Photo: Matt Marchand kicking off his campaign on June 19, 2018.
Tall Order For Marchand To End 15 Year Dynasty
As I listened and read carefully the words of Matt Marchand as he announced his candidacy for the office of the Mayor of Windsor on the morning of June 19, I was struck by the darts he directed at incumbent Drew Dilkens without mentioning his name.
He talked about fresh ideas, new energy, new approaches, transparency and accountability: “We need a Mayor who listens to and respects everyone . . . community participation needs to be restored. Our next Mayor needs to be a Mayor for everyone.”
Dilkens, at this writing (July 4), had not entered the race for the October 22 election, but everybody assumes he will. Given Marchand’s choice of words, a thought popped into my head about the need for renewal, and a parallel with the recent provincial election where the Liberals were kicked to the curb after 15 years in power.
The Ontario electorate decided resoundingly that the Liberals had been in power long enough, breeding out-of-touch arrogance and fatigue that spilled into scandals, cover-ups and runaway, highly politicized spending. The comparison in Windsor’s municipal election would be to the Eddie Francis-Dilkens Regime, which has also droned on for 15 years with many of the same trademark tendencies.
Francis, known for a “take no prisoners” approach, ruled for 11 years before he passed the torch to his right-hand man. Dilkens climbed aboard and won the chair handily in 2014 while John Millson and Larry Horwitz spilt the rival vote.
Dilkens has exhibited similar autocratic traits while presiding over a divided Council, leading to repetitive 6-4 votes in favour of his own pet projects. Dilkens has exhibited similar autocratic traits while presiding over a divided Council, leading to repetitive 6-4 votes in favour of his own pet projects and perceived favouritism in granting the wish lists of selected wards. The glitz projects are plucked from an annual multi-million dollar enhanced capital budget, which is a euphemism for slush fund.
This election year the fund grew to $22.8 million, from $10 million, by ignoring good risk management principles and assigning “pull ahead” spending over six years through 2023. By doing this to pay for such frivolities as a $750,000 refurbishment of an ancient streetcar and a $400,000 Christmas tree, Dilkens is blithely assuming he will be the Mayor for the next four-year term, ending in 2022, and even extending into the next term starting in 2023.
By 2022, however, there is speculation the finely tuned succession plan of the Francis dynasty would be for Dilkens to step aside and bequeath the throne to Eddie’s brother, Councillor Fred Francis.
At this juncture, the only thumb in the Dilkens-Francis dike is Marchand, who is being cast already as the prohibitive underdog. One reason is his lack of name recognition despite spending six years as the high profile President/CEO of the Windsor-Essex Regional Chamber of Commerce, before resigning July 3.
He is already facing media heat for delivering a sparse platform at his campaign kick-off, and front-page drama about his rebuked request for a leave of absence from the Chamber.
As someone who detests routes and coronations in any political contest, I fervently hope that Marchand gets his act together and gives Dilkens a run for his money.
The challenger has a good pedigree. No doubt he’s bright, getting his graduate degree at the London School of Economics in 1991. He subsequently served as a policy wonk for Windsor Mayor Mike Hurst for 12 years.
After that he joined Hurst as an employee with Borealis, the commercial wing of the OMERS pension plan, which partnered with CP Rail in a bid to raise $400 million to build an enlarged rail tunnel under the Detroit River to accommodate double-decker trains.
Francis, a Hurst antagonist, balked at all attempts to get the city to support the project and it died in 2012, after which Marchand was hired to lead the Chamber. One of his first endeavours was to produce a study that concluded the city business taxes were unsustainable. Francis called Marchand on the carpet, and the study faded into oblivion.
During the rest of his tenure, Marchand worked collaboratively with labour on a number of strategies, government lobby campaigns and forums, culminating in the appearance of Unifor kingpin Dino Chiodo offering support at the kick-off.
Dilkens is generally abhorred by labour, as was Francis. Both of them contracted out city work, notably garbage collection. The latest episode was Council’s in camera reversal, whipped by Dilkens, to reverse a decision NOT to contract out janitorial work.The incumbent has shown a penchant for ramming things through behind closed doors and doubling down on dissenters. Witness the stupid integrity commissioner power play to force Councillor Rino Bortolin to apologize multiple times for one indiscrete comment.
Ironically, word on the street is the Chamber’s core executive group was not happy with Marchand cozying up to labour, and specifically his initial soft peddling on the province’s move to increase minimum wage.
Expect the right wing of the city’s mainstream media to discredit Marchand for his choice of collaborators. Unfairly painting previous mayoral opponents, Millson and Rick Limoges, as labour lackeys worked well for the Francis juggernaut.
The city needs Marchand to rise above that. He should not be afraid to change his message of June 19 that his candidacy is not about anyone in particular. Stop with the deferential stuff and start poking the Dilkens bear.
Eliminating the enhanced capital budget practice would be a good tipping point when Marchand lays out his platform over the next three months.
Although sparse with details, Marchand has pinpointed Windsor’s crumbing roads and sewers as his priorities. That resonates with citizens who see Windsor as “Pothole City.” He could ask Dilkens why Windsor has four of the worst roads in Southwestern Ontario, according to a national survey.
Marchand could also highlight the baffling decision to sell the central library to the Downtown Mission and to spend $1.3 million on a temporary library within the new City Hall before building a permanent one.
He could ask what the latest deficits are at the downtown and east end aquatics centres, and how many jobs the tax-funded businesses on Windsor’s airport lands have NOT created. There’s the $120,000 donation to a pro golf tournament, the $50,000 a year to the “Detroit Grand Prix” . . . and the list goes on.
Get busy Matt!
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The opinions expressed by Alan Halberstadt are not necessarily those of Biz X magazine or its advertisers.