Ontario Premier Doug Ford has had mixed results riding the Donald Trump pseudo-populist wave that has been sweeping the globe. The Progressive Conservative, elected in 2018 in a crushing defeat of the ruling Liberal Party, has frequently trafficked in hyperbole and denigrating anyone who disagreed with him, and has made it his mission to eliminate a massive provincial budget deficit while apparently ticking off everyone along the way. He remained very quiet during the recent federal election for this reason. Given his track record, I can’t say I was surprised when I read that he was going to kill Hamilton’s proposed light rail transit project, something he had previously promised after the Wynne government committed $1bn (CAD) to the project. But the argument for it is that it will cost too much money, and this is where the story gets hairy.
Ford’s government ran on closing provincial deficits. But he’s instead spending even more money. He spent tens of millions of taxpayer dollars to challenge Justin Trudeau’s signature carbon tax policy– and lost. He’s faced accusations of nepotism. He’s also engaged some attempts at austerity that have mostly backfired and have still failed to close the deficit. But he’s especially determined to mark his territory by pissing on transit, evident in his ill-advised hallmark scheme to try and provincialize (I guess this is the province level equivalent of nationalization?) Toronto’s transit system. The TTC is, like all public agencies in our increasingly dystopian age of austerity, struggling.
Ford’s government’s contention was that the project’s cost had ballooned from their original estimates. Of course, this happens with virtually every transit project or road project. And the province and the city are already hundreds of millions of dollars into the project. I’m not suggesting that this provides a sunk cost bias, but rather that if you set out to take Vienna, take Vienna.
Ontario leader NDP Andrea Horwath, who represents a Hamilton riding, had harsh words for the Premier:
Mr. Ford and Conservative MPP Donna Skelly repeatedly told Hamiltonians they would build our LRT.— Andrea Horwath (@AndreaHorwath) December 16, 2019
This is a betrayal of Hamilton and our people, and we’re going to fight like hell to hold Ford to his promise. #HamOnt pic.twitter.com/t7urWpLWmg
I have every hope that the project will eventually move forward as part of a North America-wide, increased interest in transit expansion instead of massively wasteful road spending. Hamilton has a strong ally in Horwath. Never mind that Ford followed the Trump handbook pretty closely in denying media access and explicitly restricting access to the last-minute press conference. But his government’s continuing inability to manage either budget deficits or invest in things that matter for Ontario’s citizens, while not shocking, constiutes yet another strike against his government.