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Mayor Declares ‘Betrayal’ After Ontario Cancels Funding for Hamilton LRT

Hamilton Mayor Fred Eisenberger declared a betrayal in mid-December, after the Ontario government announced it was cancelling C$1 billion in funding for the community’s long-awaited light rail transit (LRT) system.

Eisenberger made his statement after Transportation Minister Caroline Mulroney hastily cancelled a news conference as protesters entered the room in a downtown hotel, eventually leaving town with a police escort.

“That is not working in good faith with a partner,” Eisenberger told media. “Their timing on this is just outrageous,” and “if they were going to do this, they could have picked a better way.”

He added the 14-kilometre project, in the works since 2007, would have “created hundreds of jobs,” delivered what CBC calls “economic uplift”, reduced the community’s carbon dioxide emissions, and supported affordable housing.

When provincial officials moved Mulroney to a government building across the street, two city councillors stayed in the lobby even after police arrived, refusing to leave until they heard the province’s technical briefing on the cancellation. “My constituents demand answers and my job is to give them that information,” said Ward 8 Councillor John-Paul Danko. “For the minister to come to Hamilton and not be prepared to face the public or face council, that’s just ridiculous.” 

Environment Hamilton Executive Director Lynda Lukasik said it was baffling to have to get news of the cancellation “second-hand from the mayor of the city,” and not from the minister. “What kind of a democracy is this where a major undertaking like this for our community, we all show up here, and the minister isn’t even respectful enough to come talk to people directly?” she asked.

MPP Donna Skelly (PC, Flamborough-Glanbrook), who accompanied Mulroney, said there was concern the situation was “going to escalate”.

CBC says the province’s previous Liberal government had promised $1 billion in capital spending to fund the LRT, and Premier Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservatives included it in their spring budget. But Mulroney later said a third-party analyst had placed the final cost at an “astonishing $5.5 billion” and claimed the Liberals “were not up-front” about the project.

Ontario Liberal leadership candidate and former transportation minister Steven Del Duca countered that Ford has “been searching for a way to kill the Hamilton LRT.” CBC says the updated estimate “includes almost $2 billion in costs like operating and maintenance, covering the lifespan of the project, while the original $1 billion figure was only for the capital cost of building it.”

Mulroney maintained the Conservatives hadn’t added those costs to justify the cancellation. “We aren’t trying to kill the project,” she told CBC. “We worked very hard to find a way to move forward, to be able to deliver on it. But it’s clear the numbers we inherited misrepresented the true cost of the project.”

Eisenberger noted that Ontario was still going ahead with transit projects in Toronto and suburban Mississauga that were “more expensive than advertised”. Hamilton Centre MPP and NDP opposition leader Andrea Horwath vowed to fight “like hell” to save the project, adding that “what this premier likes to do is make up numbers to justify their cuts”.

Environmental Defence Clean Economy Program Manager Sarah Buchanan called the cancellation “a regressive decision which also contradicts the Ontario government’s own Environment Plan, which promises to reduce ballooning carbon pollution from vehicles by investing in public transit.” She added that the provincial decision “will result in more cars on the road and more gridlock, along with fewer opportunities for urban renewal and growth. Cancelling the LRT will leave Hamilton with more carbon pollution and other toxic air pollution proven to make people sick.”