The axed Halton Region Consolidated Courthouse project is a casualty of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Ontario government says, shelved in part because the Ministry of the Attorney General (MAG) aims to use lessons learned during the pandemic to transform the administration of justice in the province.
That’s the explanation given by a MAG spokesperson to explain the abrupt May 8 cancellation of the $300-million project shortly before construction was due to start.
Stakeholders said the government is missing out on a prime opportunity to stimulate the economy during the pandemic and also pointed out that the decision sends a negative message to domestic and international contractors that might be thinking of bidding on future work in the province.
“I am totally confused,” said Ontario General Contractors Association (OGCA) president Clive Thurston.
“This is a very serious thing. It impacts our industry, and it impacts the credibility of the government to provide work. Why would a company spend millions and millions of dollars to compete on these projects?
“What’s next? Do we spend the next year bidding on the three big transit projects they have planned and then they cancel?”
The project had proceeded through Infrastructure Ontario’s procurement process and, according to the OGCA, only financial close remained, with the start of construction anticipated for as early as June.
The new courthouse, replacing structures in Burlington and Milton, was to be built on Third Line in Oakville north of Dundas Street.
The winning team was led by Fengate with Pomerleau as the design-build contractor and SNC-Lavalin as the project’s maintenance provider. Other partners and equity providers included LIUNA, the Operating Engineers and IBEW pension funds.
Mark Ellerker, business manager for the Hamilton-Brantford Building and Construction Trades Council, noted that the cancellation was the second major project withdrawal for the region since December, following the cancellation of the Hamilton LRT project.
This investment will be repurposed to build on momentum we’ve experienced in recent weeks towards a more modern, efficient justice system
— Jenessa Crognali
Ontario Ministry of the Attorney General
“The Ontario government is sending a mixed message about restarting the local economy for workers and local businesses after the COVID-19 outbreak,” noted Ellerker. “When we hear about the local economy losing $1.5 billion in direct construction investment, that is only part of the story. When we factor in that every dollar spent directly on construction locally generates another three dollars for the local economy, the lost opportunities will be devastating for our community.”
Joseph Mancinelli, LIUNA International vice-president and regional manager for Central and Eastern Canada, said it’s disappointing to see the cancellation of the Halton courthouse project, but LIUNA remains optimistic for future opportunities to invest in Ontario projects.
“The cancellation of a project of this magnitude is difficult as it would have created work opportunities for our members and for the community,” he commented.
A statement from the MAG said the funds targeted for the Halton project will be repurposed to develop online justice services delivery and refurbish the Milton and Burlington courthouses.
“Experience gained and lessons learned during COVID-19 has reinforced the urgent need for investment to support transformational technology, modernized processes and expanded access to justice across the entire province, including in rural and remote regions,” wrote Jenessa Crognali, senior communications adviser to Attorney General Doug Downey, in a statement to the Daily Commercial News. “That is why this investment will be repurposed to build on momentum we’ve experienced in recent weeks towards a more modern, efficient justice system fit for the 21st century.”
The Halton project was only in the procurement phase, Crognali said.
“Other projects already underway will proceed as planned.”
The OGCA noted land has been procured, several phases of environmental studies have been conducted, technical, architectural, legal, financial and procurement advisers to MAG have been hired and prep work has proceeded over a three-year period.
The association estimated repayable spending incurred by the winning proponents could add up to $10 million. Overall, Thurston said he was “shocked” by the move.
“It would have been a symbol that we are back and now this project that so many people put so much effort and time into is out the window,” said Thurston. “Because we are going to create a cloud-based legal system and we are going to fix up a couple of decrepit buildings that should be demolished? That makes no sense.”
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