Canada

Jarvis: It’s good when cabinet ministers come to Windsor, it’s better when they take action

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Full marks for moxie for federal Transport Minister Omar Alghabra.

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He stepped into the storm when he came to Windsor on Wednesday.

But what did he actually do?

Not much.

Windsor had just been omitted from the list of eight more airports permitted to resume accepting international flights. Hamilton, Waterloo, Regina, Saskatoon, Kelowna, Abbotsford, Victoria and St. John’s can all accept international flights again starting Nov. 30.

But not Windsor.

Only 10 airports, most in bigger cities like Toronto, Vancouver and Ottawa, are currently able to accept international flights because of the pandemic.

So all of southwestern Ontario remains grounded.

Can we fly somewhere warm this winter, since the government has lifted travel advisories in many destinations? Not unless Windsor is added to that list.

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Will international airlines that flew out of Windsor move to other airports that are open? That’s a big concern.

What will happen to attempts to attract other international carriers? That’s another big concern.

Meanwhile, the airport, which used to pay a $1-million annual dividend to the city, has lost $3.5 million this year.

“This is a serious issue that cannot be put off any longer,” Mayor Drew Dilkens told the Windsor Star’s Brian Cross on Tuesday.

Alghabra said Wednesday he understands why Windsor wants to resume international flights. But the government must be “prudent” because of the pandemic, he said. It needs to monitor the impact of opening more of the country to international travel.

That’s understandable.

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But Alghabra knows well how important Windsor’s airport is to this city. He heard plenty when Windsor fought, successfully, to keep its air traffic control tower this year. He heard about the 300 per cent increase in passengers during the decade before the pandemic, the record 383,000 passengers in 2019, the remarkable turnaround from losing $60,000 a month to paying a $1-million annual dividend.

So it’s fair to ask, why is Windsor, as opposed to Hamilton or Waterloo, being omitted from the list? And what are the criteria for resuming the flights?

Maybe Windsor isn’t on the list because the United States, which has a higher COVID-19 infection rate and lower vaccination rate, is opening its land border to non-essential travel from Canada on Monday, and the government wants to monitor the impact of that.

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But only people with money to pay for fast test results or time to wait for cheaper tests that take longer can afford the molecular COVID-19 test required to return to Canada.

Which is another issue that has caused a furor here and that Alghabra failed to adequately address. Especially the inane provision that Canadians travelling to the U.S. for less than 72 hours can take the test here, before they even leave, which obviously does absolutely nothing to prevent bringing the virus into this country.

The government “will constantly assess and re-evaluate what measures can we adjust,” Alghabra said Wednesday.

“But for now it is an integral part of our approach,” he said of the test requirement.

So case closed.

Except on Friday, Canada’s chief medical officer, Dr. Theresa Tam said, “I do think that all this needs to be re-examined.”

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Finally, Alghabra walked through the Ojibway Prairie Complex with Mayor Drew Dilkens. The mayor stressed the importance of including Ojibway Shores, the last natural shoreline on the Canadian side of the Detroit River, in the proposed new Ojibway National Urban Park. And he urged the government to secure the land, federal land owned by the Windsor Port Authority, instead of leaving the city to continue trying to negotiate for it and having to ante up money for it.

“I would love to see this finalized and finally designate the park into a national urban park,” Alghabra said, as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, at the United Nations climate change conference, was pledging to end deforestation by 2030.

It was as if this is out of Alghabra’s hands, just like saving the air traffic control tower was out of his hands — until there was enough pressure.

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The thing is, Alghabra can save Ojibway Shores. He’s the minister responsible for port authorities. He announced the  appointments to the Windsor Port Authority’s board of directors this year.

This issue isn’t new to Alghabra, either. He was asked about it when he was here in July.

“Today is to say there is going to be a national urban park here,” former International Development Minister Karina Gould declared when she came to Windsor in August to announce that the government and city had signed an agreement to collaborate on the park.

But the fate of Ojibway Shores remains unresolved, as Dilkens wrote to the new environment minister, former Greenpeace activist Steven Guilbeault, on Monday.

“The federal government has the power to resolve this issue quickly and with purpose through the administrative transfer of the Ojibway Shores property from the Windsor Port Authority to Parks Canada,” Dilkens wrote.

So it’s not enough for Alghabra to say he’d “love to see this,” as if he’s merely a spectator.

It’s always good when cabinet ministers visit Windsor and meet with local leaders, as Alghabra did Wednesday. But it’s better when they take action.

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