Ontario Minister Ted McMeekin spoke with Bill Kelly on AM 900 CHML about LRT and new rules banning corporate and union donations in elections.
By Ryan McGreal
Published May 25, 2016
Ted McMeekin, MPP for Ancaster-Dundas-Flamborough-Westdale and Minister for Municipal Affairs and Housing (MMAH), was on the Bill Kelly Show on AM 900 CHML yesterday to talk about banning corporate and union donations in provincial and municipal elections.
Of course, the conversation turned to the recent unfolding fiasco of light rail transit uncertainty in Hamilton. Kelly asked whether the Province will take an "it is what it is" attitude toward the LRT debate.
McMeekin: You know, we need to understand a couple basic facts here. It's not the city that's building the LRT, it's the province. We won't build it if-
Kelly: But on that point, is one of the reasons there seems to be some knuckle-dragging and foot-dragging here is because there's so much misinformation out there? There are still some people that think that you gave this government a billion and said, We'd like you to spend it on LRT but if there's something else, go ahead. That was never stated.
McMeekin: No, it's a light rail transit specific investment. It's been budgeted for, I think, in whatever the calendar year is. It's interesting that one of the councillors argued that the province should cut a cheque for the billion dollars just in case the government changed.
Well, you can make that case for every project that gets scheduled. Maybe the council of the day should set money aside for council decisions in 2028, that they want to see the 2028 council make. So you need to move ahead with it. It's an LRT specific investment.
The City of Brampton, as you may know, made a decision after a lot of debate to not approve their own scheme and they lost about $1.6 billion that went elsewhere. And I get a little concerned after all the hullaballoo of: The council is unanimous, we want to move forward with this, this is our number one priority. The mayor put a citizen group together to even make recommendations around route changes and what have you.
And there was a lot of reason - good reason, I suspect - for the Province to say no, given some of the shenanigans that went on. But the Premier and I fought very hard to get that funding allocated, and - I don't know, Bill, I don't know how I can reasonably look my cabinet colleagues in the eye after fighting for this transformational funding for the city we all know and love, you know, if after all of what we've been through, the Council in its infinite wisdom or folly turns down light rail transit.
Kelly interrupted to ask McMeekin how frustrated he is feeling, noting that many of the same councillors making the most noise today had gone on his show to demand that the Province "show us the money".
McMeekin: You talk about information, and there have been all kinds of plans that have been submitted at council. I know because I, look, I've been reading them all. I read the staff reports. Maybe I shouldn't let that secret out of the bag, but I do read this stuff. And the Council was in fact adamant. Where the heck's the Provincial government here when we need ya? You know, This is what we want! This is our number one priority. This is transformational.
By the way, it will be transformational when it's built. It will make the - I can't think of a project that will make more difference economically. People out in Flamborough and in parts of Ancaster who are tough on the city, you know, We've just been pouring money into the downtown core all these years and get nothing for it.
Well, I don't accept that premise, but let's assume for a moment it's correct. Well wouldn't the best thing to do be to fix the downtown and make it viable again? To make it a place where people want to come and invest money and invest their time and their talent and their energy to build a stronger, healthier community? I think the answer is fundamentally yes.
And we need to remember also, Bill, that we can't look at this project in isolation. The LRT and the GO Transit and everything's part of a broader provincial plan to connect the GTHA. You can't be - there's no economic future if you're disconnected from everybody.
Meanwhile, you have Hamilton councillors literally saying they were "blindsided" by the Provincial funding commitment.
@AverageJoeHamON that was what we asked for the province to fund before we were blindsided by their generous offer.— Terry Whitehead (@terrywhitehead) May 25, 2016
I had to check twice to make sure this was not posted by one of the several parody accounts that particular Councillor has inspired.
Next, Kelly made a comparison to the Red Hill Valley Parkway, noting that by enabling economic growth that increases the tax base, the highway has helped everyone regardless of whether they use it. "the same argument is made with LRT. You know, the economic growth that it brings to this community does have a positive impact on everybody, but nobody seems to want to make that argument."
McMeekin: Absolutely. The GTA does well - ideally, if Hamilton's connected, Hamilton does well. If Burlington does well, Hamilton does well. If Hamilton does well, Burlington does well. If downtown Hamilton prospers, that's a benefit to the agrifood industry out there that's growing the most delicious, nutritious and best-tasting food in the world. Farmers feed cities but they also need cities to buy the products that they produce.
We're all, it's all interconnected. We need to make sure that out of our passion for representing the people that send us to whatever level of government we're sent to, we don't become so parochial that we end up biting our noses to spite our face.
Kelly asked whether McMeekin has gotten any comments from his cabinet colleagues about what is going on in Hamilton. McMeekin replied, "My colleagues, they look at me and they don't say anything, they just shake their heads."
Oh, and about those corporate and union donations?
McMeekin: Those municipal candidates that accept large donations from corporations and unions are three times more likely to get elected. You also discover that less than one percent of citizens contribute to election campaigns. And the development sector - those that want to build homes and apartments and what have you - contribute about 60 percent of corporate donations. And more than half, in fact almost 60 percent, of those donations for local candidates come from development interests outside of the municipality in which the candidate is running.
So it's been the assertion for some time that the development sector and the union sector have far too much influence in determining the outcome of municipal elections; and that in order to level the playing field for everybody, including those that may not have easy access to corporate and union donations, that we should follow the federal and now the provincial initiatives. Once the province decided we were going to move ahead with a ban of corporate and union donations, it became academic that we would do that municipally as well.
You can listen to the entire clip on Soundcloud.
Please take a few moments to tell Council to take YES for an answer, reaffirm its support for LRT and accept the full capital funding from the Province that Council has consistently voted for since 2008.
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