The Construction and Design Alliance of Ontario (CDAO) has issued a plea to Ontario Premier Doug Ford to reconsider the government’s cancellation of the Halton courthouse project.
The $300-million P3 project had proceeded through Infrastructure Ontario’s procurement process with the start of construction anticipated for this month.
A May 29 letter to Ford signed by CDAO chair Sandro Perruzza argued that the project “was arguably the largest shovel-ready and shovel-worthy project of its kind” and that “after years of preparatory work, with the imminent announcement of financial close expected and construction expected to begin shortly thereafter, no one could have foreseen the decision to terminate this project.”
The letter listed the CDAO’s 16 member organizations from across the construction sector. It pointed to the loss of well-paying direct professional, construction and construction-related jobs, spin-off jobs and broader economic stimulus as the primary immediate fall-out of the May 8 decision.
The cancellation, on top of December’s shutdown of the Hamilton LRT project, will also contribute to a loss of market and investor confidence in the province, the CDAO argued, and further losses include sunk costs such as land assembly and the money spent on over three years of effort to complete several phases of environmental studies by technical, architectural, legal, financial and procurement advisers.
“This presents a very real risk of stifling the flow of market capital into Ontario and of driving existing potential investors from the province,” states the letter. “It will be difficult for the government to maintain its position of being investment-friendly, ‘open for business,’ supportive of Ontario’s communities, and (committed) to creating stable, well-paying jobs.’”
“I think the reaction from our members is concerned and confused,” Perruzza said in an interview. “Confused because we have heard a number of times the government is willing to invest in infrastructure, their acknowledgement that infrastructure leads to a lot of spin-off jobs, and they want to use infrastructure spending as one of the tools to stimulate the economy.”
Combined with the Hamilton LRT cancellation, Perruzza said, the axing of the courthouse project does nothing to alleviate the apprehension investors are feeling during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“In the letter and other letters we have written to the government, we have asked them to calm the waters a bit to build some confidence in the industry,” he remarked.
The justification the Ministry of the Attorney General gave in cancelling the project was that it intends to use lessons learned during the pandemic to transform the administration of justice in the province, with more online functions developed.
The new courthouse, set for a site in Oakville, would have replaced structurally deficient court buildings in Milton and Burlington. Those buildings will be refurbished, the ministry said.
“Things aren’t adding up for us,” said Perruzza.
“There was a case for this project to go forward prior to COVID-19 and those conditions haven’t changed. You still need a physical space for people to gather for court proceedings, so it makes no sense.
“If you are going to build a virtual courtroom with all the new technology, you’ve got dilapidated courthouses in Burlington and Milton, that is the case for building this new courthouse in Oakville. If you want to go virtual you need the digital infrastructure to do so and it is much easier, quicker and more cost-effective to build that from a new courthouse.”
Perruzza noted work on the project could have got underway as early as the first week of June. He also said the CDAO has heard from both the provincial and federal governments that a list of projects had been approved for advancement to provide stimulus to the economy. He urged those projects to be announced as soon as possible.
“The more lead time you have, the quicker these projects get underway, and the quicker the economy is stimulated.”
Perruzza said he was not confident of a positive response from the Ford government to the CDAO plea.
“This government hasn’t changed its mind too often,” he said.
“We keep hearing, don’t worry, something else is coming, but as far as this project restarting, we are not overly optimistic about that.”
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