Hamilton·Opinion

Amateur hour LRT announcement shows Tories can't get past blaming Liberals

They have been in power for 18 months, but the Ford government is still making things up as it goes along. And when it runs into turbulence, as it did this week in Hamilton, its favourite response is to pivot quickly to blaming the former Liberal government for its troubles.

Hamilton and other cities deserve more than partisanship and finger pointing

What an LRT stop would look like on King Street W. and Dundurn St. (Steer Davies Gleave)

This column is an opinion piece by former CBC journalist Fred Youngs. Youngs was a reporter, producer, executive producer and senior manager for CBC News in Winnipeg, Calgary and Toronto and covered politics at newspapers in Ontario and Manitoba. A Hamiltonian by birth, he was the senior project manager for the development of CBC Hamilton.  For more information about CBC's Opinion section, please see the FAQ.

If there is a checklist for how to bungle a sensitive and fractious political announcement, Caroline Mulroney's appearance - or non-appearance - in Hamilton this week would tick most of the boxes. Indeed, it might just tick all of them.

In just a few hours the minister of transportation for Ontario kiboshed a long-planned light rapid transit project for Hamilton, and blamed ballooning costs on the previous government, but didn't give any details around how or why they rose. On top of that she ducked out of a planned media briefing, and left town, for some reason, with a police escort. 

Predictably, this amateur hour approach to political announcements has reignited the long-running debate over the LRT in Hamilton.

Opponents are delighted; its proponents dismayed. City councillors — who were and still are pretty much in the dark — are left trying to figure out what to do with the $1 billion Mulroney left on the table for unspecified transit projects in Hamilton. They will have to hurry. Mulroney wants a plan by February — which doesn't leave a lot of time to figure out how to spend a lot of money.

Transportation Minister General Caroline Mulroney was in a hurry to get out of town after calling, and then quickly cancelling, an announcement on Monday in Hamilton. (Chris Young/Canadian Press)

All this has served to underline that even though they have been in power for 18 months, the Ford government is still making things up as it goes along. And when it runs into turbulence as it did this week in Hamilton, its favourite response is to pivot quickly to blaming the former Liberal government for its troubles.

It was Premier Doug Ford who came up with a plan for a new subway line for Toronto, along with $11.2 billion in funding to build it. It, too, came out of the blue to the city and its citizens, and upended planning and work that had already cost hundreds of millions of dollars. 

For her part, Mulroney undid $165 million in work and preparation for the Hamilton line. About half of that sum was used to purchase property along the proposed LRT line — property the province now owns.

All of which must make city officials in Mississauga, Ottawa and other Ontario municipalities, where transit projects are or will be in the works, just a tad nervous. Who knows what comes next if the province decides to draw up its own transit plan for one city, and unilaterally decides to kill a project in another? 

That explains why Mulroney decided that the real culprit here is the previous Liberal regime. 

LRT supporters stand outside a meeting room where Transportation Minister Caroline Mulroney was set to make an announcement Monday. The minister cancelled her update where she was set to announce the province was pulling funding from the light-rail project. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

The Wynne government, Mulroney said in a statement, had not been "upfront" about the cost for building and running the LRT. It was really $5.5 billion, according to her. Although Mulroney has yet to reveal the figures and details to show how the PC government came to that conclusion. 

"We cannot afford to continue the Liberals' approach of making empty promises today and accumulating a massive legacy of debt for our children and grandchildren," she said.

Slagging the Liberals for "empty promises" on the LRT is a bit tricky, given that Ford declared a little over a year ago that if Hamilton Mayor Fred Eisenberger "wants an LRT, he'll get an LRT." That was then, it seems, and this is now.

Voters decided more than 560 days ago that they had had enough of Wynne and her party. The Liberal party is now just a beleaguered rump, huddled in a corner at Queen's Park trying to figure out how to claw its way out of a hole.

The Liberals may have started this project, but the responsibility for it now lies with the PCs.

Voters in Hamilton and across Ontario deserve a better explanation of how and why the cost skyrocketed, how the province plans to deal with all the property it owns in Hamilton, and what comes next for transit in Hamilton, and in other cities. 

What they don't need is yet another helping of partisanship, finger-pointing and blaming someone else. 

For more information about CBC's Opinion section, please see the FAQ.

About the Author

Fred Youngs was a journalist for CBC News in Winnipeg, Calgary and Toronto. He was senior producer and executive producer for CBC Newsworld (now CBC News Network) in Calgary from 1991 until 2006. He left the CBC earlier this year.

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