Don’t let LRT de­rail city’s re­nais­sance: Bratina

Let’s start with the dys­func­tion­al­ity that has been the hall­mark of our de­ci­sion-mak­ers

The Hamilton Spectator - - COMMENT - BOB BRATINA Bob Bratina is for­mer Hamilton mayor and cur­rently is the Lib­eral MP in Hamilton East-Stoney Creek.

Af­ter lan­guish­ing for decades the City of Hamilton has found it­self in an un­de­ni­able re­nais­sance marked by ris­ing prop­erty val­ues, sig­nif­i­cant in­creases in me­dian house­hold in­comes, pos­i­tive ar­ti­cles in the na­tional me­dia and a new-found self-es­teem among Hamil­to­ni­ans them­selves.

So what could pos­si­ble go wrong? Plenty, be­gin­ning with the dys­func­tion­al­ity that has been the hall­mark of our de­ci­sion-mak­ers, city coun­cil. In the pre­vi­ous term of coun­cil there was near-una­nim­ity in ap­prov­ing the James North Go sta­tion, McMaster’s down­town cam­pus and area-rat­ing, to name a few. The sta­dium de­bate had dragged on for al­most two years but within 60 days of the new 2011 coun­cil term we de­ter­mined the lo­ca­tion and filled a $20-mil­lion dol­lar fund­ing gap thanks to the province. The re­cent and on­go­ing tur­moil sur­round­ing light rail ver­sus other op­tions has cre­ated ac­ri­mo­nious divi­sion not only among the coun­cil­lors, but among res­i­dents as well. Coun­cil has the op­por­tu­nity to re­visit the plan and sup­port tran­sit im­prove­ments that could quickly come on stream and ben­e­fit the en­tire city. The cur­rent di­rec­tion will, if im­ple­mented, bring an im­por­tant com­mer­cial cor­ri­dor to a vir­tual stand­still for sev­eral years, with a po­ten­tial for new de­vel­op­ment that is spec­u­la­tive at best and cor­ro­sive at worst. Be­yond the tran­sit is­sues we are see­ing a decline in the sense of safety and se­cu­rity in the city, and par­tic­u­larly in the down­town core. We made sig­nif­i­cant strides in clos­ing the in­fa­mous Sand­bar drug out­let and Up In Smoke, but pot dis­pen­saries are open­ing up again in the same down­town district to the dis­may of le­git­i­mate busi­ness own­ers. Of­fi­cials talk about a le­gal “grey area” but my un­der­stand­ing from the prime min­is­ter, the jus­tice min­is­ter and oth­ers is that “the law is the law”. Other cities are crack­ing down on il­le­gal oper­a­tions while Hamilton’s are left alone.

It is not lost on any­one who trav­els around the city that in­fra­struc­ture re­mains a sig­nif­i­cant prob­lem, even be­fore the re­cent heavy rains and re­sult­ing dam­age. The re­port card gen­er­ated ev­ery year by city staff gives a “C” to most city as­sets, even though the an­nual main­te­nance short­fall is around $200 mil­lion and ris­ing, and pre­vi­ous re­port cards had given our roads as an ex­am­ple a D mi­nus. I’m not sure how the im­prove­ment from D to C was de­ter­mined.

Hamilton’s fi­nan­cial short­com­ings were sup­posed to have been solved in part by the amal­ga­ma­tion of 2000, but The Spectator has made the fol­low­ing com­ment: “Even now, bit­ter­ness con­tin­ues over the loss of iden­tity, and many in sub­ur­ban com­mu­ni­ties feel their mu­nic­i­pal taxes should not be used to fund ag­ing in­fra­struc­ture and other age-old prob­lems of the old city of Hamilton.” Now we hear a call for veto pow­ers for the mayor which would only fur­ther di­min­ish the voices of our sub­ur­ban ward coun­cil­lors.

The in­ter­ests of all would be best served by in­creased tax rev­enues from over-ser­viced and un­der­de­vel­oped down­town realestate, and all-day two-way GO train ser­vice be­tween Hamilton and the GTA. The no­tion that a light rail tran­sit sys­tem run­ning along Queen­ston Road, Main and King Streets should oc­cupy most of the energy of our city for the next 10 years in my opin­ion would re­verse the mo­men­tum we are now ex­pe­ri­enc­ing.

The thou­sands of res­i­dents who pass by city hall ev­ery day be­tween 2011 and 2014 saw some­thing new along Main and King … con­struc­tion cranes. We watched the McMaster build­ing, the Fed­eral Build­ing, Bella Tow­ers, Home­wood and Stay­bridge Suites ho­tels all go up in a just a cou­ple of years. As we speak an­other crane will rise over a new 32storey res­i­den­tial build­ing at Ge­orge and Caro­line. These projects changed the way many Hamil­to­ni­ans thought about the city, bring­ing back its sense of self-con­fi­dence lack­ing for so many years.

Some time ago many pro­gres­sive voices re­jected the “one big project” idea in favour of many smaller ones as the path to re­ju­ve­na­tion. I be­lieve that is still true to­day and smaller more man­age­able ap­proaches such as re­pop­u­lat­ing the core and ex­pand­ing in­ter­city con­nec­tions with high fre­quency rail ser­vice will sus­tain our cur­rent mo­men­tum as op­posed to clos­ing much of the city down for sev­eral years with a highly spec­u­la­tive and costly tran­sit gam­ble.

It is not lost on any­one who trav­els around the city that in­fra­struc­ture re­mains a sig­nif­i­cant prob­lem MP BOB BRATINA


Gore Park in down­town Hamilton: MP Bob Bratina ar­gues the city’s com­mit­ment to LRT is wrong and will harm Hamilton’s rel­a­tively re­cent resur­gence.

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