Henderson: Trump casts a shadow over Windsor’s good times

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, sideswiped 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.

g_henderson61@yahoo.ca

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