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Hamilton MP says LRT announcement will be about ‘job creation’

Artist rendering of Hamilton's LRT project. City Of Hamilton

A Hamilton MP says Ottawa’s investment in the city’s rapid transit is about recouping lost jobs amid the recent COVID-19 pandemic.

Filomena Tassi told Global News on Wednesday the “shovel-ready” development is expected to bring “a lot of jobs” to the municipality during “a really important time” when many are hoping to get back on their feet amid an epidemic which has seen three shutdowns in Ontario.

“So we know that through this pandemic, so many jobs have been lost. It’s been so hard,” said Tassi.

Read more: Feds, Ontario set to announce details of Hamilton LRT

“We know that if we can get shovels in the ground, there’s going to be so many jobs created.”

Tassi said Thursday’s LRT announcement will elaborate more on the exact dollar figures involved in addition to conditions with respect to community vendors, environmental causes, community engagement, accessibility and barrier-free design.

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It’s expected that Infrastructure Minister Catherine McKenna will reveal a combined $3.4 billion of funding for the transit project, split between the federal and provincial governments.

Tassi wouldn’t reveal whether the funding would cover 100 per cent of capital funding costs or what the city might be on the hook for in regards to operating and maintenance costs.

She also didn’t have the exact time of when the project would begin or be completed, but did hint that stakeholders in the project from LiUNA will likely have a key role.

Hamilton Mayor Fred Eisenberger said he is “cautiously optimistic” of the prospect of building the long-awaited LRT that he has supported for roughly 12 years.

“I’m hoping that together they’re going to bring forward a plan that puts the LRT back on the on the track and gets us back to what I think is going to be a beautiful stimulus project for the city of Hamilton,” Eisenberger told Global News.

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The mayor was one of many who was stunned when the Ford government opted to cancel the 17-stop LRT in December 2019, after the Conservative government claimed the former Liberals under Kathleen Wynne were not up front about the true costs involved.

The project saw new light after transportation minister Caroline Mulroney recruited a panel of five for a task force to decide how $1 billion in provincial funding would be spent.

The panel’s report ultimately chose the light rapid transit (LRT) project as the best option which subsequently led to an application from the ministry of transportation (MTO) for cash from the Investing In Canada Infrastructure Program (ICIP) Transit Program.

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Former Toronto Star journalist Richard Brennan, who was on the task force, believes the concern for the project going forward is whether city councillors will be on board with the annual operating and maintenance costs which are pegged as about $9 million a year, according to the mayor.

“I would be sorely disappointed if they turned it down, because I think it would be a huge mistake,” Brennan told Global News.

Read more: Hamilton LRT a part of Ontario’s pitch for federal transit funding

“This is a legacy project. It will create jobs and it will change, improve and benefit downtown Hamilton.”

Eisenberger suggests the issue of day to day operating and maintenance costs has already been committed to by the city with a memorandum of understanding that was signed earlier in the agreement with the Wynne Liberals.

The mayor says the possibility of a referendum to decide whether taxpayers would want the project is a “debatable question.”

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However, he believes the current iteration of the development is what council originally asked for — an LRT with no capital commitment by the city — and as such doesn’t require another vote because that’s the official position of Hamilton. 

“You know some might want or desire to create a separate vote for whatever reason. We’ll see what happens,” Eisenberger said.

The mayor went on to say 100 per cent funding for rapid transit from two upper levels of government is “crazy” to turn down.

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