It’s been exactly two years since hundreds of Bramptonians packed the Rose Theatre for a special council meeting on the fate of the Hurontario-Main LRT.
What should have been a slam dunk decision for Brampton became what will likely go down as one of the most contentious decisions to ever come out of Brampton City Council.
But it should have been easy — after all, the province had committed $1.2 billion to the route, which would have run from Port Credit all the way into downtown Brampton.
There are hundreds of cities around the world that have successfully implemented and seen the benefits of LRT, so why was Brampton an exception? The answer still isn’t clear. The councillors against the route still have yet to provide factual, proven data to support their controversial decision.
The issue inspired record civic engagement in Brampton. So much so that council chambers overflowed when key decisions were made on the project. Lots of young people engaged in the debate online and at council meetings, and when it came down to the final decision over 60 people delegated to council, which remains a standing record.
It sparked conversation and ignited people on both sides of the debate. When it came down to the final meeting to decide the fate of the route, almost all the delegates were in resounding favour of the decision to build the route into downtown Brampton. When one delegated asked, “if you’re in favour of the LRT, please stand,” and the overwhelming majority of the room stood.
But democracy didn’t play out that night as it should have. Most of the councillors made their position on the issue very clear, anyone paying attention knew going into the evening that the real decision was in the hands of councillor Michael Palleschi.
Councillors Elaine Moore, Grant Gibson, John Sprovieri, Doug Whillans and Jeff Bowman had already come out and said they were against the decision.
On the flip side, mayor Linda Jeffrey, councillors Gurpreet Dhillon, Pat Fortini, Gael Miles and Martin Medeiros had voiced their support time and time again.
Three months earlier in July 2015 when the decision was originally supposed to be made, Palleschi called for a mediator to come in to help councillors sort through their issues and come to a consensus. It was largely unsuccessful, though the mediator did encourage council to vote for the proposed route.
When it came down to it, the majority of council voted “no” to building the route, forfeiting the $400 million, and having the Hurontario LRT stop at Steeles Avenue.
The very small group of people present that were against the LRT outwardly appeared smug. But why? Brampton had been set back decades. One of Canada’s fastest-growing cities was robbed of an essential service that would have made the lives of many people, especially those who rely on transit, easier. It would have brought Brampton into the 21st century, made it a more attractive place for businesses to invest and for developers to build.
$400 million of funding from the provincial or federal government doesn’t come along every day, or even every decade, so it’s no surprise cities like Hamilton and Toronto got their game plans together to try for what Brampton had so easily given up.
To put it metaphorically, Brampton became the kid at the party who threw a tantrum and dropped his cupcake because it didn’t have as many sprinkles as the other kids.
Since that time Brampton has seen little movement on its transit file, not even from the councillors who voted “no”, but vowed to make transit better in the city anyway.
Last year councillors voted to spend $4.4 million to study alternative light rail routes — a hefty expense, particularly because alternatives have already been studied and ruled out in the past.
While some councillors have been hoping Bramptonians would forget the issue, it remains fresh in the minds of many people and still, two years later, is a regular topic of conversation on Brampton Facebook groups, subreddits and Twitter threads.
Brampton is less than a year out from an election and there’s no doubt this decision will affect how Bramptonians vote. With more news outlets than ever before in the city, and even more places on the internet to discuss Brampton issues, residents are going into this election more informed than ever before.
So if you’re ever on the 502 Zum coming down Hurontario, think about how ridiculous it would be if you had to get off of the bus at the Gateway Terminal, then wait for and get on another bus to take you the rest of the 2km into downtown Brampton. That will be the reality in 2021 when the Hurontario LRT is built.