It's up to the province to ask Ottawa for help with Hamilton LRT, mayor says

The federal government says it has money to put into Hamilton's light rail transit (LRT) system, but the city's mayor says it's up to the province to officially ask for it.

Ottawa says it will partner with Ontario and Hamilton on transit, but the province has to ask first

Infrastructure Minister Catherine McKenna, left, speaks to the media with Mayor Fred Eisenberger last year. McKenna says Ottawa wants to partner with the city and province on transit, but the province has to ask. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

The federal government says it has money to put into Hamilton's light rail transit (LRT) system, but the city's mayor says it's up to the province to officially ask for it.

Fred Eisenberger says Hamilton's memorandum of agreement with Metrolinx says the province is responsible for asking Ottawa to help with any cost overruns. That means the city can't leap frog over the province and formally ask Ottawa for LRT money. 

"This was a provincial project – could have been, or should have been, or is, I'm not sure where we're going to go at this point – but there's a natural flow as to how these things are funded and defined and who asks who," he said. "It's a wholly owned Metrolinx project, or was."

Eisenberger said he talked to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau during a recent visit to Ottawa, and the Liberals want to help, but "I'm not surprised that they're defining a process."

Federal infrastructure minister Catherine McKenna, a Hamilton native, said Tuesday that the Liberals are willing to invest in LRT.

Matthew Green, Hamilton Centre NDP MP, asked her during question period.

"The Gong Show Doug Ford government recklessly pulled provincial funding and derailed this critical project," Green said.

"Time is running out. Will this government partner with the City of Hamilton and help get our LRT funded and back on track?"

McKenna said the federal government is willing to partner, but "on this specific project, we have not yet received a formal request from Ontario. We remain eager to work with the province and the city to get public transit built."

The province has struck a task force to decide how Ontario should spend $1 billion earmarked to build Hamilton LRT. 

LRT has been discussed at city hall since 2007. In 2015, the provincial Liberals announced $1 billion toward the capital cost of building the system. In December, Transportation Minister Caroline Mulroney cancelled the project, saying there were cost overruns, and a five-member provincial task force would decide how to spend the $1 billion instead. 

The regional transport agency Metrolinx had spent $162 million on it so far. The city has also asked to see the detailed numbers Mulroney used to arrive at the decision, and the Laborers' International Union of North America (LiUNA) is crunching its own numbers.

The task force has until March 16 to decide how the money should be spent. It could decide to stick with LRT, or spend all or part of the money on a combination of transportation projects, including roads.

Eisenberger said in meetings before the cancellation, he suggested Mulroney ask Ottawa for money.

"I said, 'I don't understand your numbers, but follow the memorandum of understanding as to what happens if there are additional dollars required. Follow the process.' I've certainly asked the province to do that multiple times."


Samantha Craggs is a CBC News reporter based in Hamilton, Ont. She often tweets about Hamilton city hall. Follow her on Twitter at @SamCraggsCBC, or email her at samantha.craggs@cbc.ca


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