Trump casts a shadow over Wind­sor’s gains

Some, in­clud­ing the mayor, see dark tar­iff times ahead

Windsor Star - - OPINION - GORD HEN­DER­SON g_hen­der­son61@ya­hoo.ca

With an econ­omy that’s been up and down more of­ten over the years than a toi­let seat at a prune-eat­ing con­test, Wind­sor has learned to fear even the good times be­cause it could mean all hell is about to break loose.

Maybe that’s why Mayor Drew Dilkens isn’t danc­ing a jig in the street even as he pre­sides over an econ­omy that’s on a roll like this city hasn’t ex­pe­ri­enced in decades. Wind­sor, by most mea­sures, is in a sweet spot with one of the low­est un­em­ploy­ment rates in the coun­try, re­duced wel­fare num­bers, a hot real es­tate mar­ket, lots of busi­ness in­vest­ments and ma­jor in­fra­struc­ture projects in the works. For a mayor in an elec­tion year, it’s a dream sce­nario — or would be if it weren’t for two seem­ingly in­nocu­ous words that have un­nerved a lot of Cana­di­ans re­cently: The Don­ald.

U.S. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s threat to im­pose a 25-per-cent tar­iff on im­ported ve­hi­cles has been la­belled “Car­maged­don” by ter­ri­fied busi­ness lead­ers who’ve warned it could bring the au­to­mo­tive in­dus­try screech­ing to a halt and put at risk On­tario’s eco­nomic sta­bil­ity.

The op­ti­mists have per­suaded them­selves that The Trump­ster, who can smell fear in a foe from a mile off, is just bluff­ing, reck­lessly shoot­ing his big mouth off to un­nerve ri­val ne­go­tia­tors and snag the NAFTA deal he prizes.

But Dilkens isn’t in that camp. As the mayor of a bor­der city that’s more de­pen­dent on the au­to­mo­tive sec­tor than any other com­mu­nity in Canada, he can’t af­ford to be­lieve the sun will al­ways shine and Trump will in­evitably see the light and rec­og­nize the im­mense dam­age such a tar­iff could in­flict on both sides of the bor­der. “This is the largest shadow loom­ing over us that we can­not con­trol. It’s deeply wor­ri­some given what it would mean to Wind­sor’s turn­around,” said Dilkens. “It’s a big cloud and it gives me cause for con­cern, that’s for sure.” He was a coun­cil­lor dur­ing the Great Re­ces­sion and acutely re­mem­bers the “next Flint” panic that gripped Wind­sor in 2009 when a broke and seem­ingly doomed Chrysler en­tered bank­ruptcy pro­tec­tion and it ap­peared Wind­sor was about to lose its big­gest em­ployer. This is se­ri­ous stuff. Al­fie Mor­gan, the Univer­sity of Wind­sor busi­ness pro­fes­sor emer­i­tus who last week in this space urged Canada to throw Mex­ico un­der the bus and cut its own trade pact with the U.S., fears that if Trump im­poses that pun­ish­ing tar­iff and wins a sec­ond term, com­pa­nies like Chrysler will have no choice but to move as­sem­bly op­er­a­tions to the U.S. And that, of course, is Trump’s endgame. Lit­tle won­der Dilkens, who tilts Con­ser­va­tive, rushed out to Wind­sor Air­port to but­ton­hole Lib­eral Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau, has been on the phone with For­eign Af­fairs Min­is­ter Chrys­tia Free­land and has mo­bi­lized the cau­cus of auto city may­ors to make their con­cerns known to the se­nior gov­ern­ments. One wor­ri­some fac­tor is that other Cana­dian cities aren’t nearly as in­vested in this as Wind­sor is. Take wealthy Oakville, for in­stance. The loss of its Ford as­sem­bly op­er­a­tions would cre­ate some pain and dis­rup­tion, but the city would shake it off and there would soon be bid­ding wars among high-end devel­op­ers for the Ford prop­er­ties.

No such luck here. That’s why Dilkens, among oth­ers, has stressed to Ot­tawa that the $2 bil­lion it set aside to help the steel and alu­minum sec­tors cope with Trump tar­iffs is sig­nif­i­cantly less than the as­sis­tance the au­to­mo­tive in­dus­try would need if tar­iffs are im­posed. What a cry­ing shame it would be to see Wind­sor, now bask­ing in the good times, side-swiped by the trade wars.

It is so re­ward­ing to see all the new in­vest­ments be­ing made down­town, nearly $60 mil­lion worth in an area many city res­i­dents had writ­ten off. It’s ex­cit­ing to see the own­ers of Devon­shire Mall pump­ing mil­lions into a stun­ningly at­trac­tive over­haul of a tired, dated prop­erty. That new food court? Wow. Wel­come to the 21st Cen­tury. It’s also hugely en­cour­ag­ing to think of the bil­lions that will be spent here build­ing two mas­sive bridges and a mega-hospi­tal. Those are our eco­nomic back­stops. This is Wind­sor’s time. Pray that The Don­ald doesn’t pee on our much de­served and long over­due pa­rade.

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