Ontario premier says Hamilton LRT is a ‘good project’ that needs federal backing

Federal minister of infrastructure Catherine McKenna urged the city to "seize the day", following a federal, provincial commitment of $3.4 billion in Hamilton's LRT project. City of Hamilton

The revival of Hamilton’s light-rail transit (LRT) project appears to have the support of Ontario’s premier, although it remains unclear when it will officially get back on track.

During an announcement in Hamilton on Thursday, Premier Doug Ford said he’s been working closely with Mayor Fred Eisenberger on the file, but said they’ll need support from the federal government.

“The ideal situation is to do what the mayor wants to do, if everyone agrees, is the LRT,” said Ford. “But again, I don’t think we’re there 100 per cent. We need the feds to come to the table, see how much they’re bringing to the project, and then we can all sit down.”

He added that he thinks it’s a “good project,” but stressed that the city and the federal government will need to be involved in funding it.

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Read more: ‘We need you at the table,’ Ontario premier tells feds on plan for Hamilton LRT

In a statement to Global News on Friday, federal Minister of Infrastructure and Communities Catherine McKenna said it’s up to the province to formally endorse the LRT project and submit a business case for the government to review.

“I have been following the Hamilton LRT proposal closely and favourably support it,” said McKenna. “Having grown up in Hamilton, I understand how important good public transit is to the city in terms of creating jobs, attracting businesses and helping people get around in faster, cleaner and more affordable ways.

“I look forward to the Province of Ontario formally endorsing the LRT project and submitting a business case for review. We know major transit projects create good jobs for Ontarians and grow the economy at a time when we really need it.”

The project has been in limbo ever since December 2019, when provincial Transportation Minister Caroline Mulroney announced that it would be cancelled due to cost overruns.

A transportation task force put together by the province in response to criticism of the LRT’s cancellation suggested in April that the best way to spend the $1 billion earmarked for transit in Hamilton would be either LRT or bus-rapid transit (BRT).

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Since that report was released, the province hasn’t announced any plans to pick the project back up.

However, an announcement from the Labourers’ International Union of North America (LiUNA) in August suggested that there might be another way forward, pitching a $3.4-million LRT construction plan that would combine private money with potential contributions from the provincial and federal governments.

Joseph Mancinelli, LiUNA’s vice-president and regional manager for Central and Eastern Canada, said that plan is still viable and he remains optimistic about reviving the LRT.

“We feel pretty confident that we’re moving forward with the LRT,” Mancinelli said on Friday morning. “It’s just a matter of timing at this point, in order to have the provincial and federal governments co-ordinate with each other.”

He added that he believes an announcement is “imminent,” citing the project as an ideal stimulant of economic recovery during the pandemic.

“I can’t tell you exactly when that will be. I wish I knew. But it’s imminent, it’s coming.”

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