Hamilton

6 takeaways from the province's decision not to fund LRT in Hamilton

Transportation Minister Caroline Mulroney was the one who called the press conference to announce the province's decision, but she was a no-show after things quickly went off the rails.

The city is still getting $1B, but for what?

LRT supporters bearing signs crashed transportation minister Caroline Mulroney's press conference Monday afternoon. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

The provincial government has announced it's pulling funding for Hamilton's LRT project, a decision that came amid chaos and may have left some residents confused.

From the press conference that wasn't, to the $1-billion-dollar transportation question, here's a look at some of the takeaways from yesterday's announcement:

The province expected a different reception

Mulroney was the one who called the press conference to announce the province's decision, but was a no-show after things quickly went off the rails.

A crowd, including the mayor Fred Eisenberger and many councillors, showed up, to learn what the province was announcing.

The mayor said he wasn't told about the government's plan until shortly before Mulroney was supposed to break the news at the Sheraton hotel. In the end her announcement was cancelled and the Eisenberger ended up explaining what he had been told.

Meanwhile, Mulroney and her staff attempted to host a technical briefing for media at a government building nearby, but a crowd followed them there. Councillors Maureen Wilson (Ward 1) and John-Paul Danko (Ward 8) tried to attend the briefing and were told they were not allowed.

Police were called by the building manager, but no one was arrested.

Mulroney ended up leaving Hamilton without addressing the crowd of community members or most of the media assembled.

Donna Skelly, PC MPP for Flamborough-Glanbrook, said the minister wanted to go out and speak.

"Let's just say the temperature was rising. There was a concern that it was going to escalate,"she explained. "The minister wanted to go back out but they said, 'No, we're going to go where we can actually have a meeting with media.'"

The province owns a lot of property in Hamilton

The most recent LRT update said Metrolinx had acquired two thirds of the 90 properties needed in order for work to begin.

About $162 million had been spent on the project so far, with about $80 million of that spent on purchasing property.

During the update to council, Metrolinx said it had committed another $22 million and the project schedule was unchanged, with bid submissions expected in spring 2020.

"The province has $80-million worth of property in Hamilton and they're going to have to sell it at a discount," explained Keanin Loomis, president and CEO of the Hamilton Chamber of Commerce. "I do not see them at all respecting the tax payer's money or listening to business."

Hamilton is still getting $1B, but for what?

It's important to note the province is still promising $1 billion for transit in Hamilton, just not for LRT.

Mulroney issued a statement saying the province will set up a "Hamilton Transportation Task Force" that will report back to her the end of February with a list of projects that can be "delivered quickly and in a fiscally responsible manner."

Details on the makeup and membership of the task force will be shared later this month, the statement adds.

Jobs are on the line

There are about 40 LRT employees being paid by Metrolinx who will now lose their jobs.

Some 5,000 workers from LiUNA Local 837 were also expecting to work on the line for years to come, according to spokesperson Victoria Mancinelli, who described the scrapped LRT project as "slap in the face" to workers.

"This would have been long-term jobs for not just union workers, but electricians, all the building trades across the city who no longer have that guarantee of 10 years ahead of them," she said."This was a paycheck, it puts food on the table, money in their pocket and is cancelled a week before Christmas."

Where is the $5.5B figure coming from?

Hamilton residents have heard for years that LRT would cost $1 billion.

But Mulroney says shortly after the PCs took over they learned the project came with a price tag closer to $3 billion.

The minister says the government called in a third-party that carried out a cost estimate that arrived at an even larger figure — $5.5 billion.

She added the province also discovered the government would have made the city responsible for "nearly $1-billion in costs for the operation and upkeep of the line."

It's not totally clear what is factored into that calculation or why it's so much higher than what was previously estimated.

However, the provincial estimate of $5.6 billion also includes almost $2 billion in costs like operating and maintenance, covering the lifespan of the project, while the original $1 billion figure was only for the capital cost of building the system.

 Asked by the CBC's Mike Crawley if the province was adding those costs to justify the cancellation, Mulroney said: 

"We aren't trying to kill the project. We worked very hard to find a way to move forward, to be able to deliver on it. But it's clear the numbers we inherited misrepresented the true cost of the project."

Not everyone is upset

There's been a lot of talk of disappointment and shock around the news, but not everyone is mad.

Members of Hamilton's #NoLRT crowd were literally jumping for joy after Eisenberger explained funding for the LRT had been pulled.

Skelly said Hamilton getting $1 billion for transportation-related projects is "a really, really good deal for the city of Hamilton.

"I think taxpayers have dodged a bullet when we finally recognized the cost of the LRT project. It simply was unaffordable."

with files from Bobby Hristova and Samantha Craggs

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