Doug Ford, the Province of Ontario’s Progressive Conservative Premier, has axed Hamilton’s DBFOM (design, build, finance, operate, maintain) B-Line light rail project, only months after he said publicly that the system was a go, and included in the Province’s budget.
Ford’s Transportation Minister, Caroline Mulroney, made the announcement cancelling the project in a statement—not at a planned press conference at Hamilton’s downtown Sheraton hotel. The briefing was cancelled at the last minute due to “safety concerns,” according to Ford’s staff, after city councillors and transit activists had packed the briefing room when they learned about the cancellation through local media. Mulroney was whisked away with a police escort.
“After a closed-door meeting with [Mulroney], it was left to blindsided Hamilton Mayor Fred Eisenberger to break the news that the city’s light rail project was no more—even though the new Progressive Conservative government at Queen’s Park had recently reaffirmed its commitment in its April budget,” the Toronto Globe & Mail reported. “Bids were expected to be submitted by three groups vying to build the 14-kilometre (8.7-mile) line next spring.”
“This is a betrayal by the Province to the City of Hamilton,” Eisenberger said, adding that other projects with growing price tags in Toronto and Mississauga were proceeding. “This will not only hurt Hamilton’s economy, but Ontario’s economy. The message to the world is that Ontario is an unreliable partner. Ontario is not a place where you can do business because of the Ford government. Their timing on this is just outrageous. If they were going to do this, they could have picked a better way.”
In a statement, Mulroney claimed the previous Liberal government’s C$1 billion budget figure did not reflect the LRT’s actual cost. She said officials had not released a higher, C$3 billion estimate, and that she commissioned a third-party project review—also not released—that calculated a C$5.5 billion cost. Mulroney also claimed the prior government had planned to require the City of Hamilton to cover C$1 billion in operating and maintenance costs. “It is frustrating news, but the stark fiscal reality is that the project will actually cost five times more than the previous government led us all to believe,” Mulroney’s statement reads.
Mulroney (daughter of former Progressive Conservative Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney) alleged former Liberal Transportation Minister Steven Del Duca and the prior government “were not upfront” about the project’s cost. Del Duca, now running for the head of Ontario’s Liberal party, said in a statement that Ford has “been searching for a way to kill the Hamilton LRT.”
However, Mulroney said Ontario would provide a promised C$1 billion for Hamilton’s transportation needs, and pledged to form a task force to examine how the funds should be spent on projects “that can be delivered quickly and in a fiscally responsible manner.”
Ford (brother of Toronto’s infamous former mayor, the late Rob Ford), defended the cancellation in an interview on talk radio station 640 Toronto, saying costs had escalated under the previous Liberal government. Observers point out that, like his deceased brother, Doug Ford is no fan of light rail or streetcars, and that he had previously expressed support for the Hamilton project only to secure votes for his election as Premier.
Provincial staffers moved Mulroney to a government building across the street from the Sheraton, according to CBC News. “Two city councillors followed, refusing to leave the lobby until they were allowed to hear the technical briefing,” said CBC News reporter Samantha Craggs. “The property manager called the police, but even as officers arrived, Councillors Maureen Wilson and John-Paul Danko stayed. ‘My constituents demand answers, and my job is to give them that information,’ Danko said. ‘For [Mulroney] to come to Hamilton and not be prepared to face the public or face council [is] just ridiculous.’”
Eisenberger added that about 40 Metrolinx-funded employees will be fired, and that the three short-listed consortiums—CityLine Transit Group, Ei8ht Transit and Mobilinx—have been told to “park their pens.”
The City of Hamilton’s LRT project head, Kris Jacobsen, said his staff told the Province to let them know if the project was over-budget, but “never really received anything.”
The Hamilton Street Railway LRT was planned to connect the Eastgate Square shopping mall and downtown Hamilton with McMaster University. Hamilton Street Railway is the historic name of the city’s public transportation agency, even though streetcar service ended more than a half-century ago, replaced with buses.