Thoughts and Opinions On Today's Important Issues

Friday, October 21, 2005

The Apologists Strike Back

Can you believe it? The apologists are so predictable.

Not a word about what the Bridge Co’s Project is all about but just an attack on a small element of it in order to preserve the Mayor’s billion-dollar short-term dream. Or rather his “starting point” which will lead to what he really wanted to do in the first place but could not trust us to tell us until he got everyone worked up over Prairie grass and extinct species at Ojibway and spent millions of dollars to divert our attention! (Whew what a mouthful). You know The Real Plan! The Real Plan! After all, we are not as smart as the Philosopher King is and certainly cannot be trusted with “facts.” Let’s keep it in camera folks. (It involves the Tunnel as is becoming so abundantly clear right now)

Not one single good word so far about how the Bridge Co.’s project might re-vitalize a destroyed US city that just happens to be across the river from Windsor. Not one single word about how this could be the start of a massive regional economic redevelopment that could actually increase business here. Not one good word about how this could make our border actually work so that we can ship our goods into the US more quickly or how Americans can come over here to spend money to bolster our dying downtown.

If the apologists are not careful, the City may wind up losing its tickets to the Superbowl game or Eddie may have to sit all by himself. All of his relationship building will be for nought. We may not get one single Superbowl Party if we are too disruptive to Detroit’s future and we do NOT have one yet by the way from looking at the Detroit media. And the Mayor’s several hundred thousand dollar donation to become a sponsor of the Superbowl (who wants a Science Centre for kids anyway) might become a useless investment after all!

I heard that our Mayor might even have called some Detroit Councillors about what was happening. I cannot believe that rumour. Why his good buddy and Mayor in Detroit might consider that to be a breach of protocol to have a Canadian politician try to interfere with a US legislative vote and influence it directly by contacting Councillors.

I can just imagine the NDPer from Windsor West climbing on his soapbox if an American politician tried to do that in Canada. John, the husband of Norma Coleman, Eddie’s Chief of Staff, and his Editorial Board colleagues at the Windsor Star in Editorials and cartoons and Gord Henderson in a column could fulminate about how the Americans were interfering with the good government of a sovereign country. They could shouted out their anti-American rhetoric and tell them to stay home or we would cut off their oil. That’s why I am so sure that Eddie would never even consider doing something so impolite.

So let me summarize the predictable, apologist the attack so far and give you my response in brackets:

 A bridge twinning and the proposed superplaza would require a raft of government approvals [We have to keep those Bi-national Engineers working. The Governor almost ruined their Christmas taking away all of those corridors so quickly. I wonder what approvals are needed in CANADA for a project completely in the USA]

 reassurance by the Canadian Border Services Agency that it has no plans to station its customs officers in Detroit [No plans for Detroit today but pilots projects already underway in other locations]

 Rep. Steve Tobacman, who represents the southwest Detroit, said he was was extremely concerned about the latest bridge proposal. [Duh…he introduced anti-Bridge Co. legislation in the Michigan state legislature. Is he expected to be happy!]

 this has not gone to Detroit city council [but it will]

 Campaign contribution records show Moroun and other bridge company executives have contributed significantly to the campaigns of Kilpatrick and his mother, U.S. congresswoman Carolyn Cheeks-Kilpatrick [The smear is out. Doing something that it is legally allowed is somehow wrong. Hmmm I better check the political contributors to the Mayor’s and Councillor’s campaigns. At the end of September, Chuck Scarpelli at City Hall told me it would cost exactly $5.67 to get a photocopy of the Mayor’s complete contribution list and nothing to view it. I think I may take him up on that soon.]

 Detroit Coun. Sheila Cockrel expects the Mayor will push council to quickly make a decision on the offer and described that as unfair with the municipal election looming. [And their system of local Government pits the Council against the Mayor so what do you expect. Did she say she was against it though so that policeman and fireman would have to be laid off for lack of money? It would be like our Mayor giving the Councillors the full and complete Schwartz Report a few days before he was making it public and expecting their complete approval]

 Francis will discuss the legality of any proposed lease buyout today with Windsor tunnel commission lawyer Cliff Sutts [Oh oh….the lawyer threat. Now how would he be able to comment on a US deal? I bet the Bridge Co. has lawyers that might want to talk to Eddie too about this.]

 He will have everything all tied up, then watch how expensive it will be to cross. We can't allow this to go any further [Thank heaven…the monopolist angle before the end of the article. Too bad that the Bi-national said that there was competition for the Bridge. They are lousy monopolists too if Sarnia and rail could take away a chunk of their business as the Star reported only a few days ago. Anyway, it would be the Port Authority who set prices not the Bridge Co. as I understand it. The Bridge Co. would just be the operator, not the owner. The US set-up would be the same as now I believe]

 Forbes recently estimated Moroun's holdings at more than $1 billion [Wow being hugely successful is a sin. Perhaps if we had someone who knew what he was doing as a business person running the border, we would NOT have the mess we are in now!]

I checked my list of apologist possible attack items and they got 9 out of the 10 of them. I guess they must have run out of space.

Now I don’t want to tell you I told you so but I did yesterday.

Does anyone over here have the faintest idea what the full Bridge Co. Project is from reading the Star? Nope.

Does anyone over here have any idea that the Project is really about economic development? Nope.

Does anyone over here have the faintest idea that we should be part of this “REGIONAL” development if we want to prosper? Nope.

I’ll set it out for you once again. What the Star refuses to publish, the four elements of the “Port of Opportunity & Employment.”

1) Border Solution, “International Center” of trade & tourism to promote increased trade opportunities between Canada and the US ie the 200 booth solution that was announced before.

2) Creation of “Big Box & Main Street” retail development in the heart of Detroit’s major roadway network

3) Port Authority creation of a major manufacturing & distribution center ie a very specialized competitive solution for retention and cost savings for regional manufacturers and the entire US supplier community

4) Detroit-Wayne County Port Authority assumes operation and expansion of Detroit Windsor Tunnel

Now if we can start the real discussion about our future economic recovery (don't forget that 4,500 Windsor Ford jobs are on the line if we get a GEMA plant here) and forget about the border since the Bridge Co. will fix it, then we might get somewhere.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

A Port In The Storm

I am really angry!

What a great day for Detroit! What a horrible day for Windsor! What a gross miscalculation that may cost us dearly if someone at City Hall does not finally wake up. Obviously I am talking about the Ambassador Bridge Company’s plans for the economic revival of Detroit. Oh, and fixing the border too, Properly!

Remember the sage words of our experts on the border on Council, the Mayor and Mr. STOPDRTP:
  • “A plan to create a joint 150-acre U.S.-Canada customs plaza on Detroit's west end to handle tunnel and bridge traffic has been floated by the bridge company. A new road parallel to the riverfront would carry tunnel traffic to the superplaza, according to the bridge's proposal.

    "The commission feels (the bridge plan) doesn't make any sense," Francis said. "The plan would effectively shut down the tunnel. There would be no use of it. If people have to go all the way to the west end (for customs clearance) they would just use the bridge."

    Coun. Dave Brister, a member of the tunnel commission, described the bridge's plan as a serious threat to $6 million in annual revenues for the city as part owner of the tunnel.

    "Clearly that would be at risk if the bridge's plan goes forward," Brister said. "I would have concern if the DCTC is supporting the bridge plan because it’s not in the best interest of Windsor taxpayers."

Well they were both wrong. It does make sense and the Tunnel will now thrive in spite of our naysayers. The Mayor and Councillor Brister have to start “Thinking Big.” They just don’t seem to get it yet.

It is clear that they have not figured out that, to make money at the Tunnel, you need a working border at the Bridge and Tunnel so that Americans do not fear waiting for hours to cross into Canada. A working border is in the interest of the taxpayers of Windsor and businesses who depend on getting their goods into the US without delay. Promoting subsidized NEXUS cards is NOT the way to promote a free-moving Tunnel for heaven’s sake. They are talking as Tunnel Commissioners and what is good for the Tunnel only and not as Members of Council interested in what is good for all citizens of Windsor.

Unlike the Schwartz billion-dollar dream, this is no chimera. The stars seem to be aligning themselves properly so that this concept can be brought to a practical reality. Ask the Bridge Co. how long they have been working on this and doing what it really takes to get a project like this organized and moving. Oh well, they are only putting up 30 million of their money in real US dollars so I assume they think it makes sense. They are only business people after all.

The story is not the Tunnel although it is very important for Detroit budgetary reasons and for the Council apologists to stir up people in Windsor for their own self-interest. I hate to be a spoil-sport but it does not matter what we say about this. This is all taking place in the US so who cares about Canada, except us. Clearly the Governor and the Mayor of Detroit will be pleased.

The real story is the economic revival of Detroit and the region. The real tragedy is that Windsor is not up there on the stage saying we are part of this.

Isn’t it ironic. A few weeks ago the City brought in another world-famous guru to tell us about the importance of regional co-operation in the globalization fight and now we are on the outside looking in as a major announcement is made. I wonder if our Mayor even was told about it or is he totally now out of the loop. I just do not get it.

I may as well tell it to you here since I doubt that you will read about it locally above the din of the apologists. As I understand it, there are 4 key elements on what is being called “Port of Opportunity & Employment.” The word Port is used since the Detroit Wayne County Port Authority is a major player in the program. (In case you missed it, months ago the Bridge Co. said that it wanted to work with the Port Authority over here. I wonder if anyone from the Authority followed up)

The elements are:
1) Border Solution, “International Center” of trade & tourism to promote increased trade opportunities between Canada and the US ie the 200 booth solution that was announced before.
2) Creation of “Big Box & Main Street” retail development in the heart of Detroit’s major roadway network
3) Port Authority creation of a major manufacturing & distribution center ie a very specialized competitive solution for retention and cost savings for regional manufacturers and the entire US supplier community
4) Detroit-Wayne County Port Authority assumes operation and expansion of Detroit Windsor Tunnel

My suggestion however is that this is just the beginning of the story. Check out the Port Authority’s website on your own to see what the true advantage of this whole concept is. It is brilliant! The GM project will be clearly the first of many such projects to grow Detroit economically.

There’s a lot more to talk about but that can wait for another day.

Reading Tea Leaves

My reading of the tea leaves may be right after all.

I told you about it on September 6 when I wrote about "The Plan! The Plan!" I told you there that "The rallying call for the Fast Track Schwartz solution was part of the Plan but mostly a diversion to keep the focus from Eddie’s real objective." I warned you about the infamous Agenda Item #5 in that Blog and about its importance but in much greater detail earlier on September 1 and 2. Councillor Valentinis may have let the cat out of the bag on the Face-To-Face cable interview show, as I told you on October 4, when he talked about Schwartz being the starting point.

On paper, The Plan! The Plan! was brilliant and simple, except for the fact that it could not work in real life. The idea was to lease Windsor’s interest in the Detroit/Windsor Tunnel (and try to convince Detroit to do the same) for a large sum of money and then use the blank cheque given under Agenda Item #5 to start the Schwartz billion-dollar solution so as to force the Senior Levels to go along with it.

Of course, you and I, dear reader, would have had no further role to play in this since we would have given away complete authority to the Mayor and Council. And we know how "open and transparent" they are! Fortunately for us, the Mayor and Council caved in when 16 delegations lined up virtually overnight to speak against Agenda Item #5. Council deferred the matter rather than have it tossed out because of citizen opposition.

Live to fight another day and to do it in another way must have been their motto when they discussed deferring in camera before the public Council session.

OK, OK…why am I more certain about what I said now? Here is a copy of an email that was sent to me about a survey being carried out in Windsor by a Lansing, Michigan firm, EPIC MRA:

"I'll try and bash out what I remember here:

  • How often do you vote in municipal elections?

  • What is your opinion of PM Martin?

  • What is your Opinion of the government of the United States?

  • What is your opinion of Mayor Francis effectiveness?

  • What is your Opinion of council effectiveness?

  • What is your opinion on the effectiveness of council to address windsor's needs

  • what issue is most important: 1) jobs 2) crime/drugs 3) city services 4) border/trade

  • What is your opinion of the City of Windsor?

  • What is your opinion of the liberal party? PC's? NDP?

  • How often do you use the tunnel? the bridge?

  • Are you aware of, do you have an opinion of CTC? Ambassador Bridge? Detroit Windsor Tunnel Corp?

  • Many questions about satisfaction with bridge & tunnel operations, tolls etc.

  • They gave a preamble to the deeper set of tunnel questions that identified the different management/ownership structures on either side of the border. They explained that the tunnel commission is chaired by the mayor, has 3 councillors and three mayor-appointed local business reps.

    They asked for an opinion on how effective the tunnel commission is performing. They identified the Detroit agreement running until 2020 (I think this is the year they gave) and the windsor agreement coming upin 2007.

  • They presented 4 options

    -renew the current agreement

    -City Windsor take over canadian side of operations-I think he said staff it with city employess

    -parties other than the City of windsor taking over canadian side (this is fuzzy, I wrote down 3-not City of Windsor on my jottings as he was speaking.)

    -The city purchase entire tunnel operation and run it as a city service staffed by city employees.

  • Would it make it more or less likely for me to vote for Eddie if Windsor took over the tunnel.

  • Would it make it more or less likely for me to vote for a councillor who supported Windsor taking over the tunnel.

  • The reiterated the options and asked: which would you be most likely to support?

  • Are you in a labour union or teachers federation?

I know it has been a long read to here but what other conclusion would you draw? The Plan! The Plan! is coming. All of these tunnel-oriented, taking over, purchasing questions and information on the attitudes of people about the border operators. General quesions, more specific questions and then very detailed questions.

I wonder who is paying for this poll? Could it be the Mayor’s Office, the City, a private party like a pension fund like OMERS or the OTPP (note the question about are you a member of a labour union or a teacher since both Pension funds invest in infrastructure) or someone else?

If I am right, then clearly there is an attempt being made to salvage the disaster that this City is in due to the failed strategy on the border of our Municipal Government. And to figure out how to get the representatives re-elected. That is the most offensive part of the survey poll.

They do need a lot of help since nothing has been achieved by the so-called action-oriented Council on the border issue. Our elected officials rallied for the short term and wanted to spend a billion dollars when the Bridge company solved the problem at their own expense for a few million.

As for building relationships, our Mayor and Council isolated Windsor from the Senior Levels by snubbing them, were caught flat-footed by Governor Granholm’s announcement, were outmanoeuvered by the Border Czar appointment and the former US Ambassador must be wondering why no one has asked them for their up to 50% contribution on the border! Cansult just put the icing on the cake.

If I am indeed correct, then this Mayor and Council must be stopped and stopped now. Look at the experience of our City Government in recent memory on major deals: Canderel, MFP, the arena, the Mady garage, $15,000 study of what went right or wrong on the new Income and Security Building, lack of proper financial controls. They just do not seem to have the skills and expertise needed to do these major deals. If they are to do them, then they must be willing to pay for the professional help required since otherwise City taxpayers are left holding the bag.

We cannot afford any more of this entrepreneurial arrogance at taxpayer expense.

If this poll was undertaken by anyone in our municipal government and to be paid for out of taxpayer money, then we are wasting dollars for that since it is designed for the political objective to re-elect this Council. We should demand taxpayer re-imbursement.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Predicting The Future

Look what I was sent. Sound familiar? It should. Except that the news article was written in 1971!

Same old stuff:
  • hire an expert for a study
  • huge increase in traffic means we may need a new crossing
  • tunnel and bridge operators do not think it is necessary
  • US Customs is the problem due to understaffing
  • who can afford to pay for it
  • public vs. private debate
  • US Government plays a key role
  • Bridge Company spending money for improvements to ease Windsor traffic congestion.

Compare traffic volumes today with those 34 years ago. Numbers have dramatically increased yet we still have the same two crossings and are coping. What makes us think that the traffic and crossing capacity projections are any more valid today than 34 years ago. Heck, we cannot get them right after only a few years. The Bi-national Engineers had to revise their projections downward already.

It makes for an interesting read though, doesn't it?

Windsor Star----Need cited for new Detroit River Tunnel

A second tunnel joining Detroit and Windsor may be needed within 10 years to handle an inticipated increase in traffic between the two cities, and Windsor is preparing to engage in a $400,000 transportation study which, among things, will examine the adequacy of the present tunnel and bridge.

The requirement of a second tunnel is the prediction of Windsor’s traffic engineering director, Eric S. Wiley. It drew mixed reactions from the operators of the two existing facilities – the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel and the Ambassador Bridge – that link the two cities facing each other across the Detroit River.

"He (Wiley) could be in the right ball park," said William S. Burton, president and general manager of the Detroit and Canada Tunnel Corp., owners of the tunnel.

"But if he is, I don’t know who’s going to pay for it. It would have to involve public money."

THE PRESENT TUNNEL, Burton said, was opened Nov. 3, 1930, and it cost $22 million.

"Construction costs today would be $75 million to $100 million for another tube," Burton said.

Roy G. Lancaster, president of the Detroit International Bridge Co., said he can’t accept the Wiley forecast.

"The bridge," he said, "has never been operated at capacity. I don’t know how long it will be before we require another international facility, and I don’t want to predict the date, but it will be several decades, not one."

The bridge, which opened a year before the tunnel on Nov. 11, 1929, also was built for $22 million. Today’s replacement cost would be from $60 million to $90 million, Lancaster said.

Wiley talks of "twinning" the tunnel (constructing a new tube parallel to the existing one), rather than building a new bridge, for a reason not known to many.

When the bridge was built, it was the first river-spanning project for cars here and the private company which built in was given a "perpetual grant" by the two cities.

WHEN A SECOND private company was created to build the tunnel, the cities had second thoughts. This company got a "restricted grant," which says that in 1990, the company must hand the tunnel over to the two cities.

In 19 years, the tunnel becomes publicly owned. The bridge does not.

Also the government of the province of Ontario is shifting its transportation policies.

The provincial government insists on solid, long-range planning before it authorized speeding of funds.

This is why Windsor has ordered the "in-depth" study of its transportation resources and also why Ontario is willing to pay three quarters of the cost of the survey, Wiley said.

IN RECENT HISTORY. Ontario has been the major partner in building international bridges. The structure over the St. Mary’s River, between the Canadian and American Soos is the prime example. The Canadian money came from the provincial government, the American money from Michigan and the federal government.

It is more likely that a second tunnel between Windsor and Detroit would be built through a partnership of this kind by a private company.

Burton said "At today’s costs, a project like this would have to involve public money."

Wiley believes that, if there is to be an additional public facility; the tunnel is the more likely place to start because it is going to be public in 19 years.

The tunnel has the lesser capacity of the two facilities – two lanes with a 12 foot, six inch ceiling. The bridge has four lanes and can take trucks of unlimited height.

There also is speculation that President Nixon may have more to do with the deciding how soon a second tunnel is required because, according to Lancaster, the 10 percent surcharge on imported goods is likely to cool the growth of business between the two countries.

HE KNOWS the value of an international trade agreement because the largest single jump in traffic for the Ambassador Bridge can be attributed to the 1965 auto trade agreement between Canada and the United States.

This, in effect, created a free border on new cars and parts.

The bridge gained huge two-way truck traffic as a result. A decade ago, 800 trucks a day crossed the bridge. Today, 2,000 to 2,500 make the trip daily.

Until the Nixon freeze and surcharge, the United States and Canada were drifting closer to an economic integration. A free-trade agreement on farm implements predated the auto pact. Three additional industries were in the talking stages of a free-border arrangement, according to Lancaster –chemicals, household appliances and rubber.

"Maybe they’ve backed off that now," Lancaster said, "but if any of those agreements are written our traffic would increase dramatically."

BOTH BURTON and Lancaster are wary about forecasts on traffic because the whole picture can be changed with the stroke of a pen at the international governmental level.

"The saturation point of the tunnel, under our particular kind of operation (with customs and immigration inspection at both ends), is roughly 7 million to 7.5 million vehicles in a year," Burton said.

Current traffic "has leveled off in the last couple of years" to about 5.9 million, Burton said. Until the levelling off, the growth rate was running at 5.5 percent a year, Burton reports.

The tunnel handles between 16,000 and 18,000 cars and about 1,000 trucks on an average day.

There has been an adjustment in car traffic between the tunnel and bridge, brought on a year ago after the bridge was connected through the Fisher and the Jeffries highway system.

"I figured that when the bridge got a freeway connection, it would take about 20 percent of the tunnel’s car traffic," Wiley said.

Burton and Lancaster are agreed that the shift ran between 10 and 12 percent, with the bridge gaining by that amount.

In an average day, 2,000 to 2,500 trucks and 10,000 to 12,000 cars cross the bridge.

WHEN THE BRIDGE opened, Lancaster said, the predicted capacity was 5,000 vehicles an hour. Traffic consultants today put it at 4,800 an hour. "We have never reached that peak," Lancaster said.

Without customs and immigration inspection, Lancaster said, the bridge is capable of carrying 2,400 vehicles an hour in one direction.

Both Burton and Lancaster complain that the U.S. customs and immigration services are undermanning their checkpoints and causing the public "to suffer unnecessary delays."

Wiler complained about this, too.

"The other night," he said, "I sat in my car for 27 minutes waiting for customs at the Detroit end of the tunnel."

INTENSIFIED CUSTOMS inspections in Detroit by U.S. authorities have made a mess out of Windsor traffic all summer, especially on Sunday nights, Wiler said.

"On the mere whim of a customs officer in Detroit," Wiley said, "traffic can get held up, and over here it backs up from the tunnel for two miles.

"On Sunday nights particularly, we have to put police officers on point duty to handle this traffic in order to make sure that our east-west streets are kept open and that fire trucks and ambulances can get through.

Tunnel traffic always backs up two miles on Sunday nights, Wiley said, and without the officer on point duty, the north-south traffic jam would "cut the city in two."

Windsor, with its population of 200,000, has this special traffic problem, making it different from all other Canadian cities. It is Canada’s largest port of entry for American tourists, and 7.5 million enter the country through the bridge and tunnel every year.

Added to this is the steady flow of trucks and commuters between two cities whose industries are closely linked, Wiley said.

Lancaster said the bridge company spent $100,000 for exit ramp improvements to ease Windsor traffic congestion. It has plans for a ramp project in Detroit costing 2 million.

This project, Lancaster said, will separate cars and trucks and give better access to the freeway connection "which we consider very adequate now."

The plan which includes a new customs and immigration building, has been approved by the Wayne County Road Commission and the State Highway Department. It is never before the Department of Transportation in Washington for approval.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

You Got To Know When to Hold Them, Know When To Fold Them

I bet you are trying to figure out what's going on with the border file. It took me a long time to do so but I did. If you understand that it's really a game of high stakes poker, then it all makes sense. Let me explain how the game is being played out.

There are 4 people at the table in the beginning: President George W., Governor Jenn, PM Paul and Premier Dalton. The Bi-national Engineers are dealing the cards. A winner take all game. They put in the pot a JMC Report, a Nine-Point Plan, the kind of things to make it interesting.

They are having a nice friendly session until a young whippersnapper, Mayor Eddie, embolden by the cheers of his Windsorite onlookers, demands a seat at the table. Rather than risk a noisy confrontation with his gunslinger side-kick, lawyer David, they let him in.

He gets to the table and tries to win over his new buddies by building relationships. He doesn't like the stakes, too small for him, too short-term. He got in because he claimed to be a big-time player, in it for the long-term. His new buds do a deal with him. They'll throw out the pot and start over. Phase 1 they call it, to prove that everyone is on the up-and-up.

Well the four friends don't really like how the Mayor plays, too big for his britches they think. He tells them that he wants to make new rules at the table and out of the corner of their eyes, they see his big gun, his 44 calibre Schwartz-shooter.

Well that's not the way the game is to be played so they tell the dealer to start enforcing the rules. Everyone must "respect" the process they say.

It's not getting so friendly as more cards are dealt out. The Big 4 try to psyche him out. Mayor Eddie got so mad at some of the things he heard, especially about trucks on E C Row, that he almost left the table, snubbing a couple of the players. So he decided instead to increase the pot. He threw in his Schwartz Report.

There was an audible gasp and a huge cheer from the onlookers. The shot from his Schwartz-shooter was loud. It was a BIG bang. It took the four by surprise.

Shockingly, Mayor Eddie then backed off. And what a mistake it was! Desperate, the four looked to the dealer to give them time to catch their breath. With a few well-placed winks and nods, they had the dealer try to confuse everyone by adding some subtleties to the game by adding in 15 routes. It gave them the time to regroup. Had the Mayor lost his edge?

Because he seemed not go for the win as expected, playing for the quick, short-term win and not the big, long-term result that everyone had wanted, Mayor Eddie started losing his onlookers as supporters. What he was doing made no sense to them and was NOT why they wanted him at the table. Remember the big cheers that got him in the game in the first place. Well he started playing his cards too close to his vest, not allowing his friends to see or know anything. They started looking at other tables, at other players, gravely disappointed in their so-called champion.

Premier Dalton made the first big bet as a counter. He threw in a border czar, some EAs, a bit of cash and a bunch of workers into the pot supposedly to escalate the matter and get some finality. It was the first big blow to Mayor Eddie.

Then another. The dealer's new routes caused major problems for Governor Jenn, or so people thought. Some of her Downriver backers got really mad and wanted to cut off her funds. Out of the blue, she blinked and caught everyone off guard. Or did she? She threw in her cards so she could play another hand later. In reality, she let the other three know what cards she had so they could play on. Everyone saw her hand: the South Bridge, the Belle Isle Bridge and maybe the DRTP were gone from the deck. The Four were working together after all even now.

Now the PM tried to separate the men from the boys. To "see" the Schwartz Report bet and increase it to put the boots to the Mayor, he had a Cansult Report prepared. That was thrown into the pot too to stir everyone up.

Poor Premier Dalton, he started sweating. The stakes were getting very high and he was becoming a have-not. He was "family" with cousin Paul, both being Liberals, but he had "his folks" in the Mayor's hometown too that he did not want to hurt, niece Sandra and nephew Dwight. Everyone knew it was hard to trust Premier Dalton....he was a big Fiberal. He endorsed Schwartz but later his family flip-flopped saying that the dealer had to be respected. Why he promised to expedite the building of the new crossing but left it to be completed in 2013, the original time-frame. His Windsor nephew promised to put up $500 million but backed off quickly.

The eyes in the room quickly turned to the young Mayor. What was he going to do? Was he going to fold as his Schwartz Report was upped by Cansult? Was he going to increase the ante some more? Did he have something up his sleeve or would he bluff?

We got a hint. Eddie always had a Plan didn't he? He must have one. His buddy laughed nervously as he was backpeddling quickly and said Schwartz was just the "first step." Funny, everyone else thought that Schwartz was the final answer, the BIG BET. A first step that had cost millions so far and taken nine months. Whew, imagine what it would all cost especially if the Mayor lost!

Eddie was spending money as he went out there to get everyone onside with a solution that did not have a problem. Was it all a diversionary tactic to throw everyone off Eddie's real game? Or was he truly beaten and pretending that he had another option to save face?

Eddie even said that he suspected that he knew the cards PM Paul was holding and that the Cansult Report finally flushed it out, in his mind anyway. Funny, others seemed to know the PM's cards.

Was the young gambler still in the game? Did he fool everyone with his Schwartz Report diversion. Was the Mayor really a Hustler, a real card shark or was he out of his league, gambling for his life with the money of others, his future in the balance?

The tension was rising. What was the real story?

"Bartender, a double sasparilla please." All of a sudden, there was a hush in the room. President George W. wanted a drink, a non-alcoholic one. No one remembered he was there, he was so quiet up until now.

He had the best poker face of them all. He had the biggest pile of chips, ready to finance his Governor friend if she needed a few dollars. Why he had just given her $100 million for some important bridge work she needed done. He always held all the best cards: the full house, the four aces, the Royal flush. He rarely lost. When he talked, EVERYONE listened! What was he going to do?

See, what's so hard to understand? It's all a big macho game. We are all on-lookers. Moves are planned long in advance. We are all merely pawns, playing the roles assigned to us. But then that's another game isn't it?

Nuking DRTP

Do you think that DRTP and the Bruce Nuclear Plant deal could somehow be linked together to save face for OMERS?

I wonder if the way that Messrs. Haggis and Nobrega discussed the new investment opportunity at the Plant was the same rationale that was used when DRTP was launched. If so, taxpayers province-wide, OMERS contributors and pensioners might be worried. Cameco, the world’s largest, low-cost uranium producer, pulled out of the Bruce A investment program concluding that “the final agreement with the government did not meet its investment criteria…"

Haggis said:
  • “Our increased investment in Bruce Power is consistent with the rebalancing of our asset mix to put greater emphasis on private market assets such as infrastructure investments…Energy generation is an attractive opportunity for large institutional investors like OMERS and Bruce Power has been a successful investment for us. It meets our investment criteria by providing long term, stable, inflation-protected returns to help us meet our future pension obligations."

Nobrega said:

  • "The investment demonstrates Borealis Infrastructure's commitment to invest in the renewal and enhancement of Ontario's infrastructure assets. This investment is a win-win for the Province of Ontario and OMERS members across the province. The Province secures significant additional long-term electricity supplies at reasonable cost and the investment provides stable, long-term returns for the Fund."

Obviously this nuclear deal was done while Dwight Duncan was Minister of Energy. Now that he is Minister of Finance, and his predecessor went out chasing OMERS money, we can guess how well the Government will treat them in the future. (Sid Ryan…good luck with your OMERS quest now!) I won't even mention the Borealis connection with the Federal Government!

When Borealis talks about "Detroit River Rail Tunnel" as their asset and de-emphasizes DRTP, I would not be surprised if some genius thinks up a deal whereby the Governments will buy their "corridor" property and then OMERS will arrange for the money to be given back in another P3 deal. (What do you think the blue line on the Transport Canada consultant's map was for? Remember also that a possible Government purchase was a component of the JMC Report)

In this way, OMERS suffers no embarrassment that they have to explain to FSCO if they wrote-down DRTP, they make a huge book profit to help show a great rate of return and get a new capital asset. Ontario gets more OMERS cash for infrastructure.

Surprise, surprise, that approach sounds so similar to what the Mayor wanted to do in the Schwartz Plan: the Senior Level $300 million purchase from OMERS/CP Rail and then they agree to re-invest the amount into a new rail tunnel.

Who is smarter, Cameco or OMERS? Only time will tell. If it is Cameco, then OMERS's contributors and pensioners might have some questions to ask, never mind taxpayers across Ontario. If OMERS is absolutely wrong in this investment, and in others, and is locked in then what happens? It seems to me that this is a fundamental question that the Government's review of OMERS should be discussing.

Wow, isn't high finance and politics fun!

Monday, October 17, 2005

Was The Transport Canada Report Cansulting to Windsor?

Wow, if anyone tries to damage the billion-dollar, short-term dream, a full-frontal attack! An editorial and a Henderson column. Why it was almost as bad as their criticism of the Mayor for his secrecy. At least Eddie learned not to cross the Star, I hope, for his sake. PM Paul had better do the same. It's a one-newspaper town after all.

Why print relevant parts of the actual report itself for readers and discuss in a rational fashion what it says. Nope, ad hominen attacks on the PM work better, including Councillor Brister telling us what the dead PM's father would have said about his boy. Now that is a stretch.

It seems that the Star Editorial board did not read the whole report. The consultant did provide a solution but since it favoured the Ambassador Bridge Company, it was ignored.

I thought I would give you my impressions of the Report and then let you read key sections for yourself below, along with my bracketed comments.

Clearly the Schwartz billion dollar short-term dream will not get anywhere since no federal money will be given. Cansult has very little good to say about it. In a nutshell, the Report said "the proposed Huron Church By-Pass [Schwartz Horse-shoe road] may not attract sufficient truck traffic to meet "needs and justification" requirements under the Province’s Environmental Act, may not effectively address current traffic issues, can most speedily be reviewed in the current DRIC study, has major capital cost implications, and may have little residual value if the "Industrial Crossing" is not selected. The Huron Church Road Truck By-Pass does not appear to have the attributes to be selected for an "early action" program."

If that is so, then what does Eddie do now? His legs have been cut out from under him. What does he negotiate for now? Moreover, he looks rather foolish for spending so much of taxpayer money and almost a year of effort on something that does not work and was not why he was elected in the first place. His reputation will suffer with all of those whom he persuaded that Schwartz made sense. Sounds like a similar after-effect on those who supported DRTP doesn't it?

Eddie based his position and that of Windsor on the Schwartz Report. He would NOT listen to the Community when negative comments were made about it. This Report destroys what he stood for and Windsor suffers.

Obviously, as we can see from the Star stories, the focus will shift from Eddie's failure to an image of the strong Mayor attacking the Feds on EC Row. But then again, Mike Hurst tried that tactic as mayor too. [Is it me or is Eddie acting more and more like Mike Hurst every day? The two of them always had an interesting relationship when Mike was Mayor and Eddie was a Councillor].

I have to agree with those who believe that the Report is designed to allow international trucks on EC Row ie the road between Lauzon (or perhaps Manning now) and Huron Church. After all, the author rightly points out that "The traffic using E.C. Row is generally local in nature and does not contain a significant percentage of traffic bound to or originating from the border crossings." Why then would someone retained by the Feds use up so much space, write so many pages and provide so much detailed information about a mere "local" road. The Feds cannot finance it under the BIF program anyway. When Ernie Eves was Premier, his rep when we met her in Windsor, had no desire to talk about EC Row at all since it was not viewed as a border road. If the road is virtually at capacity now and we know that the population is growing quickly, then added capacity must be for local vehicles only. Beware of Fed consultants bearing gifts!

The Bridge Co. should be pleased. Their position has been vindicated. The City's WALTS road which they proved could work was singled out as the road to use as a "reliever" road. Someone is still going to the nth degree to keep DRTP alive suggesting it could feed the Ambassador Bridge. Presumably the Feds would expropriate or buy it in a friendly deal (as was suggested in the original Joint Management Committee Report) to give OMERS some cash to save their balance sheet from another huge write-down and possible embarrassment in the Ontario Government FSCO Pension Plan investigation. That surely has to be the ultimate indignity for Mike Hurst and Co......DRTP as a mere feeder road to its biggest opponent!

Here are some actual excerpts from the Report. It is online at the Transport Canada website if you want a full copy of it.

  1. [I was surprised that there was no discussion of the Bridge Co.’s 200 booth proposal. Cansult ignores it. The Bi-national ignores it. The Mayor says it is not "serious." I guess no one seems interested in something that may solve our problems at relatively little cost for years to come.]

  2. There is currently adequate capacity at the Ambassador [and] extensive queues and delays (particularly on the Canadian side) have been largely eliminated due to operational improvements and changes in travel demands. [If there are no short-term problems then I have a hard time figuring out why another study is needed. He did not mention the decline in the Bi-national projected truck traffic numbers as well and the shift to rail and to Sarnia.]

  3. E.C. Row Expressway also serves a role in bringing traffic to the Ambassador Bridge. It…has reached capacity particularly in the vicinity of Howard and Dougall Avenues with other sections nearing capacity. [Once the "bold" was assumed then international trucks on EC Row is a natural conclusion that follows. Never mind that it is also inconsistent with #20 below]

  4. There are a substantial number of infrastructure improvement projects committed to or planned over the next few years both through the "Let’s Get Windsor/Essex Moving" strategy and local City projects.

  5. The proposed truck by-pass is about 8 km in length and by-passes only 2 km of Huron Church Road; travel times may actual increase using this new route.

  6. As well, the additional length of the by-pass and the existing residential uses in the Todd Lane area suggests that vehicle noise and emission impacts need to be addressed to determine if any benefits accrue.

  7. Many truckers complete preprocessing before leaving their trip origin or at other preprocessing centres (London, Windsor) so preprocessing facilities at Brighton Beach will not voluntarily attract many vehicles

  8. Unless legislation requiring all trucks crossing the border use this route it would not, in our opinion, meet the needs and justification requirements to obtain environmental assessment approval.

  9. In the event that a queue control system was required in the future, a location outside Windsor adjacent to Highway 401 could be operated more efficiently and cost effectively. [and provided that the investors got huge government grants. The object is to keep trucks moving not stacked up or else the pressure on US Customs is decreased]

  10. The construction of the Schwartz-preferred Huron Church Truck By-Pass would require major construction …Overall, depending on which segments of the access to the Schwartz Industrial Crossing are constructed, and the number of tunnel tubes (1, 2 or 3), the cost of the by-pass could range from $200-300 million. [No wonder the dream cost a billion]

  11. The Huron Church By-Pass is included in the ongoing DRIC study anticipated to be completed by the end of 2007. A new environmental assessment to study the Huron Church Truck By-Pass could not reasonably be anticipated to be completed much prior to this date.

  12. In the event the "Industrial Crossing" or "Twinning of the Ambassador Bridge" location is not selected by the DRIC study, the Huron Church Truck By-Pass could have little or no long term local benefit. [Interesting. We should build a road to serve Ojibway or the 200 booths or the Twinned Bridge, whichever is needed! The WALTS Road accomplishes that]

  13. The Huron Church Road Truck By-Pass does not appear to have the attributes to be selected for an "early action" program. [Finally, the end of Schwartz and the billion dollar short-term dream]

  14. Widening of E.C. Row to a 6 lane section is justified to relieve local traffic congestion. [I don’t get it. Why would the Feds and Province want to pay for a "local road."]

  15. Widening of E.C. Row would result in increased traffic volumes resulting in increased noise levels on adjacent areas unless appropriate mitigation measures can be implemented. Impacts on vehicle emissions would require further investigation. [This was adequately documented in the City's DRTP study]

  16. Widening of E.C. Row would provide for redundancy in the access system to the border crossing. [Is this the only time trucks could use it?]

  17. E.C. Row Expressway is a candidate for inclusion in the "early action" program to relieve traffic congestion in Windsor. [Not after Sandra said "no" in the Star]

  18. ...provision of a new auxiliary road to relieve Huron Church Road north of E.C. Row may be warranted. The only identified road improvement proposals that by-pass this section of Huron Church Road are the development of a new road corridor along the right-ofway of Essex Terminal Railway from the E.C. Row/Ojibway Parkway intersection to the Huron Church Road/College Avenue intersection or in the DRTP corridor to College Avenue. [This means the WALTS proposed Road. Do you admire the perseverance to salvage the unsalvageable DRTP? By heaven, we are going to give money to OMERS/CP Rail even if it kills us.]

  19. Proper traffic management measures should be taken to maintain or even slightly increase capacity and thus offset the effects of potential construction delays in the Talbot Road corridor. It can be reconstructed without the need for prior widening along alternative routes such as E.C. Row or Cabana Road. In fact, widening of Talbot Road first could provide additional roadway capacity to support other future projects. The significance of the construction impacts due to the Talbot Road improvement would depend on the ultimate design of the road. If the ultimate widened 6 lanes of Talbot Road are to be atgrade then proper construction techniques can be applied to phase the project so that two lanes in each direction can be maintained during construction. [Then why do trucks need to go on E C Row? I am glad to know that Cabana may now be destroyed too as it becomes an east-west major artery for excess traffic.]

  20. The traffic using E.C. Row is generally local in nature and does not contain a significant percentage of traffic bound to or originating from the border crossings. A widening to address the current levels of congestion on E.C. Row may already be warranted. Such a widening would also help to mitigate the impacts from the increased volume of traffic (both temporary and permanent increases) expected to divert to this facility during the construction of the Phase 1 and Phase 2 “Let’s Get Windsor/Essex Moving” projects.

    If the widening of E.C. Row Expressway to six lanes were undertaken, some spare capacity may exist in the mid-term to consider the use of E.C. Row itself as a secondary route to Huron Church Road, in lieu of the over $200 - $300 million truck bypass route proposed in the Schwartz Report. In the anticipation that the use of E.C. Row Expressway as a secondary route would only be a mid-term condition (until a new border crossing is constructed), the work associated with the widening and upgrading of the expressway would serve a double duty in satisfying both the mid-term and longer-term needs of the City of Windsor. However, this dual function would operate efficiently only in the short term. [All those detailed pages describing E C Row and how to fix it. Why is this being done in a report designed for the border? The Feds and Province are not going to pay for a "local road" under the BIF program. It is disingenuous to suggest that this is being considered for Windsor's benefit. "Temporary" use by trucks like the GST or the Income Tax I assume]

  21. If the improvements suggested above are not adequate to address the mid-term needs, other alternatives should be explored to get traffic to the Ambassador Bridge off Huron Church Road. The only currently identified road improvement proposals that by-pass this section of Huron Church Road are the development of a new road corridor from the E.C. Row/Ojibway Parkway intersection to the Huron Church Road/College Avenue intersection and a new road alignment along the Essex Terminal right-of-way from the vicinity of Highway 401/Walker Road to College Avenue.

    Unless other alternatives are identified, it is suggested that studies/property acquisition proceed on a schedule such that its implementation could be undertaken by 2013, if required. [Support for the Bridge Co.'s proposed routing that proved that the City's WALTS route worked! DRTP is snuck in but only as a way to connect to this route]

You gotta dance with the one that brung ya!

Dave Brister polled 10513 votes at the last municipal election, more votes than any other Councillor in the City. How did such a relative nobody politically get so many votes so quickly?

It is hardly a surprise to say that Ward One residents went out and voted for the man who was the public face of a very dedicated group of people called STOPDRTP. And there is no doubt that Dave deserved credit for the efforts that he made both in front with the media, but more importantly, behind the scenes doing everything from counting the number of homes impacted by DRTP, to putting up signs to arranging for letters to be sent to politicians.

As General Counsel of STOPDRTP, Dave and I spoke every morning (usually as he was in the take-out lane ordering breakfast) to discuss our gameplan for the day. Many times, we talked throughout the day if circumstances required it. I know the sacrifices that Dave and his family suffered through a very difficult time in the City's history.

As things sometime happen in Life, Dave and I had a falling out and we have not talked since he announced he was running for office several years ago. I tell you all of this because I am so angry that my Ward One Councillor seems to have such a small role to play in the border issue.

Oh he can get another quote in Gord Henderson's column as he "fumes" about Paul Martin's father and what he would think (Shades of Mackenzie King trying to talk to his mother in a seance). But where was he on Thursday night as the Transport Canada Consultant wanted to put Montreal-to-Tijuana trucks on E C Row to help us? What was his reaction? Why wasn't he condemning in the strongest possible terms something that he bitterly opposed in his previous position?

My understanding is that he was not at the private session set up for the City and County politicians. His Ward-mate, Joyce Zuk was there. Even Tom Wilson was there. I guess he left it to the Mayor whom he praised so profusely in another Henderson column recently to do all of his thinking.

It seems as if Dave really does not like the border and would rather play Mr. Budget. In a City newsletter he said. "Debt reduction, which was a cornerstone of my election campaign." And not a word about the border.

Was Dave "spooked" on election night when one of the TV commentators talked about a "potential conflict of interest" as Councillor given his role as Chair of STOPDRTP. How else to explain when Councillor Brister reads off his "conflict of interest" legal script when the border issue comes up. If this was an issue, then why didn't he raise it during the election campaign? If it is not an issue, why raise it? I know, I know "abundance of caution" but I still get mad.

I am shocked and disappointed in his failure to force this Council to hold a "public" meeting on the border when, as STOPDRTP Chair, he accused the previous Council of betrayal after their secret session that supposedly endorsed DRTP North. Why the change in attitude?

I was surprised by his seeming reversal of his previous, in camera Schwartz Report support when he voted against the Ambassador Bridge proposal to add new Customs booths into Canada, a concept Schwartz encouraged.

I am disturbed that he is not out there front and centre keeping the community up-to-date on what is really going on with the border with all of these weird happenings through Town Hall meetings as an example or through a newsletter. We need some understanding but our Councillor is not telling us anything.

I wonder why Dave remained part of a process that wanted to spend a billion dollars for a short-term dream that made no sense when he was elected to solve the long-term problem. He was part of a group that had put forth a well thought-out plan for the long-term to Council when he was with STOPDRTP. Dave can worry over pennies but was spending millions on a problem that was solved by the Bridge Company fiscally responsible?

It is time for the "sharp pencil" to get the lead out. If not, Dave better watch out when Charlie or Drew ask to cut in!