A Few Things to Watch in 2022

The following are issues, stories and priorities that I am keeping my eye in 2022. If you want you may want to refer to my 2020, 2021 “Things to Watch” posts as I refer back to past posts at various points without linking.

COVID-19 or is it 22?

We are currently riding out Omicron praying that we don’t have to learn what the next letter in the Greek alphabet will be. The exhaustion is real, the frustration is real, the fear is real, it is disrupting peoples lives, ruining business and impact people’s health but we are 21 months in, boosters are plentiful and who knows what is next.

Two things that I am watching is the impact of return to work on the employment situation and the second is of course if I need to learn where Tau or Upsilon fall in the Greek alphabet. Although I think there is a endemic endgame to COVID-19 the question becomes when does it come. I don’t think we will have another lockdown in Ontario for political reasons – it’s an election year but COVID-19 likely won’t go away in 2022. Omicron appears to be less severe than previous variants the questions becomes does it also burn itself out or comeback again?

Provincial Elections

June 2, 2022 is the big day, we are just over 6 months out, and reassuringly we are now within the spending window of the campaign which is why all those attack ads you were hearing September/October have stopped. Windsor-Essex finds itself a bit of a battleground as 2 NDP incumbents have decided to step aside in a region that is being targeted by the PCs. Personally I still think the provincial Liberal Party is still a semi-toxic brand and a leader that is pretty unknown/unpopular. Despite this Liberals are running second provincially in polling and projections they lag in SW Ontario are only expected to win a seat or two (likely in London and KW). The other interesting thing to watch is the courting of labour by the PC party. Announcements like the minimum wage increase standing next to labor leaders is an interesting look for Doug Ford but could be something that comes into play locally.

The Provincial budget will likely drop in March prior to the April campaign kickoff. It will be interesting to see what bobbles will be shared. We know the Mayor has been in Queen Park advocating for infrastructure spending and the narrative from the government will be building back (literally) Ontario with roads, hospitals, schools being a priority. The City of Windsor has outlined $25 Million in extra costs (or lost revenue) due to COVID-19, it wouldn’t surprise me if there isn’t some financial assistance in the document for municipalities, otherwise it puts on the table an election wedge that could be wielded by opposition parties to offset property tax increases at a local level.

Just beyond Essex County, Chatham-Kent race might be interesting as long time MP Rick Nichols is now a member of the Ontario Party. A current Leamington municipal Councillor will challenge him as the PC Candidate which not only makes it a more interest race to watch but potentially opens a seat around the Leamington council table. A similar scenario in Tecumseh where Andrew Dowie is running in the open Windsor-Tecumseh seat. This could leave some open municipal seats in these communities that would have likely been safe holds.

Municipal Elections

October 24, 2022 is the the second big day for political junkies. Silly season as I call it has already begun, I believe I mentioned in my budget post that, that document was largely an electioneering document. Official filing doesn’t begin until May 1st, which clashes with the heart of the provincial campaign. Given the limited media bandwidth potential candidates will have to balance their announcements to run between being overshadowed by provincial campaigns and trying to get an announcement in before Canada Day and summer kicks in. People have (from memory) until mid-July to register and a window between June 3rd and June 28th (last day of school) when people shift into summer mode. The bulk of coverage will happen between Labour Day and E-Day but the pre-summer window to make a good first impression is probably smaller than normal.

In Windsor there are two big questions that have to be unpacked. Is anyone going to challenge Mayor Dilkens for the big chair, and will any council seats become open due to retirements or if Councillors stepping aside? My lay of the land is that Mayor Dilkens likely has a clear path to re-election, despite disappointment on social media in his decisions or behaviour. There is a very short list of credible challengers out there, and an even shorter list of challengers who can raise the $200,000 or so that is needed to run a viable Citywide campaign.

Around the rest of the table, there are obviously some older councillors who may be ready to step aside… or not. I would say the most likely open seat is probably in Ward 5 given the health issues Councillor Sleiman has had. Of the incumbents Councillor Gill likely faces the most risk, as the by-election field of 10+ candidates will likely shrink to a handful of potential challenges, the questions becomes in a higher turnout environment with fewer candidates, has he done enough in the term to make a good impression? I will say it here, I am not planning on running – sorry not sorry but I have heard names already floating around for various seats etc. We will have to see if they materialize over the coming months.

Outside of Windsor, obviously it is interesting to see if any of the long serving Mayors step aside. Councillor Bondy has already made her intentions clear in Essex about running for the big chair. Given the administrative upheaval in Amherstburg, we will have to see if Council or the Mayor are held responsible. Beyond that, with loud voices in Amherstburg calling for progressive action does it see people run for or against that vision? More broadly in Windsor and Essex County, do more women and persons of colour run and win in the 2022?

Will Batteries and Automobility save us?

The community is waiting to hear if an unannounced battery plant will be coming to Windsor (or Canada at all). The Christmas Eve report from CBC Windsor that the EV Charger and Challenger production could be moving to Chicago is a bit of a bombshell. This report builds off of one that I was watching from Dec 21st from the Chicago Tribune that first hinted at Chicago Stellantis plants would be receiving new EV product. Now this isn’t a deal breaker for Windsor but rumour had it, that an announcement was supposed to be coming before the end of the year from Stellantis about the locations of their two battery plants, nothing so far. If the above does come true, the EV production is moving to Chicago, Brampton becomes logical battery plant location for EV in Canada for Stellantis. You offset job losses, keep a union mollified, and can re-use an existing facility that is large enough for battery assembly as Stellantis wants its battery production operating in 2024 so the clock is ticking. The next big announcement event is CES in Vegas in early January it is quite possible news will come from there!

As I write this, I find myself looking at the auto industry in Canada and our community with a pessimistic lens. Why? Well 13 battery plants have been announced in the US, those with locations have clustered in the South and Midwest United States. Even if a battery plant arrives it will be a small player in a much larger game, Canada is being left behind, and I don’t know what an auto strategy does to prevent this given the economic scales of the US, China and the EU bring to bare. Sure parts and sub-assembly can be strong but the gold standard is OEM assembly, where that lands the industry follows to a degree.

Despite Canada and Mexico teaming up to take on EV subsidies in the US, the mere threat of the Build American rule of origin subsidies is enough to shape automotive companies thinking. The US doesn’t care about retaliatory tariffs. Who knows what happens in 2022 or 2024 US Elections, but the friendly America, that looks out for Canada and Mexico for long term growth is gone, it has been replaced with a short term focused, national-centric government regardless of Democrat or Republican.

Despite the successes in automobility, I haven’t seen a plan that will effectively transition the potential number of autoworkers to other spaces should the worst (or something less than) happens. The above plant, is expected to have 100-150 jobs associated with it. Although a potential first step, it leaves lots to be desired. Let’s have an honest conversation – after April 1, 2022 is Stellantis the largest employer in the region anymore? 1,375 jobs lost from 3rd shift; about 1,200 from 2nd shift, there was something like 5,000+ jobs we are now down to less than half of that, and 3 weeks layoffs to start 2022. As of mid-2021 some 30,000 people worked in manufacturing in the Windsor CMA which is largest sector (not counting Essex, Leamington and Kingsville). A smaller portion of that number is auto assembly, as diversification within the tool and die sector has occurred after 2008-10 downturn. Frankly we have to recognize that every job at the Ford Engine plant is on a clock, with the end of internal combustion engines coming by the 2030s at some point. It is likely that Ford will begin to phase out engines at some point. There is a term in economics and investment called a Sunk Cost Trap and I see all of the warning signs of a community in that trap.

When I asked Unifor 444 President Dave Cassidy if we need a just transition strategy for auto workers, he agreed, we need one. You can talk about technology, but then we are talking about job replacement in many cases not transition. Mike Moffatt on the same podcast said said something to the sorts of future of manufacturing is “White collar, not blue collar”. We are in a community with low educational attainment rates, are we ready for this transition? Is the plan to replace auto jobs with international computer science students to work cyber security? There is no pipeline to take a laid off autoworker to become a cyber security software developers that I am aware of, there is a proposed grant to the Future Skills Centre that was in the Windsor Works Implementation:

Setting aside the Future Skills Centre currently do not have a grant application process open, I could be wrong but this grant will likely not move forward in time to help the workers currently being laid off in the coming months. What has to be understood is that the Future Skills Centre is a knowledge incubator, they are funded by the Federal Government to learn what works so the Feds can scale it. They have already funded projects in Oil & Gas, Mining, Auto, Fisheries around transitioning mid-career worker from sunset industries into other professions. The auto project was in partnership with the Auto Parts Manufacturing Association (APMA) and is based out of Oshawa and Waterloo, what are they going to learn from funding another auto project transitioning workers to a niche (at best) sector of cybersecurity? If this is our shot at transitioning workers, we need to do better.

Finally, in 2023, both Unifor and UAW both negotiate with the Big 3 Automakers for new contracts. Let’s be clear, I think this will be a showdown, the question becomes going back what is the economic case for them to invest in Canada. It is also important to remember that the expected launch of the $1.5 billion investment in Windsor isn’t until 2024. I am not saying Stellantis is going to renege, but the game has change COVID and a global chip shorted expected to continue into 2023. We all remember what happened to Nemak, despite the Union win, from my understanding the plant is still closed. Frankly this year is about setting the pieces up for that negotiation.

I think 2022 will be make or break for Windsor’s auto sector- so strap in! I hope I am wrong but shouldn’t we plan for the worst?

Federal Budget

The Federal budget will drop this spring at some point. The moving bar that is Omicron is obviously shifting the climate as I write this. We have seen supports from the federal government extended and I think it is safe to assume that you won’t see spending being dramatically reined in at this point. Whether that is going to drive inflation or not, is a complicated issue that I am not going to weigh into at this point.

The big ticket is childcare which every province barring Ontario has signed an agreement on to. Whether or not the Ford Government signs on prior to the election is an important question. The Liberal government had a wide range of priorities in the election, so it will be interesting to see which items get funded and acted on right away. Then there is the issue of concessions, as it is still a minority government, either the NDP, Bloc or Conservatives need to support the budget so depending on what the bundle of policies are, who supports and why will be interesting to see. Odds are it will be the Bloc or NDP so you may see some additional progressive investments. Locally Windsor is looking for money for:

  • Despite $1M from the Gordie Howe Bridge Community Benefit fund the $30ish million wildlife overpass is “too expensive” despite a willingness to spend a similar amount for for the Festival Plaza canopy. Pretty much wanting to pass the buck to the Urban National Park the cost of this new overpass.
    • If the City is unwilling to move forward with funding, and if the feds don’t come through, what happens to the $1M from the community benefit fund? Does it go to other community projects?
  • Addie Knox is moving forward the question is if the impetus for this reconstruction – a Green and Inclusive Community Building Fund will come through.
  • Funding for the IRC which is the isolation centre for migrant workers arriving in Canada to work in the agri-sector.
  • $88-million West Windsor retention treatment basin, which is dependent on landing a $32-million federal grant from the National Disaster Mitigation Program. Lakeshore seems to be building a $50-million water treatment plant without federal funding.

2021 Census

Starting in February we will see new Census data being released (here is my primer post on the new shapefiles). This Census is going to be weird because it will be a COVID Census. Captured at a time when CERB and employment supports were in place, transit usage was down, work from home was a major thing there will be lots of things to unpack, parse and realign.

It wouldn’t surprise me if poverty rates fell – due to CERB. housing insecurity rates will have risen due to the housing crisis (more on that in a minute). I am going to go out on a limb and say incomes may have fallen due to layoffs and labour disruptions. Transit usage in the data will have cratered and the impact of work for home will certain skew the mobility data in our region. There will also be some big questions around where is the population growing in our region we have seen and heard some strong regional numbers but does the City out growth the County will be the question.

Housing Affordability

So there is a housing crisis and based on the City Budget, you wouldn’t know much about it. It is true the budget passed a vacant building tax, funded an new homeless hub and new CIPs are on the way for University Ave, Wyandotte St and for Affordable units. The regeneration plan for weCHC was approved which will lead to massive investments in existing stock, What is missing is actual funding for new housing.

There is certainly a supply issue, the great debate is whether or not we build up, out or some combination of both. As I have talked about many times, the County out builds the City and 2021 is no different.

CMHC Housing Starts Reporting

If you are wondering the Town of Essex had 34 units started between Jan and September (small towns have quarterly reporting) and Kingsville/Leamington had 228 starts. So we want to talk about affordability and the housing crisis there is a much bigger picture that has to be explored in my opinion than just what can Windsor do. A regional discussion has to be on the table.

That being said, other municipalities in Ontario are taking are leadership on this issue. City of London set an ambitious goal of 3,000 affordable units approved and moving forward in 5 years -they approved over $11 million in support this year that will see affordable 422 units move forward an additional 200 market rate units. The City of Ottawa for 4th year running set aside $17 million in their capital budget to leverage for new affordable units. Waterloo region has approved 4 new affordable housing projects. if you are wondering if they are building faster, Kitchener alone started 2,000 apartment units this year, London – 2300 apartments.

Housing is the one space where debt doesn’t matter. You take on debt to build but then renter pays it back. We did this with Meadowbrook but my question is where is the $100 M debenture? Where is the plan for 2000+ new units? weCHC supposedly has a plan, I haven’t scene it at council, where is it? Hopefully this comes forward in 2022, but until then, the Province is short hundred of thousands of units, and Windsor’s incomes rise significantly slower than inflation.

Mega-Planning

From what I understand the hospital phase 2 planning process is supposed to last 12-18 months, which means that 2022 will bring the teeth of the hospital planning process. An initial submission portal was opened and from what I hear, a consultant has been found to move the broader community process forward.

Obviously COVID is a bit of a damper on hospital’s time and resources as well as the ability to pull together the public in group settings. The question becomes when, where and how does this process moves forward and will there be a bus to ride. Certainly something to watch.

Is there a Vision?

My hope for 2022 is a vision is laid out. Let be clear, Windsor Works is not a vision for our city or region, it is a flawed political document with the trapping of progressiveness, that is being called a road map. It’s implementation plan is equally non-ambitious. The “Windsor Blooms Report” from CUI, I would also say is a deeply flawed document that has no commitment that I am aware of, to actually move forward. The Community Safety and Wellbeing Plan is now in place, there is a great map of assets, but how is it being actioned as no new money is going to it in the City 2022 budget? To say I don’t level criticism fairly, where is United Way and ProsperUs?

In my conversation with Bil Ioannidis Ward 7 in the City of Kitchener he talked about the $100 Million fund the City set up to transform it’s economy and recover from COVID. Two London City Councillors pointed to the mayor of London is his state of the City address in 2021 where he said they have a 10 year Affordable Housing Plan for 3,000 units, I want to do it in 5 years. Arguably the most profound statement came from a small town Deputy Mayor that has me asking where are the statesmen (or stateswomen) at in our local politics. Mid-sized cities are putting forward moon-shot ideas and and being specific about what they are going to do. Not saying “we will do it if…. occurs or if Y government gives us money”.

This isn’t about being a “naysayer”, but there is an opportunity to really define what we want our City and region wants to be. If Windsor Works is our path forward, then what are the two or three things that we are all going to get together on and agree to move forward that are going to make measurable difference. Everyone can agree on small stuff, easy stuff, but it is hard things that define communities. In theory that is where the Community Safety and Wellbeing plan should be that, there is a steering committee that has dozens of members that are supposed to be charting the well being for our community. ProsperUs is the same; yet I don’t see visions being promulgated in the community.

To be honest, I wouldn’t even care if the vision is not “urbanist”, being frank, as I would say it to anyone, Windsor isn’t a real city so the premise is flawed. I hope 2022 brings a vision forward, I hope to play a role in that in my own small way, but it takes more than just one voice to craft a vision. It needs to be messy and be debated, sculpted and shaped by opposing opinions, it needs to media to amplify and dissect, it needs civil society to challenge and ask for more and finally people need to be able to find their place in the vision without it being dictated to them.

That is what I hope for 2022.

Happy New Year!

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