Report: Workers’ Round Table in Windsor Discusses How Decisions Are Taken and by Whom —

On May 27, a Workers’ Round Table was hosted by the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation District 9 and the Greater Essex Elementary Teachers’ Federation. Something that came up repeatedly was how decisions are taken by bodies that are not representative of those directly affected by the decisions.

Local historian and activist Terrence Kennedy spoke of the fight of people living in Sandwich Town, west of the Ambassador Bridge in Windsor’s west end, against the schemes of the provincial and federal governments and the U.S. owner of the bridge to build a second span alongside the existing one in the heart of their community.

Around 17,000 people live in what is called Sandwich Town, a historical settlement going back to the period before Europeans arrived in North America. Residents say locating a second bridge in their neighbourhood will cut the west end of Windsor off from the rest of the city even more than it already is.

The Ambassador Bridge carries approximately 25 per cent of all trade between the U.S. and Canada. Because of air pollution in part due to the heavy truck and vehicle traffic crossing the bridge every day, Sandwich Town has some of the highest rates of certain cancers as well as heart and lung disease in the country.

Another problem relates to funds from the government and the Canadian Transit Company that are supposed to be allocated to benefit the community as a trade-off for having a second bridge built there. The money goes through different boards and bodies with residents not getting to see where it is really going.

Jessica Fault spoke about how residents of Bloomfield Road in Sandwich Town established the Bloomfield Freedom Project to make their voice heard. They have started a petition to demand that the City of Windsor demolish derelict and abandoned homes that the Canadian Transit Company owns and has let rot in its efforts to buy up land in the west end to build the second bridge. “We have grass up to our waists, snakes and an infestation of rats,” she said, adding that the boarded-up houses are unsafe and places where sexual assaults can take place. Fault said residents do not feel represented and are therefore taking their own initiative to solve this problem since they are the ones directly affected.

Other participants explained how the “community benefits” bodies put in place to oversee funds that are supposed to assist those dealing with infrastructure projects disrupting their neighbourhoods are not permitted to represent the needs of the community. Instead, members of such bodies have to sign confidentiality agreements and cannot speak about how decisions are taken and why.

Round table participant Doug Charles provided an update on the project to close two local hospitals in favour of building a new “mega-hospital” on the outskirts of Windsor. In his view there are private interests behind most of these projects, such as the new bridge and new hospital, that stand to benefit from them. He explained that the criteria used by those who decided where to build the new hospital all come from the public-private partnership model, claiming that in this way it can be built quickly and without any problems. None of the criteria have to do with health care itself, but mainly construction, he said.

Vigorous discussion followed on the meaning of the term “efficiency” used to present amalgamation and privatization as a solution to make services supposedly cheaper and better. Examples in the fields of education and health care with mega-schools, mega-hospitals and the elimination of local decision-making bodies confirmed that services end up being neither cheaper nor better.

A high school teacher used the example of getting funds to take students on a field trip as a real inefficiency that has been created. He said teachers can no longer access school funds for this purpose but must apply for a grant for what is called “experiential learning,” with just the time to apply for it a huge waste. Another teacher pointed out how “experiential learning” was brought in to open up the granting of high school credits and delivery of certain aspects of education to private business interests in the name of it being “hands on.” “When it comes to efficiency, if those who do the work, such as teachers or nurses were in charge, they would be able to sort out the problems that they see,” one participant said.

During the three-hour meeting many other concerns were raised and updates received. Participants could see that it is important to carry on informing one another and taking steps to work together. They agreed to 1) do whatever they can to support the Bloomfield Freedom Project petition to bring to light the conditions of the residents of Sandwich Town (for a copy of the petition, click here); 2) to meet again on Sunday, June 24 from 1-4 pm to assess the results of the provincial election and continue discussion on how to ensure the voice of the working people is heard at all levels of decision-making.