What is the status of Hamilton Light Rail Transit talks between the Province and Federal government?
Nobody at City Hall knows.
Council unanimously passed a resolution today asking the Ontario’s provincial transit agency Metrolinx and the Ministry of Transportation to attend an upcoming Council meeting to provide an update.
Currently, City Hall only knows what the media is reporting.
Negotiations are occurring between the provincial and federal government with LiUNA’s infrastructure arm, Fengate Capital, to finance a shortened LRT line between McMaster University and Gage Avenue.
“I find it almost embarrassing that there is this discussion going on there, outside of Council, that does not include Council, that has not included Council”, stated Ward 15 Councillor Judi Partridge, who is a vocal opponent of the LRT project and moved today’s motion.
“We have LiUNA out there … negotiating on behalf of Council … I find very embarrassing.”
Mayor Fred Eisenberger confirmed he is not involved in the negotiations.
“These conversations are happening between the Province and the Feds”, stated Eisenberger. “The Province put forward the LRT project as one of their priority projects … that has ensued in terms of additional discussions with the federal government.”
“It is my understanding, at this point, that no agreement has been made and no funding has been put on the table. That is a conversation that is ongoing.”
Hamilton City Manager Janette Smith says she is seeking information, but has not heard from the Province.
“I want to let Council know that I have reached out several times to senior officials at the MTO to ask them about what are the next steps.”
Smith continued “I know what you know, in terms of their press release out that we’ve been included as part of those five projects being submitted to the feds, and I keep hearing information is coming information we’re coming in, nothing has come to date.”
Ward 9 Councillor Brad Clark expressed concerns regarding the City’s procurement process rules that LiUNA is involved in negotiating when City rules require competitive open bids.
“I do not understand what LiUNA is doing because this is supposed to be an open bid that will happen through an RFP [Request for Proposals] process”, he stated. ” I’m not sure exactly how a finance and union can be negotiating with the federal government on funding when we are committed to an open RFP process on any of these things. It is very confusing.”
Clark says there needs to be answers regarding the current state of the LRT project.
“The sooner the federal government, provincial government and the municipality can come to an agreement on what is on the table, and what council needs to consider. I think the better would be for everybody.”
Clark is on the record opposed to the project.
Eisenberger stated the current situation is “overtly caused by the province cancelling this project in the first place.”
He says as a reason of the cancellation, there are no City of Hamilton staff assigned to the LRT project.
“Conversations have been stilted by virtue of the fact that we don’t have anybody that is in the know consistently talking with the federal and provincial governments other than the city manager and myself.”
Proxy LRT Debate
Ward 5 Councillor Chad Collins, who is now opposed to LRT, stated “my opinion at this stage is that this is a provincially driven project”.
“They’ve unilaterally changed it, they’ve unilaterally sent the funding request to the federal government. I think we certainly need answers why that’s occurred”
Collins continued, “I’m not certain there’s support on council or in the community for revised project. I’m anxious to hear how they perceive this project going forward without any City of Hamilton support.”
“There’s obviously lots of conversation now about with those investments be better served investing in our city wide transit system.”
Ward 12 Councillor Lloyd Ferguson, who voted in favour of LRT, stated “It does concern me that I hear all this discussion going on about reduced route down to Gage Park.”
The original project was 100% provincially funded, Ferguson reminded Council adding he wishes to know if federal funding will require a municipal contribution.
“I’m just curious to know, are they now going to be looking to the City for millions of dollars too?”
Eisenberger responded he has a “pretty strong, in fact” mandate to implement LRT based upon his election win.
“Just so you know that whenever I’m asked about this project, you will know that I’m fully supportive,” Mayor Eisenberger responded. “I ran on a mandate to do this in the last election.”
“This is a provincially driven process at this point, they cancelled the project, it came back and put a task force in place”.
To close his response, Eisenberger stated “In answer your question, Councillor Ferguson, whenever I’m asked, it’s no capital dollars from the City of Hamilton.”
Ward 3 Councillor Nrinder Nann, a LRT proponent, agreed Council needs to be updated on the project.
She noted “the province cancelled the original LRT project and now has brought forward a different iteration that we as Council are only hearing about through media.”
Nann says local transit will be important to Hamilton’s post-COVID recovery.
“I just wanted to remind council that it was identified as critical piece to establish economic recovery for our city … from an employment perspective, as well as supporting the needs of our residents to move around freely.”
Partridge responded “I just want to remind everyone .,.. we were assured there would be some off ramps … we would be able to review [the LRT] memorandum of agreement.”
“We’ve never seen what the operating costs are”, Partridge continued. “I just want to remind everyone that we did not commit to taking on the operating costs, because we don’t know what the operating costs are.”
LiUNA vice-president and regional manager for Central and Eastern Canada Joe Mancinelli spoke to AM900 CHML this morning. Read their story and listen to his interview here: Who will pay life-cycle costs for Hamilton’s LRT ‘to be determined’ says LiUNA exec