After repeatedly denying it until election night, Mayor Fred Eisenberger declared that the election that resulted in his 22,000 vote victory over challenger Vito Sgro was a referendum on Light Rail Transit after all. He told CHCH that he would be conferring with the new council with a view to calling a council “affirmation” vote on LRT early on. A detailed examination of the vote, however, suggests there is still significant division in the community and that a majority of the voters in at least eight city wards actually voted against LRT.
For the purposes of this examination the Bay Observer counted the votes of the council candidates in each ward according to their position for or against LRT, based on their responses to media surveys and their own campaign literature. Then the mayoralty votes in each ward were added to the totals. Excluded were a small number of candidates who did not respond or who provided unclear answers.
Using this formula, only the five lower city wards showed a clear majority of votes in favour of LRT. Eight wards—all mountain or suburban wards showed a similar majority against LRT. And two wards—Ward 12-Ancaster and Ward 13-Dundas could not be clearly declared because the incumbents adopted positions on LRT that were open to interpretation. In Ward 12 candidate Lloyd Ferguson, referring to the Ford government promise to allow Hamilton council to decide how the money would be spent said “If money can be used for other infrastructure projects, then I will reconsider my support and invest some of the $1 billion in Ancaster.” Similarly in Dundas, Arlene Vanderbeek said, “It is our responsibility to continue to consider new information as it becomes available. LRT in and of itself is not the top priority for me. An efficient, functional, affordable transit system – one that works for this city – is my focus.”
With Ward 12 and 13 up in the air, there was an even split–approximately 100,000 votes for and against LRT– in the remaining wards. The polarization was evident in the spread between pro and anti-LRT votes. In the five lower city wards the pro LRT vote outnumbered the anti LRT side by over 37,000 votes; but the reverse was the case in the eight mountain and suburban wards where the anti-LRT side posted a 38,000 vote majority. The only ward where the count was close was the newly-drawn Ward 8 where John Paul Danko, an LRT supporter won the seat but where anti-LRT votes posted a narrow 600 vote majority.
Now that the election is in the books, all eyes turn to the Ford Government which has said it will allow Hamilton council to decide the issue. A new round of lobbying of returning and new councillors has begun with the publishing of a full page ad by an organization calling itself Hamilton’s anchor institution leadership (HAIL), urging a speedy commencement of the LRT project. Aside from Arcelor Mittal Dofasco, the organization’s membership consists of public sector organizations including McMaster, Mohawk, the two Hospital corporations and the Hamilton Wentworth District School Board who collectively receive approximately $2 Billion annually in provincial funding. Also subscribing to the ad were the Hamilton Chamber of Commerce, The Hamilton Community Foundation and the Hamilton Roundtable on Poverty Reduction, chaired by Spectator Managing Editor Howard Elliot. Given the government’s $15 Billion deficit, there are a growing number of voices suggesting the issue may be moot. Adding to the uncertainty is the question of how effectively Eisenberger can negotiate with a government that he criticized for being undemocratic in the reduction in the size of Toronto city council, and whose only local representative he called a “rookie, who doesn’t much care about Hamilton.”