Will Hamilton City Council accept yes for an answer now that the Provincial and Federal governments have confirmed they will pay 100% of the capital costs to build Hamilton’s first LRT line?
Yes. My prediction, it will be a 12-4 or 13-3 vote.
Hamilton City Councillors have been all over the map on LRT for the past decade, with career councillors voting for the project one week, and then against the next.
Councillors who only weeks ago opposed LRT will do the political math and plot a path to supporting the upcoming operating agreement.
How does Council get to 12 votes in favour?
Let us start with the firmly opposed who will be extremely performative during the next few weeks.
Ward 5 Councillor Chad Collins is looking at the inconvenience/disruption of LRT construction knowing that constituents who vote for him will be most impacted.
King Street’s current configuration as an urban highway is very quick for traversing by car.
It can be as short as twenty minutes to drive from Centennial Parkway to Dundurn Street. LRT means using the highways as a ring-road and slightly longer driving times (which is how it works in major urban centres).
Collins is betting (correctly) LRT will annoy these voters. Ward 5 residents living in the high-density apartments along Queenston Road and in Riverdale will benefit immensely from LRT. Apartment dwellings vote in smaller numbers. Collins is a vote counter.
Ward 15 Councillor Judi Partridge is out to convince residents of Ward 15 that the problems of transit and infrastructure in Waterdown are caused by people living in Old Hamilton instead of the result of decisions she has made during the past 11 years.
Partridge uses division to cover for her lack of vision.
Ward 4 Councillor Sam Merulla has his full Council pension awaiting him at the end of 2022, as he often loves to brag.
Merulla just wants attention and opposing LRT will give him it. He has yet to meet a microphone he was not immediately in love with.
The Changing Position Brigade
There are several Councillors who have voted both in favour and against the Light Rail Transit project at various points over the past decade.
Of this group, it is possible one may vote opposed. None of them want LRT to fail.
Being on the Council that screws everything up is a hard sell come re-election time in October 2022.
Ward 6 Councillor Tom Jackson loves his “off-ramps” almost as much as he loves referencing seniors. The Seniors Advisory Committee supports LRT, and with LiUNA now running the political drive to get the LRT operating agreement approved by Council, Jackson will vote in favour.
Ward 7 Councillor Esther Pauls entered politics because she wants to help people, whereas too many people run for Hamilton City Council seeking a pay-cheque, pension, and power.
On LRT, she listened to people close to MPP Donna Skelly. With the Ontario PC government now firmly in support of LRT, Skelly’s influence is gone.
Behind the scenes, Ward 1 Councillor Maureen Wilson has become a political friend for Pauls, and this relationship will help move Pauls to a yes vote.
Pauls performs poorly in the limelight of politics. Expect her to deliver an awkward speech about how difficult an issue this is.
Now, if Mayor Fred Eisenberger targets Pauls with negative messaging, she may remain a no vote.
Ward 9 Councillor Brad Clark will argue that his recent opposition was that the original project was shortened, and Hamilton was being short changed.
Clark, who opportunistically changed his position numerous times, is a former Ontario Minister of Transportation and knows that if Hamilton Council turns down yes for an answer [Hamilton Council originally asked for the B-Line LRT], that Hamilton will never see major project funding again.
Clark is a frequent HSR rider, including during the pandemic.
Expect him to push HSR route changes and improvements for implementation in June 2022. He needs to show his resident there are transit investments which benefit Upper Stoney Creek.
Ward 11 Councillor Brenda Johnson will likely come on-board and tie the LRT to holding the line on urban boundary expansion.
Ward 12 Councillor Lloyd Ferguson was firmly in favour of LRT, but recently expressed unease with City Council being excluded from the negotiations which landed the deal between the provincial and federal governments. His baseline for a decision has been 100 percent capital funding, which this deal delivers.
Ward 14 Councillor Terry Whitehead is likely to return for the final vote. Whitehead wants to run for the federal Liberal Party and this is a priority for the Liberal government. Expect him to be very disciplined, reading from speaking notes for this debate.
The Dundas and Stoney Creek Votes
Ward 10 Councillor Maria Pearson is a regular HSR rider. She has previously supported LRT as phase one of rapid transit in Hamilton. She moved to opposition in recent years.
Expect Pearson’s focus to turn to mitigating the inconvenience of construction for Stoney Creek residents, and expanding HSR service into the high-density developments along each side of the QEW.
Ward 13 Councillor Arlene VanderBeek represents a Ward with two distinct communities.
Urban Dundas contains a large constituency of support for LRT.
In the Greensville / Flamborough portion of the ward, the project does not seem to have as much support.
Main Street West is a bottleneck in front of McMaster, and traffic mitigation will be a significant challenge during construction.
VanderBeek will seek firm commitments and plans to improve HSR service for June 2022 to show direct benefit in Dundas proper.
The LRT Yes Leaders
There is not much to add regarding the votes of Ward 1 Councillor Maureen Wilson, Ward 2 Councillor Jason Farr, Ward 3 Councillor Nrinder Nann, and Ward 8 Councillor John-Paul Danko.
Their focus will now be upon community benefits, and ensuring the project is well managed.
Mayor Fred Eisenberger intends to brand himself as the fearless leader who delivered LRT.
The Final Steps
The political work is complete, the Council vote is a formality.
Yes, I know this is Hamilton City Council. There will be much noise in the coming weeks, a marathon Council meeting with lots of hype, and a vote at some awful hour of the late night or early morning.
Contracts will be signed, highly visible preliminary work will begin, eventually LRT trains will run down King Street.
Much as the current youth of Hamilton must listen to stories of the great Red Hill debate, the next generation of Hamiltonians will have to put up with us talking about the LRT debate.
Until then, get out the popcorn cause this will be show which only Hamilton politics can provide.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this column incorrectly stated Pearson was supportive of LRT during this term. That was incorrect, she moved to opposition. The section has been corrected to reflect this.