Transit, housing, opioids and communication were among the issues discussed during a semi-annual meeting at London City Hall between London’s local MPs and city council that got unusually testy.
Communication issues surrounding London’s bus rapid transit plan were a source of concern for the city’s two Liberal MPs.
“I do have to say some mixed messages on consultation dates when it comes to rapid transit, I’ve expressed concerns about the December date, for reasons we’ve heard today, it’s very close to Christmas,” said London North Centre Liberal MP Peter Fragiskatos.
Criticisms over communication for the BRT plan have dogged the city all year. Back in March Fragiskatos cautioned city hall to “get it right” after tempers flared in the city over proposed BRT plans.
The criticism from Fragiskatos surprised Ward 4 Coun. Jesse Helmer.
“I’m surprised frankly that we’re talking about the scheduling of meetings. I presume we’re being frank, I want to be clear about that. It’s up to us to schedule public meetings and I think it’s a great idea to have public meetings in the beginning and middle of December,” he said.
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Fragiskatos defended his criticism, arguing the federal and provincial governments will be covering the majority of the funding for the project.
“When the federal government is being asked to contribute hundreds of millions of dollars towards bus rapid transit I think it’s fair for me to ask a question about consultation dates,” he said.
Communication issues were discussed at last week’s rapid transit implementation working group, where Ward 6 Coun. Phil Squire criticized city staff for not adequately informing his constituents about a workshop that was being held Nov. 15 at the Central Library.
There will be a week of public consultations the week of Dec. 11 regarding road widenings in nine parts of the city that will be required as part of the BRT plan.
Communication between the city and the public wasn’t the only issue on Wednesday. There were also concerns about communicating with local MPs. Those concerns have been heard, according to Mayor Matt Brown.
“I know what we need to do, we need to make sure that we have a hotline of communication from your constituency office to our rapid transit office,” said Brown.
London West Liberal MP Kate Young wasn’t so sure.
“If I had 10 cents for every time I’ve heard ‘if we could do the communication better’ I think we’d be very rich,” she said.
London has pledged $130 million towards the $500-million BRT plan.
The remaining $370 million is expected to be covered by the federal and provincial governments but has not yet been secured.
While communication was a major sticking point, the meeting itself was an issue for Ward 7 Coun. Josh Morgan.
“We seem to have an order of topics, I don’t have that order, I don’t have the questions that we’re asking in front of me and I want to participate effectively as a member of council but I’ve seen a couple of my colleagues shaking their head,” said Morgan. “I just think we need to find a way to make these meetings more effective in the future.”
Opioids, economic development, NAFTA talks and housing were also discussed.
The lack of a national housing strategy from the federal government was another bone of contention.
“We keep hearing about a national housing strategy and it’s not there yet,” said London Fanshawe NDP MP Irene Mathyssen.
Government officials have told housing and homeless advocates to expect a declaration in the plan set to be released this fall, and have it put into legislation to make a bold statement that would be difficult for a future government to ignore or reverse.
Helmer raised a lack of government funding for London’s homeless as a key factor impacting the city, pointing out other cities such as Hamilton receive far more than London.
“Hamilton receives $21 million over five years, London receives $2.5 million,” he said.
The lack of funding for London on housing and homeless was acknowledged by Fragiskatos.