By Paul Chislett:
The term middle class is in the news a lot these days, usually cast as that downtrodden lot getting hard done by in the economic downturn. But the middle class is not a homogenous group; rather, it is a complex creation of industrial capitalism and some in it are better off financially than others. Blue collar and white collar are a terms going back decades to describe waged workers vs. salaried. Lately, I found it handy to use managerial or professional class to differentiate doctors, teachers, editor and publishers, lawyers, and the like who often gravitate to positions of economic and political power. However, the layers must be further pulled back to expose those at higher executive and CEO level ranks. I think you can see what I am getting at. The further we go we’ll find ourselves in the rarefied atmosphere of global elites like Bill Gates, leaders of nations, IMF types, and so on. The air is thin here so let’s just dive back closer to where we can pick up the odor of the chlorine in the pools at Water World and Adie Knox in Windsor.
Last evening at city council, itself the privileged domain of the managerial class, the good people of places like South Windsor and Forest Glade saw their dreams come true for a competitive style aquatic centre to be built in the area behind the Art Gallery of Windsor. Sure, it will have other pool features, but much of the discussion last night centered on the needs of local competitive swimmers. Council basically voted on a multi-million dollar power point presentation of pretty pools in a dizzying visual tour of various European cities with aquatic centres. It was baffling because no one knows what the Windsor proposal will look like, and the implication sat as heavy as a wet hound dog that it would look like Dublin; no, Eindhoven; no, Minsk!
The Windsor aquatic centre was the subject of a business plan with various options on how to proceed. The stumbling block was operating expenses for the new facility. Since council has pledged no hike in taxes, it was keen to accept recommendations from city staff (more managerial elites) to close Water World pool, close College Ave. Community Centre, and close the main branch of the library and move it into the new proposed facility. In the motion voted on, the Adie Knox pool was included for closure. Since the library board is independent of city council (even though Ward 10 councillor Al Maghnieh is the chair of the library board) it will deliberate that proposal on its own.
On April 6th council directed city staff to conduct public consultations in affected areas. It did not take long for residents to see that council seemed to have made up its mind already, as the questions residents were supposed to consider all led to the acceptance of the closure of the facilities. Councillor Halberstadt, the only councillor to vote against the plan to take from some so others can have what they want for virtually free, remarked last night about what point was there of having consultations since the residents said clearly not to close their pools and community centre. Council neither cared nor listened. Mayor Francis and council seem desperate to do something with the vacant land known as the Western Super Anchor, bordered by Pitt St. West, Bruce Ave., Church St., and the south side of Chatham St. West. From arenas to canals and now to an aquatic facility, ideas have come and gone. But this one stuck. Why? Who stands to benefit the most? Windsorites are familiar with stories of a London based developer who owns land, a hotel, and car park in the area near the proposed aquatic centre. Might he be influencing the rush to build something?
Opposition to the plan relying on the theft of assets to pay for an aquatic centre which no one has an exact idea of the cost of gained some media traction. In a CBC interview the mayor rebutted critics that the College Ave centre actually does have a future other than closure, since the city was in talks with the Windsor Essex Community Health Centre (WECHC) to take over the space. I should quickly note here, that the WECHC is a provincially funded non-profit entity charged with delivering health care services. The city is attempting to off load its responsibility for city programs, and as questionable as this is, it is by no means a certain deal. WECHC CEO Lynda Monik may be getting caught in the middle of an ugly fight over program delivery in the Sandwich area. Also what must be mentioned is the sheer dereliction of duty displayed by Ron Jones in his refusal to fight for his ward. He was first in line to call for people to do what is best for all of Windsor. His shameful roll over was a capitulation to power and had nothing to do with the best interests of Windsor citizens.
The mayor also claimed misinformation was being spread by critics that the Water World building would be closed. This appeared to be an attempt to show opponents as know-nothings when in fact it was well understood that the pool only was being slated for closure. Where the mayor obfuscates, however, is that it is not clear at all what will replace the pool at Water World other than cement. Ideas floated range from office space to community space for “social enterprise” ie: job skills training already provided by the YMCA and other nearby agencies. The claim is that since the Glengarry community, where Water World is located, is heavily populated by newcomers to Canada the pool is not required, but other programs are. However, council admitted they had no statistics on this. No one knows what the community wants because the city simply barged and said in so many words, ‘hey, we’re taking the pool out and what would you like to replace it with’. Any reasonable person faced with this would say the same as the residents did in the consultation meetings: we don’t want to lose anything. Like the rest of this whole plan, council is relying on assumptions because the facts simply get in the way of what they want to do: develop the Western Super Anchor Lands at all costs.
Council used the suburban middle class, primarily the small population whose children are in competitive swimming, as the weight behind their wrecking ball. It’s clear that city council planned from the beginning to co-opt one group of middle class citizens to go along with a long promised aquatic centre, planned how to bully vulnerable residents into first giving up their necessary neighbourhood assets, then just took them regardless of valid arguments to the contrary, and then planned a public relations campaign on the run (from vocal opponents) to paper over the theft by claiming this whole endeavour was in the best interests of all Windsorites.
What is happening in Windsor? Is the railroading of vulnerable populations evidence of a class war? That seems rather evident. Do we need to have a discussion in this city about the difference between working class and middle class? You bet we do. Do we need to discuss the realities of global capitalism and how this fits in with how the city is being run? Right again! Are we in the throes of debating who really owns this city? Absolutely. Battles between neighbourhoods and a council hooked on big ticket developments they argue are needed to increase the tax base, do not bode well for this city. Opponents to this aquatic centre plan argued from the perspective that it is neighbourhoods that are the key to a successful city. Council argued that to think that way means we are only thinking of ourselves rather than what is best for all of Windsor. However, if there are any special interests in this fiasco it is the small competitive swimming population that just wants a 50 metre pool no matter what, and a developer who wants his investments to pay off. The rest of us can politely watch from the sidelines. Neighbourhood organizing to counter the heavy handed methods of council will have to occur – and soon. Windsor, can we talk???