Hamilton·Hamilton Votes

Mayoral candidates aim at each other over the province's $1B LRT pledge

Hamilton's top mayoral candidates are accusing each of misleading voters over light rail transit (LRT).

Eisenberger and Sgro are accusing each other of misleading voters

Vito Sgro says Fred Eisenberger is misinforming people. Eisenberger says the same about him. (Vito Sgro)

Hamilton's top mayoral candidates are accusing each other of misleading voters about light rail transit (LRT) and the money that will pay for it.

Fred Eisenberger, incumbent and LRT supporter, says Vito Sgro is "willfully misinforming" people about how the city can spend $1 billion the province has earmarked for the project.

Sgro issued a media release Thursday saying Premier Doug Ford's office backs up his position, and that Eisenberger has "a campaign based on fiction and misrepresentation."

At issue is whether the city, should it not proceed with LRT, can access $1 billion (that's the pricetag for the LRT project) for transit and related projects, or transit and infrastructure such as roads and water mains. Eisenberger said based on public PC comments, the money can only be used for transit.

"At the previous town hall, MPP (Donna) Skelly confirmed what we have been saying all along," Eisenberger tweeted Wednesday. "There is NOT a billion dollars lying around and funding is to be used for transit."

Fred Eisenberger supports LRT and used to head the Canadian Urban Institute, which authored a report about its economic uplift. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

Sgro said Ford's office confirmed for him Wednesday that the $1 billion can be used for "transit or infrastructure." 

"I would like to thank Premier Ford for his support of Hamilton and for putting an end to the falsehoods Fred's been spreading throughout the city," Sgro said. "To build a campaign based on fiction and misrepresentation is both desperate and appalling."

A Ford spokesperson says the office just pointed Sgro to previous statements made in the media.

"A Hamilton mayoral candidate reached out to clarify our position on the Hamilton LRT, and the Premier's Office pointed the candidate to previous on-the-record statements from the Minister of Transportation's office," Simon Jefferies said in an email.

In the comment referred to by the province in its reply to the Sgro campaign, Transportation minister John Yakabuski, said the government "will ensure Hamilton gets the money it needs for transit or infrastructure. Our government will wait and see what the city's transit priorities are after the municipal election, and whether it is for the $1 billion LRT project or other projects that council wants, the Ontario Government will be there with funding." 

The statement does not clarify whether "with funding" means the whole $1 billion will be available to the city as an alternative to funding LRT. 

The comments are the latest in a dizzying back-and-forth leading up to the Oct. 22 municipal election.

Eisenberger joined then-MPP Jim Bradley and then-MPP Ted McMeekin in February to break ground on the Confederation GO station, which the Liberals announced as part of $1.3 billion announcement. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

Eisenberger supports LRT, which would run from McMaster University to Eastgate Square. It's been a political football since 2015, when the previous provincial Liberal committed the full capital cost for Metrolinx to build LRT here.

Metrolinx has spent about $130 million so far working on LRT. In August, Ford paused property acquisitions for the project.

In the spring, Ford said the $1 billion could be used for other transit or infrastructure projects. Sgro has since used that $1 billion as his central campaign plank. His signs say "Stop the train. Fix infrastructure."

In his Thursday media release, Sgro said the communication from the premier's office gives "absolute clarity." 

Eisenberger has been downplaying LRT as an issue. His talking points have revolved around jobs and encouraging future investment.

"I don't think it's the riveting issue some are trying to make it," he said this month. "Other issues are resonating a lot more."

Mixed opinions about the money

Meanwhile, some current and former Hamilton politicians have wondered aloud whether Hamilton will get a full $1 billion.

Brad Clark is a Stoney Creek council candidate and Minister of Transportation in 2001 under a provincial PC government. He says Hamilton will get the money, and backs Sgro's position.

Eisenberger has said Hamilton receiving $1 billion for infrastructure would be "highly unusual." And Ted McMeekin, a former Liberal MPP and Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing until 2016, says other cities would line up if Hamilton got a $1 billion blank cheque for infrastructure.

"It's nonsense," he said. "I don't think it's on. Can you imagine every municipality in the province saying 'I want millions or billions of dollars in unconditional funding to do whatever the hell I want with it?'"

Anyone who thinks Hamilton will get $1 billion for infrastructure, he says, is "dreaming in technicolour."


Samantha Craggs is a CBC News reporter based in Hamilton, Ont. She often tweets about Hamilton city hall. Follow her on Twitter at @SamCraggsCBC, or email her at samantha.craggs@cbc.ca


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