Ontario Premier Doug Ford met with local mayors Thursday to discuss the region's economic recovery from COVID-19 during his visit to Windsor-Essex County.
This is Ford's second visit to the region during the pandemic, after visiting in mid-July to get a haircut.
Ford said he wouldn't cut his hair until all of the province entered Stage 2 of reopening. Kingsville and Leamington in Essex County were last to make the transition on July 7. Windsor-Essex was also the last region in the province to enter Stage 3.
The premier spoke with the region's municipal leaders.
Kingsville Mayor Nelson Santos told CBC News that three key issues were discussed with Ford: the new mega-hospital, high water levels and the expansion of highway 3.
"I think it went really well, it's kind of a rare moment for our region to have all our mayors...in attendance, all sitting around the room to talk about some of our key concerns and priorities," Santos said.
Ford along with Kinga Surma, the the associate Minister of Transportation, and the Minister of Labour, Training and Skills Development Monte McNaughton, also announced $30 million in funding through the Connecting Links program to build, repair or replace local roads and bridges in the province.
The City of Windsor has used grants from the Connecting Links program in the past to perform work on Huron Church Road.
With the new funding, a city spokesperson told CBC via email that Windsor will apply to the program so that the next phase of the Huron Church project can be completed.
Before the announcement, Ford said he was "thrilled" to be in Windsor-Essex.
"I wanted to come down here and thank people personally because as of yesterday...Windsor-Essex joined the rest of Ontario in Stage 3, the great restaurants, the bars, the movie theatres here are opening back up, it's great news," he said.
The premier also toured the Ford Motor Company's Essex Engine Plant, which dedicated part of its facility to producing plastic face shields to protect frontline workers at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
That visit comes as Unifor — the union representing thousands of autoworkers in Canada — enters negotiations with Detroit's Big Three auto manufacturers. During Ford's last visit, Unifor Local 444 president Dave Cassidy said he was "disappointed" the premier did not make a point to visit FCA Canada's Windsor Assembly Plant after the factory had just lost its third shift, and 1500 jobs.
Following the engine plant tour, Ford visited St. Charbel Antonin Maronite Catholic Church to meet with the Lebanese community and the Consul General in support of the Beirut tragedy.
The premier's day will end with a visit to the Chatham Children's Treatment Centre to meet with frontline staff.
Ontario Liberals pushing for delayed school start
Ontario Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca also stopped by Windsor-Essex Thursday, holding a round-table discussion about back-to-school plans.
On Monday, Del Duca wrote to Ford calling for a delay to the start of the school year, among other recommendations. According to him, since the announcement of the back-to-school plan, tens of thousands of parents and grandparents have taken to social media and signed petitions confirming their considerable concern with the province's approach.
"If the government had started this work back in March, they would've had six months to get this right," he told CBC News in Windsor on Thursday.
Educators, officials and parents who spoke with Del Duca in Windsor expressed their concerns as well.
"I'm not really sure we're ready to put 30,000 plus students back in school at once," said Erin Roy, president of District 9 of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation.
Mario Spagnuolo with the Greater Essex Teachers' Federation of Ontario said with his child's 10th birthday fast approaching, he wouldn't invite 30 kids to his house for a party to celebrate.
"But that's what Doug Ford and Stephen Lecce are saying is acceptable come September 8th," he said.
In his letter to Ford, Del Duca recommended the following steps:
- Convene an Education Command Table, which should include representatives from the medical community, the education system (school boards, teachers' federations, education worker unions, parent associations and even student trustees must all be represented), as well as each opposition party.
- Direct the Ministry of Finance and the Treasury Board Secretariat to dedicate the funding that's needed to cap class sizes at a maximum of 15 students.
- If necessary, after consultation with the Education Command Table, "consider a short delay to the start of the school year to ensure that we get it right."
NDP MPPs from Windsor and Essex issued a joint statement Thursday, calling for the Ford government to ensure smaller and "safer" classes.
"For many parents, taking months more off work to stay home with the kids is simply not an option," said Lisa Gretzky, MPP for Windsor West, in the statement. "But putting children into a crowded classroom is terrifying. Our classrooms were bursting at the seams before the pandemic, and putting them right back into those crowded rooms is not the safest we can make them."
According to his itinerary, Del Duca will also be holding discussions with the Windsor Chamber of Commerce and other municipal leaders in the region.