The Ontario government cancelled $1 billion in funding for Hamilton’s light-rail transit system on Monday, killing it amid a chaotic afternoon that included a hastily cancelled news conference, city councillors facing down police and Transportation Minister Caroline Mulroney leaving the city with a police escort.
Mulroney left without actually making her announcement. Her press conference was called off at the last minute when protesters, anticipating that the LRT would be cancelled, filed into the room at the downtown Sheraton hotel.
It was Hamilton Mayor Fred Eisenberger, who had only just been briefed by the province, who told the room.
In an interview with reporters, he said: “In my view that’s a betrayal of the city of Hamilton,” he said to reporters. “That is not working in good faith with a partner.”
“Their timing on this is just outrageous,” said Eisenberger. “If they were going to do this, they could have picked a better way.”
Eisenberger described the project as a massive investment for the city that would have “created hundreds of jobs,” provided economic uplift, cut carbon dioxide emissions and added to affordable housing.
It has been in the works since 2007 and would have run 14 kilometres from McMaster University in the city’s west end to Eastgate Square.
The previous Liberal government pledged $1 billion for the capital costs. Premier Doug Ford said his Progressive Conservatives planned to follow through, and the project was in the spring budget. The regional transport agency Metrolinx spent $162 million on it so far.
Mulroney said later in a statement a third party hired by the PCs had determined the LRT would actually cost an “astonishing $5.5 billion.”
She alleged the Liberals and former transportation minister Steven Del Duca “were not upfront” about the LRT.
In her statement, Mulroney said the $1 billion is still available for transportation in the city. She said a task force, the members of which are to be announced, will by the end of February produce a list of other projects that can be “delivered quickly and in a fiscally responsible manner.”
Eisenberger said about 40 employees being funded by Metrolinx will no longer have jobs, and that three consortiums — short-listed to bid to design, build, finance, operate and maintain the system — have been told to “park their pens.”
He noted that other transportation projects, though “more expensive than advertised,” are still going ahead in Mississauga and Toronto. -CINEWS