Councillor Rino Bortolin is running for the Ontario Liberals in Windsor West.

The unexpected announcement caused the ears of Windsor politicos collectively to perk up. It signalled a competitive race in what was expected to be a relatively easy win for incumbent NDP MPP Lisa Gretzky, who is also running against PC candidate Adam Ibrahim.

Bortolin decided to run for the Liberals before Doug Ford took the helm of the PCs following Patrick Brown’s outster, and his campaign is focused on his track record as a politician and Windsor issues.

“I think the focus here isn’t really going to be the competition, it’s going to be about me,” he said. “Listen, they’re going to have three names in front of them on a ballot…the incumbent from the NDP, there’s the new guy from the conservatives, and me. Judge us on our records.”

On his own record, Bortolin claims to have delivered 90% of his campaign platforms from 2014, emphasizing he was able to find consensus with council colleagues, supported by community support.

When last interviewed by The Windsor Independent, Bortolin was in an embattled effort to get lighting in downtown allies, and as of presstime, the first light was being installed.

“When you judge me on my record, have I worked hard for the residents of my ward? Have I worked hard for the city as a whole?” he asked rhetorically. “I’ve been able to get a ton of stuff done because I’ve worked hard, engaged the residents…and this was on a council where a lot of people considered me to be on a minority side of council.”

If he wins, and if the Liberals form government another time around – two significant ifs – Bortolin doesn’t plan on being a quiet backbench MPP.

“I’m not going to be silent, and I even said to the premier, ‘This is my type of politics, is this a problem for you?’ Because I am not going to be quiet if I disagree with things,” said Bortolin, and to drive home the point home, he brought up that he got into an argument with the premier five minutes later about how best to implement the minimum wage policy from his perspective as a former small business owner.

When he first started to consider running, Bortolin was skeptical about the prospect and had dismissed it initially because he planned to run for another council term in October. But the more he thought about the upcoming city council election, ward three, and Windsor overall, the more he realized how the decisions Queen’s Park affected the municipal issues he was fighting for.

“A lot of the stuff that we deal with at the city and municipal level happens at the provincial level through legislation, policy and the Municipal Code. Everytime we bang our heads [many] of those things are set by the province,” he explained.

Don’t bother asking him about if he’s concerned however about running under the Liberal banner and the baggage it brings with it though, he’s all in and fully committed.

“I obviously don’t think it’s a sinking ship…I’m not getting my life jacket. I’m grabbing an oar and am ready to paddle….” he said, adding that he’s confident he’ll win and that the party shouldn’t be written off quite yet. “[Windsor West] is going to be red, so if that red helps keep the government in power…there’s a long time between now and election day…I do think the Liberals will [stay] in power….”

As for Wynne, Bortolin believes much of her negative reputation is due to misconceptions and party fatigue.

He also literally laughs off the notion that “Windsor has been abandoned” and listed off government actions to prove his point, including investments into The Herb Gray Parkway, The University of Windsor, St. Clair College, Ford, and the new megahospital.

“The list of local investments is as long as my arm, this idea that they have somehow ignored the area for the last fifteen years is absolutely ridiculous,” he said. “When people say ‘oh, this government has ignored Windsor’, [or] ‘Oh, the province stops at London’, that type of rhetoric is laughable, literally laughable.”

Bortolin also noted that the $15 minimum wage, OHIP+ and free tuition programs will also directly help Windsorites. “We have almost a third of our children in Windsor Essex live in poverty, so what do you think these things do for single mothers [and] families?”

He hopes to see further investment in healthcare spending, children’s mental health, and funding strategies to combat the opioid crisis, as well as a focus on long term-care, a new formula regarding school closures, and both diversifying the economy and strengthening NAFTA as its under attack.

As for cannabis, my favourite topic to talk to politicians about, it’s no surprise that Bortolin supports the government’s planned LCBO model, but he did agree that Windsor as a border city should be afforded special considerations, including additional public storefronts to sell cannabis and the licensing of cannabis businesses for onsite sale and consumption.

“They are scrambling to just open the doors so to speak…they have to do it incrementally because they need time,” he explained, adding that the key aspect was that the government was listening to what the public wanted through ongoing consultation.

“Should lounges be able to sell? Should lounges be able to work with the current retail system? Could there be licensing similar to bars and the relationship with the LCBO? Those are all conversations that will happen.”

Some have suggested Bortolin is angling to run for mayor and simply hoping to elevate his name with this bid. He laughed off the suggestion.

“Why I would take a plunge and spend thousands of hours working on something else, raising money for something else, creating a team for something else, just to do the same thing afterwards, it’s ridiculous,” he said.

“Anybody thinking that I am doing this to eventually run for mayor, really doesn’t understand politics….”

Jon Liedtke is a writer, newspaper guy, trumpet player, lover of democracy, bagels and lox, & cannabis.