Leamington mayor reflects on challenges of 2020, COVID-19 crisis on farms

COVID-19 outbreaks within the migrant farm worker population were Hilda MacDonald's biggest burden as mayor, she said.

Outbreaks within agriculture sector were biggest hurdle for mayor

Hilda MacDonald, the mayor of Leamington, spoke of the challenges 2020 brought in a year-end interview. (CBC)

One thing that governments have taken away from an unprecedented year in 2020 is the ability to pivot and adapt, says Leamington Mayor Hilda MacDonald.

"I think we're getting better at that," she said. "And that might bode well for the future."

After all, before the COVID-19 pandemic hit and sparked a crisis within Leamington's vulnerable migrant farm worker population, MacDonald thought her goal for 2020 would be to focus on a sewer line project.

But now, the beginning of that year feels like so long ago, she said.

Leamington Mayor Hilda MacDonald speaks to CBC's Chris Ensing in an interview recorded earlier this month. (CBC)

MacDonald shared her reflections on the challenges of 2020 in an interview with CBC Windsor host Chris Ensing last month.

The first-term mayor said the year brought a lot of "learning and growing" for her as a leader, along with difficult choices.

The COVID-19 outbreaks within the migrant farm worker population were the biggest burden, MacDonald said.

The crisis saw the treatment and rights of temporary foreign workers thrust into the national spotlight. Assistance was brought in from other levels of government and the Red Cross, and on-site testing was introduced at farms. 

At one point, nearly 200 workers from a greenhouse in Leamington tested positive for the virus in a single weekend. 

Two workers in Windsor-Essex, Bonifacio Eugenio-Romero and Rogelio Muñoz Santos, died after being diagnosed with COVID-19, something MacDonald said was "heart wrenching" to see.

MacDonald has earned praise for her handling of the crisis.

This fall, MacDonald received an award from the Mexican Consulate in Leamington for her support of workers from Mexico.

"I'm truly humbled by it," she said.

Businesses feel effects of pandemic

MacDonald also spoke of the hardships Leamington's small business community faced in making ends meet in 2020 due to pandemic restrictions.

With more people still getting sick from the virus, there's no easy solutions, she said. 

"We have to weigh things out and find the best way that we can that is as close to fair and equitable as you can," she said.

"And yet, there doesn't seem to be that sweet spot in this case."