Live City Check-In—One-on-One with Mayor Drew Dilkens, Windsor, ON
A roundup of the most compelling ideas, themes and quotes from this candid conversation
1. Windsor’s unique geographical and historical context
Windsor’s proximity to the Canada-United States border has played a unique role in the local crisis. Many Windsor residents who travel for work across the border have been impacted by border closure. However, Mayor Dilkins reports that whereas Windsor has the highest unemployment in the country, its recovery has also been better than the provincial and national average.
2. The Spillover Effect
Mayor Dilkens notes the interdependencies between Windsor and Detroit throughout the discussion: “when you see a renaissance in Detroit happening, we are the beneficiaries,” and likewise, “when the U.S. sneezes, we get a cold.” Partnerships across the border are a key component of the City’s roadmap for economic diversification moving forward.
3. Transportation Culture
Windsor was the only municipality in Canada to shut down its transit system, for five weeks in Spring 2020. According to Mayor Dilkens, this was due to insufficient resources to provide necessary sanitization, and a 90% drop in ridership. Mayor Dilkens acknowledged that this decision made the city an outlier, but also noted that as the automotive capital of Canada, and due to the size of the city, he was facing a different decision context than many of his peers across Canada.
4. Outbreaks in the migrant farmworker population
Essex County has with 176 farms, and the largest greenhouse farm area in Canada. The agricultural industry relies on seasonal temporary foreign workers, and outbreaks on farms across the County is one of the greatest COVID-19 crises in the nation. Mayor Dilkens notes that while the local health unit is available as a resource, he looks to other orders of government for leadership, with the federal government responsible for the Temporary Foreign Worker Program, and the Province responsible for health, labour, and agriculture.
5. Different Levels of Government Responsibility
COVID-19 has exposed municipal finance and governance challenges in Canada’s constitutional arrangement, since municipalities are considered “creatures of the province”. Mayor Dilkens expresses there might be an opportunity to rethink how cities are governed, and that he would like the flexibility to consider what running a city might look like with additional tools and the ability to govern more independently.