Doug Ford asks Ottawa for help with Toronto transit projects, but not Hamilton LRT

Hamilton's mayor says he's frustrated that the Doug Ford government didn't include local light-rail transit when it asked Ottawa for help to pay for $28.5 billion in subway projects.

The province says Hamilton-based asks would be premature, while the mayor says it's 'outrageously frustrating'

Ontario Premier Doug Ford makes a transit announcement in Toronto on Tuesday. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press)

Hamilton's mayor says he's frustrated that the Doug Ford government didn't include local light-rail transit when it asked Ottawa for help to pay for $28.5 billion in Toronto subway projects.

The federal government has already said it would help pay for Hamilton LRT, if only the province asks. Premier Doug Ford asked Ottawa Tuesday to pay 40 per cent of the cost of Toronto subway expansions, but has no apparent plans to make a similar ask for Hamilton.

The provincial PCs cancelled Hamilton LRT in December, saying new estimates show the project is unaffordable. Mayor Fred Eisenberger said he still hasn't seen the full estimates, which makes the Toronto commitment harder to swallow.

"From where I sit, it's outrageously frustrating to have the province continue to work on major transportation projects in Toronto," he said.

With Toronto projects, "cost doesn't seem to be a factor. Partnering with the federal government doesn't seem to be a factor … I don't begrudge Toronto [those projects], but it's not the centre of the universe."

The previous provincial Liberals pledged $1 billion to build a 14-kilometre LRT line from McMaster University to Eastgate Square.

In December, Transportation Minister Caroline Mulroney said third-party estimates showed the system would cost $5,554,681,932 to build, operate and maintain over 30 years — more than anticipated.

A leaked Metrolinx document from last year showed the previous Liberals initially approved $3,658,573,000 for operating and maintenance. The updated estimate, it said, was $3,746,047,000, with the capital cost still pegged at $1 billion.

Mulroney has appointed a five-member task force to decide how to spend Hamilton's $1 billion. That decision is due March 16. Until that happens, her office said, it's premature to ask Ottawa for money.

"The federal government has never been a participant in this project and has never come forward with an offer to fund this project," it said in an email.

Donna Skelly, Flamborough-Glanbrook PC MPP, said Ontario may ask for Ottawa's help with Hamilton projects in the future. Right now, though, "it's premature."

Catherine McKenna, federal infrastructure minister, said in a February question period that Ottawa was interested in helping Hamilton LRT.

"We're a committed partner and wait for a formal request from the province," she tweeted afterward. "We remain eager to work with the province and city to get better public transit!"

The Tuesday announcement from Ford deals with construction and tunnelling work for a three-stop Scarborough subway extension and the Eglinton Crosstown West Extension.

'Perplexing questions'

The Scarborough subway extension is eight kilometres and scheduled for completion in 2029. The Eglinton project is a 9.2-kilometre extension of the crosstown LRT, and a portion will run underground. 

Sandy Shaw, NDP MPP for Hamilton West-Ancaster-Dundas, said Hamilton deserves similar consideration.

"[Ford] stands up in the house and literally says 'subways, subways, subways,' and at the same time, we haven't gotten a clear answer around why the LRT project has been cancelled," she said. 

"Add that to the long list of perplexing questions of how the Ford government has dealt with the LRT file in Hamilton."

Shaw asked some of those in a recent provincial public accounts committee. The province said didn't consult with Metrolinx before cancelling LRT, she said, nor did it give Metrolinx a letter of direction to stop it.


Samantha Craggs is journalist based in Windsor, Ont. She is executive producer of CBC Windsor and previously worked as a reporter and producer in Hamilton, specializing in politics and city hall. Follow her on Twitter at @SamCraggsCBC, or email her at samantha.craggs@cbc.ca


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