"Perfect storm" for election loss (con't)
Lewenza said the perfect storm was his role as the chair of the Windsor Utilities Commission and the perceived man responsible for massive water rate and other utility increases.
Another factor was his identification as the strongest labour representative on council during a turbulent public sector strike.
And, finally, there was the “character assassination” he received from Windsor’s daily newspaper.
“It’s a pretty bad mix.”
Lewenza said there was “confusion” in the public mind that he was responsible for an Enwin electricity increase when he had nothing to do with that – as chair of the WUC he oversaw water rate increases.
But there was a massive 86 per cent water rate increase in 2007 to pay for upgraded infrastructure.
More recently city council and WUC agreed to five years of increases – three years at three per cent and the following two at four per cent.
Lewenza said he was depicted as advocating various hefty rate increases – 10 per cent to 30 percent - which was “not true.”
He said he didn’t advocate any increase “but people have to know the consequences of both – the 25% is too expensive and the 0 is obviously not an option.”
Lewenza also said some of his biggest critics, after meeting with him and looking at the realities of the city’s aged infrastructure, came to agree.
“These people ended up becoming my biggest supporters.”
But, he said, the newspaper never did a through story of reporting the consequences of not improving the city’s water lines.
The next major issue was the CUPE strike and, as a member of the Canadian Auto Workers and voice of labour, he was identified closely with the city’s public sector union in the bitter strike over the elimination of post-retirement benefits for new hires.
But Lewenza described himself as more as an honest broker than taking the side of CUPE.
In fact, he said, “the reality is probably no one fought with the CUPE leadership more than me” during a good portion of the strike.
“I told them don’t go on strike, don’t picket the WFCU (Centre),” he said. “I said you are guys are not in a position to make gains.
“I told them to do educational drops in mail boxes instead of picket lines. I talked them to about building a relationship with the community.”
He also said he got CUPE “to agree to a status quo collective agreement” that would neither have granted contract improvements nor resulted in takeaways.
But Lewenza insisted post-retirement benefits could have been kept at a cheaper overall cost than what the city settled on in a new contract.
“They would have seen that it would have been much cheaper.”
He advocated “pre-funding the benefit” at a cost of 50 cents per taxpayer.
“But understand this,” he added. “What we gave out at the end of the day was 6.7% plus a $2.8 million signing bonus. We give away three times more than what the post retirement benefits were ever worth.”
Lewenza added he has “proof” - even having an actuarial consultant do the numbers - that his proposal was cheaper.
“The City of Windsor council could have protected the interests of the taxpayer and CUPE members could have protected what they thought was their number one priority, at less pain for both.”
As for him being the most prominent face of the city’s trade union movement on council he said that was also distorted.
“Ninety-nine per cent of my work on council was focused on community, neighbourhood, city issues.”
Lewenza suggested he raised specific labour matters only “four or five” times.
One of them, he said, was criticism of the contract to a London construction company to build the new Huron Lodge when more local workers could have been hired if the contract had gone to a local contractor.
“Our local trades missed a contract by one third of one per cent.”
He said he was also able to leverage his labour role to ensure jobs at new auto parts plants remained in Windsor rather than go outside the community.
Four years ago “when we were in negotiations with Chryslers and Chryslers was moving to outsource some of those jobs I said to my dad (CAW president Ken Lewenza Sr.) put it in our collective agreement that those jobs have to remain in the city of Windsor” rather than go to county municipalities where tax rates were lower.
In sum, Lewenza said, he has nothing to apologize for; quite the contrary.
“I am so proud of my contribution on council. I have no regrets. I’m not second guessing. There’s nothing I could have done better. History will determine in the next few years that I was 100 per cent right on water. And anyone that follows the details knows that I’m right.”