Ontario has cancelled a plan to build a new courthouse in Halton Region, with the province’s attorney general saying the government needs to rethink how the justice system will operate after the pandemic.
The provincial government had planned to build one central courthouse for both Milton and Burlington, Ont., but now says it will upgrade the existing facilities.
Attorney General Doug Downey said he decided to cancel the project because the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the need to modernize the court process across Ontario.
“The needs of the justice sector have changed and there is broad consensus we cannot go back to the way things were done before the public health emergency,” Downey said in a statement.
The project to consolidate the aging courthouses in Halton Region was to have been awarded this spring, with construction to start later this year.
The new courthouse was estimated to cost as much as $499 million and was to have had its financial close last month.
Asked if the cancellation was a way to trim provincial spending in light of the pandemic, a spokeswoman for Downey said the decision was made as the government “rethinks” justice system operations.
“This decision was made because our government is committed to rethinking the justice system and ensuring it is accessible, responsive and operating the way Ontarians should expect in 2020,” Jenessa Crognali said.
The Hamilton-Brantford Building and Construction Trades Council called the decision disappointing and said it could hurt the local economy.
The council’s business manager said the courthouse cancellation is just the latest blow for local tradespeople after the province decided not to purse a light rail line in Hamilton late last year.
The province said at the time that the costs had ballooned from the initial estimate of $1 billion to $5.5 billion.
“If the region is losing almost $1.5 billion in direct public infrastructure investments, there is a real fear that the local economy will fall into further recession in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis,” Mark Ellerker said in a statement.