A community divided: Windsor-Essex officials react to parts of the region reopening
WINDSOR, ONT. -- Officials have mixed feelings about the province’s announcement Wednesday permitting parts of Windsor-Essex to move into Stage 2 of reopening, while others are left behind.
The province will allow most of Windsor-Essex to move into Stage 2 which would see personal care services, shopping malls, restaurants and bars, among others open back up with health protocols in place. However, Leamington and Kingsville will be stuck in Stage 1, unable to join the rest of the county.
Leamington mayor Hilda MacDonald said she is upset at Premier Doug Ford. She said he did not return her calls nor did he give her the heads up.
“To say I am disappointed is an understatement,” she said in a statement. “However, as case counts continue to rise due to outbreaks among workplaces in the agri-food sector, I understand why the decision was made.”
Windsor-Essex was the only area in the province left in Stage 1 after Ford announced Monday the region could not advance. The area continues to see new cases of COVID-19 and outbreaks in the agri-farm sector.
MacDonald says she doesn’t know what to tell her community’s small business owners. She also wants some more financial help for her community.
“Immediate assistance is necessary before there is a crippling economic impact to our communities,” she said. “To the residents of Leamington and Kingsville, we are in this together. There is still much more work to do, and I want to assure you that we will not stop until our communities are both safe and thriving.”
The Leamington District Chamber of Commerce echoed that call asking all levels of government to “step up and step in” by working with regional stakeholders to come up with a reopening plan that suits the region.
Kingsville mayor Nelson Santos also issued a statement expressing his disappointment with the decision, calling the move to separate Leamington and Kingsville from the rest of the region "divisive and problematic."
He said the town is concerned about the long-term affect the continuation of Stage 1 will have on residents and small businesses, and he too called on financial relief to those businesses.
"I want to confirm that I have had the opportunity to speak to Premier Ford directly and clearly emphasized how large the stakes are here in our communities if we do not find immediate relief efforts," he said. "The Premier has expressed his deepest commitment to see us get through these difficult challenges and acknowledges progress is being made where it needs to be."
Windsor mayor Drew Dilkens said at a news conference Wednesday the move is a “tremendous step forward” for the city, but there is still more work to be done.
“Let me be clear, the news today, while welcome for so many in Windsor, comes with an important responsibility,” he said. “We need to follow the guidelines and recommendations of provincial and public health officials, and we also need to make sure as we move to Stage 2 we don’t increase the risk of community transmission.”
While Dilkens said he was appreciative of Ford’s decision as it helps people and businesses in the City of Windsor, he also noted this is a “regional challenge.”
“After the premier’s press conference this afternoon, I called Leamington mayor Hilda MacDonald to let her know that I will continue to fight hard to make sure that farmers get the attention that they need from senior orders of government,” he said.
As five of the seven municipalities are allowed to advance to the next stage of recovery, Essex County Warden and mayor of Tecumseh Gary McNamara said in a statement, “this news is both welcome and disappointing at the same time.”
“I share in the distress and frustration felt by the residents and struggling business owners in Kingsville and Leamington, but I also know this news is being welcomed in municipalities from Amherstburg to Lakeshore,” McNamara said. “There have already been layoffs and closures in Essex County and more were sure to follow if the Premier had not made the decision to at least open up part of our local economy.”
He too went on to urge the provincial and federal governments to step in for Leamington and Kingsville by providing relief to local businesses.
“They are hanging on right now but they can’t hang on much longer with the restrictions of Stage 1,” McNamara said.
He said the surge in COVID-19 cases among the agri-farm sector is happening for multiple reasons, and can only be solved by all levels of government working together with the farmers, workers and public health.
“Our farmers and workers have been labouring under extremely stressful conditions and I’m confident our multi-pronged and multi-government response will provide them now with the supports they need,” he said.
For the Windsor-Essex areas able to enter Stage 2, the reopening will take effect Thursday at 12:01 a.m.