Eisenberger is mayor again, but faces a city council still deeply divided on LRT

If Monday's election was a referendum on light rail transit (LRT), Fred Eisenberger and his pro-LRT councillors seem to have been victorious. Now the question remains, can a council deeply divided on LRT can work together to keep the $1 billion investment?

The mayor-elect says he can bring council together, but 4 councillors campaigned against him

Fred Eisenberger was reelected for another term. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

If Monday's election was a referendum on light rail transit (LRT), Fred Eisenberger and his pro-LRT councillors seem to have been victorious. Now the question remains, can a council deeply divided on LRT can work together to keep the $1 billion investment?

Eisenberger scored a sound victory with his pro-LRT message. So did candidates in six other wards — including one Mountain seat that wasn't pro-LRT before.

But four sitting councillors publicly endorsed opponent Vito Sgro's "stop the train" message. And one other councillor — Brenda Johnson in Ward 11 — has a record of voting against the project.

Eisenberger says despite four councillors supporting his opponent, they'll work together.

"We have to," he said. "It's part of our mandate. Clearly we need to do the work of the city and not let our personalities get in the way. I've never let that happen and I won't let that happen in the future."

An Eisenberger fan cheered on the mayoral incumbent at the Upper James campaign office. (Dan Taekema/CBC)

This past week, though, showed something different.

Terry Whitehead, a former Ward 8 councillor elected in the newly drawn Ward 14, participated in a Sgro telephone town hall Sunday. He painted a dimmer picture of Eisenberger's ability to bring council together.

So did Judi Partridge, who scored a narrow reelection win in Ward 15 over strong challenger Susan McKechnie. She doesn't want LRT and said eliminating area rating for transit would drive up taxes for her Flamborough residents. She also questioned whether Eisenberger was listening to rural residents.

Maria Pearson, reelected in Ward 10 in lower Stoney Creek, endorsed Sgro. So did Brad Clark, who after a term away will represent Ward 9 in upper Stoney Creek.

Fred Eisenberger celebrated at city hall with son Brett and wife Diane. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

Ward 8 winner John-Paul Danko, meanwhile, has tipped the voting scales in favour of the project.

"It's going to be tough," he said of council banding together. "Those are bridges they're going to have to repair."

As for LRT, "once and for all, I hope we can put this to bed and move forward."

As it stands, six councillors and the mayor are pro-LRT, which is seven members of the 16-member. Four have soft support for it and five are opposed.

Here's how the vote looks for the new council:

  • Ward 1: New councillor-elect Maureen Wilson is pro-LRT. So was outgoing councillor Aidan Johnson.
  • Ward 2: Jason Farr was reelected and supports LRT.
  • Ward 3: Nrinder Nann replaces outgoing councillor Matthew Green and is pro-LRT.
  • Ward 4: Sam Merulla was reelected and supports LRT.
  • Ward 5: Chad Collins was reelected and said he's a "qualified yes" on LRT, but wonders if the province is still willing to fund it.
  • Ward 6: Tom Jackson was reelected and has conditional support for LRT.
  • Ward 7: Esther Pauls is a new councillor. She says her residents don't seem to want LRT, but she'll listen to their input and study the information to decide how she'll vote.
  • Ward 8: Danko is pro-LRT.
  • Ward 9: Brad Clark was newly elected the ward he represented for nine years before vacating the seat in 2014. He opposes LRT.
  • Ward 10: Pearson was reelected and opposes LRT.
  • Ward 11: Reelected councillor Brenda Johnson didn't endorse Sgro but opposes LRT.
  • Ward 12: Lloyd Ferguson was reelected and supports LRT.
  • Ward 13: Arlene VanderBeek was reelected and has conditional support for LRT.
  • Ward 14: Terry Whitehead was elected to the new ward and has supported LRT in the past, but would rather see the $1 billion go to other projects, so he now opposes it. He said if the money isn't available for something else, he may change his mind again.
  • Ward 15: Partridge opposes LRT. 

The question also remains how easily Hamilton can access the $1 billion. Donna Skelly, PC MPP for Flamborough-Glanbrook, said repeatedly during the municipal election campaign that the money is available for LRT, or other transit and infrastructure.

Other reelected councillors weren't so sure.

Farr said he questions how easily the province would agree to fund non-LRT projects.

"That's probably a long shot given that Mr. Fiscally Responsible Ford is really whining, to be frank, about the $15 billion deficit," he said. "The reality is to just throw $1 billion at one city, and all the other more conservative cities are going to say 'where's ours?'

"We're going to have those conversations, obviously, because that's going to be the big debate going into the new term."

Collins said there's "still a big looming question in terms of where the province is on this.

"We've received mixed messages from the government in terms of whether they're going to be there for Hamilton or not," he said. "I have a sinking suspicion that the investment for LRT and the billion dollars referenced for infrastructure is not all there for us. And so it wouldn't surprise me over the next couple of months if there are messages coming out of Queen's Park that are different than the messages coming out of Hamilton city hall

"I have a sinking suspicion that the province has other plans for this project and it'll be a wait-and-see."


Samantha Craggs is journalist based in Windsor, Ont. She is executive producer of CBC Windsor and previously worked as a reporter and producer in Hamilton, specializing in politics and city hall. Follow her on Twitter at @SamCraggsCBC, or email her at samantha.craggs@cbc.ca


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