Thoughts and Opinions On Today's Important Issues

Saturday, September 03, 2005

The Mayor's "Annus Horribilis"

It has been an "annus horribilis" so far for Mayor Eddie Francis. Canderel is still on-going. The MFP settlement will cost taxpayers an extra $68 million. Financially, most of the major departments at City Hall are projecting deficits. Agenda Item #5 united border groups across the City against him. Extra costs at the Windsor-Detroit Tunnel. The arena fiasco. And now Eddie’s short-term, billion dollar, border Plan has fallen apart.

The Windsor Star Editorial--Trade minister is out of touch--means some still do not get it. The coup de grace respecting the border has been delivered. Finally a politician, and a Liberal Cabinet Minister too, has got it right. Finally a politician understands that pretending there is a crisis at the border is not helpful for Windsor or the economy of Canada. Finally a politician can say that "the border problems we've had in the past have been solved." Finally we might get a real solution.

Minister Peterson has confirmed what we all know, especially Mayor Eddie Francis who told us he monitors the border carefully. Truck backups on Huron Church Road became an urban legend after the 4 US Customs booths were opened by the Bridge Co. Now with the plans for 7 more booths, border capacity will increase by 50%. And this will be accomplished at a cost of only a few million dollars paid for by the Bridge Co. The new Bridge Co. proposal of 200 booths to be completed by the end of 2007 may solve our crossing problem for the next 20-30 years as well, again paid for by the Bridge Co.

So why would anyone, especially our Mayor, want to spend a billion dollars of taxpayer money to solve a problem that does not exist? It is time for Council to do what they were elected to do: rally Windsorite support now for the long-term solution: OJIBWAY NOW!

Some Thoughts on the Spanish Inquisition and the Arena

Wow...did the people from Beztak get hammered by Councillor questioning. Every aspect of their project was examined in great detail. Interestingly, we did not see this type of inquisition of the Jebb/Raceway project at Council. I wonder why not.

I decided to make this comment an "OPEN LETTER TO COUNCILLORS JONES, POSTMA (AND WILSON)" since they were the Councillors with the most sense as far as I was concerned on the Beztak/Raceway arena issue (or was it a lack of sense since they broke ranks with their colleagues).

Councillors Jones and Postma… that’ll show ya! [And you too Councillor Wilson even though you are not running again for Council]

You broke ranks and tried to pierce the veil of secrecy and in camera decision making in the new regime. You cannot win even if a new arena downtown "at no cost" to taxpayers and an urban village which meets previous Council's objectives are offered by a sophisticated developer. It was a 7-3 vote against you and a quick vote to go back to the "exclusive" deal with the Company that pulled out in the face of the Beztak competition.

You had the nerve to complain publicly about the surprise move of the arena from Downtown to the Raceway and the possible 6 months "exclusivity" deal with the Raceway. You had the silly belief that talk about an "urban village" meant development to be located in Ward 2 to help revitalize a part of the City that has been neglected for so long. You remember, that was something that the Mayor's opponent, Bill Marra, wanted to do when he was on Council.

Didn’t you understand? If the new arena is located near LaSalle, the Casino has no competition downtown. We’ve already stifled any changes in the downtown with interim control by-laws and studies and the fact that the Cleary will not be a competitor.

Didn’t you realize that the desire to turn the existing downtown into a teenie bar area for outsiders will discourage any significant retail operations in that area. Which retailer would go into Bartown?

Do you now understand, after the Star story today about the new 29 story hotel, 3-story parking garage, convention centre and 5,000 seat entertainment centre at the Casino, that Windsor’s downtown has shifted?

Do you now understand that the new, exciting "urban village" has moved to a new location near the Casino in a different Ward in the City?

Come on Councillors, get with the program. It's first come, first served. The Raceway was in first so they get the deal. Why are you trying to change things? The $15 million has already been "set aside" so those potholes were never going to get fixed anyway. After all, it's only $75 per household for the next few years. (Heck, that's peanuts compared with the $68 million of extra costs after MFP that we have to fund and the money that we were to spend on the Schwartz billion dollar "Fast Track" changes!).

You should have listened to the math calculations of your colleagues who know so much more than the guys who risk real dollars every day in real projects in the real world.

It's OK to change your minds, by the way. You can vote one minute to oppose building the arena downtown with a developer who wants no taxpayer money and then flipflop to another one who wants up to $15 million of taxpayer money for a raceway project the next as long as you are "respecting" your colleagues. Some of your Councillor buddies had no hesitation in doing so.

Perhaps you should ask the Jebb people, who think they might actually get an arena built this time, to contact the Mayor and ask how much time and money they should put into their effort. Three Councillors are already against an arena anywhere other than in the Downtown and at least three are opposed to building an arena using taxpayer money. So why are we going through this exercise?

So Councillors, you better learn to keep quiet. After all, doesn't the new border crossing go through your Ward!

Friday, September 02, 2005

Solicitor-Client Privilege and The Public's Need To Know

David Estrin is worth every penny that the City is paying him. After all, he provides the "lawyer" excuse whereby Mayor Eddie Francis and Council can continue to hold meetings in secret and not tell the public anything. (Windsor Star—"Council defends secret meeting")

The proponents for "open and transparent" government when they were running for office now seem to have a fear of the same people who elected them.

What could the reason be for "endorsing" in secret the Schwartz Report rather than passing a formal Resolution approving it as the City’s official position? Obviously, if it had to be a Resolution, it had to go before Council for a public vote. Citizens would then have had the legal right to appear in front of Council as a delegation to express their opinions on the Schwartz Report. Perhaps some of our elected leaders may have been afraid that some citizens might have opposed them and could not stand the heat!

By now, it is obvious that the Mayor’s Plan cannot succeed. It is not clear what his strategy is to accomplish a border solution, if there is one. The City has been isolated with no partner who will stand up with us. There is no money in the Federal budget, none in the Province until after 2010 and both Senior Levels have confirmed that the pace of the Bi-national study will carry on.

The Mayor and Council must think that it is better to talk in secret and pretend to be doing something rather than to admit failure and ask citizens for help.

It's not just out-of-town lawyers who are used by City Hall. Cliff Sutts is the point man in the parking garage fiasco: "But Francis didn't know how much in back taxes are owing to the city. He referred further inquiries to city lawyer Cliff Sutts, who could not be reached Wednesday. "

Senator Kenny's "Dirty Little Secret"

Is the Detroit/Windsor Tunnel a "jewel" that the City must keep as an asset or has it become a "liability" such that we should sell it immediately as the City rationalizes its assets and its value is high? I ask this after hearing about the downturn in traffic at the Tunnel and about the huge amounts being needed to fix it up. More importantly, I thought about it even more after the Mayor’s idea of subsidizing NEXUS holders to try to bring back business to Windsor.

Are we speaking out of both sides of our mouth?

On the one hand, we supposedly need a new border crossing immediately for the emergency that we are in since volumes will grow dramatically in the future. On the other hand, we need to "subsidize" NEXUS holders, according to the Mayor, to get traffic to Windsor as volumes decrease dramatically.

Which is it?

Factually, the Bi-national has admitted that their traffic numbers were wrong and stated that the Bridge has another extra 10 years of capacity left. What if their projections are even more off?

Perhaps it may be that there really is no crisis other than Senator Kenny’s "Dirty Little Secret?"
  • "Border uncertainty serves the interest of certain businesses and some local politicians in Michigan by making Canada a less attractive place to invest capital."
In other words, we need another new crossing and to spend hundreds of millions of dollars earlier than needed NOT because of volumes but because of a PERCEPTION that there is a problem!

"If industry perceives the border crossings at Windsor-Detroit to be unreliable, then in time Canada will see negative impacts such as less investment, and even disinvestment. As Gerald Fedchun, President of the Automotive Parts Manufacturers' Association, said, "We don't think that perception is there just yet, but others can use the uncertainty against us."

So if it is true that the traffic numbers are low and if it is also true that the City is concerned about the future of the Tunnel, then what would the premature building of a new crossing do? Clearly, it could bankrupt the Tunnel!

Remember that the Ambassador Bridge plan would have 200 Customs booths to speed traffic through. A new bridge would also be required to provide passenger redundancy so cars could use that state-of the art facility. Who would or who would want to use the Tunnel’s cramped and outdated facilities when there were better alternatives? If the Mayor thought the Bridge Company’s plans would hurt the Tunnel, imagine what another crossing would do to the Tunnel’s bottom-line!

So the obvious answer is to sell the Tunnel isn’t it? Sell it at the highest price possible before it goes broke! While that may seem to be obvious, politically, that is not going to happen under this Council and it may not be the best solution anyway!

What makes better sense is to figure out what is going on, determine what is needed, plan for it and then communicate that strategy to the World! We already are there if people would only open their eyes:
  • We have solved the short-term problems by opening up new booths into the US and building new "insurance" booths into Canada
  • The medium-term is solved by the Bridge Company’s new plans
  • The long-term is solved by Gridlock Sam’s OJIBWAY solution (although we still need to work on the best way to get there)
  • We need to recognize that there is no money in the Federal budget for a new crossing (another federal election is coming and the Liberals do need to give away "goodies") and nothing will happen financially with the Province until after 2010
  • We need to be smart and "set aside" the new corridor to the border so that nothing is built on it until needed
  • We build when needed and not just to solve "perception" issues
  • And we need to communicate to the World that there is no problem in Windsor and that we have a well-thought out plan for the future ie we need to stop feeding and to start killing the perception that we have a problem so that business and tourists are not scared away any longer. We need a new auto plant here already!

If we follow this simple strategy, the Tunnel still has a future (and the City an asset of value) since we are not building now capacity that we do not need and will not take away business from the Tunnel that it needs. We will have a strategy developed and a location chosen such that when a new crossing is needed, it can be built in a proper time-frame. If communicated properly, then Business can do their long-term planning knowing that Windsor, Ontario and Canada have a border that works!

We all win

Lessons From Agenda Item #5

Stepping back from this matter and looking at it from a different perspective, what can we learn from the Agenda Item #5 incident. The actions of the Mayor and Council on the border issue are being closely watched. Sixteen people signed up as delegations virtually overnight to speak on the matter. Windsorites are ready to act quickly if they think someone is trying to play silly games that can hurt this City:

  • The media has impact. Both the Star and CKLW, especially Melanie Deveau, reported the story and we saw immediate reaction.
  • Windsor is not Toronto. The People have real power here. Positions can be forced to be changed overnight by citizen action as other City politicians have discovered on the border. Windsorites have long memories when it comes to election time.
  • Given the names of the people listed as delegations and what I believe about their views, the vast majority, no matter from which citizen’s group, are coming together in a united front to oppose the item.
  • I cannot believe that the bureaucrats, especially given their senior positions, could sign-off on this kind of a report and recommend it be adopted. What were they thinking?
  • OR, were the bureaucrats pressured to bring forward this Report by a City politician and if so, who and why?
  • Are documents being kept from Councillors for weeks or even months or did they know about it already? This is the second such incident in a few weeks (Federal July 4 letter was first)
  • It is amazing that Legal did not sign the document since legal matters are involved. If the Motion I am going to submit for the Council meeting is correct, then Legal files will have to be revealed. This is similar to the loss of Privilege in the MFP case in the Court of Appeal. Doesn’t the City ever learn?
  • Possible expenditures of hundreds of millions of dollars and no Finance Dept sign-off
  • To those who think an MFP cannot happen again and that the City has controls in place to prevent stupidity that can jeopardize the City’s financial stability, think again!
  • If this was merely a ploy to pressure the Feds on the Horseshoe Road that some genius figured out, then it totally backfired and the City officials look amateurs. Clearly there is no real border strategy and the City is flailing away

I objected to in the changes to the Procedural By-law that Council passed since no Councillor was to be involved in the agenda process. It is amazing to be proved correct so quickly!

Thursday, September 01, 2005

The Infamous Agenda Item #5 At City Council

Oh boy....when I get mad, I get mad. And was I ever mad as you shall read below at what was being proposed at Council on July 25, 2005 respecting the border. I wonder what the agenda is that someone is trying to move forward in this manner.

I am frankly disgusted with the manner in which Agenda Item #5 was put forward. The Mayor as CEO of the City must take ultimate responsibility for this. I believe it to be not in line with the professed objective of “open and transparent” Government at City Hall. Who would have thought that a subject entitled ‘Essex-Windsor Regional Transportation Master Plan’ is really a motion that includes endorsing the already failed Schwartz short-term strategy on the border and giving out a blank cheque to spend taxpayer money!

I suspect that certain members of Council are afraid of what citizens might have to say on the border. Council endorsed Schwartz in secret only and have never given citizens the formal opportunity to express our views. It is even more strange, that, at a time when Council is spending thousands of dollars on consultants to gather the views of constituents on border crossing corridors, it is effectively insulting its electorate by adopting the Schwartz “Horseshoe Road” before knowing what its citizens’ views are! In fact, the comments deadline was July 25 at 4 PM…only 2 hours before the Council meeting!

The comments of the City's outside lawer, David Estrin, have been around since March. Who on Council has read them during the last 4 months or were they as surprised as citizens to read them as well?

This item also makes a mockery of Council’s approach to fiscal responsibility and puts the financial stability of the City at risk. The motion is nothing more than writing a blank cheque to allow the Mayor and Council the right to spend an undefined sum of money on any project that they “deem necessary” at their discretion. It seems obvious that the $400 million “Horseshoe Road” will be the first roadway built with City taxpayer money since it is specifically mentioned in the motion.

Sure. Let’s go it alone. Let’s build roads to benefit international trucks only on the backs of our taxpayers.

Did you see anywhere in the motion a long-term solution strategy. Of course not. And you won’t. The Mayor has already conceded that the Bi-national is the final decision-maker. I did not give him the authority to make that concesion on my behalf.

It’s absurd. We did not elect this Mayor and this Council to rally citizens for a short-term solution when we no longer have a short-term problem. I repeat again----The short-term problem has been solved. The four Customs booths opened by the Ambassador Bridge Company ended back-ups on Huron Church Road. They are opening up to seven more on the US side and nine on the Canadian side to ensure border traffic flows smoothly. Their proposal to build 200 Customs booths if combined with reverse customs ought to solve our problems for 20 years or more, especially since the Bi-National Engineers have said that truck traffic is down, not up, contrary to their optimistic projections previously.

For what reason is this Mayor and Council perpetuating the myth of problems at the border? Don’t the Mayor and Council understand yet that these scare stories hurt Windsor’s economy? They should do what they were elected to do: focus on solving the long-term border issue!

Let me deal with specifically with the Mayor’s billion dollar short-term dream. It does not work so scrap it:

  • The Mayor claimed that the Horseshoe Road would cost $400M and that it was costed out. Yet, the Peer Expert who examined Sam’s report said that Sam was excluded from the estimation of relative costs.
  • The Horseshoe is just a big circle that puts the trucks back onto Huron Church. It’s the Ring Road only moved south. If the Bi-national decides on a different location for the border crossing, we have just wasted hundreds of millions of dollars of Windsor taxpayers money on a useless roadway.
  • Imagine the City paying $300 million for the almost 100 year old rail tunnels to CP Rail/ OMERS, the companies that backed the intrusive DRTP. This gives them an immense profit on their project
  • The City’s financing proposal to build the new train tunnel may violate the Strategic Infrastructure Fund rules since those rules only allow for 50% of a project to be financed.
  • CP Rail has said the tunnel is merely on their "wish list" and there is no immediate pressure for it.
  • As for the multi-modal Taj Mahal at the airport, VIA Rail does not want to move to Sam’s new Grand Central Station. There are only a few Toronto/Windsor trains per day anyway. Wasn’t the VIA train to Chicago cancelled already? And I thought Westjet pulled out of Windsor airport because it could not attract enough travellers to turn a profit.
  • Why is there this fixation on the barge? Most truckers would not use it anyway if they had a choice. I am against City taxpayers being asked to spend our money to pay the private Ferry Company’s bills. If the venture makes sense economically, let that private operator pay for it
  • Please explain why we should use up prime industrial land that the City accumulated at Brighton Beach and turn it into a gigantic truck parking lot.
  • There is nothing in this motion to show our frustration and opposition to any suggestion that the Bi-national be continued on for many more years
  • I understand that part of this was based on Mr. Estrin’s suggestions. He will be pleased. The provisions to take away business from the Bridge Company to give to their competitors, including the city-owned Tunnel, means that Gowlings will have a major lawsuit to fight on behalf of the City when the Bridge Company sues the City.

I am so tired of being fed short-term dreams and visions. I did not help elect a new small town Mayor and Council. Windsor is a great city and we deserve better. Rallying support for a short-term solution is not Thinking Big but supporting mediocrity. It means that Windsor has given up. That is unacceptable to me. I and my colleagues at OJIBWAY NOW! have not fought this battle to surrender.

DRTP's Tunnel Vision

Here comes another Mike Hurst dream for us to pay for. Mike as Mayor of Windsor offered South Windsor a bike path instead of a DRTP Corridor. That was not accepted. Now as DRTP CEO, he offers an underground tunnel. He is proposing an "enhanced" DRTP project at a cost of only another $400 million of taxpayer money so DRTP can make a private profit. Son of MFP, the arena and Canderel!

These are the same people who claimed they were ready to build their DRTP project today. Since an "underground tunnel" is now proposed for at least part of the route (only in the lands south of the EC Row Expressway where the most vocal part of their opposition lives they think), then it is a massive loss for DRTP. It means everything that citizens have said over the past 2 years about their project was correct. It means that building a truck expressway through the heart of Windsor with a 110 acre customs truck yard right off EC Row with noise and truck pollution beside thousands of homes, a dozen schools and the major shopping areas of Windsor is a mistake. It means that using EC Row as an entrance to DRTP is an error.

The DRTP proposal was a disaster for Windsor and would never have been acceptable. We should question why what is being proposed by them now will be any different.

Underground tunnel or no tunnel, it must be remembered that the Bi-national Engineers have said that DRTP does not meet the long term travel needs of the region and as a stand alone project does not meet the minimum criteria for a new crossing. Why are we still talking about a failed proposal? It still would feed trucks only into a 2-lane, almost 100 year-old rail tunnels, when six lanes and car traffic redundancy are needed.

Interestingly, the Bi-National Engineers have said that a new 6-lane truck expressway would have to be built on the DRTP corridor through the City to get trucks to the new DRTP crossing. Not even DRTP had the nerve to say that! And because DRTP only offers one lane in each direction, a new 3-lane tunnel or bridge would have to be built. Can you imagine, a new DRTP bridge near downtown Detroit when they are spending millions to upgrade their waterfront!

How much would that massive construction cost? Just to put matters in context, the Boston "Big Dig" has cost $14.6 billion (up from an initial forecast of about $4 billion in today's dollars). And whose wallets would have to be opened up to pay for this project since private enterprise would not have the dollars to finance this extravaganza: Yours and mine

It is time that the Mayor and Council start playing a leadership role after all this time in office and rather than wasting more taxpayer money.

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

The Start

So this is blogging!

I thought it might be time for someone to do a bit of a commentary on what is going on in the City of Windsor, Ontario. Since Windsor is effectively a one-newspaper media outlet (the vast majority of the population gets its news from the Windsor Star) and since the Star has strict rules about Guest Columns and Letters to the Editor (and not that much space either), it seemed that a Blog on the Internet might be the way to get one's opinions expressed and spread to others.

So here we are. Let's start off by saying that Windsorites about 18 months ago seemed excited as the results of our civic election brought us a smart, young and energetic Mayor with a different way of looking at politics (He even committed to running for not more than 2 mayoral terms!) and a new Council with 4 new councillors, a 40% change-over. They were determined to be an active city Government whose function was to achieve results while providing open and transparent government.

Have they accomplished what they set out to do? That's what this Blog will be all about: a commentary on Windsor politics from my personal point of view!

Oh and by the way, notwithstanding my 30 minutes of fame on Cable 11's Face-To-Face interview show, I am still just a citizen of Windsor, an Ordinary Joe. Hence, the signature

Our Border Choice is easy to make

For several weeks, the Ambassador Bridge Company has been running newspaper ads seeking to partner with the City of Windsor and what has the City done, if anything, in response?

It is hardly a surprise that it is still advocating for its Twinned Bridge project at the existing location, even though it has said that it is prepared to build its "Twinned" bridge at Ojibway. From the Bridge Company's perspective, why change your plans to help out a City that refuses to talk to you even though you "own" the vast majority of the vehicular traffic across the border. Why help out a City that helps move businesses to other locations if it wants them to relocate for a Canderel project but ignores you if it wants you to move your truck traffic business out of the City?

Windsor could be a beneficiary of its Port plans in Detroit. However, it appears we do not want economic development either. We have a Sandwich Corporation to promote development in the area and ignore the biggest corporation there. We want an "urban village" downtown and don't talk to a company that knows how to redevelop land.

The reality is simple. The Bridge Company’s 200 booths with projected traffic volumes decreasing means that another crossing will NOT be necessary for many years to come. Security and redundancy, the bogeyman words being used before and after London, can only be solved by "reverse" customs and not building more crossings that are subject to co-ordinated terrorist attacks. The Senior Levels do not have money for a new crossing until after 2010. The never-ending Bi-National process seems to be nothing more than a tool to be used while some try to force the Bridge Company out of business through such tactics as Bill C-44 or by still saying the sky is falling at the border when the Bridge Company solved the short-term problem with 4 booths.

Give the Bridge Company credit: the 200 booth idea out-manoeuvered everyone. Hundreds of millions can be saved since a new bridge will not be needed according to the Bi-national until after 2025 (or perhaps never). It will solve Windsor's problems without costing us a penny. It can all be done on the Michigan side without the need for the costly Bi-national "approval" process.

Windsor has a choice: the new DRTP corridor 6-lane truck expressway extravaganza that may be imposed on us to help out OMERS, the new infrastructure financial partner of the Senior Levels, or working with the Bridge Company for Windsor’s economic development and to have them move their Twin to Ojibway where the City wants it to go!

Isn't the choice an easy one? Why hasn't it been made at City Hall yet?