Monday, April 21, 2014

By Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator – Monday, April 21, 2014

City wants transportation minister to clarify LRT remarks

City officials are denying the contention of Transportation Minister Glen Murray that they aren’t acting on his invitations to negotiate a deal to fund light rail transit.

Both the city manager and the mayor say they have not heard from the minister, though Murray expressed impatience with the pace of movement on LRT during an interview on CHML’s Bill Kelly show this week.

Murray says it’s up to the city to “lock in a funding partnership” or “we aren’t going to get this done. Other municipalities have not only signed deals with us, but (their) LRT is under construction.”

Murray said the province needs “something a little more clear from Hamilton city council than pay for it all,” referring to council’s stance supporting LRT only if it doesn’t require digging into local tax revenue.

His role as minister is to “provoke other people to do things you hope will happen,” he said, during the 19-minute segment.

“But as a mayor (he was once mayor of Winnipeg),” you “lead parades and you have to go sometimes with a battering ram down to the provincial government to try to get the attention of ministers so you can get the partnerships.”

Both city manager Chris Murray and Mayor Bob Bratina said Wednesday they have not been invited to any meetings by the ministry.

“Council has done everything the province has asked us to do regarding transit,” said Bratina.

“We have submitted our plan, Rapid Ready, which we invested a lot of time and resources in. As well, we responded with a motion regarding funding. The province has not yet asked us for anything else.”

The minister’s words fired up some councillors, who voted Wednesday to invite him to an upcoming meeting.

Murray “stated very clearly that the reason LRT has not moved forward is that Hamilton doesn’t have its act together and put the blame on us,” said Councillor Brad Clark.

“I can’t explain his comments.”

Though he admitted he hadn’t heard the interview, Councillor Sam Merulla called Murray’s comments a “fabrication” and “irresponsible.”

But Councillor Bob Morrow urged his colleagues to be “positive” and “welcome the minister’s invitation.”

The minister said there are tools beyond raising property taxes that could fund a local contribution to LRT.

“I don’t think this is going to be a hugely costly thing for the city of Hamilton,” he said, likening it to a needle that doesn’t hurt as much as expected.

He added that Hamilton’s ability to pay will be taken into consideration by the province.

The minister wasn’t available for an interview Wednesday but said by email: “I always welcome any invitation to return to Hamilton and look forward to discussing with the city’s leadership the future of one of Canada’s most vibrant communities.” (Source: Hamilton Spectator)