and new tax generating development spurred by LRT. If they do, the rest of us would be more than happy to take their share.

There's a reason hundreds of cities around the world are clamouring to build LRT, regardless of what half of Hamiltonians think. Heck, forget around the world. Right here we have K-W, Mississuaga, Brampton, TO and Ottawa all working overtime to get their LRT systems funded and built.
We're sitting around talking about the good ole days, townhouses and the grand 1970's idea of aerotropolis. You get what you vote for and you get the city you plan for....always.

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By Robert D (anonymous) | Posted February 21, 2014 at 09:14:00

Whether we like it or not, we are part of this odd forced combination of the GTHA. Our tax dollars will go to fund transit in and around the entire area, unless someone else is elected who scuttled the Big Move entirely and all its funding options.

If we don't get LRT, we will be getting BRT, whether we want it or not, because the government will have to be able to point to something and say "See, we gave you that, now pay up your "fair share" and fund transit throughout the region".

Anyone who thinks that by opting out of LRT we can opt out of any tax/funding increase is living a fantasy.

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By banned user (anonymous) | Posted February 21, 2014 at 16:25:43

comment from banned user deleted

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