A majority of city councillors aren’t ready to publicly endorse a $1-billion, provincially-funded LRT project announced in a splashy news conference a year ago.

But don’t equate caution with rejection, said several city politicians who voted to put off a debate Wednesday on “reaffirming acceptance” of the $1-billion provincial offer to pay for light rail transit.

Coun. Sam Merulla put forward the motion with support from Mayor Fred Eisenberger, who previously billed it as a “put up or shut up” opportunity for councillors having second thoughts about the contentious project, which would run from McMaster University to the Queenston traffic circle and include a spur to the James Street GO station.

But Coun. Judi Partridge almost immediately asked for a referral vote designed to put off the debate until a May 18 meeting, arguing all of council deserved to hear an updated staff presentation on the latest project designs.

Council voted 9-6 to delay the debate, with only Coun. Arlene Vanderbeek missing from the meeting.

Partridge said after the meeting she hasn’t received “the clarifications that I need to be able to come out firmly in support, or firmly not in support (of the project.)”

“It’s about having the opportunity to receive more information,” she said. “There’s an awful lot of questions — not just from myself, but from nine other people who voted.”

Eisenberger noted all councillors had one-on-one opportunities to ask questions about the designs with LRT staff.

But the mayor added the “aggressive” motion my have rubbed some council members the wrong way.

“In the end I’m confident the vast majority of council will eventually support the project,” he said. “I’m not too fussed.”

Merulla, by contrast, called putting off a public endorsement a “weak-kneed” tactic, suggesting public perception of council’s position on LRT is “inconsistency, unpredictability and chaos.”

Coun. Chad Collins, who makes no bones about his opposition to LRT, reiterated he would vote against endorsing the project when the time comes. He suggested council concerns would grow as more details come out about the multi-year, technically challenging construction project.

Councillors like Brenda Johnson, Maria Pearson and Doug Conley said they voted for the referral out of a desire to hear a full staff presentation first. They said supporting the referral is not necessarily a reflection of their support — or lack thereof — for the project.

Coun. Terry Whitehead said he supported the referral as “a matter of courtesy” to council colleagues who want more information. Whitehead said he continues to have concerns about the project.

“But I don’t think we’re advancing the city if we say no to a billion dollars,” he added, suggesting the city must push for more funding to improve bus service throughout the city.

Coun. Rob Pasuta said “there’s a question mark” around his support for LRT, adding he’s worried both about the impact on business from construction — and the political fallout if the city should turn down money it asked for in the first place.

At the same time, Pasuta said council can’t put off a vote clarifying its position indefinitely.

“Something has to be solidified,” he said.

In favour of deferral: Doug Conley, Maria Pearson, Brenda Johnson, Rob Pasuta, Judi Partridge, Chad Collins, Tom Jackson, Donna Skelly and Terry Whitehead

Opposed: Sam Merulla, Fred Eisenberger, Matthew Green, Aidan Johnson, Jason Farr and Lloyd Ferguson.

Source: The Hamilton Spectator