By Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator – Tuesday October 23, 2018
The Eisenberger train rolls on
Fred Eisenberger handily won the so-called “LRT referendum” election to become the city’s first repeat mayor since amalgamation.
But it is still unclear whether his signature project, a controversial $1-billion light rail transit line, will survive the election of a council that remains badly divided over LRT.
The veteran politician, 66, fought off a surprising challenge from Vito Sgro, a behind-the-scenes Liberal organizer who was not well known but ran a well-organized “Stop the Train” campaign hinging on the use of LRT cash for other infrastructure.
Eisenberger told jubilant supporters at his Upper James Street headquarters that there was a “fair number” of votes cast against LRT — “but we got more.”
“I see that as a mandate for us to move forward on LRT,” he said to a huge cheer from supporters squeezed into the room.
The veteran politician, who has served two terms as mayor separated by a defeat, repeatedly rejected the notion that LRT was the defining campaign issue. But Monday night, he told The Spectator “for those who wanted to make it a referendum, well, I consider this a referendum.”
It’s possible the fraught debate helped push up voter turnout in 2018 to an unofficial 38 per cent — not fantastic, but an improvement from last election’s dismal showing of around 34 per cent.
The LRT is backed by an unprecedented coalition of politicians, businesses, developers, education and health institutions, unions and anti-poverty groups.
But that establishment support certainly did not translate into a unified council. (Source: Hamilton Spectator)
As with most elections it’s never easy to fully prepare the perfect cartoon for the end result. Less complicated about the 2018 Mayoral election, compared with previous campaigns, was the fact that it was a two person race among a full slate of fringe candidates. Yesterday, I drew up three scenarios, all involving the proposed LRT. Full disclosure, two of the versions were revisions of cartoons drawn for the 2014 municipal vote which never went to print. The one which ran above, dubbed “happy Fred”, was the more celebratory version for Mayor Eisenberger – it was also the last cartoon I created, thinking it was the least likely cartoon to be used. The version I put most effort into was “sad Fred”, showing him asleep at the levers as his train glided off a cliff. If the numbers had been tighter between the Mayor and his main challenger Vito Sgro, I thought sad Fred would work best by reflecting his downplaying of LRT as a major issue in 2018. There was only one Sgro victory version, and as the first, and perhaps only depiction I ever draw of the man, it was the first cartoon I drew yesterday, showing him above the neck, and full-faced. Yesterday morning as people began casting ballots, Vito Sgro was viewed as a very possible candidate to topple Eisenberger and take Hamilton on a future course without LRT. While the project is by no means a for sure thing for this city, with several anti-LRT councillors returning or elected, it’ll take a Mayor with a mandate to champion it among council and the Doug Ford government. It has been more than 10 years since the offer of $1 billion was presented to Hamilton to upgrade its transit system, I think it’s time to get it moving once and for all.
…It has been a loooong conversation on making LRT and enhanced GO Transit a Billion dollar reality in this city. Here’s a gallery of transit cartoons from the past 10 years or so…
Not to mention these from 2010 and before:
Editorial Cartoon by Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator – Saturday October 20, 2018
At least one robocall poll suggests a divisive LRT project has turned Hamilton’s mayoral election race into a statistical dead heat.
An automated telephone survey by Forum Research of 1,556 residents showed 39 per cent support pro-LRT incumbent Fred Eisenberger while 38 percent back anti-LRT challenger Vito Sgro. Other respondents either said they will choose another of the 15 mayoral candidates (12%) or were undecided (12%).
Respondents – a majority reached by landline – were similarly divided when asked how they felt about the contentious $1-billion light rail line, said Forum Research president Lorne Bozinoff. Half said they opposed the project, while 46% were supportive.
And when those residents were specifically informed about the positions of both candidates on LRT and asked to choose between them again, the support split at 43 percent each.
“It is so close, the numbers are almost identical,” said Bozinoff of the survey, which claims a margin of error of 2.48%, with total sample results considered accurate 19 times out of 20. “What it means – because municipal voter turnout is not great – is that it is important for both sides to get out their vote on Monday.”
Forum Research was not paid for the survey and plans to release the results publicly Friday, said Bozinoff. The firm periodically conducts polls and offers the results for free to drum up clients.
Bozinoff noted light rail transit was also an issue – but not the top priority – for voters polled in a paid Forum survey conducted for The Spectator during the 2014 election.
This time, fully a third of respondents called LRT the top issue that would influence their vote.
By contrast, 17 percent chose taxes, 15 percent chose infrastructure/roads and nine-percent chose public safety. “Often, the top issue is taxes,” Bozinoff said. “Clearly, people feel very strongly about this (LRT) issue.”
Interestingly, the majority of respondents who offered an opinion about LRT feel passionately about the project, one way or another. (Source: Hamilton Spectator)
Editorial Cartoon by Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator – Thursday October 4, 2018
I don’t think I’m the only one to declare that this has got to be the quietest, and indeed, dullest municipal election Hamilton’s had in a long time. As ground is supposed to be broken for a billion dollar LRT system, politicians are waffling in their support, and advocates for & against are huddled in their echo chambers. Mayor Fred Eisenberger claims it’s not even the top issue of the 2018 campaign. With a new unpredictable government in charge at Queen’s Park saying do what you want with the $1B, which the previous gov’t said was only for LRT, there’s a lot of uncertainty about what is coming Hamilton’s way, despite having spent $100 million, and years talking about it. It’s as if people are done talking about it, on either side of the debate, and maybe an election is the wrong time to whip up voter attention, especially when only 35% of them will even bother to cast a ballot.
Editorial Cartoon by Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator – Tuesday August 14, 2018
Hamilton chamber continues to prepare for LRT construction
The Hamilton Chamber of Commerce is launching another series of seminars to prepare businesses for light rail transit (LRT) construction.
The four-part series starts on Thursday evening with a session called “Countdown to Construction.”
Chamber President Keanin Loomis says it is planning on the basis that the $1 billion, provincially-funded project will proceed as scheduled, despite ongoing political questions.
The funding commitment was made by Ontario’s former Liberal government.
There has been much speculation in recent months about whether the 14-kilometre LRT line between McMaster University and Eastgate Square will proceed under Premier Doug Ford’s new PC government.
Loomis, a steadfast supporter of Hamilton LRT, notes that “if everything goes right, as I expect it will, we’re going to be facing construction next year.”
The construction is expected to happen over a period of about five years and Loomis recognizes there will be disruptions for businesses along the corridor, but he remains confident they will be “temporary” and “manageable.”
Metrolinx, based on the project’s latest timelines, is expected to award the contract to build Hamilton’s LRT in 2019. (Source: Global News)