Cup of Joe

Heart Month – Make it Healthy and Happy!

February is Heart Month which is a national campaign that mobilizes Canadians to rally together in raising awareness and funds that have an enormous impact on the lives of all Canadians.

Through the generosity and compassion of volunteers, the Heart and Stroke Foundation is able to help Canadians prevent heart disease and stroke, save lives by enabling faster and better emergency medical response and treatment, and enhance support for survivors, families and caregivers.” (http://www.heartandstroke.ab.ca/site/c.lqIRL1PJJtH/b.5812127/k.694C/February_is_Heart_Month.htm

Health Canada advises that more than 1.4 million Canadians are living with heart disease. With more than 33,600 deaths annually, it has become one of Canada’s leading causes of death.

We’ve all heard the risk factors: smoking, sedentary lifestyles and lack of exercise, unhealthy diets – especially too much trans fats and sodium, obesity, diabetes, stress, family history and age. Heart Month challenges us to examine our lifestyles and change what needs to be changed to ensure we do not become one of the ‘mortal’ statistics. It also invites us to donate our money and time as volunteers with our local Heart and Stroke Foundation. For contact information visit the 211 South-West Ontario Community Services Database @ https://windsoressex.cioc.ca/record/WIN0659.

But February is also Heart Month on a different level. It is the month when the centuries’ old Valentine’s Day is celebrated, where lovers of all ages and differing relationships share their heart-filled love with others. This expression of love takes the form of candy, flowers, greeting cards, jewelry, romantic dinners, clothing, gift cards and an assortment of other gifts.

In the United States $13,290,000,000 is spent annually on Valentine’s Day and 180 million cards are exchanged and 198,000,000 roses are produced. Women purchase 85% of the cards, while men make up 73% of all flower purchases. With the average American consumer spending $116 on Valentine’s Day, it is no wonder that US retailers have their own love affair with this day.

Valentine’s Day is also one of the most popular days of the calendar year for couples wishing to “tie the knot” in marriage. Among the many hats that I wear in my retirement is that of registered Ontario marriage officiant. (www.civilmarriages.ca)  I have been privileged to have married nearly 1000 couples in my lifetime.  And, on February 14, I will be joining two Windsor area couples in marriage to start my 2016 wedding schedule. There is something very special about performing a wedding ceremony on Valentine’s Day.

Many of the couples I marry opt for traditional type wedding ceremonies performed at venues of their choosing, places like Hiram Walker’s, Willisted Manor, The Water’s Edge, McKenzie Hall, the Art Gallery of Windsor, the St. Clair Center for the Arts, various ethnic halls in Windsor Essex, public parks, the many golf courses and wineries in Essex County, as well as in private homes. I’ve married couples on the ‘Point’ of Point Pelee, Pelee Island, on boats in Lake St. Clair and the Detroit River, and numerous other unique and amazing venues..

My message to couples that I marry is that they should choose a place and a wedding ceremony that reflects their unique love for one another. Occasionally, I am asked to perform theme weddings.

This past summer I was the ‘wizard’ who joined the King and Queen together in marriage at the Fogolar Furlan in a Lord of the Rings wedding. I have married couples on Halloween with attendees dressed in costumes. I married a couple five years ago at Devonwood Conservation Area where they, together with their officiant and guests, were dressed as zombies.

I also performed a wedding at the WFCU Centre where the required attire of all participating was hockey sweaters. As their officiant, I wore my # 19 Steve Yzerman Red Wings’ jersey. The bride wore a traditional white bridal dress with a cape over it with the Detroit Red Wing logo on the back, while the groom had the Toronto ‘Maple Leaf’ emblazoned on the back of his tuxedo jacket. Now that was an interesting couple!

I often get asked what it is like to be a wedding officiant. I usually reply, “officiating weddings is a lot more fun than funerals.” In all seriousness, being the officiant at a couple’s wedding is one of the greatest privileges and honors I experience in my life. A couple’s wedding day is without doubt one of the most important days a couple will experience as a couple. Recognizing this, I do my utmost to ensure that their wedding ceremony is an experience they will cherish for a lifetime.

The second most asked question I get is what have been the funniest things that have happened in weddings I’ve performed. Believe me, there have been many over the years. But if I had to choose the funniest it would be a wedding that I performed seven to eight years ago out in Wheatley at their conservation park.

The beautiful bride was extremely ‘gifted’ in the bosom department and wore a very low cut wedding dress that definitely showcased her ‘gifted-ness’. As the groom faced her and held her hands speaking his personal vows to her, he committed a most unfortunate slip of words. In attempting to describe his bride as his ’best’ friend, he referred to her as his ‘breast’ friend.

Recognizing his mistake, he stuttered and stammered and made matters only worse by saying, “I mean you are my best friend, not my breast friend”, This only served to exacerbate an already unfortunate situation for him. The poor bride turned red and developed red splotches on her neck and chest area, while everyone in attendance was doubled over in laughter. It took me a good two to three minutes before I could restore calm and proceed with the ceremony.

Another humorous incident occurred in a wedding last summer when towards the end of the ceremony I approached the couple with my right hand outstretched in front of me to convey a final blessing upon them. The bride, not paying attention to what I was doing, suddenly looked up and seeing my outstretched hand proceeded to give me a ‘high five’ slap on the hand. Not exactly what the moment was calling for, but funny nonetheless.

A final funny wedding incident I’ll share with you happened a few summers ago at the wedding of an older couple who married in a city park. It was a second marriage for both bride and groom, and mom was escorted down the aisle by her son.

He was a fairly heavy set chap in his mid to late thirties who seemed uncomfortable in the brown suit he was wearing for the occasion.  Given his size, I would have thought he’d be wearing suspenders or a belt to secure his suit trousers, but he obviously wasn’t … Yep, about three quarters of the way down the aisle with mom on his arm, the trousers gave way to gravity and ended up around his ankles.  Fortunately for him and for all present, he was wearing boxers that day!

Well, I hope you’ve enjoyed your “Cup of Joe’ and have had a few chuckles.  And, I wish all of you good ‘heart health’ and much love this February, the month of the “heart”.

Cup of Joe

Cancer Could not Defeat Them, Jeremy and Dennis

Twice, within the span of the past two months, two well know residents of Windsor have transitioned from their earthly homes through the Hospice of Windsor Essex County to their home hereafter…. Both of them had cancer.

This blog is not about the hospice and the amazing work they perform in our community; that will be the subject of a future blog I will write. This blog pays tribute to the impactful and courageous lives that Jeremy Tyrrell and Dennis Solet shared with us, and their personal legacy they leave behind.

Deacon Jeremy Kelvin Tyrrell was born February 5, 1959 and passed from this earth December 20, 2015, surrounded by his sisters, Pat and Maureen, and his children: Andrew and his wife Katie, Emily, and Graeme, and his loving wife Claire.

Always a great communicator, Jeremy authored a regular blog of his life observations, his faith and ultimately, his cancer. It was called: “Jeremy Tyrrell – Just a little guy, having a little fun, with a lot of good friends; don’t take me too seriously. God knows I don’t.”   

Jeremy has also self-produced about 15 YouTube videos of himself discussing his diagnosis of his mesothelioma, his treatments, and ultimately his final journey with it. [Linking to one of the videos will bring all the others up.] They are worth watching for anyone seeking an inspiring example of a terminally ill person living life to the fullest with faith, hope and love.

Originally from Trenton Ontario, Jeremy made Windsor his home where he raised his family and was employed in management with Windsor’s Caesars’ Casino for 12 years. Jeremy was also  local community and government political activist and ran in 2003 as a council candidate for ward three. Though he was unsuccessful in unseating perennial incumbent favourites, Alan Halberstadt and Fulvio Valentinis, he nonetheless used the opportunity get his views public on a number of community and social issues.

A few years later Jeremy responded to a special ‘calling’ to undertake theological and pastoral studies through St. Peter’s Seminary in London, in preparation for ordination as deacon – one who assists priests pastorally and liturgically. Finally, in September 2012 Jeremy left Windsor to become Director of Sales at Scotiabank Convention Centre in Niagara Falls.  He continued his ministry as a deacon in the local Diocese of St. Catherines.

Jeremy received his diagnosis of incurable Mesothelioma in November 2014. In one of his final posts on Facebook, Jeremy wrote on December 15, 2015: “I know that I have not been on social media lately. My cancer has become more aggressive. I will be entering Hospice of Windsor tomorrow (Wednesday Dec 16) where we can concentrate on managing my symptoms and to just spend time with my family. I hope you understand that I will not be able to respond as I once have to your messages and emails. My family and I appreciate all the many prayers, visits and support we have received……Duc in Altum.”

Dennis Solet entered the Hospice of Windsor Essex on Monday, February 1st, leaving behind his beloved south Windsor home on Maisoneuve Avenue where he had lived for the past 25 years. Dennis died peacefully Tuesday, February 2nd in the late afternoon, lovingly surrounded and supported by his wife Julie, his children, Dennis Jr. and Shannon, and other family members and close friends.

The Hospice Band which Dennis was a founding and long term member had an acoustic guitar jam of some of Dennis’ favourite songs, including the Bob Seeger classic, “Turn the Page”, a song that accompanied Dennis in his final leg of his journey home.

The year was 1980 and I arrived at St. Vincent de Paul Church on Balfour and Empress as a newly minted Roman Catholic priest to begin my assignment as associate pastor of the parish. The parochial school across from the church was also known as St. Vincent de Paul.  That school is now shuttered and has been renovated, repurposed and expanded as the Hospice of Windsor Essex.

It is both the place where I first met Dennis Solet as an educator in my school, and then some 30 years later when he was a cancer survivor and motivational speaker with his Can-Cer-viving Tour. Like so many people who would meet Dennis for the first time, my impression was, ”Wow, this guy’s quite the character”. Diminutive in stature, he was larger-than-life for all those he taught throughout his 30 year teaching career in both the elementary and secondary catholic school system.

Dennis was diagnosed with a very aggressive colon cancer in November 2004 and was given a prognosis of six months to a year to live. Over the next 11 years since that diagnosis Dennis had over 100 chemotherapy treatments along with a number of alternative medicine treatments. But more importantly, throughout his journey with cancer, Dennis shared very openly and candidly with family and friends what he was experiencing with his cancer and what this was teaching him about life.

In recent years the cancer spread and Dennis had three significantly sized tumors in his abdomen. Dennis named these tumors, “Larry, Moe, and Curly” and would speak to his tumors daily, encouraging them to stop eating – or at least slow down –  because there was very little of him left.

I had the honour of emceeing the “Let’s Say Goodbye While We Can Party,” this past September at the Caboto Club, an event organized by Dennis, his wife Julie, and close neighbour friend, Brenda Hartman-Brunelle, along with many other friends and volunteers. Initially conceived as an opportunity for Dennis to party and say goodbye to his family and close friends while he was still healthy and strong enough, this unique event quickly grew and saw over 500 people come through the doors that day.

Massive amounts of food were donated by more than ten Windsor eateries and guests were entertained by six to seven bands throughout the afternoon – including Dennis jamming with them on a few numbers.

Windsor Mayor Drew Dilkens who has had a long time friendship with Dennis also attended and gave a short presentation of tribute to him, including presenting him with the Key to the City of Windsor.

As communicators, bloggers, motivational speakers, Jeremy Tyrrell and Dennis Solet both touched the hearts and lives of so many people. Each, in their own way, embraced their cancer and they owned it; they both refused to be victimized by it. They were living examples of courage, faith and hope.

One of Jeremy’s YouTube videos is titled, “My Cancer Does Not Suck”  in which he says his cancer is what it is and he’s dealing with it.  Dennis’ says the same thing, “It’s all about choosing to live now and not waiting. It’s the only reality we have. You’re sick, do all the things that you wanna do now.”

I’ve been blessed to have Jeremy and Dennis in my life…

Cup of Joe

#WEareready Healthcare, count ME in! WE Deserve it!

Windsor is on the verge of the most potentially significant overhaul of their healthcare system in their 124 year history, affecting close to 400,000 residents in the city and county.

Healthcare access and facilities that so many other communities in the province have benefited from with our tax dollars has been ignored by senior levels of government and denied for far too many years for Windsor and Essex.

One needs only to visit London to recognize the enormous disparity between the two cities’ healthcare systems. Granted, London is the seed of one of the great medical universities in the country and, as a result, has benefited from their presence with the ’Cadillac’ of healthcare systems.

But Windsor is light years behind them both in healthcare infrastructure and available services. That could all change for Windsor with the new proposed Windsor Essex healthcare system centered around the new acute care hospital.

The final site selection for the acute care hospital is at County Road 42 and Concession 9 in the city of Windsor, a site favoured by 70% of respondents from two recent media polls. However, there is some lingering dissenting opinion as to the preferred location of the new acute care hospital.

Some argue that it should be located in the urban core, while others prefer the second place site location off Tecumseh Road East. But both groups are steadfast in their rejection of the final site selection for the acute care hospital at County Road 42 and Concession 9. To me, this dissent is both shortsighted and unfortunate.

There is a mistaken belief by some Windsor residents who want the new acute care hospital built closer to the urban core since the vast majority of the aggregate population of the city of Windsor and the county of Essex resides within Windsor. This is false. The 2011 Canadian Census reports that Windsor has approximately only 37,000 more residents than the county. It works out to be a 54 to 46% split of the total city and county population. In fact, statistics reveal that in recent years the county’s population continues to grow, while the city’s population declines.

When presented with this fact some then argue that the county residents in Kingsville and Leamington are serviced by Leamington District Memorial Hospital and their population should not be factored into the aggregate totals.

Excluding Kingsville and Leamington from these calculations regarding the number of county patients that this new proposed hospital should support is not a factually based premise. For example, during the 12 month period, Dec 1-Nov 30 in 2015,  Leamington transferred 319 patients from their ER to Windsor Regional Hospital (WRH) as well as 181 inpatients.

This means that in total 500 patients went from Leamington to WRH for their care – hospital to hospital. At the same time, over 5000 patients came directly from their homes within Leamington’s “catchment” area to WRH. To exclude Leamington and Kingsville from any stats comparison between the county and city is not correct and is misleading.

“So, why not just renovate and build on our existing two acute care hospitals in Windsor?” That is a question raised by more than just a few. In fact, that was the very question being examined back in April 2012, when our then Ontario Finance Minister, Dwight Duncan, created the Windsor Hospital’s Study Task Force to examine that possibility, or whether there is a legitimate need for a new regional acute care hospital to replace current facilities. It was co-chaired by Dave Cooke, Teresa Piruzza, MPP and Tom Porter.

In November 30, 2012, after months of community engagement, The Windsor Hospital’s Study Task Force released a final report recommending the province “proceed immediately in approving the planning and construction of a new single site for the Windsor Essex region.”

The Task Force’s report highlighted the cost differential between the renovation and upgrade of the existing acute care hospitals vis-à-vis the cost of constructing a new standalone acute care hospital for Windsor and Essex.

“In order to meet the needs of both WRH and HDGH for future health care service delivery, hundreds of millions of dollars would be required to redevelop existing hospital infrastructure. The costs of new hospitals constructed elsewhere in the province (roughly $1.2 billion) is well exceeded by the $2 billion estimated cost in total to rebuild Windsor Regional Hospital’s Metropolitan campus and reconstruct seven inpatient floors at Hôtel Dieu Grace Hospital (reflected in a future phase of HDGH’s master plan).” – Windsor Hospital Study Task Force

The former Windsor City Council with Eddie Francis as mayor, offered airport lands for use in 2014 for the proposed acute care hospital, lands immediately across the road from the final site selection on County Road 42. This was at a time when the county was also lobbying for the proposed acute care hospital with their own property proposals.

So it is somewhat baffling to see people in disagreement with the final site selection when, in fact, the city initially proposed land virtually in the same area. This final site selection was based on sound planning principles and in accord with the City of Windsor’s 20 year Master Plan that already includes massive infrastructure development plans for residential, commercial and institutional growth for the area.

Some Windsor residents, especially those in the city core or far west end, fear they will be at a disadvantage if the proposed acute care hospital is built on County Road 42 at Concession 9. Traffic engineering experts have determined that the proposed acute care hospital will be within 12 km of 70% of its city users.

And, with the opening of the Herb Gray Parkway which extends to the far west end, many residents of the west end now have improved travel route options for accessing the final site selection in terms of travel time and distance. Transit Windsor already services the nearby area and will adapt their routes accordingly to provide timely service to the acute care hospital.

With respect to the question of distance and time required to reach the proposed acute care hospital site, perhaps those who see the final site as too far a distance to travel are suffering from ’Windsor-itus’ – a condition best described as being ‘spoiled’ in our transportation times and distances to most points within our city boundaries.

For example, I can travel from my home on Victoria Avenue at Shepherd and reach the WFCU Centre within 15 minutes via Tecumseh Rd or E.C. Rowe Expressway. That’s from the city core to the far east end of the city. Most other medium to larger sized cities in Ontario would welcome having 70% of their acute hospital users within a 12 km distance from their homes.

Windsorites recall far too well the horrific history of the residents of the Grace Hospital site which sat derelict for far too long when it’s doors were shuttered February 2004. They fear that residents and businesses near our existing medical facilities will face the same fate under the proposed new health care system.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

The old Grace Hospital site is proposed for the development of a modern urgent care facility designed with service, staff and equipment to deal the many types of ‘urgent’ cases that today clog up the emergency rooms at our two acute care hospitals.

The current Windsor Regional Hospital – Ouellette Campus will be redeveloped to support outpatient mental health services currently offered at this site and at the soon to be opened HDGH Transitional Stability Centre. Chronic Disease Management will also be dealt with at this downtown location. This re-purposing of our current Ouellette Ave acute care hospital will reclaim its former century long identity as Hotel-Dieu Grace. It’ll be great to welcome Hotel-Dieu-Grace back downtown to Ouellette Avenue.

The current west end Hotel-Dieu Grace Healthcare at the Tayfour Campus will see the construction and redevelopment of the existing site with the addition of a new 60-bed acute mental health wing. There will also be a significant addition of dialysis services and an expansion of diagnostic imaging.

And finally, the current Windsor Regional Hospital Met Campus site will be handed over to the City of Windsor in exchange for the Grace Hospital site on Crawford where the urgent care facility is proposed to be built. Unlike the Grace site which fell into private ownership and beyond the control and oversite of the city, the Met campus will become city property to be used in the future for development consistent with the existing residential and commercial neighbourhoods.

For me, supporting this initiative is a no-brainer.  As a lifelong Windsorite, I am thrilled at the prospect that Windsor-Essex will soon have “a seamless, integrated and accessible healthcare system for all residents in Windsor-Essex.” For years our hard earned tax dollars have funded similar health care systems for other communities throughout the province. Now it’s their turn to finance Windsor’s deserved and long overdue new health care system.

I strongly urge all residents to support this new healthcare system proposal for Windsor and Essex County.

#WEareready is the new social media hashtag developed to show our support for this project.  We are at a critical time in the five step process outlined by the province for communities seeking their share of the province’s capital investment dollars in future healthcare systems.  We are in a serious dogfight with five other Ontario communities all vying for those capital dollars.

So all of us need to tell our elected members of provincial parliament – especially the Minister of Health – that the time has come for Windsor-Essex to finally have the integrated regional healthcare system that WE deserve.

For more detailed facts and information visit www.windsorhospitals.ca or watch this video.

Cup of Joe

Blackberry and the President’s Choice Mobile App

For years my friends and colleagues have laughed at me and berated me for my ongoing allegiance to Blackberry.

I have been called a dinosaur, a pioneer, a grandpa, and many other less flattering names.  Many of my ‘trend-o-nite’ friends with their glitzy and flashy iPhones, Galaxies, LG’s etc., mock me because I have chosen to stay faithful to Blackberry, a Canadian Company and the only phone made by a Canadian Company.

Heck, even one of the co-founders of Blackberry is a home boy! Mike Lazaridis, hailed from LaSalle – just outside Windsor, although he dumped most of his shares in Blackberry for a cool $26 million back in December 2013.  So, yes, I support Canadian Companies, Canadian made products and I especially support local entrepreneurs like Lazaridis, who work hard and rise to the top of their field.

In the past two to three decades I have driven nothing but Fords – F150, Escort, Fusion and 3 different Escapes.  Knowing that Ford Canada had its beginnings here in Windsor has been all the motivation I need for me not straying far from Ford.

And when it comes to wines, nothing but Essex County Wines for this guy.  Fortunately, I am not a hoity-toity wine connoisseur and cannot distinguish between a Merlot and a Shiraz.  Nor can I evaluate the quality of local wines vis a vis wines from the more established Niagara and Southern California regions.  I just drink local wines and enjoy them all. But people more knowledgeable in wines than me assure me that our Essex County wines are indeed top shelf.

Locally produced craft beers and Walkerville Brewery products are also in my top tier of beer to be consumed in local watering holes, unless I find myself in one that doesn’t offer them; and that usually signals my last visit to that establishment.

I shop for my groceries in Canada, not the United States. And I go out of my way to support local restaurants who serve locally grown and raised products in their establishments. Rino’s Klitchen & Ale House on Elliott, and SnackBar-B-Q on Chatham, are just two of the many Windsor eateries supporting their community in this regard.

You get the picture I’ve tried to paint.  I try at all costs to be faithfully loyal to what is local and what is Canadian. (I AM JOE AND I AM CANADIAN!). So getting back to the beginning where I described my friends treating me like ‘One of These Things is Not Like the Others‘ (from Sesame Street) because of my Blackberry Passport, let me explain why I am ranting about this. It stems from this email from PC (President’s Choice) that I recently received on my PC (personal computer). It reads,

Dear Joe,

We wanted to inform you of some changes. Starting on January 31, 2016, the PC Plus® mobile app will no longer be supported on non-Android and non-iOS mobile devices. The app will continue to be available on Android 4.1 and up, and iOS 7.0 and later. We apologize for any inconvenience.

If you have an unsupported device, you can still load your weekly offers and access your account information from our mobile website on your mobile browser. If you used the barcode (mobile card) on the app to earn and redeem points at check-out, you will now need to pick-up a PC Plus® card in-store and link it to your existing PC Plus® account, or use your linked PC Financial® card. Thank you for being a member of the PC Plus® program.

For over thirty years I have purchased my groceries from either the Real Canadian Superstore or Zehrs, and prior to their existence, Loblaws. “Loblaws” is the umbrella company for Zehrs and The Superstore, along with a number of other named stores. I have carried a PC (President’s Choice) Plus Card for the past five years and have greatly benefitted with some significant financial savings. I also have the application downloaded to my PC (personal computer) and my Blackberry Passport, and each week load the new offers attracting redeemable points. When shopping, the app on my Passport is invaluable for letting me know the point values of what I am purchasing. Because of last year’s accumulated points, I was able host a Christmas dinner for ten that included turkey and prime rib and all the trimmings, and not pay a cent for the meal.

I recall how excited I was a few years ago when President’s Choice introduced this Blackberry compatible app because Blackberry’s OS 10 (QNX-powered operating system) is a non-android and non-iOS (Apple) operating system. These more popular OS’s dwarf Blackberry’s OS in terms of apps. So, for President Choice to create their app to be used both on Blackberry as well as other smartphone OS’s, this was way too cool for me.  For me, it seemed to legitimize Blackberry’s presence in the mobile world.

Then I received the email above from President’s Choice (PC Plus) announcing that my Blackberry, the only smart phone made by a Canadian Company, will no longer have the PC Plus app supported by this Canadian owned grocery empire. In my eyes, my Canadian smartphone suddenly went from being a first class phone to a second class phone because of their decision.

I understand that Blackberry has seen a steep decline by Canadian users. Back in 2009 it had an almost 2/3rds share of the Canadian smartphone market at 61%, but has fallen in recent years to about 15%. Blackberry has undergone major restructuring and has gambled with new products like the Passport and the brand new PRIV, just now being rolled out. The PRIV, by the way, operates on the Android OS which will mean my PC plus card will work! I just have to bide my time until my contract is up and I can venture forth into the brand new Blackberry world of Android with a new PRIV!

I chatted by telephone with Catherine Thomas, Director of External Communications with Loblaws Limited in the GTA, about my concerns.  She indicated to me that the decision to no longer support the current Blackberry OS was not taken lightly, but was based on two factors: first, it was a question of numbers – only two per cent of the mobile app users were Blackberry users. Secondly, since the Blackberry app introduction in May 2013, a number of app upgrades and improvements have been made, but not nearly as many as Loblaws would like in order to make the app a more robust and a ‘wow-factor’ experience for the consumer. Thomas claims that compared to other OS’s, the current Blackberry OS is slow and harder to work with.

OK, I understand from a corporate point of view why Loblaws et al decided to eliminate Blackberry’s OS. But, when one Canadian company cannot support another Canadian Company like Blackberry – especially as they continue to fight to stay above water – perhaps it’s time for me to consider moving my 30 year allegiance to another Canadian grocery chain.

Cup of Joe

Facebook – Saving “Face” on Windsor City Council

Facebook. Love it or hate, it’s as much part of our world-wide social fabric today as the telephone has been for much of the 20th century and into 21st.

Canadians are among some of the most active users of this social medium in the world. Toward the end of 2014 Facebook Canada reported that 14 million Canadians log in at least once every day from their home or work PC, and 15 million log in at least once a month from a tablet or mobile device.

I am unashamedly a Facebook user on more than just a daily basis. It is my primary vehicle for communicating with friends and acquaintances those aspects of my life that I hold important. Humour is a big part of my life because I believe in its medicinal and healing powers, especially in a world so entrenched in terror, tragedy and uncertainty about our future.

I try to do my part to fight against the negativism of our world by sharing some original and ‘discovered’ jokes on Facebook each day.  If I go a day or two without posting something humorous, a few of my friends begin scanning the obituaries in search of my name. Beyond humour and jokes, I use Facebook to share what I deem to be relevant news stories and current events, especially as they affect us in Windsor-Essex.

But most importantly, I use Facebook to share positive and heart warming stories of our human condition – especially pictures and antics of my incredibly adorable greyhound, Victoria.

The former Windsor City Council that served from 2010 to 2014 was somewhat Facebook -shy.

As the TVCogeco municipal reporter covering this body since 2003, I have had many occasions to reach out to our elected officials, but few of them were accessible via Facebook.  By my count, Mayor Eddie Francis, Councillors Fulvio Valentinis, Ron Jones and Jo-Anne Gignac did not have personal Facebook accounts.

It appears that Hillary Payne created one in the fall of 2014 to use in his re-election campaign, and Percy Hatfield did not have a personal account, although a ‘Page” was created for him when he ran for his current provincial seat.

The councillors who did have a personal Facebook account were Bill Marra, Ed Sleiman, Drew Dilkens, Alan Halberstadt and Al Maghnieh (and Irek Kusmierczyk when he replaced Percy Hatfield in year four of their mandate). These latter councillors were certainly not shy in their use of Facebook in communicating with their constituents.

This was especially evident during the Al Maghnieh matter in 2011 and 2012 concerning his misuse of the library board corporate credit cards for personal expenses. Plenty of postings, positive and negative, were exchanged by some of these councillors on this issue, as well as on a number of other headline capturing issues.

By contrast, our current Windsor City Council body is much more “Facebook” friendly than their predecessors, and very robust in their use of it. Leading by example is Mayor Drew Dilkens who frequently makes use of this medium to reach out to Windsor residents on matters of municipal importance.

All the councillors, with the exception of Jo-Anne Gignac, have personal Facebook accounts and use it to varying degrees in communicating with their constituents. Newcomers Rino Bortolin, Chris Holt, Paul Borrelli (and Kusmierczyk) – and veteran councillor, Marra – appear to be making the greatest use of Facebook posts.

In the past year there have been many important issues discussed by councillors on Facebook: the hiring of an independent Auditor General, the proposed Mega Hospital – location and funding, Windsor Essex Economic Development Commission, the 2016 Budget, the creation of  a municipal Sports Czar position, revisiting ‘fake ice’ at Charles Clarke Square – just to name a few.  In addition, councillors have taken to “Facebook” to reach out to their constituents for opinions and input on ward-specific issues. Closures of pools, libraries and community centres come to mind.

Ward 3 Councilor Bortolin, one of the councilors making frequent use of Facebook, responded to my request (via Facebook  message) to express his views on why he uses Facebook and its effectiveness: “As a councilor, I look for as much input and transparency as possible. Continuous contact with the electorate is a great tool in gauging public support or opposition on issues. Facebook has allowed me to access the opinions of residents immediately and directly.

Above all it allows the residents to have clear and consistent access to their representative. I have found, more than anything else, residents want to be heard and listened to.

Using social media like Facebook allows me to listen and respond quickly to issues as they happen. By creating a continuous dialogue on my social media platforms I hope to foster a sense of trust and openness that is tough to manage without that access. People who interact with me on “Facebook”  are getting an unfiltered real perspective on my views and positions. More than ever before we can get a real idea of who our representatives really are.”

Canadian philosopher of communication theory, Marshall McLuhan’s famous saying, “the medium is the message,” holds true for Facebook and other social media.

But Facebook and other social media allows the medium to go even further than just imparting ‘content’ or knowledge that can be gleaned from multiple media sources.  It allows for, and encourages, viewer reaction and, more importantly, viewer interaction with others. And it is in this free exchange of ideas and opinions among Windsor-Essex residents that our current city councillor’s use of Facebook is spot on.

In their use of Facebook , the councillors and mayor save ‘face’ through responsible and consultative governance.