Editorial Cartoon by Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator – Tuesday December 17, 2019
A ‘betrayal’ of the City of Hamilton — Ontario pulls out of LRT
Doug Ford’s Tory government abruptly cancelled Hamilton’s LRT project Monday blaming billions of dollars in budget overruns — then teased $1 billion in transportation makeup cash, instead.
Transportation Minister Caroline Mulroney gave up on a public announcement of the bombshell news after a crowd of residents and council members — including Mayor Fred Eisenberger — crashed a downtown Hamilton press briefing.
A visibly upset Eisenberger then took over proceedings and told the crowd the Tory government had killed the long-planned project in a “betrayal of the City of Hamilton.”
The mayor pointed out Premier Doug Ford publicly committed to the project — with the memorable quote “he wants an LRT, he’s going to get an LRT” — just weeks after the pro-light rail mayor won a convincing municipal election victory in late 2018.
“That was a lie and they’ve been angling to cut this project ever since,” Eisenberger said.
In a phone call Monday, Mulroney said she understood she was delivering “difficult news,” but emphasized the province cannot forge ahead with a project it now believes will cost $5.5 billion over 30 years.
The minister also reiterated the province’s $1-billion commitment to transportation in the city remains — but details are so far scarce on what the money could be spent on and who makes the decision.
Mulroney acknowledged the “anger and frustration” of residents who only nine months ago heard former Tory transportation minister Jeff Yurek announce the $1-billion LRT was “good to go forward” after a funding freeze described as a delay to study project viability.
Hamilton Chamber of Commerce head Keanin Loomis said he gave the Tory government “so much credit” for publicly sticking with the Liberal-approved project back in March. “I don’t know now if they knew at that point that they were going to do a bait-and-switch, but regardless, it is devastating for the economy in Hamilton,” he said.
Developer and union vice-president Joe Mancinelli said the project meant “thousands of jobs” to local construction workers and spurred LIUNA to start building two different towers along the route. “These are decisions that were (based) on a commitment that was made by the provincial government,” he said.
Mulroney said the incoming PC government was indeed concerned about the LRT budget from the get-go in 2018, but opted to get an independent cost estimate “to see if we could (still) deliver the project.”
Provincial officials forwarded to journalists a summarized page of “expert third-party” cost estimates that suggest the “total costs of the LRT” — including construction, financing and 30 years of operations and maintenance — had ballooned to $5.5 billion. (Hamilton Spectator)