Hamilton LRT cancellation: “The putrid smell of politics – not an issue of costs”

di Joe Volpe del December 19, 2019

TORONTO - The public has seen this movie before: provincial governments abandoning projects, programs and allies because they are “una# ordable” or too costly to maintain. But governments are elected to lead, to develop “vision” and to create wealth, not to come up with excuses when they no longer favour specific projects and programs.

The Hamilton Light Rapid Transit (LRT) project is/was a transportation and infrastructure project designed to address the mobility needs of a growing population in Hamilton proper. It serves also as an economic stimulus for the region. How much so?

Hamilton, even in my lifetime, was dependent on the Steel industry. Dofasco and Stelco were huge employers and economic drivers in the GTHA, more important than even the ever-expanding construction (building) sector. In the last 25 years, Hamilton has been undergoing an economic diversification no longer as dependent on steel production or fabrication, but its transportation services have not kept pace.

The former (Wynne) government, after consulting with local government and stakeholders – which included employers and unions – negotiated a $1 billion project to build the LRT (capital costs) and struck an arrangement whereby a portion of the post-construction operating costs over a 30-year period would be shared with the local municipal authority.

Neither the Globe and Mail, with all its resources, nor others (Corriere Canadese included) have seen a copy of that Agreement. Eighteen months after the election, the Ford government now disputes the $1 billion figure. A fabrication by a former deceitful and desperate Liberal government willing to go to any lengths to bet re-elected, they say.

Depending on the hour and the calculation, the current, Ford government, claims the number was initially $3 Billion, or, after a review, closer to $5.5 Billion. Neither sum is acceptable under a regime focused on deficit and debt reduction. For those who don’t have a fulsome appreciation of the buying power of those sums of monies, consider this: the $1 Billion is approximately the amount budgeted to keep the Toronto Catholic District School Board operating “efficiently” – 194 schools, 91,360 students and 16,255 employees for one year! Do the multiplication for the other two amounts.

Closer to home, in Hamilton, the $1 billion figure is just under the twice the amount required for the operating expenses of the Hamilton Wentworth Public School Board for its 97 schools, 48,748 students and 7,096 members of staff . In other words, cancellation of the Hamilton LRT is the equivalent of shuttering those schools and laying o# their staff for two years, for six years if one uses the $3 billion figure or eleven if one accepts the $5.5 billion number.

Pity the reputational damages to the city and its stakeholders. How can Hamilton entice investment when the Province… “is an unreliable partner”, moaned Mayor Fred Eisenberger? He pointed out that, as recently as last April, the government had rea› rmed its commitment in the Budget.

It’s a slap in the face to due process. And damaging to the economy.

Another prominent player in the Hamilton area, arguably Ontario’s largest construction union, LIUNA, called it a “gigantic mistake”. Indeed, LIUNA’s membership would have been well positioned to fi ll a sizeable number of the jobs in the construction phase of the LRT. Now what?

LIUNA’s Pension Fund which might reasonably have expected to participate in the fi nancing of the program, would, like the Mayor, be right to see the cancellation “…[as] a betrayal by the province to the City of Hamilton”. Joe Mancinelli, and LIUNA’s members, who led the shift away from the Wynne Liberals to support the Ford Conservatives must be every bit as bitter as the Mayor.

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