Ontario’s transportation minister ditched her own press conference at the last minute Monday, after an angry crowd gathered to watch her pull the plug on funding for a major Hamilton transit project.
“We understood when we came to Hamilton today it was going to be a frustrating day, and we are frustrated as well,” Minister Caroline Mulroney’s spokesperson Callum Elder told HuffPost Canada by email.
“We came to Hamilton to have a meeting with the mayor and a press conference with media. We did not feel it was safe to continue with the media availability.”
HuffPost was offered a phone interview with Mulroney on Monday afternoon but was later told she was not available.
Mulroney announced the Ontario government’s cancellation of funding for Hamilton’s light-rail transit (LRT) project in a statement emailed to reporters instead.
“For many years, members of the former Liberal government ... were not upfront about the true cost of the Hamilton Light Rail Transit project,” Mulroney said in the statement.
The project’s true cost is $5.5 billion, not $1 billion as the former government said, according to Mulroney.
“Although today’s news is certainly disappointing, for Hamiltonians and for our government, we cannot afford to make unaffordable and unsustainable promises.
“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 Ontario will still spend $1 billion on transit for the city. A task force will provide by February 2020 a list of alternative projects to fund.
Metrolinx, the provincial transit agency, has already spent $162 million on the LRT project and purchased 60 properties for it, according to the Hamilton Spectator.
Hamilton Mayor Fred Eisenberger called the move a betrayal.
“I am extremely disappointed by the minister’s approach to informing the city of this announcement and for cancelling their scheduled media availability and briefing,” he said in a statement.
“The message to the world is that Ontario is an unreliable partner. Ontario is not a place where you can do business because of the [Premier Doug] Ford government.”
Hamilton’s Chamber of Commerce said Mulroney’s announcement would hurt businesses.
“It’s hard to hear the province’s ‘Open for Business’ mantra without laughing,” the chamber’s president and CEO Keanin Loomis said in a statement. “This decision directly harms business and private investment in our city.”
Ford’s government initially paused land acquisitions for the project in August 2018. In March 2019, Mulroney’s predecessor, Jeff Yurek, gave Metrolinx the green light to start buying properties again.
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