Windsor Votes: The Citizen's Agenda: Tom Porter
Tom Porter is a lawyer and former Windsor City Councillor.
What are the biggest issues municipal candidates need to address to move our city in the right direction?
The unemployment rate is probably one of the most significant issues in Windsor. We need to find ways to employ more people and to make sure younger people feel they have job opportunities so they're not exiting the community.
Over and above that, the idea of job creation and diversifying the economy so that we can bring in new employment, probably to some degree different from past employment. When you look at the automotive [industry] for example, it's changed so dramatically and we have so many empty factories and plants now that used to be automotive related. Ways need to be found to fill those plants again with some form of employment and some form of economic growth.
What ideas do you have about how to address these issues?
One of the things that doesn't assist growth in the community would be the level of taxation. Looking at it from my perspective as a Windsor lawyer but also owning a health facility - Windsor Squash and Fitness Club and a medical centre - I can tell you the property tax load in the city of Windsor is very, very high. And the way it's set up, especially with commercial taxation, there's no incentive for having people grow their businesses or add new square footage to their facilities, because it's a punishing property tax load when you do that. There are a lot of other communities in Ontario that have much lower tax rates for their commercial assessments in particular, and their industrial assessments. And that in turn assists with the growth, and attracting new business and keeping new business.
What do you think Windsor's strengths, weaknesses, and opportunities are? What threatens Windsor?
Strengths: I think our geographic location is probably one of our biggest strengths. We are the centre of North America. We have, I believe, the busiest border crossing in North America. It's really frustrated me that it's taken this long to get the city on board with the Province and the Federal government to try to get that third border crossing in the works because I think if that crossing were already started and were completed by now or at least under construction by now, it would have a huge positive impact on the community and on jobs. That's a good example of where city leadership can make a big difference. I think from an economic growth perspective it'll solidify our position as the centre of North America for transportation and trade.
Our weather is a great strength as far as the community too. There aren't many places in Canada where you have the moderate climate that we have and the nice long hot summers in particular. I like what's being done now by some of these groups that are supporting what they call the '100 Mile Peninsula' where they're trying to make people think about Windsor as a retirement community - Windsor and surroundings. So I think there's real opportunity there when you couple that with the low price of our housing right now. We could have retirees as a huge component of the community.
Weakensses: Your most substantial weakness for Windsor is we're seen by the outside world to some degree as automotive-related and people don't think about the University of Windsor. They don't think about St Clair College. They don't think about Hiram Walker - all of these other diversified industries. So I think diversification is something that we need to do. I think the lack of diversification, or at least the lack of perception of diversification is holding us back as a community.
The other issue that has to be addressed, it's like the elephant in the room in almost every conversation, is the idea of unions and organized labour. It think Windsor is perceived by some people - and I'm not saying it's a fair perception but I think it's out there - that you have very high labour costs and those costs in many other communities are not as substantial because of unorganized labour, for example. So I think that's something that's certainly seen as a weakness by some people to growth in the community. I'd like to think there are ways you can pay proper and fair wages to people and get proper and fair production and productivity as a result. It may involve more effective and efficient delivery of service. But what I'm getting at is - they're getting a good wage but they're also putting in a hundred percent to get good productivity for the employer.
Opportunities: The third border crossing is certainly I think the biggest opportunity right now. I think if Mr. Maroun twins his bridge, I think that's also a good thing. I think the city should be encouraging him to do precisely that. He's got aging infrastructure there.
What they're suggesting in terms of the Windsor Airport I think is also an opportunity to keep expanding on Airport operations and everything in and around that. Over and above that, I mean we've still got all of these surrounding communities which I think are a very important part of Windsor. And I think there's a lot of growth potential in those communities. I'm a big believer that what's good in the town of Leamington or what's good in the town of Essex, is also good for the city of Windsor. So I think the fact that we've got that ability to expand out into those areas, as a region, is also a very good thing.
Threats: One of the biggest threats we're faced with right now is the continuing pressure on the automotive industry so the more we are heavily involved in the automotive industry, I think the bigger the threat that is, if in fact, we get another crisis as we had a number of years ago in the industry. That's why I think we need to do more to keep diversifying our economy and adding other aspects to industry to buffer some of that.
Another big threat in a general sense is poor leadership or lack of leadership. Because quite honestly my own personal perspective on this third border crossing is it should have been completed years ago. If it had been complete - we could have accomplished the same kinds of safeguards for the community in terms of the tunneling and all those sorts of things - it would have buffered some of what we went through in this last economic crisis. To me that's an example of poor leadership because I think all parties should have come together - all levels of government - found ways to bridge whatever issues there were and to meet concerns that were out there and get the job done.
Economic diversification and bringing jobs to Windsor is something the residents and the candidates are all talking about. What role should council play in helping that happen?
Council can play a very important role. First of all, if you have a mayor and a city council who appear to be very interested in seeking out new businesses and actually put in place infrastructure that helps. For example, the services, basic things like your roads and sewers and the services available in the community. Over and above that keeping your tax rates down. And also with existing community partners - the mayor and city council should be putting their ears closer to the ground and meeting on a regular basis with the captains of industry, the people in the community who are in fact the nuts and bolts of the employers in the community.
Personally I think for example even when you look at institutions in the community like the University of Windsor - very big employer, St Clair College - very big employer - more can be done where city council really sets more of a leadership mode. They start it, through their example, and through getting involved with these other organizations, creating new programs. For example one of the more recent things which I thought was very commendable is St Clair College taking on more downtown space for various college functions. Those are the sorts of things I think where city council and the mayor can start working these sorts of partnerships to make things happen.
What will influence your voting decisions most in this election? What skills and abilities does the person have to have to get your vote?
In looking at the candidates running this time around, mayoral candidates and the councilor candidates I'm very interested to hear what their platforms are. Sometimes a new person brings an absolutely new and good idea to the table and presents new energy that the city needs. This is probably a good election for a newcomer to step into and try to get elected. Because the way it's working now with one councillor per ward probably allows for a better opportunity for a newcomer to knock off an incumbent. And it puts pressure on the incumbent councillor to tell what have they been doing these last however many years and why are we in the situation we're in.
You can only go so far with saying it's a global recession. People start asking more questions... well why are some communities hit harder than others? And Windsor seems to have been hit probably the hardest of any other Canadian community. People are going to be looking for solutions and new ideas.
Politicians are probably one of the few occupations where you don't need any credentials whatsoever, when you think about it. It seems bizarre. You would think that people that you would trust with such important decision making and a large amount of taxpayer dollars, there would be some qualifications.
But personally I'd be looking for someone, a candidate who as a proven track record of some kind, whether it's in their own business or their own profession, and I think a proven ability to run a business profitably and effectively is important. I think it is more than just putting your name out there and trying to get elected when you have no background at all in politics. I'd be looking personally to see people who've been involved in community organizations, whether they're even non-profit organizations or for-profit organizations, but those kinds of involvements.
I don't think it can be just like four more years of what we've had in the four last years. I really think imaginative thinking and something being done about lowering the property tax costs in particular and getting more diversification more industries in the community . All of those things are very very important issues. I'm listening.