Feb. 7, 2023
Reflecting on the 2022 Windsor Election with the status quo mayoral challenger
It’s been just over three months since the 2022 Windsor election. Former ward four councillor Chris Holt put his hat forward for the mayor’s office and placed second to Mayor Drew Dilkens.
While Holt took 38.7% and Dilkens 52.51%, only 6,841 votes separated the two candidates.
“It’s true. I failed. I did not succeed. Therefore, I lost,” said Holt to me, enjoying pints at Chapter Two Brewing Company where he now works weekly, in addition to his job as an automotive worker at Ford, and while he enjoys his time at the brewery, he doesn’t want people to forget what he achieved on city council and in politics.
“I was also a councillor for eight years, so that’s the thing I’d want people to remember,” he said.
And people do remember. At the brewery, customers mill in and out throughout the roughly hour that we spend with his wife Nancy, playing Crokinole and discussing the past election, his time on city council, and what comes next for him. The choruses of “Hey Chris,” echo throughout the room as patrons walk over to say hello as they enter or exit the brewery.
JON LIEDTKE: That election result was a real gut punch. How do you feel now that it’s behind you?
CHRIS HOLT: We’re sitting in my brewery, playing my favorite game, surrounded by my favourite people. I feel pretty darn good. I get to do what I want to do. I’m having a lot of fun.
LIEDTKE: What’s new with you these days? How are you spending your time?
HOLT: I’ve been focusing on…my life. I get to see my lovely wife…hang out with friends in a meaningful way…instead of always having an agenda [and] lobbying…to achieve X, Y, and Z.
LIEDTKE: I can only imagine the toll the election cost you and your family. Was it worth it?
HOLT: Yeah, it was definitely worth it. Everybody knew what I was getting into [and] what was at stake. Everybody knew the state of the city. I knew what I wanted to do, so it was definitely worth it. The results we got were amazing. We did incredibly well.
LIEDTKE: But you did lose…
HOLT: I wasn’t the man to carry the ball across the finish line…You only have so much to give before it’s time to pass…
It’s a personal decision of mine, but I was not the guy to carry the ball across the finish line.
There’s somebody else there that will pick that ball up. Who is that person? I don’t know.
LIEDTKE: Will you run for mayor again?
HOLT: I’m done. I’m not running again…this was my exit plan…to get off of a Drew Dilkens council. I could not be a councillor underneath a Mayor Drew Dilkens administration again. So, it was either I just leave or I choose to replace that administration.
LIEDTKE: But you were, and are, the most credible challenger to the status quo we’ve seen. Why not try again?
HOLT: No. I’m done. I’m gonna have fun.
I put forward a very viable picture of what the city could look like. I worked hard at it for eight years, put forward real options and 52% of the people chose to go with the status quo. That’s fine. I’ve done my job, but you know, now, it’s time for me to regain my life.
I’m 55 years old. I’ve given 25 years of my life to try to make my community better. I finally put it all in the line. Do you know what my campaign cost?
LIEDTKE: How much did your campaign cost?
HOLT: A hundred thousand dollars. A hundred thousand dollars we put into that campaign, to reach everybody and give everybody a solid choice. They made their solid choice. They chose the status quo.
LIEDTKE: But people would vote for you again…
Holt: Do people realize that my entire 2022, an entire year, was a wash. I basically erased an entire year of my life to run for mayor.
It’s like becoming a [parent] for the first time. You have no clue the entire change that it’s gonna make to your life. But you’ve committed to service.
I’m not gonna be doing this the rest of my life. There are beautiful people working their asses off to make their community a better place. They need help, they need more people to join them.
It’s time for somebody else to come forward and see what I brought, tweak it, bring a little bit more appeal to the masses, and get that extra 12% of the vote that they would need to win the mayor’s office.
LIEDTKE: Are you still going to be engaged politically?
HOLT: Of course I am. You can’t turn this stuff off.
LIEDTKE: Changing gears…You and Mayor Dilkens are very different people who presented very different visions for the city.
HOLT: I think fundamentally, Drew and I have completely different masters that we’re serving.
Active transportation, public transportation…I really believe that he sticks his finger up in the air and he sees if there’s political support for the ideas…if Mayor Dilkens honestly believed in public transit, he would not go on about the Garage Mahal…he would actually look at transit as being a community builder [and] an economic development engine.
LIEDTKE: So when Mayor Dilkens says Windsor is progressing, what do you say to that?
HOLT: Well, progress is the definitive word, right. Progress to Drew is different than progress to Chris. Progress to Drew is appeasing a certain segment of the population that gets out and votes and that’s it.
Progress to Chris is actually serving the people that are in our city, not just a certain small segment that actually gets out to vote, but the actual entire city itself.
I believe he believes in progress, but his idea of progress is vastly different than mine.
LIEDTKE: We’ve spoken on Rose City Politics numerous times that Mayor Dilkens may not run again for mayor. There are rumours that current city councillors are publicly stating their intentions to run. Thoughts?
HOLT: I’m not convinced that Drew’s not running for Mayor again.
Drew, essentially at this point, with the voter turnout [and] voter apathy, Drew could be like Trump and shoot somebody on Fifth Avenue and still get reelected. It’s very easy for him. It takes very little effort on his part to actually keep that mayoral seat.
Why would he give that up? Drew’s got an ego…a very big ego, and Drew likes winning, it doesn’t matter how much Drew wins by or how little Drew wins by.
Drew has that seat, he’s the big fish in the little pond [and] he gets praised by little ladies in Costco, ‘Oh, Mr. Mayor’. He loves that [and] lives for that.
He is not going to be a little backbencher in the provincial government. No, I don’t see his ego really getting fed enough for him to do that.
I think we’re stuck with Drew for as long as Drew wants to be mayor of the city of Windsor, and, and to be honest, he’s never really had another job. This is all he knows. And he wins every time he runs.
LIEDTKE: Some say Mayor Dilkens is a good man trying to do good, just not aligned with you on the issues.
HOLT: Whatever gets you through the night…
LIEDTKE: What would your Windsor look like?
HOLT: My Windsor would be completely different, obviously…my constituency is much broader. [But] I need much more people to get on board with having the conversations and the goals and objectives that I had…It would be much more inclusive [and] progressive…
City hall employees wouldn’t be afraid to bring forward ideas like they are now. It’s well known within the halls of City Hall that if you speak out, bring forward things that don’t gel with the mayor’s office, you lose your job, you go to Roseland, look what happened with our [former] CAO…
LIEDTKE: You’re saying there’s political retribution at City Hall for not playing ball with the mayor’s office?
HOLT: Of course. I experienced it firsthand.
I’m not gonna name names or anything like that because people are afraid of losing their jobs. But we have an administration that we pay very well, and they’re experts in their field to bring forward the best information, the best practices…and they’re afraid to do that if it does not gel with the calls or objectives of the mayor’s office.
You get the administration you elect, but it’s gotten to that point where people are afraid to put their head up out of the foxhole.
LIEDTKE: You’re talking candidly, as if you have nothing to lose…
HOLT: This is my city and I have everything to lose because if we keep on going down this path, the city is going to get even worse than it is now.
The one thing during my mayoral campaign that I was really pushing is the potential of the city of Windsor.
We have amazing people working for the City of Windsor who are literally afraid for their jobs [or] of bringing forward the good ideas that they see working in every single municipality they attend. They’re all members of professional organizations [and] go to conferences [but] they cannot bring that back in a council report.
I’m sharing observations. I was a member of a club…I was an elected representative. I had access to the inner workings of the city that very few residents have access to. You see the personality, you see the reactions.
LIEDTKE: What are the differences between being on the inside versus outside?
HOLT: When you go to a council meeting it’s much different than watching news clips of the council meeting. Right. You see the reactions? You get to see the administration kind of looking around like, ‘I don’t know how to answer this question because the real answer will get me in trouble from my boss because I pissed off the mayor.
Look, he got reelected…numerous times over the past…16 years he’s been on council. He appeals to a portion of the community…he’s a representative of a certain part of the community.
Understand that we have the city hall that we elect, that we deserve, because we’ve gotten to the point where people don’t care anymore or believe they can affect the change anymore. So they’ve checked out, and that represents 68% of the population who feels that way because they didn’t vote. What do you do with that? It goes way beyond Drew Dilkens and his cabal of councillors that support everything that he does.
One part of the community has checked out altogether. It’s like, ‘why bother?’ and it’s hard to blame them, right?
LIEDTKE: You were up against significant electoral headwinds…
HOLT: I had to run against David Musyj and the sort of undercurrent of Windsor’s elite that were all kind of stacked up against me.
The tax bill insert was questionable, but, whatever, I knew what I was up against. I knew I was running up against somebody who had his fingers in a lot…
Not only am I running for mayor, I’m trying to rally community support [and] volunteers [and] dollars.
The amount of people that wanted to contribute to my campaign, but were afraid of the mayor seeing their name on my financial report at the end of the campaign…
LIEDTKE: Before you were speaking of political retribution out of the mayor’s office towards administration. Now you’re saying voters were afraid to donate to you?
HOLT: Oh, yeah. Not only that, when the media came out, [that’s] when [some] volunteers went running because they didn’t want to be seen as supporting the whole campaign.
That’s what we’re up against, right? We were up against basically a bully who will cause issues for anybody that seems to be opposing or questioning the leadership of what’s happening now.
I don’t think this will surprise anybody…this man has been in a leadership position in the city now for 16 years. People know him [and] what to expect from him. This is what challengers to the status quo are up against. I had no problem with dealing with this.
How, how many times did I get in a dust up with David Musyj in the media, in council chambers? No. I don’t care.
LIEDTKE: You’re painting a picture of an administration and voter base that sounds apathetic and disconnected from the city.
HOLT: I know a lot of NGOs, not for profits [and] employees…they don’t want to change the world. They just want to earn a living.
Certain people treat things a little differently and will punish you and will be very petty…bully…if you don’t tow the company line. So, I don’t fault these people….
LIEDTKE: Does this relate to agencies, boards and committees of council as well?
HOLT: I know a lot of people that didn’t toe the line [and] did not get appointments to the committees. Yep, that happens, and it’s not the best person for the job who gets it… it turns out to be the person who…follows directions the best [that was selected].
This is reality and will always be the reality with this man in power and the clingons, the people that feed on that, and there’s a lot of Windsor elite who are very happy with the status quo [and] very happy with this man running the city because they benefit from it.
They’re not fierce, they’re just little fish…going with the current, and it’s not gonna change.
That’s why it’s so important for people to actually stick their head out, question things and really show leadership within this community because that is such an attractive thing to so many different people.
We got so much support [and] we gained a lot of traction because we were not towing the line. We treated people fairly [with evidence and] data, fact-based proposals…as opposed to politics.
Politics can be gross with gross people in politics, but there’s also so many good people in politics…that honestly want to do the right thing, but they see the ramifications of going against…the power base.
LIEDTKE: Are you doing anything behind the scenes politically? Succession training?
HOLT: Oh no. Oh no, of course not.
LIEDTKE: Can Windsor become a truly progressive city?
HOLT: What we’re doing right now is unsustainable. Our transportation, land use, the way we build our city, our community, our spending priorities, our budget priorities are [all] unsustainable.
It’s going to take a concerted effort, but it’s also going to implode on its own too if we don’t do anything. We can’t afford the way we govern our community.
We have to think about the environment [and what] lifestyle people want. What kind of world are we creating for the politically minded people who want to…move the community forward?
If we keep eating our own…
LIEDTKE: Last thoughts at the end of the interview?
HOLT: Don’t put all this shit on me. I’m a freaking auto worker. I didn’t even go to university. I’m a guy who works in a brewery and auto-plant. He feeds you happy juice.
Don’t pin everything [for Windsor] on one person. This is not a cult of personality. This is a movement.
This interview was edited for clarity and length