Mayor Fred Eisenberger is in Ottawa today, talking to various federal ministers about issues related to Hamilton, from streamlining immigration processes to deal with skills shortage issues to federal funding for municipal police officers.
In particular, Eisenberger discussed funding for transit improvements. The Provincial funding plan for rapid transit improvements through Metrolinx depends in part on federal contributions, and the Mayor wants to be sure that the federal government will deliver.
In a phone call with Raise the Hammer, the Mayor said the federal government is "very interested in seeing plans" so the feds can assess them based on projected ridership and long-term operating costs. They're following Hamilton's public debate over whether to adopt light rail transit (LRT) or bus rapid transit (BRT) and are "keen on knowing how we end up".
If Hamilton can quickly finalize its transit improvement plans, that will accelerate the federal review so that money can flow through the framework agreements of the province.
Eisenberger called the meeting "a positive step" from Hamilton's perspective, but he pointed out that while the federal government has thresholds for evaluating ridership and operating costs, they did not share those thresholds with him.
He also noted a "difference of opinion" with the government over long-term operating costs - the feds think LRT is higher than BRT - though he maintained that the government is "open to either one, as long as there's affordability and ridership associated" with Hamilton's choice.
In the light of the controversy over Minister John Baird allegedly interfering with Ottawa's light rail transit plans, RTH asked the Mayor if he is concerned about politics getting in the way of policy.
He responded that he doesn't expect that to happen in Hamilton. "The decision will be based on the rationale fo the case rather than a personal preference."
Eisenberger also talked to the ministries of immigration and citizenship, agriculture, and public safety about federal initiatives that will benefit Hamilton, including a proposal to offer hog farmers a "soft landing" if they want to get out of the business, federal funding for new police officers that would pass through the province, and an immigration strategy that will address the shortage of skilled workers.
Eisengerger said the federal government was "pleased to see a mayor coming to Ottawa to talk about municipal issues. The more we can work with them, the better we will be."
Apparently it's "not common practice, other than Vancouver and Toronto" for mayors to meet directly with the federal government.
Eisenberger concluded, "Hamilton is significant enough that we need to make our presence known."
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