On Sept 29 2022, The Windsor Essex Regional Chamber of Commerce hosted its 2022 Windsor Mayoral Debate, moderated by Craig Pearson from the Windsor Star, and featuring Drew Dilkens, Chris Holt, Benjamin Danyluk and Matthew Giancola.
Rose City Politics has transcribed the frontrunners (Chris Holt and Drew Dilkens’) answers and rebuttals from the debate and present them in the order determined by the chamber.
- What is your strategy to address the homelessness, addiction, and mental health issues in our community?
- What are your thoughts on a new regional hospital and how will you help the process along?
- How would you diversify the economy and attract and retain workers?
- What are your plans for downtown revitalization, including safety?
- What is your plan to improve transportation in the community?
- The future of the auto industry is electric. What is your plan to put Windsor at the forefront of the electric revolution in the auto industry?
DREW DILKENS: I’m really honored to be standing here with you all today to share my vision to lead our city forward. I can tell you I’m more optimistic today about the future of our city than I ever have been at any time in my past. And these past four years have certainly gone by in the blink of an eye and our city, in fact, our entire world has been through a remarkable period of change. But we’ve also experienced tremendous success locally with economic development, jobs and growth that have laid the foundation for a strong and prosperous future for every resident.
My campaign for reelection is about leadership that delivers, leadership that delivers increased services while respecting your tax dollars. Leadership that delivers from upper levels of government, funding to get our hospital built and funding to help end basement flooding. Leadership that delivers jobs and growth, over 3000 jobs and strong even under growth. Leadership that delivers new parks and recreation amenities for residents to enjoy.
I’m proud of my record as mayor and with your support, I look forward to continuing to provide leadership that delivers to the city of Windsor.
CHRIS HOLT: It is truly a pleasure being here with you today. I would like to thank Rakesh and the Chamber for this opportunity to share my vision of the heights Windsor could reach with a leader at the helm who embraces the best qualities of city life, with an eye towards sustainability, equity, and resilience.
My name is Chris Holt and I am a two term city councillor for the ward of four. I have also been a tool maker at Ford Motor Company for 28 years. I’ve got a bit of entrepreneurial blood coursing through my veins as well, founding two local businesses that are still operating today, employing dozens of Windsorites and providing residents with transportation options and vibrant third places.
By the end of the debate today, I hope you understand me just a little bit better. I set lofty goals for myself and plan my way to achieving them. I’ve done that in my business life, as well as my personal life. I have yet to miss any of my targets and my current goal is to become Windsor’s next Mayor.
What is your strategy to address the homelessness, addiction, and mental health issues in our community?
DREW DILKENS: Folks, I think you recognize that the problem that we really have is a mental health and addiction crisis, and that is a continental problem, that is not just a City of Windsor problem. But we do have a plan and we’ve been activating our plan on the homelessness front, and I’ll tell you, you all need to know, everybody in this room, that the city of Windsor holds the national record, the national record, number one in Canada for getting people from homelessness into housing. That is our record here in the City of Windsor. Our record also includes building Meadowbrook, which you see gonna be ready to open in 2023 on the city’s east side. The first investment, 145 units in 30 years in this city made by this city council. 170 million dollars that we’re spending over the next eight years investing in every single one of our community housing corporation units throughout Windsor and Essex County.
We secured $8 million to buy a hotel in downtown Windsor to house women and families who are experiencing homelessness. We renovated it. It’s now open. We invested first of a kind, first of a kind container housing on Wakin Street in the West end for at risk youth. That facility is almost open. We opened up temporary emergency shelters at the aquatic center in Covid 19. Of course, everybody knows that we operate the Housing and Homelessness Help Hub at Water World, and City Council has unanimously said, “Go find a permanent location and make that that site permanent because it helps provide the wraparound services that these folks need to get back on their feet and become productive members of society. We have been doing a lot. We are committed to do more and we recognize the problem on our streets.
CHRIS HOLT: I want to thank my opponent for highlighting the fact that it, it was all of Windsor City council, those in attendance here as well, that worked tremendously hard to accomplish all the things that that he has mentioned, including the H4, it’s been achieving amazing successes.
But I wanna point out at the higher level, the fact that, you know, we have currently no formalized advocacy arm in the province to handle with our mental health and addictions issue.
That is a huge problem with the city of Windsor moving forward. So locally I will begin by adding eight new outreach workers and mental health workers to our streets, to work with police and mental health agencies to improve access to service. That is one of the number one things we need to do. We need to get the right people and the right skills at the right job. So that is number one. My opponent highlighted the fact that we’re number one, that, that moving people into housing. But what he doesn’t mention is the recidivism. The fact that after six months in housing, those people just end up back on the streets. That is not something to be proud of.
You saw my campaign plank the other day about building 25,000 units in the city of Windsor. That idea has been vetted by experts in the development, in the design field, and we need to push forward with that because we can’t embrace the status quo on this. We can’t just highlight what our city council has done in the past. We need to move forward and we need good vision and plans to actually make this happen.
DREW DILKENS: Thank you. My opponent talks about hiring more outreach workers. Folks, you could hire one outreach worker for every person experiencing homelessness in the city, and that’s not going to get to the root of problem. What we need is a 24 7 drop off point for police and EMS to bring people who are suffering from mental health and addiction issues so they can get the treatment they need, release the police within 30 minutes to get back on the street to do the job that they’re well paid to do.
CHRIS HOLT: My opponent believes in silver bullets. I do not. Eight outreach workers will not solve this problem. It’s an intricate ingredient in a recipe that we need to bake up. We need to move forward. We need to have a vision looking forward and address the true issues, the true root causes of this, and that is mental health and addiction issues. We can build more housing, we can build more aspects to our system. But unless we address the root causes, this will not get solved.
What are your thoughts on a new regional hospital and how will you help the process along?
DREW DILKENS: Folks it will probably come as no surprise to anyone in this room that I have been solid, rock solid for this community since day one when the talk of the hospital started. I’ve been fully committed. I’ve never wavered from day one. More than that, I didn’t just not get in the way, I maneuvered through the halls of Queens Park to secure 9.8 million dollars in funding to get our hospital project moved to the next stage. We went out and led the community effort called “We Can’t Wait” so that the whole community could rally behind and fight for the hospital and healthcare that they deserve. We’re fighting to advance the construction date from 2027 to 2026 to get this hospital built even more quickly. Moreover, I went to city council and I said “We need to start collecting the 10% share before they even move us to that phase at the province of Ontario, because we need to tell them how serious we are”. City Council approved that. County council approved that, and we’re collecting the 10% share today. I have been here rock solid since day one.
My opponent was the only candidate, the only person, city councillor in the county and the city to vote against even collecting the 10% share for a new hospital, somewhere, he voted against that, the only one. I will get this project done. The next step is gonna be the hardest. That’s securing $2 billion from the province of Ontario and getting that approval accelerated so we can get the shovel in the ground and get the project built earlier than expected. I commit to delivering on that project for the residents in the City of Windsor.
CHRIS HOLT: I don’t think there’s anybody in this room that has not seen and heard both my opponent’s and my position on the location of the new hospital and the new hospital in general. You know where we stand. You know, yes, I did oppose the location of the hospital and it raises issues that still have yet to be addressed. As a matter of fact, at the end of that one vote I put forward a motion asking for an impact analysis of what it’s going to cost the City of Windsor residents and the institutions of moving a hospital over there. The vote was tied and my opponent broke the tie. He likes to keep his head in the sand about the cost to you, the cost to me, and the cost to our healthcare system.
But let’s get beyond this. We know why this issue is being trotted out day after day after day after day. It’s a wedge issue. My opponent believes that we care more about the infighting and the division that is being created in this community than we do about the actual topics, about the vision that each one of us brings to the community.
We need to get past the rhetoric. We need to stop using the location and the support of this hospital to divide us. That’s been happening for 10 years since we started discussing the location of the new hospital. It’s bad leadership to actually divide your community. We need to have the discussions around this hospital because it’s happening, shovels are in the ground, it’s moving forward and I will be there at every step of the way to move this project forward. We need to do know the full costs. Unlike the desires of my opponent.
DREW DILKENS: Let me just say my opponent was the only candidate against even collecting the 10% share required to fund a new acute care hospital. He voted against the location and proceeding with the hospital at City Council. He led the charge to have BIAs fund the CAMPP campaign against the city of Windsor. Windsor deserves a mayor who isn’t opposed to better healthcare infrastructure that we need. You can’t trust Chris Holt to fight for the hospital at Queens Park since he’s never supported it from the beginning. Chris Holt, if he gets his way, will set this community back at least five to 10 years.
CHRIS HOLT: It’s amazing that he keeps on bringing up the fact that I’m going to kill this hospital. How many times do I have to say it? Quit using it as a wedge issue in our community. I am not going to close this hospital. I am moving forward. I will be the 800 pound gorilla in Queens Park fighting for this, not only the location of this hospital, but for also 24 7 ER services, which I am so thankful that my opponent has finally come around to support.
How would you diversify the economy and attract and retain workers?
DREW DILKENS: Let me tell you what we’ve done with Windsor Works, and let me just reiterate what we’ve done over the last four years. In 2018 in my inaugural address, I committed to making economic development and diversification the top priority for the community. You all know that, you can watch the video on YouTube.. I lead city council to produce the Windsor Works Economic Development Roadmap and the implementation plan. What did we get from that? The number one of the 40 plus recommendations, a 5 billion battery factory, electric vehicle battery factory in the city of Windsor. More than 2,500 direct jobs, 3.6 billion Stant investment at the Windsor Assembly plant. 650 jobs at the research and development facility on Rhodes Drive. Then I went to Poland and I said, “We’re not letting the supply chain go to Detroit or to Tecumseh. We brought back a 60 million investment from Dongshin Motech, 300 direct jobs. Amazon’s fulfillment center, 350 jobs.
I am constantly pushing locally, nationally, internationally for my community to deliver jobs and to diversify our. Moving forward, we are gonna continue to implement the Windsor Works plan. There are over 40 recommendations there and there’s more work to do. But the biggest thing we need to focus on folks, look at a map of the city of Windsor. We have to get ready for the next economic development opportunity, that is an industrial park and the Sandwich South lands, it will take a number of years from start to finish, but we have to start now if we wanna be ready for the next investment in our community.
CHRIS HOLT: I want to thank my opponent for listing all the things council has worked very, very hard over the years in accomplishing together. We were all at that table, we all raised our hands, we all did the work, we put the work in, to accomplish that incredible list of accomplishments that my opponent has raised.
What I wanna point out, and what we’ve learned through the Windsor Works program for growth, for our Amazon HQ2 bid, is that quality of communities matters most to organizations, to entrepreneurs, to businesses, in where they locate. They have management, they have employees that need to set up life in the prospective community. If they do not come to a community with high quality of life, with great public transit with transportation options, with those communities, with those neighborhoods that we know just intuitively that are fantastic. We will be out of the running in attracting many of these communities. There’s nobody in this room that would that believes that is not top of mind to me. Creating those communities, bolstering our BIAs, our BIA nine BIAs, of which I sit on the board of, of four of them, employ 25,000 people. 25,000. That’s more than the population of Tecumseh. These are people who live, work, and play in our community. They’re the ones who make our neighborhoods better, and they are the ones that are gonna be attracting the next Nextstar Energy bid.
DREW DILKENS: Well, of course, all of the projects that I mentioned, the 5 billion battery factory, 3.6 billion from Stellantis, and on and on. Of course, all of these things have to go to city council for approval, but the whole premise of my campaign is leadership that delivers. It’s not city council who’s going and sitting at the table negotiating and bringing these deals back. It takes one person, and I’m proud to bring those deals to city council. I’m proud to bring investment and job growth and economic development to our city and to deliver for our city. This is all about leadership that delivers, and that’s what I provide.
CHRIS HOLT: One of the aspects of my leadership style is I will not take credit for any of the work that anybody else has done. I will give full credit to everybody, and I will do that right now going forward. We can swing for the fences all we want, and we’ve done that as a city council. Most of the times we miss. I look at CS Wind, I look at the MRO facility. We hit it out of the park because that ball came right down the pike and it was perfect conditions. We need to look beyond swinging for the fence and missing.
What are your plans for downtown revitalization, including safety?
CHRIS HOLT: We need to understand that the downtown revitalization, it’s a two prong approach. You know, what we’ve been witnessing so far is social issues that have been, at least their perception is driving out visitors, is driving out investment in our downtown.
We need to really look at it in two ways. First way is we have to address those social issues and we have to address them as healthcare issues. These are fellow citizens of ours that are experiencing addiction, mental health issues. We need to give them help if we are to move past the the issues that we’re having, the panhandling, they’re not criminal issues. These are people that are experiencing undue stress and they’re looking for help. The fact that we haven’t helped them yet, that we haven’t invested enough money into our mental health and addiction supports, is it? It’s embarrassing and we need to move forward with that.
Secondly, we need to further commit to getting more people living in our downtown. More eyes on the street is more safety and security. Jane Jacobs wrote about that 60 years ago in The Life and Death of Great American Cities. We need people downtown. We need residents going there. And we’ve been doing a good job with that, with our downtown enhancement strategy in our CIP. We need to bolster that. We need to fully fund that. We need to make sure developers know that the funding is going to be there if they want to double, triple, quadruple down. That’s what I talk about in my plan to build 25,000 units, and that’s what we need to do right now.
DREW DILKENS: We have a plan and the plan is already in motion, and we’re seeing huge investments that have been made in the downtown core and we need to continue this work. In the last five years, council has approved 30, 30 community improvement plan applications worth about 15 million dollars in downtown Windsor alone. This helped get the Double Tree Hotel built, the Hive build on Pelissier, the Bitcoin building on Pelissier is under construction. The Canada Building is being converted to condos and apartments on Ouellette Avenue, and there are several others underway or in process. That is how municipal government can help private developers renew our downtown core. We also reinvested in our both parking garages to make them safe and attractive, but of course, underlying all of this, the foundation is safety and security.
And yesterday I released my safety and security plan, and it talks about steps we’re going to take to make sure that the public feels safe downtown because we have all heard the comments, “I don’t feel safe going downtown”. People are put off by some of the behaviors that they see, whether they’re criminal or not. Police are doing a great job on that front, but we also have our role to play. That includes finding the permanent location for the Homelessness and Housing Help Hub, to be able to have a place where folks can go that is permanent with the wraparound services that allows them to get off the street and get the treatment that they need to become productive members of society.
We need to renew our CIP funding because it has been very, very successful. And of course, activate public spaces like the Grace Hospital site redevelopment, the Paul Martin building, the ice pad at City Hall and Festival Plaza renewal.
CHRIS HOLT: The one thing that we really have to understand as a municipality, as well as residents is that the downtown is a neighborhood. You know, there’s tens of thousands of people who actually live, work, and play downtown. They need the amenities that we need and we enjoy in our communities. It’s not a tourist attraction, adding a trolley cart to the waterfront is not going to improve the safety and security and the livability of our downtown. We need to treat it as a neighborhood and it requires the same kind of investment that we give other neighborhoods.
DREW DILKENS: Listen, I’m not gonna stand here and pretend that I’m happy with everything that I see downtown. I’m not, but I’m also not gonna run away from my record. In the last 15 years, we’ve invested more than 215 million dollars to support our downtown. Just like every investment, it takes time to see those benefits. My record and my commitment to the downtown is crystal clear, and I will continue to invest in all of the safety and security tools required to make sure that people feel comfortable coming downtown.
What is your plan to improve transportation in the community?
DREW DILKENS: Folks, we approved the new Transit Master Plan in 2019, unanimously approved by City Council. Since that time, we’ve added 43 new busses. We’ve upgraded over 190 shelters and added 20 new shelters. We’ve made permanent the 518 X route from Tecumseh Mall to St. Clair College. We’ve expanded transit to Amherstburg, Leamington, Essex, Kingsville, and La Salle, and we’ve increased the transit operating budget from 13.2 million in 2018 to 16.4 million in 2022. Almost a 25% increase. Our capital plan calls for 63 million dollars of investments over the next 10 years.
But I get that leadership is about balance and making difficult choices. And let’s put this into perspective. Just a few months after the Transit Master Plan was approved, we were hit with a global pandemic, and our focus shifted from things like parks and arenas to organizing vaccination clinics and isolation centers. Ridership plummeted on transit more than 90% and still hasn’t fully recovered. And to ignore these facts and to continue to push forward with investments in transit, that net rate to your bottom line and your tax bill, all of this stuff costs money to push forward at that particular time, I thought, and I still think today, was a terrible, terrible business decision, but leading any organization, especially a municipality, means that you need to be at the table.
You need to be able to adjust and to adapt and to pivot when required. That’s exactly what we’ve done. My opponent here, he doesn’t have the capacity for that kind of adaptive thinking.
CHRIS HOLT: The linkages between neighborhoods and cities are some of the most important infrastructure society can spend money on. They create the connections business requires to thrive, neighbors to enhance their social connections and visitors to use to access our hospitality sector.
We were the only city in the country, North America, to shut down our transit system during the pandemic. We weren’t the only ones who experienced the pandemic, but we were the only ones to actually shut that down and keep our residents from accessing jobs, accessing healthcare, accessing their family. That is abysmal leadership. That should never have happened. You heard my opponent say during budget deliberations back in 2021, he called investment in the next step of our public transportation master plan the worst business decision he’s ever heard of. He said that because residents can access anything they want as long as they have cars, as long as they can afford $2 a liter fuel.
This is the kind of transportation basket that my opponent has put all his eggs into. He doesn’t care about transit. He doesn’t care at all. The ability to have transportation options is critical to us moving forward as a community. It’s critical to our business community to have their employees get there on time so they can get that pizza out to the next customer. It’s something we’ve dropped the ball on.
DREW DILKENS: My opponent said one of the first things he’d do if elected mayor was fully implement the Transit Master Plan, which included the construction of a brand new garage, and he was asked what’s the cost of that garage? And he said I don’t know, but I’m committed to delivering it. Well folks, the Garage Mahal is three hundred million dollars, 3000 dollars per household, to build a garage that will not improve service for one single resident in the city of Windsor. We are the Automobility capital of Canada. I am proud of that and I thought that a fourth generation auto worker would be proud of our auto roots as well. As long as we make great cars, I will continue to make sure you can drive on these roads.
CHRIS HOLT: This is a man who during budget deliberations, ixnayed, the 418X but approved water slides at Adventure Bay. He cares more about water slide riders that saw zero usage, but used that justification to kill transit at the most important time that we had in our history. He doesn’t care about transit. Thank you to the federal government for giving us all that cash to do all the investments that we did. Because it wouldn’t have happened without your partnership.
The future of the auto industry is electric. What is your plan to put Windsor at the forefront of the electric revolution in the auto industry?
DREW DILKENS: Folks, we have a plan and we’ve been implementing that plan, and it’s called Windsor Works, and I’m proud to tell you if you haven’t heard already, that we’ve received a 5 billion investment to create an electric vehicle battery factory in the city of Windsor, the largest automotive investment in Canada’s history, and the largest investment in our city’s history right here in the backyard, and we’re talking about looking forward. We’re talking about what else is in Windsor Works. We’re talking about the supply chain for the electric vehicle battery factory, and all of the transformation that is going to happen here, including at Stellantis, our largest employer, who is hiring 650 really smart people in R&D who are gonna lead the way and create the next opportunities for our community, right here in our backyard. We have to be ready for that next opportunity, and that means getting the land ready. That is the Sandwich South land, and creating the closest industrial park to the United States Canada Border.
How many times have you heard people say, “Oh boy, you’re so lucky to have the Gordie Howe Bridge in your backyard. And we are with the construction jobs in the short term. The luck we’re gonna have is the luck that we create, and that is getting the steps put in place for that industrial park and making sure that I take the premier up on his commitment to me to get the cloverleaf put at Lauzon and 401 so we can get access to that particular place and sell that to the world, because we have geography on our side. We have experience on our side, we have momentum on our side. We are moving in the right direction here folks, and we’ve gotta keep moving forward.
CHRIS HOLT: I don’t have to tell anybody in this room how excited I am for the green economy. You know, I’ve been at the forefront of climate change adaptation, mitigation, and moving forward with actually reducing our carbon footprint and our greenhouse gasses locally in this community. I brought forward the climate emergency, which was unanimously adopted by council. We understand that this is an emergency, that we have to move forward in embracing technologies like electric cars, but not just electric cars. Electric cars are a small aspect of our transportation, or they should be. There’s so many other opportunities for green investment in our business community.
There’s a street, Bloor Avenue in Toronto had their parking removed and had bicycle lanes installed, and we saw that their increase in sales was upwards of 18%. This is a kind of sales, this is a kind of economic benefit that green technologies and bringing investment into our green economy and our green transportation could bring to our community. That says nothing about public transportation, another one of the greenest of transportation modes.
DREW DILKENS: Folks we are on the right track. We’re absolutely on the right track here, and I’m so excited about the future of our community. You know, you’ve all lived here a long time, and so you’re used to peaks and valleys, as am I. And I’ll tell you, the peak that we’re at right now is the size of Mount Everest and the opportunities in front of us are absolutely incredible. As mayor and continuing to be mayor, I commit to chasing every single one of those opportunities that make sense for our community, to create jobs, to be part of that green future, and to make sure that we are setting the stage for our city’s future success moving forward.
CHRIS HOLT: There isn’t anybody in this room who thinks my opponent’s record on climate is any better than mine. I have stood by, day after day, to ensure that that is baked into every decision we move forward at the council table. We need to recognize the fact that we’re in a global climate crisis, when we have to identify opportunities within our own policies to move forward on that. I am the only man for the job to do that.
DREW DILKENS: As I’ve said during the campaign, Windsor’s brightest days are ahead and working together, we’ve gotten traction on the hospital. We’re welcoming thousands of new EV battery plant jobs, and we are continuing to invest in the services that matter to residents. I’m committed to seeing those projects through and to building our neighborhood amenities while holding the line on taxes. Now is not the time to risk all that we’ve accomplished together, but it is the time to be bold and take decisive action to clean up our streets and put a renewed emphasis on community safety.
Today we have the wind at our backs, and boy, it feels great. But what’s propelling us forward is the grit and the determination of every Windsor resident. The folks that work hard, that pay their taxes and play by the rules, I am in it for them, for their families and the businesses and employ them. I’ve never had more enthusiasm for the job than I do today. I’m excited to get back to work on October 24th, a vote for Drew Dilkens is a vote for leadership that delivers.
CHRIS HOLT: This mayoral campaign is one of stark differences, and that fact was on full display today. On one hand you have a campaign with vision, ambition, and actual ideas, a campaign building for the future.
On the other hand, you have a campaign recycling tired tropes repeated often over the years. A campaign protecting the past, protecting the status quo only serves a small minority of residents whose sole concerns are plowing their roads and collecting their garbage. They have no need for libraries, community centers, or public transit. They’re also not concerned with building a better community because they have all they could ever need.
But that is not my Windsor. My Windsor builds things and creates opportunities for everyone. My Windsor is big hearted in caring, knowing we’re all in this together. My Windsor plans for the future and claws way there. I love my Windsor, not so much his. The contrast is vivid and choices are clear. Vote for 1960 Windsor or 2030.