City has spent $3M on Red Hill Valley Parkway lawsuit

The city has spent about $3 million on the Red Hill Valley Parkway lawsuit with the federal government and has decided to keep the case going.
He was driving 52km/hr over the stipulated speed limit (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

The city has spent about $3 million on the Red Hill Valley Parkway lawsuit with the federal government and is going to keep spending more.

City hall has spent $2.6 million in legal fees, $36,000 in HST and $309,000 on an individual court order in its 10-year-old battle with Ottawa. And after hearing from lawyers that dropping the suit now would put the city in danger of having to pay the federal government's legal costs too, it has decided to keep pursuing the case.

The figures came out during a public motion during a general issues committee meeting on Monday. The city was prompted to release the numbers through an Ontario Freedom of Information Act request.

Not all councillors were happy the numbers were made public. Coun. Brad Clark of Stoney Creek says it shouldn’t be released until the lawsuit is finished.

“It really does handicap the municipality significantly,” said Clark. Through his motion, the city will file a Freedom of Information Act request to get the federal government to reveal how much it has spent on the lawsuit.

In 2003, the city launched the current $75-million lawsuit against Ottawa, charging that 46 government employees acted in bad faith by applying the Environmental Assessment Act to the highway project, thus delaying construction. The highway opened four years later.

Coun. Brian McHattie planned to introduce a motion Monday to drop the lawsuit. But he decided against it when he learned legal advice that if it did, the city could be on the hook for the federal government’s legal costs. Councillors heard that from the city's lawyers as well as David Estrin, the external lawyer representing the city in the lawsuit.

If the lawsuit was dropped, the city could be on the hook for legal costs because it has put the federal government in the position of defending itself, said city solicitor Janice Atwood-Petkovski. But if the city ultimately loses the lawsuit, it could be ordered to pay the federal government's legal costs anyway.

The city could try to make a deal with Ottawa, McHattie said. But he's not optimistic that it would be well received.

"Who knows how the federal government would respond after having been sued by us back in 2004," he said. After hearing from Estrin, McHattie said, councillors felt like they were "tremendously exposed" to the danger of having to pay for legal costs.

McHattie still has concerns about the lawsuit. He worries that with the lawsuit, Hamilton is jeopardizing its chances for future federal government grants. He's also not confident the city will win.

"I didn't hear anything today that suggests to me that it's a slam dunk."

Coun. Brad Clark of Stoney Creek is feeling better about it.

"Nothing has changed," he said. "I am confident the city will prevail."


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