Thoughts and Opinions On Today's Important Issues

Friday, September 23, 2005

Windsor Is Flat

What a shock! There has been no economic development plan in place for Windsor for the last two years. No wonder Dennis Perlin left. He must have been totally frustrated in a job where he was given few directions by his political bosses.

That’s the gist of what I got out of Gord Henderson’s column yesterday. I was looking for a grand Plan. Instead I found out what book Eddie read 5 times, "The World Is Flat." Hmmm I wonder if there will be a run on that book now at Chapters a la Oprah.

It is absolutely clear now that the Mayor and Council have been sitting around waiting for an Economic Statement to be produced. As if another piece of paper will create a single job. It’s like thinking that the Community Improvement Plan document in itself will build a single house in an urban village in Windsor West.

Can you believe the Mayor’s comment: "Things are looking much better than last week." Tell that to the people who have lost their jobs. Tell that to the people who will have to uproot their lives to go to Oakville or St. Thomas for work. Tell that to the merchants in town who will see their businesses decline as people leave the workforce.

Apparently there is a strategic direction that the City is following. I guess a major achievement of that Direction is the announcement of the Keg restaurant opening. It will open IF the parking issue is resolved that is. (Another mess that we might be getting into).

Apparently, it was known 2 years ago that Windsor would be experiencing some major economic disaster. Gord Henderson said that the news would necessitate increased efforts to diversify and attract new industry. His column today signalled loud and clear the total failure on the part of City Hall!

Finally though, thanks to Gord, I got it. We don’t have an entrepreneur in charge at City Hall, young or otherwise. We have a bureaucrat, a planner. He has no problem in planning but considerable difficulty in executing. Can you imagine sitting around until October 3, as if he didn’t know what his CAO was going to suggest.

It is like the border. Develop the Schwartz plan which is great on paper, flog it to death even though it bears no relationship to reality and then watch it die as the Senior Levels dismiss it out of hand and as the Bridge Co. on its own solves our problems!

Frankly, instead of reading what a New York Times columnist thinks about the real world, as Mayor, I would have contacted the major business people in town who really understand what is happening and who know how to achieve success. I would put them together in a room, lock the door and not let them out until they came up with an economic development plan for Windsor and a commitment to carrying it out, together!

It may be the time to set up an alliance amongst the major business players here whereby they agree to set aside "egos and ambitions" and work together or we all lose. We may need an "Economic Czar" in Windsor to get things moving not just a Border Czar.

No, I won’t mock anyone for having a plan, a plan. I can mock someone though who has sat around reading a book 5 times while waiting for the bad news that he knew was coming.

More on solicitor-client privilege

Oh my goodness, I am finally agreeing with the editors of the Windsor Star on something.

Their editorial yesterday said:

  • "If the Capitol Theatre expects a cent of support from taxpayers, it must immediately make public a pair of reports probing its operations. The downtown playhouse's board of directors has taken the position, on its lawyer's advice, that "solicitor-client privilege" precludes releasing a self-imposed managerial review prepared by former Superior Court justice and Essex-Kent MP Robert Daudlin..."

I am sure that the Star, in order to be absolutely consistent, will now write an editorial castigating Council for not releasing all the Schwartz documents and hiding behind its lawyer on the parking garage receivership.

Naaaaaaaaaaaw, that will never happen.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

The Border and Terence Corcoran

Two articles in yesterday's Star ought to be quite concerning to Windsorites.

First, Corcoran, the editor of the Financial Post, did a column about how NAFTA is at risk. He pointed out that there is serious talk of Canadian economic retaliation against the US and partnering instead with India and China. He talks about government managed trade rather than free trade. That should concern business people here who depend on cross-border trade. [For a bit of history, go back and read about the National Energy Program and the Canadian oil industry]

Second, the front page story in the Star talked about fewer Americans crossing our border. Gordon Orr did not mention that one reason for the reduction could be a consequence of the various political and economic irritants that we have with our largest trade partner.

Why are these two stories disturbing? Taken together, our area is in serious economic jeopardy.

Unfortunately, what I see helping to create this downturn is certain Windsorites and others making it easy for decisions to be made to stay out of this area, whether for business or for pleasure, to our economic disadvantage.

Why come to Windsor to open a plant or go shopping or to a restauruant or to stay for a weekend when we are told that there are border backups. On the one hand the Casino is spending money on media ads trying to convince Americans that it is easy to come over here while on the other we may tell them they will be caught in traffic jams unless they get a subsidized Nexus card for their several trips a year here.

Instead of praising Minister Peterson for being ready to tell the world that our short-term problems are over, we scold him. Even our friend the Premier wanted to hire someone to tell some good stories about the border to improve business. How do we react: scare stories from our leading paper and the City's retained traffic guru that the Bridge may have structural problems.

Would you really want to cross the bridge that Senator Kenny has said is a prime target for terrorists? He got a lot of coverage in the US media when his Senate Report came out.

Can we really blame an American choosing not to cross the border and to go to an American Casino in downtown Detroit? Would you really want to build a plant here with all of that bad news? We are indeed our own worst enemy.

Coming Home To Roost

Gord Henderson generously attributes Eddie's problems these days to bad luck or the cyclical auto industry slowdown or just bad timing!

Yet, in his column dated January 6, 2004, Gord wrote:

  • Francis conceded this will be an "extremely challenging" year. Those challenges include some anticipated bad economic news that can't be revealed at this point (that sounds ominous) but which will necessitate increased efforts to diversify and attract new industry.

There is bad news for our two major industries in town. The job situation has not been good for Windsor and it is getting worse.

First, we lose 1100 Ford jobs. Then we lose 600 Chrysler jobs. Next, how many GM jobs will be sacrificed? But that is not all. How many spin-off jobs will be lost because of the downturn in the auto industry? Don’t those auto execs ever wonder who is going to be able to buy a car if the numbers of unemployed keep increasing?

If that is not a kick where it hurts, we read also that "Windsor's hospitality and retail industries were hit with "scary" news Tuesday when Statistics Canada revealed the number of same-day car travellers from the United States tumbled to its lowest monthly number on record." We experienced a 12.7% drop in traffic. Just to make us feel oh so much better, the Statscan analyst quoted said "We have no idea what's going to happen from here."

What increased efforts have we made to diversify and attract new industry?

Knowing about the Mayor’s platform promise to create a knowledge based industry here, I tried to help. I introduced some time ago the concept of the "Innovation Centre" that was started in Sault Ste. Marie to help out that community. "The Sault Ste. Marie Innovation Centre is a not-for-profit organization with a mandate to assist Sault Ste. Marie District with economic diversification in Information Technology or knowledge based industries. By developing innovative partnerships with industry, government, and other public organizations, the Sault Ste. Marie Innovation Centre is a "catalyst for change"

Their former head came down to Windsor at my invitation to assist us in looking at the concept to see if it would work here. I believe he prepared a paper on the subject. I even pushed for his hiring, given his experience, to cut down on the time needed for us to create something similar. Why re-invent the wheel after all since the idea made good sense to me.

I brought forward the idea of building on Enwin's expertise (and to make them some money) by turning Windsor "wireless" ie everyone in town would have wireless broadband connection to the Internet to provide inexpensive access and VoIP telephony. [Oakland County across the river is doing this now] More than that Windsor could have become a "showcase" for a major hardware company in North America so that we could attract technology innovators here to use our city as a testbed for the latest technologies.

Unfortunately, everything got bogged down as the City and County did their myriad of studies into what we should be doing. An Economic Development Statement is to be released in a few weeks, on October 3.

Remember what the Mayor said at his Chamber of Commerce Speech – Managing Your Money Better in May 2004:

  • "I also understand, that often, the best thing that a government can do to help business, can be summarized in five words:

    Get out of the way!

    When governments leave businesses alone to do what they do best, it is
    amazing the innovation and creativity that takes form."

So what did we do in Windsor? Did we follow our Mayor's advice? Hardly. Our Statement is being prepared by the CAO's of the City and the County, with the help of a consultant from KPMG, staff from the City and County and an Advisory Committee of Chamber, Education and private sector representatives.

We will see the Eddie "future vision," in the Gord Henderson column today (It had been postponed for some reason). That future vision will earn tremendous praise I am sure from the Star Editorial writers.

Next we will have the Statement 10 days later which will fit in remarkably well with what has already been disclosed.

Finally, we will need a catalyst, a big event to get everyone excited about how our Region is going to prosper. I have it. Why not set up a conference similar to the one Alfie Morgan talked about in the Letters to the Editor section of the Star a few days ago. Alfie was acting CAO after Dennis left before and so he can step in again to help out the Mayor.

Now I feel better. Hey buddy, I can spare that dime now.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Why The Bridge Company Has Won!

The border issue has dominated our lives in Windsor for much too long. It has caused people to sell or consider selling their home for fear of what may happen. It has paralyzed Council when they should have been thinking about the economic redevelopment of our economy.

We must take into account facts and reality, not what we may wish things to be. It is not 50 years ago. I am sorry but I cannot take responsibility for errors of judgment that may have been made in the past. I have to deal with what we have now when trying to consider a solution.

Like them or not, the fact is that someone will have to talk to the Bridge Co. and deal with them since that Company is the key player in the border game.

The bridge is there and it is not moving. They have built up a business and they are not going to let someone take it away. They are smart, well-connected, powerful and they are not afraid to litigate!

There are certain facts that we just have to accept. Once we do, the result is inevitable:

  1. The Bridge Company’s new 200 booth proposal, which they are to finance on their own, and the new Bi-National Engineer's projections about reduced traffic volumes may mean we never need a new crossing. When reverse customs and Bluewater bridge expansion are introduced, the redundancy and security concerns are solved too. The only EA assessment that needs to be done is on the US side, not an international extravaganza.

  2. Who can afford to finance a new crossing and to operate it profitably when the two existing crossings are having difficulties making money after auto industry changes, 9/11, SARS, job losses, Detroit Casino expansion, higher dollar etc. Does someone have a "death wish" to bankrupt the City-owned Tunnel? If the Bridge Co. 200 booth construction is completed by 2007, a new crossing would be doomed to fail

  3. Do you really think George W. Bush is going to let Paul Martin expropriate the assets of an American company and how could it be done anyway? Bill C-44, the basis of Eddie’s billion-dollar dream and the bureaucrat’s desire to control the Bridge Co business in both Windsor and their proposed Buffalo area development, is being buried

  4. The Bridge Co. is the only show in town respecting truck traffic and they "own" that business

  5. The Windsor Star reported years ago that the Bridge Co. already owns the land where the major corridors might go for a new crossing. It is unlikely that their lands can be expropriated, especially in the US.

  6. It would take billions to buy out the Bridge Co border investments at a time when the Feds need their surplus to buy voters for the next election and Ontario is becoming a "have-not" Province

  7. MDOT and the US Government have sunk hundreds of millions into the Bridge Co. Ambassador Gateway project. Why would they spend hundreds of millions more on a new road infrastructure at a new crossing and be forced to staff Customs at another location.

  8. Minister Peterson has recognized that there is no short-term problem since the Bridge Co. solved it with 4 new Customs booths and is increasing capacity by 50% by proposing to build 7 more. There is no budget money set aside for Windsor other than the balance of the initial BIF $300 million.

  9. Premier McGuinty’s announcement that the Border Czar is to bring in a new crossing by 2013 means that he has recognized that there is no short-term problem since the Bridge Co. solved it 4 new Customs booths and is increasing capacity by 50% by proposing to build 7 more. Other than Dwight Duncan's "Gong Show" $500 million that will not be available until after 2010, if ever, there is no money for Windsor.

  10. Everyone knows that it is the Americans who will ultimately decide what happens and the Bridge Co. knows everyone on that side of the border.

  11. The Bridge Co. has never suggested using E. C. Row as a roadway to its crossing for trucks.

  12. There are only 2 viable crossings according to the Bi-National Engineers: Ojibway and the Twinned Bridge corridors. Guess who owns property there on both sides of the border.

Looking then at the inevitable, our Mayor and Council should have been working on a strategy a long time ago for negotiating with the Bridge Co. Frankly, after the Senior Level shafts, we don't have anyone else to partner with. And Windsor cannot do it alone.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

UPDATE: Council Agenda Peeve

Remember what I wrote yesterday: "I hope Cogeco does not have technical problems at Council tonight."

Well something happened. The Council session was not broadcast until 9 PM. Who wanted to see Prof Weis answer question about the Schwartz Plan anyway.

Anybody But ...?

Can it be any worse for Mayor Eddie Francis? I cannot think of a worse insult than that which he received from his so-called partner on the border, Premier McGuinty. Effectively, there will be no new crossing until 2013. So much for the Schwartz billion-dollar strategy that Eddie relied upon.

Clearly it was a big win for Dwight Duncan in the competition to be the #1 power guy in Windsor (and perhaps to get the federal Liberal nomination to go after Joe Comartin).

Can you imagine, poor Eddie having to go through Steve Salmons, the former administrator at City Hall, whenever he wants to talk to the Province about the border. Is that what adding insult to injury means?

Writing a Blog that is viewed by some as "political" results in interesting conversations with some of the movers and shakers in town. The big news is that even though we are more than a year before the next municipal election two warring camps have set up. First we have the "Trust Eddie" crowd who are spreading the word that Eddie is unbeatable. Then, shockingly, we have the "Anybody but..." camp who is trying to line up someone to run against Eddie.

The strategists are at play already. We have seen Eddie tell his Councillor colleagues some months ago that he is running for a second term. Why would he do this so far in advance when it took him so long to announce that he was running for Mayor in the first place?

In my view, he announced to tell people he was not running federally (who would have wanted to anyway at that time) but also to foreclose any of his Council colleagues, or others, from running. Why run now and lose, people are being told, when you can wait for three more years since Eddie has said he is a maximum 2-term Mayor. I have personally been told by several Councillors that Eddie cannot be beaten in their opinion. We saw a good example of this publicly when Gord Henderson in one of his columns dared Bill Marra to run.

In reality, what Eddie has done is buy himself some time to decide if he should run federally. (The Gomery inquiry’s delay has given him more time. That lets the major parties fight over him to see which will offer him the most and for him to decide who the winner would be. I am sure that Eddie would not want to be a mere backbencher). If he finally decides not to run federally, then he has already prevented possible opposition for Mayor at the same time. Keep those options open.

The fact that Eddie has developed such a strong opposition in such a short period of time is almost beyond belief to me. I know he promised a lot, perhaps too much and it was unlikely that he could do everything. But then again, Eddie only received 53% of the vote against someone who had to carry the previous Administration’s baggage and had to overcome his campaign team’s costly mistakes.

The damaging part for Eddie is that many are the people who helped Eddie win in the first place. In a nutshell, they feel let down. They had expected so much from him and feel he has not delivered. Whether it is a complex issue like the border or something simple like not returning a phone call or visiting a plant or giving a speech at a dinner, Eddie is losing friends. As someone said, it takes a lot of bodies and $750 contributions to run a Mayoral campaign.

The "Anybody But" crowd has learned from the past election campaign. They are out there aggressively looking for ONE candidate and only one. They know that if there is more than one good alternative to Eddie, then Eddie can be re-elected if the anti-Eddie vote is split. That was the big fear last time that Eddie and Bill would split the vote allowing Hurst to win.

Next time around, it is not going to be pleasant election campaign. It will be mean and negative. The arm-twisting will be intense. A lot of careers, and egos, will be at stake. So who are the possible alternatives?

On Council, Dave Brister is the one that immediately comes to mind, especially since Gord H. has called him a "sharp pencil." However, he needs someone to help him stop from making so many rookie mistakes. The fact that he has not taken a leading role for the Community that gave him the biggest number of votes of all Councillors will also hurt.

Joyce Zuk is another. She is probably the smartest and toughest-minded person on Council. After all, she had the nerve to tell Mike Hurst to "get out of the chair" if he could not run a Council meeting properly. And Joyce is trying hard to say that everyone is working well together on Council to preserve unity in a situation where Council is imploding with personal and philosophical animosities.

But the name that I have heard the most these days is Jo-Anne Gignac. That surprised me because frankly, I just cannot figure her out. I am not sure what she stands for or what her philosophy is. She speaks well and asks questions but I just do not have a clear view about her at all. To be taken seriously, she needs to start articulating a point of view that people can grasp.

Outside of Council, the name of Rick Limoges keeps popping up. He is well-liked and well-respected. But he has lost twice federally so would coming back to local politics seem like a consolation prize.

And then there is BILL! The ex-public host of Council Close-up and runner-up to Eddie. His "gentlemanly" speech after he lost won him a lot of admirers. If Bill decides to run for Mayor (and he may run for the Ward 4 Council seat instead), he will be a much more formidable opponent because he cannot now be viewed as "Hurst-Lite." That baggage is gone with the passage of time. However, Bill has to learn to make the "right" decision the first time around. He can no longer afford the reversals of positions as in the past. He also better drop a lot of the people who advised him during the last campaign.

I have heard that the Liberals are doing some polling in town. The results would be interesting. My bet is that all of the posssible people I have mentioned would like to know the answer too.

Question: If an election were held today, for whom would you vote?

Monday, September 19, 2005

UPDATE: Council Agenda Peeve

What a co-incidence.

Prof Weis of the Windsor Essex County Environment Committee (WECEC) will be at Council tonight. His group issued a very negative report against parts of the Schwartz proposal. Of course, you would not know that from looking at the Delegation list that the City publishes Friday afternoon before the meeting.

Unfortunately, the City website is not working today so that if you wanted to know what is on tap tonight, you could not find out. And if you wanted to get theWECEC report to read before tonight, you cannot get it either because the website is down

If we had Council Close-up, the commentator could have explained to the public what WECEC is, what it does and explain why they issued the report on the border. But there is no Council Close-up now.

I hope Cogeco does not have technical problems at Council tonight so that some of the important parts of the meeting will not take place after midnight again.

Is There A Doctor In The House?

The Windsor Star reported that "A new study says that Chatham-Kent and Essex County, including Windsor, have the lowest and third-lowest population of family doctors in Ontario respectively, replacing the north as the most underserviced region."

A new medial school opened in Northern Ontario that is supposed to help with the doctor shortage. It won’t. Windsor has a new satellite medical school that is supposed to help with the doctor shortage. It won’t. Ontario has never produced enough doctors. A rep from The College of Physicians and Surgeons told me that we have always relied on foreign trained doctors to meet our deficiency. Look at the numbers for a reality check.

  • "Ontario doctors praised the opening of [The Northern Ontario School of Medicine] on Tuesday. They said it's a key step to addressing the shortage of physicians in the province…. Ontario is short almost 2,200 physicians, leaving almost 1.2 million patients without access to a doctor…. Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty encouraged the first 56 students in the school to stay in northern Ontario after they graduate… The school will produce its first graduates in 2009." CBC News report

    "An additional 104 spots are to be created at existing facilities over the next four years. Queen's Park has also boosted the number of physician residency positions and slots for international medical school graduates." Windsor Star Editorial

How can a shortage of several thousand doctors with additional complications due to changes in lifestyle---more women doctors and aging male family practitioners who tend to work fewer hours—be met by the few new doctors being turned out. That number would hardly dent the number of retiring doctors in our area considering the first doctors in the northern school will not graduate until 2009!

I know that there is a movement in our area to create a new medical school in Windsor. While commendable, realistically, the chances of it actually being built in the near-term are remote notwithstanding the valiant efforts of the community and our political representatives.

In my mind, a better alternative is to encourage foreign trained doctors to move here and to do so NOW! We would not be depriving countries of their doctors since there actually are certain countries that have a surplus of well-trained doctors who could be admitted here quickly.

Certainly, some training would be necessary and required to ensure that their standards met ours and to ensure that they are acclimatized to the Canadian system. That’s where our local schools would come in. We would design a program so that there would be no cost to taxpayers. My experience is that these doctors would be prepared to pay the full tuition costs of such a program and would be prepared to work in under-serviced areas to solve our shortage problem.

We can justify such a new program in Windsor for foreign trained doctors. Moreover, we can view it as an interim step between the satellite school and the day that we get a full-fledged medical school. We would have created a built-in specialty before the medical school was even constructed.

Our University and Community College would play a vital role as I see it. The University of Windsor would not have a "stand-alone" medical school right away but rather would have the school where every foreign trained doctor would be assessed and upgraded, if needed, so that he/she could practise in Ontario. St. Clair College would have the responsibility to ensure that the doctor and his/her family become accustomed to the Canadian way of life and fit in to the community as quickly and as painlessly as possible.

The big PLUS for this program is that we turn out doctors almost immediately and at a much lower cost than waiting for a totally new doctor to go through school and graduate. I would expect that many graduates of the school would choose to stay in our area.

Even if there is a concern about admitting them as "doctors," they could be admitted as physician assistants or "apprentices," working to help out the doctor and reduce the pressure due to high caseloads. It works this way in other professions; why not medicine. Frankly, and to be cynical, it also is a way of getting doctors here and paying them less than a doctor's income so that the Ministry of Health can save taxpayer money too.

The foreign trained doctors are NOT doing this for the money. Most I have spoken with want to bring their family to North America to live, for the better life that they believe that we can offer to their children.

If what I am saying makes sense, then we need to start. Our City and County Councils need to take the lead. We need the dedicated members of our area who helped us to get the satellite school to take action for this next step. I drafted a Resolution that I hope we can consider as our Mission Statement for this project. All it takes now is for us to demand that our local politicians get moving and get this process started!

WHEREAS the health and well being of the residents of Windsor and Essex County are of prime importance; and

WHEREAS more than 50,000 residents of the Region are now faced with a situation where they have no ready access to a doctor because of an acute shortage of doctors in the area; and

WHEREAS the Region has a need for more than 250 family physicians and specialists now and over 175 doctors are 50 years of age or older; and

WHEREAS communities in the Region are having difficulties recruiting and retaining doctors and are facing a situation where the aging of doctors and lifestyle changes will result in reduced case-loads and a worsening of the problem; and

WHEREAS communities in order to attract new doctors may have to engage in wasteful, competitive activities; and

WHEREAS the University of Windsor will be setting up a satellite campus as part of the Medical School of the University of Western Ontario; and

WHEREAS the doctor shortage crisis can only be resolved in the short term by recruiting and encouraging foreign trained doctors to come to and remain in the Region

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that Windsor City Council

  1. declare that the City of Windsor is in a medical state of emergency respecting the shortage of doctors in the area including Family Practitioners and specialists in a number of medical specialties
  2. work together with all of the communities in the Region co-operatively on a co-ordinated recruitment strategy for repatriating Canadian doctors who work out of Canada, foreign trained doctors who already live in Canada and for IMGs
  3. urge the Government of Ontario and the Minister of Health and Long Term Care to take immediate action to deal with the doctor shortage crisis by setting up a "pilot" program in the Region to be known as the Executive Medical Preparation Program for recruited doctors which would consist of a self-funded, intensive training program to ensure that the doctors meet Ontario standards
  4. work with the Federal government to develop a "fast track" immigration process, which does not compromise national security, or CMA credentials and competency standards.
  5. request the University of Windsor medical school to develop the expertise for the Province in developing the Executive Medical Preparation Program to train the recruited doctors to Ontario standards
  6. request St. Clair College to provide cultural training to assist the recruited doctors and their families to become acclimatized to the culture of Ontario and its healthcare environment
  7. request the Essex County Medical Society and the Essex Kent Lambton District Health Council to provide practical experience on aspects of the medical services and understanding the complexities of the health system, and
  8. require that the recruited doctors commit to practice in the Region for a period of not less than 5 years