Two mayoral candidates in Windsor, Ont.’s upcoming municipal election are throwing barbs over the future of healthcare in the region.
Incumbent Drew Dilkens and challenger Chris Holt each laid out their respective positions a week after Dilkens called Holt out over his voting record related to the proposed hospital at County Road 9 and County Road 42, near Windsor’s airport.
Holt has long been opposed to the hospital location, arguing the Greenfield development will contribute to urban sprawl and be far away from the most densely populated areas of the city.
Dilkens took another jab Tuesday morning, suggesting his opponent’s track record makes him a “risk” to the project if elected mayor.
“This election, for my opponent is really about one thing: it’s about killing the hospital,” says Dilkens.
Windsor Regional just received $10 million from the province to produce functional plan blueprints for the new hospital.
Dilkens points to two big council decisions which Holt as a councilor voted against — rezoning Sandwich South lands for the new hospital location and approving a 10 per cent hospital levy for taxpayers to pay their share of the expected $2 billion project cost.
“If there is any wavering on the collection of the 10 per cent share or any other political shenanigans that happen, our project goes to the bottom of the list and will be 16 other hospitals that get built before ours in the province of Ontario,” Dilkens warns. “We are at fourth and goal in this project. We cannot afford to fumble the ball right now.”
Chris Holt held a media conference later in the day Tuesday to address the criticism.
“My opponent continues to spread misinformation and fear and wants to use the need for a new hospital as a political football for him to punt around,” says Holt, who noted his position against the site selection is clear and the reasons he doesn’t like the location exist to this day as unaddressed issues,” he says.
But he says he will respect the direction and will of the people.
“I am here today to pledge to the residents of Windsor that I will not hold up or stand in the way of that funding being allocated to this project when needed,” Holt says.
Holt, who served on council for eight years ahead of this campaign, is also putting forward a six-point healthcare plan, which involves:
Creating a community wide Health Services Table exploring 24/7 emergency room access in the core
Establishing a Sandwich South infrastructure task force, to determine and cost out the infrastructure needs of the area
Prioritizing nurse recruitment working with Invest Windsor Essex, Workforce Windsor Essex, St Clair College and the University of Windsor
Becoming a leader in advocating for investments in the mental health, addictions and long term care sectors
Prioritizing all Transit Windsor routes that will access the new acute care hospital
Expediting the creation of a Climate Action and Energy Plan for the Sandwich South area
“As we develop and move ahead with the clearing of greenspace and creating more housing and services in Sandwich South, we need to do so with our climate goals in mind,” says Holt, adding he’d like to know exactly how much it will cost to service the land where the hospital and surrounding development will ultimately take place.
“We actually have no idea,” Holt adds, noting he tabled a motion one year ago “to have a third party consultant report back with a comprehensive outline of the cost and timelines of needed infrastructure work in the area of the new acute care hospital .”
His motion did not pass, with five councilors and Dilkens voting against it.
“He and the five councilors you saw flanking him last week all chose to disregard this concern and willfully ignore the true cost to Windsor taxpayers,” says Holt.
Dilkens fired back later in the day, saying his opponent spent two terms frustrating the process by voting against major milestones and supporting Citizens for an Accountable Planning Process (CAMPP), an advocacy group which filed appeals against the hospital location to the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal . Those appeals were eventually thrown out by the tribunal.
“Today, Holt tried to strike a more moderate tone,” read a statement from Dilkens’ campaign. “Residents, voters and activists can’t be fooled by Holt’s flip-flopping: he’s not committed to seeing the hospital project through. He’s too risky.”
Dilkens’ Health Care Action Plan commits to putting a shovel in the ground ahead of the proposed construction start of 2027 and pledges continued operations of a 24/7 emergency room at the Ouellette Campus.
Noting Windsor needs a strong advocate in the mayor to deliver on the project in a timely fashion, Dilkens says, “We just can’t trust Chris Holt to deliver this message at Queen’s Park when we know he has a long history of opposing the hospital .”
Holt says his campaign has focused on other ways to improve quality of life for Windsor residents and challenges the mayor to respond to his own voting record on issues like transit.
“My opponent is dredging up things from the past to use this as a weapon and really dividing the community and making it a scare tactic,” Holt says. “This is a manufactured crisis.”
There are five other people vying to be the next mayor of Windsor, including Benjamin Danyluk, Aaron Day, Matthew Giancola, Ernie Lamont and Louis Vaupotic.
Advance voting in the election begins Oct. 5, 2022.
The municipal election takes place Oct. 24