Aside from a telephone call from Mayor Fred Eisenberger’ s office just before Christmas to MPP Donna Skelly suggesting a meeting, there have been no discussions between the Mayor and Hamilton’s only representative with the Ford government. That is a gap of six and a half months. Relations were not showing signs of improvement with Eisenberger’ s criticism of Skelly last month, where he accused her of setting policy when she commented that Hamilton taxpayers would be on the hook for any LRT costs that exceeded $1 Billion. Skelly says, far from setting policy, she is only continuing to repeat a narrative that began with former Premier Kathleen Wynne’s 2015 announcement that the province would provide “up to” a billion dollars for the project. “Nothing has changed,” she told the Bay Observer. “If council wants LRT there is the $1 Billion…if they want other forms of infrastructure it’s there too. It’s up to council… not this government.” It was originally announced that Premier Ford and the Mayor would meet before Christmas but that deadline passed with no meeting taking place. Now it looks like any meeting will involve councillors as well as the Mayor. Skelly says she is currently working to facilitate a meeting between the transport minister, members of council and the Mayor, and expects it will take place soon. “I want to work with the mayor and council, but my job is also to represent the people of Flamborough-Glanbrook, Hamilton and Ontario to ensure that they get maximum value for their Tax Dollars. Right now we have a $15 Billion deficit and a provincial health care crisis. These are the priority issues for this government.”
The current debate was triggered by a Spectator story quoting briefing notes provided to the Minister of Transport suggesting cost overruns on Hamilton’s LRT were likely. It was in response to a reporter’s question that Skelly mentioned the $1Billion hard cap on LRT funding.
Hamilton Councillor Brad Clark has submitted a notice of motion calling for City Council to request that the “Minister of Transportation, provide written correspondence to the Mayor and Hamilton City Council clarifying the current government’s policy regarding any cost escalation above the committed $1billion and who pays for any increase in costs.” That question will likely get answered at the meeting Skelly is organizing.
The preamble to the motion states, “Whereas Metrolinx has steadfastly refused to provide an update of the projected LRT capital costs…” Actually the reason Metrolinx has been unable to provide updated cost figures for the project is because they have not received any bids from the three short-listed consortia initially interested in bidding. The consortia are apparently unwilling to invest the several million dollars it takes to mount a bid, with so many uncertainties surrounding the project. Metrolinx has provided a three month extension of the deadline to receive any bids, which has in turn, pushed any likelihood of a project resumption to 2020. There continues to be a freeze on acquisition of property for the project which was imposed last spring. Metrolinx was recently blasted by the Auditor General for barrelling ahead with LRT projects, ignoring expert suggestions that Bus Rapid Transit might be a more appropriate use of scarce infrastructure dollars.
Despite the continuation of the rift that has existed between Skelly and Eisenberger dating back to her time on City Council, Skelly says she is open to dialogue. “I will continue to refrain from engaging in personal attacks. I want to have a good working relationship with the mayor and council.”