Mayor recruits area MPPs, MPs to lobby for $64M funding for infrastructure, flooding projects

Thursday, May 7, 2020

The Windsor Star/Brian Cross


Windsor’s mayor has enlisted every local MP and MPP to help pound the drum for multimillion-dollar infrastructure funding he says is crucial to revive the COVID-crushed economy and avoid flood disasters.
“We all need to be singing from the same song sheet to attract as much investment here from the federal and provincial governments,” Drew Dilkens said of his recent communications with politicians from all parties as he continues to “hammer” away at his cause — convincing governments to release money for funding programs that Windsor applied to last year.
If approved, the city would receive a total of $64 million for a series of projects worth $134 million.
They’re “shovel-ready,” meaning that governments hoping to jump-start the COVID-ravaged economy could see results almost immediately, the mayor said. The most recent unemployment numbers for Windsor, expected Friday, are “not going to be pretty,” he added. And lake and river levels are at near-record highs, threatening overland flooding that many of the disaster mitigation projects are designed to prevent.
“Let’s get them going, because we have a construction season well underway, we don’t want to lose this construction season and your money is going to unlock a whole lot of our money for really worthwhile projects.”
Dilkens is referring to last summer’s application to Phase 2 of the feds’ Disaster Mitigation and Adaptation Fund for $27.1 million to help fund $80.5 million worth of flood-prevention projects in Riverside and East Riverside. In his recent letter to federal Minister of Infrastructure and Communities Catherine McKenna, he says while communities across Canada are coping with the devastating impacts of COVID-19, Windsor “is currently in the horrible position of facing the prospect of a second, serious emergency, as water levels in the region are simply too high to ignore.”
The city has already received $32 million in the DMAF’s first phase, for $90-million in sewer projects — currently underway — to prevent the basement flooding that occurred in Riverside during catastrophic rainstorms in 2016 and 2017. The Phase 2 projects are more directed at preventing overland flooding from high lake levels.
The city is also hoping for a successful response to its application for $37 million from the federal/provincial Investing in Canada Infrastructure Program that would green light a half-dozen projects intended to create vibrant public areas between city hall and Walkerville worth $57.3 million. They range from the $15.1-million Civic Square — a “cultural and recreational hub” in front of the new city hall — to a $26.8-million improvement to the Festival Plaza, to a new riverfront parkette that would serve as a $3-million gateway to the Walkerville district.
Dilkens argues that with projects like these already in the pipe, there’s no need for the governments to create new COVID stimulus programs. The projects would be spread out over a decade. While he didn’t know how many jobs they would create, he said: “Let’s just say it would be very significant and it would be sustained.”
He said his recent efforts to bring MPPs and MPs onside, including Essex Conservative MP Chris Lewis, is a “rallying cry” for everyone to get on the same page.
“It’s one thing to say ‘I support you and this looks great.’ It’s another thing to get on the phone and get an appointment in front of the decision makers and say, ‘This needs to happen.'”
MP Irek Kusmierczyk (L—Windsor-Tecumseh) said he’s spoken directly with McKenna about Windsor’s applications.
“We’re making sure we convey at every opportunity how urgent the need is, especially the flood mitigation,” said Kusmierczyk, citing the current high water levels. He said he’s hoping for word on the projects “in short order.”
Has also spoken to Anita Vandenbeld, parliamentary secretary to the minister of national defence, about the flood threat in Windsor-Essex and whether armed forces personnel are available if the situation gets really bad.
“She’s aware of what the risk is and she basically provided the reassurance the Canadian Armed Forces would be available to mobilize at the drop of a hat,” Kusmierczyk said.
He is also lobbying for Tecumseh’s application to the Investing in Canada Infrastructure Program, for its $54-million sportsplex project.
MP Brian Masse (NDP—Windsor West) said he has been raising the need to approve the funding through letters and by mentioning it to McKenna whenever he gets the chance. He said that especially in a minority Parliament, it’s valuable to have politicians from all parties beating the drum.
“There’s a myth built up that it’s the insider or government person that gets things done and that’s not the way many projects have been done,” he said. “It’s the merit of the case and the mayor and council have done a good job lining up projects that have broad public support.”
They are projects that would have merited funding even before the COVID and flood threats, he said. “But now, they’re shovel-ready and can improve our living conditions for later.”
MPP Percy Hatfield (NDP—Windsor-Tecumseh) said the day he received the letter from Dilkens asking for support he sent off letters to the premier and appropriate ministers. He has also been lobbying on behalf of Tecumseh’s sportsplex application. And he has recently asked for the government to double or even triple the total amount of funds available for the Investing in Canada Infrastructure Program because there’s not nearly enough to meet all the requests.
“Unless they put more money into the fund there won’t be much to go around because demand has outstripped what’s available,” he said.