Thoughts and Opinions On Today's Important Issues

Friday, September 30, 2005

Brister on Art and Buses

Councillor Dave Brister sure knows how to turn a phrase

For budget purposes and aesthetic reasons it seems, he wants an empty Transit Windsor bus to take a work of art that he disagrees with--waste of time money and space he said-- to the city dump to save gas.

Remember, Councillor Brister was the one who wanted the Art Gallery to sell part of its collection, the paintings that were not on the walls, to generate revenues for budget purposes.

In a Gord Henderson column before a vote on the terminal where a $2 million Provincial grant was at stake, we learned Brister took the bus for 2 years in his early career at Hiram Walker, always transferred at Ouellette and Wyandotte and never once used the downtown station. Presumably, this expertise at public transit allowed him to say "There may be an argument for a transit terminal but I haven't seen the numbers to prove that... Where's the business case? Where's the cost/benefit analysis? What's the anticipated payback?" [I wonder if time may have changed things as I assume that Councillor Brister must drive to work today]

Councillor Brister is showing us again his feelings about Transit Windsor and the Art Gallery. And if his comment about the matter benefitting an individual meant Joyce Zuk, then he slammed his Ward mate and potential opponent for mayor in public!

Call Fox 2 News Quick

I see that Councillor Zuk is now in favour of public debates at City Hall. About time!

Perhaps she can convince her colleagues at their "in camera" strategic session on Saturday to adopt the revolutionary concept of "open and transparent" Government as a way to act.

Perhaps if she is very persuasive, we might get some public debate on less important issues than art censorship. You know, issues like:
  • the border
  • Schwartz legal bills
  • the Arena moving to the Raceway
  • the Keg Agreement
  • the Mady parking garage
  • MFP litigation to recover $68 million
  • the Greyhound agreement
  • Post-employment Code of Conduct etc etc etc.

But wait, I don't care what the Mayor and Councillors do on Saturday at their secret session. I am going to threaten to call Fox 2 and have their ace investigative reporter come over and report on what is happening here.

That ought to scare the Mayor as the "art" story did!


Has the Windsor Star read my Blog? You decide after reading Saturday's Editorial and Henderson column.

The "Conflicts" Motion That Council Has Forgotten

If time passes quickly when you are having fun, then why do four weeks in Windsor seem like eighteen months?

It must be that the Mayor and Council are in some kind of a funk or are they afraid of something.

I am sure that you remember the brouhaha that was raised when ex-Mayor Hurst joined DRTP. No matter what your position on that was, some of us felt that there was a need to clarify the rules so that this kind of an issue would never rise again. Councillor Postma obviously did so too and had the courage to introduce a Motion dealing with this matter at the Council meeting of March 29, 2004. I spoke in support of her Motion.

Our dear, action-oriented Council, with only the Mayor declaring an interest and abstaining, deferred the matter "pending a report from administration in 4 weeks..." We are still waiting for the Report.

As Prime Minister Martin has written about the Federal code "By acting always in accordance with the principles and specific provisions of this Code, public office holders will provide Canadians with a greater assurance that our government is acting in an honest and transparent manner." Why should we accept less from our Municipal politicians?

I believe that there is a Council strategic session on Saturday. It is about time that they bring the Motion forward for "public" debate. Let us know in an "open and transparent" fashion who on Council is afraid to pass such a Code of Conduct and why.

In case they have forgotten, here is a copy of the Motion:

WHEREAS there is an immediate need to establish rules respecting postemployment practices for the Mayor and City Councillors each of whom are hereinafter referred to as an "official") so that the public will have confidence in the integrity of City Government and so that officials will know what is expected of them; and,

WHEREAS there is a need to balance the right of officials to seek employment after leaving office and the need to avoid real or potential conflicts of interest while in office and afterwards;

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that Council adopt a POSTEMPLOYMENT CODE OF CONDUCT that shall be applicable to the Mayor and all Councillors immediately that shall include the following terms:

a. All officials should seek to avoid conflict of interest situations, real or potential, in post-employment activities during the term of office and subsequently shall ensure that such activities do not prejudice their official duties or bring the City into disrepute;

b. No official shall use his/her office to make an arrangement for future employment, to obtain a post-employment position or to take an improper advantage;

c. An official shall keep in confidence and not use or disclose to any person or persons outside of the City any confidential or proprietary information gained by reason of the official’s position unless such information was in the public domain at the time it was disclosed or was subsequently made available to the general public without restriction by the City;

d. An official must disclose forthwith, in a confidential report to the Mayor, or to a Designated Councillor, if the Mayor is the party involved, any discussions during the official’s term of office with a party respecting an arrangement for future employment or an offer of employment. Acceptance of any offer of employment shall be reported immediately to the Mayor or the Designated Councillor;

e. No official shall during the period of one (1) year after leaving office:

  • i. accept appointment to a board of directors of or employment with any person
    who was involved in a matter in which the official participated or in which the
    official received confidential or proprietary information while an official;
  • ii. assist, represent or negotiate for any person in a matter in which the official
    participated or in which the official received confidential or proprietary
    information while an official;
  • iii. give advice or information to any person using confidential or proprietary
    information that is not available to the public concerning the programs or
    policies of the City;
  • iv. act in a position adverse to the City in a matter in which the official participated
    or in which the official received confidential or proprietary information while an
    official; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that Administration immediately commence
preparation of the appropriate by-law required to carry out this resolution of Council.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Canada's Economy Should be Finnished ASAP

Canada moved up one spot in the World Economic Forum The Global Competitiveness Report 2005-2006. We are now Number 14 in the world with Finland being at the top of the list for the third consecutive year .

What interested me was this comment about the relationship between high taxes and competitiveness in Nordic countries. Perhaps there is a lesson for us.

Imagine if the money that Gomery will be reporting on soon and other wasteful expenditures that the Auditor General reports on annually had not "misused in some way in what the IMF calls, perhaps euphemistically, “unproductive expenditures.”

“The Nordic countries share a number of characteristics that make them extremely competitive, such as very healthy macroeconomic environments and public institutions that are highly transparent and efficient, with general agreement within society on the spending priorities to be met in the government budget. While the business communities in the Nordic countries point to high tax rates as a potential problem area, there is no evidence that these are adversely affecting the ability of these countries to compete effectively in world markets, or to provide to their respective populations some of the highest standards of living in the world. Indeed, the high levels of government tax revenue have delivered world-class educational establishments, an extensive safety net, and a highly motivated and skilled labour force.”

Out of Touch, Out of Office

It was not that long ago.

Remember the Special Council meetings, the Ward meetings, the Town Hall type meetings when our political leaders actively sought the views of its citizens on the border. Remember how Council took the lead in determining what was good for our City, even opposing the views of a very strong and powerful Mayor when his viewpoint seemed to differ from that of the vast majority of citizens. Remember how Council stared down Big Government, Big Business and Big Labour to get a seat for the City at the decision table.

I was reminded of this when reading a story about a meeting in the US recently in a local newspaper
  • Residents voice fears to senator at meeting
    By Bobby Ampezzan, The News-Herald
    PUBLISHED: August 28, 2005

    GROSSE ILE — Apparently no island is an island.

  • That was proved by the nearly 800 people from as far away as Dearborn and Detroit who packed Grosse Ile High School's auditorium to participate in a state Senate transportation committee hearing on a proposed border crossing project in the area.

    In the loudest show of protest, the crowd collectively cried "No!" when Grosse Ile Township Supervisor Kurt Kobiljak asked, "Do we want a bridge?" and then "Yes!" to the question, "Do we want this option taken off the list?"

    The meeting was co-chaired by Michigan Department of Transportation Director Gloria Jeff and state Sen. Jud Gilbert (R-Algonac), chairman of the transportation committee.

    State Sen. Bruce Patterson (R-Canton Twp.) coordinated the meeting, and Sens. Raymond Basham (D-Taylor) and Burton Leland (D-Detroit) also sat on the panel.

    Also in attendance were U.S. Rep. John Dingell (D-15th District), Wayne County Executive Robert Ficano and Wayne County Commissioner Joe Palamara (D-Grosse Ile), and state Reps. Kathleen Law (D-Gibraltar) and Barbara Farrah (D-Southgate).

    Jeff was joined by MDOT Senior Project Manager Mohammed Alghurabi, who heads the Detroit River International Crossing Project on the U.S. side

Sure I understand that the US side is a lot further behind where we are but they are catching up quickly as they become aware that their communities are at risk.

However, and this is vital to understand, it should also be clearly noted that we are at crunch time; decisions as to the best crossings are to be made shortly. Politicians on the US side seem to understand this and understand "power politics." They also seem to understand that they better listen to the Voice of the People if they intend to be re-elected.

They are rallying their citizenry, publicizing meetings and getting people out to make it clear that a crossing is NOT going into their area. And all of the top politicos are in attendance too, listening and acting! As are the bureaucrats who take their orders from the politicians in the end.

Contrast that with what is taking place in Windsor. What is our position? A secretly endorsed Schwartz proposal without any input from citizens. A Mayor and Council that ran scared when the infamous Agenda Item #5 was placed before Council and 16 people within days appeared ready to blast what was being proposed. A City that is isolated from the decision-makers at the Senior Levels; a population that is in the dark, not knowing what is going on; bureaucrats running the show.

Did our Mayor and Council have the guts to listen to those who elected them? Were they willing to re-consider their position? No, they ran and "deferred" the discussion when the Schwartz proposal was put on the public agenda. They knew they would be soundly defeated!

Rest assured that our Mayor and Council are still having their secret border sessions. I have heard that the Mayor keeps asking them if they still support his billion-dollar short-term dream and they concur in secret again. Who knows what other schemes they are hatching in secret (See my Blog on "The Plan! The Plan!)

Our Mayor and Council are out of touch. They have forgotten how they were elected and why. Last time around, there was a big turnover on Council. I know that a number of people are thinking seriously about their plans for running for office. After all, the next election is only about a year away!

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

The End of Eddie's Billion-Dollar Dream?

It was like an anonymous fax or a letter delivered in a brown paper envelope. The email said simply "look what the cat dragged in."

It was a copy of Transport Canada's "Statement of Work" for an independent and neutral consultant to evaluate and validate the recommendations of the Schwartz report. It was the project that the Mayor refused to participate in, probably because he already suspects what the outcome will be. He could hardly be expected to participate in the study that could totally destroy HIS and the City's negotiating position!

The Statement is very interesting. I will summarize relevant parts:
  • A new crossing is needed for additional capacity but also for security and redundancy
  • New crossing will be opened in 2013
  • Schwartz is being viewed as a short/medium term alternative, as a solution only for Phase 2, to address Windsor congestion problems
  • Horseshoe Road/Brighton Beach proposals are viewed by Transport Canada as a risk to the Bi-national EA process and prejudicing the selection of the new border crossing
  • Transport Canada does not believe that the Schwartz proposal is the most practical, efficient, and cost-effective solution for the medium term problems nor will it provide an effective diversion route while other projects are undertaken.

Over two dozen questions are asked of the expert including those involving traffic management, Huron Church truck by-pass and E C Row. Conspicuous by its absence are any questions involving the environmental issues at Ojibway.

The work was to be completed by July 29, 2005, almost 2 months ago.

Some questions:

  1. Was anyone hired
  2. Who
  3. Is the work done
  4. What is the result

Since the Statement is out, we should assume that the Report will follow soon, especially if it is anti-Schwartz.

Let's make a wild guess at the results. Given the "concerns" of the Feds in the Statement of Work, I will bet that there are serious problems with the Schwartz solution to the point that it is not feasible. It hardly takes a genius to figure that out.

The Feds must have told the Province already what the answer is to avoid embarassment to the Premier when he came to Windsor for his recent visit. The Provincial Liberal flipflopping on Schwartz is almost comical (see the September 26 Blog re "Dwight Duncan Then and Now" The 2013 date for the new crossing that McGuinty's Border Czar is to implement is further proof. No need now for a new medium term plan when the Bridge Co. has solved that problem too.

Minister Peterson must have known the answer before he came down and made his remark on the border. The Premier must have known the answer before he came down. And Eddie probably knows the answer too by now.

As for our Mayor, if I am right, then he has not only lost his billion-dollar extravaganza but also his bargaining position with the Bridge Co. is over too.


Wow, Ken Lewenza, Senior must be really happy with the Star's front page yesterday (Oh who reads Henderson anyway!) Why the man's a hero with all of those jobs "saved."

But perhaps Ken and Buzz Hargrove might take a look at a BBC story I just found and which I reproduce below when one wants to talk about really saving jobs for auto workers. That story in my mind demonstrates what a real "Hell of a victory" is.

Imagine if they had shown the leadership the VW unions did and offered a small cut in wages to save the hundreds of Ford and Chrysler jobs that Windsor lost. Can you imagine, CAW workers not having to retire early or to uproot and go out of town for a new job.

I'll tell you one thing. The CAW honchos are lucky that the Ford and Chrysler ratification votes are over.

Volkswagen jobs saved in SUV deal

Volkswagen has agreed to build its new sports utility vehicle in Germany after securing wage concessions from unions.

VW had threatened to switch production of its Marrakesh model to Portugal unless it could reduce the cost of manufacturing in its home market.

It will now build it at its Wolfsburg plant after agreeing to cut production costs by 850 euros (£578) per vehicle.

Unions said the agreement would safeguard the jobs of 1,000 apprentices who will now work on the project.

VW said manufacturing costs in Portugal would have been at least 1,000 euros lower per vehicle than those under current labour agreements in Germany.

As a result of the new agreement, workers on the project will earn less than others at VW and could be required to work extra hours.

However, VW has also pledged to build a new model in Emden, another of its German plants, in 2008.

"For everyone involved, this was not an easy path," said Wolfgang Bernhard, chief executive of the VW brand.

"The main thing is that we can now produce and export the vehicle in Germany in competitive conditions."

VW is in the middle of a major cost-cutting drive and revealed plans to reduce its German workforce earlier this month. "

QUOTE FROM German Economy Minister Wolfgang Clement

"The decisions shows that both sides -- both management and employees -- are prepared to make great efforts to safeguard production and jobs in Germany...They are demonstrating a great sense of responsibility and showing that it is possible, by working together, to find solutions to the demands made by globalisation."

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Mike Hurst'll Turn Off The Light For You!

Remember Tom Bodet's famous tagline for Motel 6 in their radio and TV ads. Well I changed it a bit to celebrate the death of DRTP. Well, it's unofficial end anyway.

It has been pretty clear that DRTP was finished. The Bi-national Engineers' criteria of a 6-lane truck expressway through Windsor leading to a new 6-lane tunnel under or a 6-lane bridge over the river was the final nail in its coffin as far as I was concerned. Something that would destroy Windsor's heart or that might negatively impact Detroit's waterfront ambitions is just NOT going to happen. Never mind the huge cost.

Of course, OMERS cannot kill off DRTP until after the Financial Services Commission of Ontario issues its report respecting its review "with regard to some of OMERS investment practices, specifically in relation to Borealis Infrastructure. FSCO has indicated that it is reviewing this material to determine whether certain OMERS investments are consistent with the requirements of the Pension Benefits Act."

If DRTP were written down or written off, then such action in itself might well provide the basis of a very negative FSCO Report. So DRTP is still around in name.

As you will recall, FSCO started its review over a year ago and has still not issued a report. That it should take so long is shocking since OMERS keeps increasing its contributions rates.

The delay is especially shameful since the OMERS Act is also in the process of being changed. I recently wrote to the Minister of Finance about this stating:
  • "Recently, your colleague, Minister Gerretsen proposed a new Governance model for OMERS. How that can be suggested at a time when OMERS is being investigated is astounding.

    Your colleague stated:

    "Certainly the whole intent of referring this legislation to a legislative committee after first reading is so that there can be full and very open and very frank discussions between all the stakeholders, whether they're employers or employees. We intend to do that through the legislative process… We want to give OMERS full autonomy, just like all the other public pension plans in Ontario. We intend to do that, and the legislative process has been set up to, in effect, allow that to happen."

    I do not understand how there can be such discussions until stakeholders, especially the taxpayers of this Province who contribute to the Plan through their municipalities, know what errors have been made, if any, and what actions need to be taken to correct them."

Why do I make the bold assertion that DRTP is dead?

I recently went to the OMERS site and saw its new design. I think it is quite attractive and a nice use of taxpayer and pensioner money. I clicked on "Infrastructure" to see what was new with DRTP. It was not identified on the main page as a key asset while the PEI Confederation Bridge was.

Next I clicked on "Assets" and read about the "Detroit River Rail Tunnel." That was described as the the 8,5OO-foot Detroit River Rail Tunnel that links Windsor and Detroit that OMERS jointly owns with Canadian Pacific Railway.

I thought that was peculiar. I hadn’t seen the OMERS/CP Rail Windsor asset being described that way before. There was a reference to "Additionally, a $600 million new rail tunnel and high-speed truck route are proposed for completion within five years" and a direction to the DRTP website.

The use of the word "additionally" in corporate-speak seemed to downplay the importance of DRTP. Clearly some genius at OMERS/Borealis/CP Rail figured out that to save face, they better talk about the existing rail tunnel and not the DRTP.

The mystery was deepening so next I clicked on the Borealis Infrastructure website itself Nothing at all about DRTP on the "Snapshot" page. Then there was something strange called "the Detroit River Tradeway Tunnel" on the "Investment Criteria" page. [That seemed like the rail tunnel and DRTP rolled into one since Tradeway was the DRTP name before "The Jobs Tunnel"]. I suspected I would find something under "Assets." And I did: the "Detroit River Rail Tunnel" language again.

I was very confused now so I quickly went to the "News Releases" page to find how DRTP morphed into the Detroit River Rail Tunnel/Detroit River Tradeway Tunnel. Lo and behold, not a word about the Windsor/Detroit project!

I was desperate by now. I went to their "SEARCH" page and typed in lowercase for searching "detroit river tunnel partnership" and "drtp" and received the answer: "no results found"

This made no sense to me at all. What happened to DRTP? Where had it gone? Why was it being de-emphasized and the almost 100 year-old rail tunnels given such prominent attention? And then it hit me. I knew the answer. I went to the DRTP page and there was the solution, staring me right in the face.

Offers Enhancements to Make Project
Near Invisible.

Ex-Mayor and DRTP CEO Mike Hurst succeeded brilliantly in carrying out his second last function at DRTP.

Unlike Tom Bodet, now it’s time he carry out the last job since he will be the last one out of the door.

Monday, September 26, 2005

We Finally Arrived!

Did you see the photograph in the Star on Saturday! If not, go and grab Section "F" before it makes it to the bottom of your bird cage.

There we were, a colour photo of my wife and I, smiling in the Star's version of the "High Society" page.

What a shocker when a friend sent us an email informing us about our new fame and hoping that we would still talk to the "little people."

I do have to admit, we do make a darn good-looking couple! And yes, we will still talk to you. Maybe. hehehe

PS. My Face-to-Face interview will be rerun on Cogeco Cable 11 on Tuesday (7:30 PM) and Wednesday.

Notable Quotes

In surfing the web and and looking at old emails over the last few days, I found some interesting comments that I thought I should share with you.

Sam Schwartz on what can happen with public authorities running bridges:

"I appear before you today to admit that I, in fact my whole profession, traffic and transportation engineers, have failed miserably time and time again in reducing traffic congestion here in New York, across the country and in many other parts of the world. I offer the premise that we failed because we only viewed the problem through government eyes. I offer a few related examples where the government failed but the private sector had measurable successes...

To make a long story short, New York City got cold feet, put in a few bus lanes, parking restrictions and a few good traffic engineering projects, but never got at the root of the problem. Essentially similar stories were played out at major cities across the U.S.

But the auto industry, worrying about car-free cities, did respond (admittedly kicking and screaming). Auto emissions plummeted. Most of the gains in cleaner air were accomplished by the capitalists, not the traffic engineers and planners...

And I don’t buy the argument that driving free is a right and the bridges are merely extensions of city streets. Brooklyn and Queens motorists have suffered unbelievable congestion, and associated costs, as every single East River bridge has had structural emergency shutdowns of lanes and roadways and even an extended closing, from lack of maintenance of the entire Williamsburg Bridge in 1988.

There were times, over the past two decades, that as many as half of the 30 lanes on the four East River bridges were closed due to emergencies and construction. The culprit: corrosion from lack of maintenance from lack of dedicated funds."

Dan Stamper, President, Ambassador Bridge Company on a new border crossing

"Everybody’s been sitting around saying, "We’ll do this, we’ll do that if we can get taxpayers’ money." We can do this ourselves. We have an obligation to do this to protect the region and industry… The binational study is so wrapped up in politics. We’ve decided to go forward on our own."

Warren Kinsella on Plans

"The problem facing this government - the problem facing every government - isn't scandal. Believe me: there isn't a voter alive who doesn't think EVERY political party is morally deficient. They see no qualitative difference between ANY of us politicos, ideology notwithstanding. We're ALL pond scum; the next guy is as bad as the last guy. Marketing scandal is not, therefore, a winning campaign strategy.

No, the killer ballot question is always this one: "Do they have a plan?"

And I don't mean a plan you personally agree with. Voters, unlike right wing bloggers, are always smart enough to appreciate, a la Jaggers and Richards, that you can't always get what you want. You have to compromise, take water in your whine, etc. etc.

The thing that will defeat Paul Martin in 2005 - and, as all of you charitable regular readers recall, I did predict the government would fall in 2005 - is Paul Martin. He and his shrinking circle have no plan. Zero, zippo, zilch. That is not merely evident, it's painfully evident."

Candidate For Mayor Eddie Francis on Plans

"I want to be your mayor. The status quo will no longer do. We cannot continue to stumble from crisis to crisis into the future without a plan…As the new Mayor of Windsor, together with counsel and administration we will implement a new plan which will restore public confidence in our city government… We will become a council driven, people centered government where we will plan, strategize and set the agenda...To me smart growth means planning for a liveable community... Smart growth is also about planning for growth that supports our current economic base and recognizes the potential to attract new industry…. Together council and I will develop an action plan to reverse years of decay and neglect."

Eddie Francis campaign event celebrates his volunteers

"I am proud to have a team of talented and dedicated women and men working with me who believe in me who want a Real Plan, a Clear Vision and who want a clear choice for the future of Windsor.”

Thomas L. Friedman on What A Flat World Needs

"Meeting the challenges of flatism requires as comprehensive, energetic and focused a response as did meeting the challenge of Communism. It requires a president who can summon the nation to work harder, get smarter, attract more young women and men to science and engineering and build the broadband infrastructure, portable pensions and health care that will help every American become more employable in an age in which no one can guarantee you lifetime employment."

Dwight Duncan Then and Now

"Ontario Energy Minister Dwight Duncan said the federal and provincial governments have accepted the findings of a report on the Windsor gateway, by consultant Sam Schwartz, dealing with delays at border crossings between Canada and the United States. The report, commissioned by the City of Windsor, recommends ways of alleviating border delays by reducing international truck traffic on the city's streets. "We're embracing the entire report," Mr. Duncan told reporters at Queen's Park yesterday."

"The Government of Canada, the Province of Ontario, and the City of Windsor and Essex County will continue to work together to ensure the expedient implementation of initiatives under the Strategy to improve the efficiency of the Windsor-Detroit Gateway, in a manner that is consistent with the long-term planning already underway under the Bi-National Partnership...As you know, a number of proposals for new or expanded border crossings have already been put forward. these proposals will provide valuable input to the process, as will the Schwartz Report that was recently made public by the City of Windsor. The partnership will consider all of these proposals, together with suggestions that may be identified by stakeholders.

At this time these are just options that are put forward, which would need to be vetted through both planning and environmental assessment processes...We must ensure that full consideration is given to all alternatives."