Thoughts and Opinions On Today's Important Issues

Friday, November 18, 2005

How To Make A Silk Purse Out Of A Sow’s Ear

MEMO TO: Eddie Francis and Council

FROM: WindsorCityBlog

Re: Your re-election strategy

I wondered why you were so silent on the border and did not celebrate the “victory” on Monday. Your friends at the Star have been conspicuously quiet as well.

Obviously, there was nothing on which you could claim victory. Thankfully, acknowledgement was given that it was the Windsor Community's efforts that resulted in the success and achieved the impossible. So far at least.

Your “Schwartz, Schwartz, Schwartz” strategy failed. You look like fools as it appears that the Bi-national bureaucrats and not our municipal elected representatives listened to the people! Ojibway Road was their solution put forward and they did not propose to use EC Row and the Ojibway nature reserve. You rallied for the short-term and ignored what you were elected to do. They ignored you, did their job and came up with a long-term answer. Sort of.

Clearly, you need a new strategist. Let me apply for the position.

How do we turn this re-election disaster into a "win" for you? How do we revise history so that you come out smelling like "roses" in the City of Roses?

You know the reality. Didn’t you discuss it Monday night in camera? You know as well as I do that the Bridge Co. has won, whether Ojibway is the final solution or the Twinned Bridge comes back.

Their 200 booth solution is going to be built first since we may never need another bridge. The proposal will require a road to the existing Bridge to be built almost immediately and the Bi-national has set out the only way it can work. After all, it is the WALTS way, the City’s proposal! The Bridge Co. does not need your input to move forward since it is an American side project. You will have to build that road or Huron Church will get too much truck traffic. It can be built so that it can branch off to a new Ojibway or Twinned Bridge site.

And you know as well as I do that they can build their Twinned Bridge regardless what the Bi-national says. The Bi-national and Transport Canada have conceded that already. The only question for them is WHEN they want to build the Twinned Bridge as they move through the EA process.

You also know now that the Americans want the Ambassador Gateway even if Ojibway is built. That is so absurd that someone must have been dreaming. The Bridge Co. owns the Plaza and is not going to share it and cannot be forced to do so. You also know that “public oversight” as MOT’s Wake calls it does not mean and can never mean public ownership.

So how do you get re-elected since you have lost credibility on a Plan that could never have worked anyway. Council bought into the Mayor’s short-term billion dollar dream and that was blown out of the water.

The Mayor has a big problem since he conceded decision-making to the Bi-national early on. Who cares what he may think now since he has admitted that he only plays a minor role. Who gave him permission to do that? I sure didn't vote for him to be a "bit player." His tactical mistake was rallying for the short-term for a year with hardly a word about the final answer and NOT asking Windsorites for help when he desperately needed it.

Councillors Postma and Jones are in big trouble since the corridor to the Bridge could destroy Sandwich. Councillor Brister, Mr. STOPDRTP, especially and Councillor Zuk are at risk for their silence and invisibility for the last 2 years in the community that had the largest voice in the border fight. As for the rest of you, your failure to be “open and transparent” on the border is so easy to use in an election brochure that you will have a tough time countering it.

You need help, big time. Let me plot the strategy for you:

1) SHUT UP ABOUT SCHWARTZ ALREADY! Talk about it one last time and then forget it. Every time you mention his name you cause people to remember that you failed. You have terminated his services so be quiet

2) I have no idea if Kwame will ever talk to Windsor again after the Mayor’s stupidity of badmouthing his proposed deal right before the election. I would suggest grovelling and perhaps buying him a big drink at the Super Bowl might work. And drop the idea of buying his Tunnel interest or messing up his deal. We look like we are trying to take advantage of their financial position. Remember, he's in charge for 4 more years!

3) Support the 200 booths, it is coming in whether you want it or not

4) Recognize that Ojibway is never going to happen---the Star stories already show the opposition to Prospect and the West Enders and Gridlock Sam’s man on the scene have killed the other site because of “salt mine risks.”

5) Careful about Ojibway too—the Delray Michigan residents are just starting up now. Just like STOPDRTP. How can you support Sandwich and destroy Delray? Makes you look like hypocrites doesn’t it? Remember, they have “Environmental Justice” on their side

6) A diagonal bridge as our “Signature Bridge,” to be the laughing stock of the world. Give me a break. Engineers and the US Coast Guard will kill the "diagonal" bridge idea if the extra costs do not.

7) Nice idea to talk about preserving Sandwich. That’s all the bargaining power you have left. Talk tough about that.

8) As for looking out for the people on Talbot Road, I am sure that they will not think that the Mayor or Councillors Brister and Zuk will be their champions after their hostility to them for years. But pretend to be concerned about their “quality of life” too. It will play well to the rest of the City especially to the winning STOPDRTP parts of Ward 1.

9) GRIN AND BEAR IT—THE TWINNED BRIDGE HAS WON. Your job is to get the Community to accept it and then declare victory. Ken Lewenza’s dad and/or Buzz Hargrove should be called in as advisors to show how that is done in union negotiations all the time. Let them teach you how to “beat up the Bridge Co.” and get positive publicity to make you heroes even though you have no negotiating position.

10) For “quality of life” the Talbot Road residents have to be moved from the corridor with better than adequate compensation for them to find a new home and to move. Depending on what the exact route is, some businesses on Huron Church may need financial help too. It gives you the chance to “talk tough” on this too to the Senior Levels since you know that their preference is to move the people out anyway.

11) Demand and get an “enhanced” Ring Road, probably including “tunnelling.” Tell Dwight to remember his $500 million promise and to start spending it. Co-opt the West Enders as you have been trying to do for a year anyway by getting them more involved in the process to build a proper road that minimizes the negative impact on Sandwich. But understand that you can never please all of them!

12) Talk to Matty Moroun…He is the only friend you have. He wanted to partner with the City (remember his ads but you rejected him). He is a businessman and wants his projects finished with the least possible problems. Trade off economic redevelopment of Sandwich as he is doing in SW Detroit, JOBS and maybe even tie it into an urban village as your price of co-operation.

13) You better get people off of building a new crossing prematurely. If there is no traffic then all the crossings including the Tunnel could go broke and there goes another $6 million a year in revenues lost.

14) Finally, remember that Granholm and Kwame are calling the shots. Once the US side got involved in the border issue, they were going to make the decisions. Windsor's partners are not in Toronto or Ottawa but across the river.

There it is on a silver platter laid out for you, a strategy to win re-election. You will at least have a chance if you follow to the letter what I have proposed. It is a year before the next municipal election. Let's agree to have this all wrapped up by next March so you can bask in the glory of your success for the months before the day the votes are cast.

Do I get the Strategist job?

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Deep Throat's Public Outing

The phone rang. It was Deep Throat. He wanted to meet again. Frankly I was shocked. He had never used the phone before to arrange a meeting, wiretapping fears I guess. Instead of meeting him at our usual spot, somewhere totally out of public view, he wanted to have dinner at a trendy spot on Erie Street. What gives I wondered?

“So what did you think of the Bi-national’s announcement,” he asked as we sat down for an aperitif. “Not even the bookies of Vegas would have given odds on that one! Imagine both DRTP and the Twinned Bridge gone.”

I was totally confused as usual. Just like after the Schwartz Report, it took me days to figure out that the Report did not do anything for Windsor although at first blush it seemed to give the City what it wanted.

I was overjoyed again at first with the Bi-national. The Ojibway crossing won or so it appeared. And not damaging the snakes or prairie grass or using E C Row. A win for almost everyone I thought.

“But Brian Masse attacked one of the sites already,” I said. “Isn’t he ever for anything or does he have to oppose since an election is around the corner? And as for the other site, Marko Paranosic, an engineer and Canadian project manager for Gridlock Sam Schwartz was quoted in the Star saying "You've got good bedrock from the (Ambassador) bridge north…Once you go south, you get progressively worse soil conditions." Old brine mines, rows of hydro towers and river pipelines farther south along the corridor all present risks to construction.”

Deep Throat just smiled and then pulled out the map used by the Bi-national. He pointed along the road corridor from Highwy 401 to the river. The light started flashing on in my brain. I had not heard anyone knocking that selection. In fact the tree-huggers were probably out celebrating since the Ojibway nature Complex was saved.

I had seen that route before…Wasn’t it Sam’s #4 selection? But before that, wasn’t that the Bridge Co.’s route based on the City’s WALTS study? It seemed to be the same except for a small gap going north to the Ambassador Bridge.

Then Deep Throat pulled out a Star news clipping:
  • "Another consideration will be where the customs plaza will be located on the American side.

    The Michigan Department of Transportation, which is part of the binational team, is planning in its Gateway Project to reconfigure the roads leading to and from its end of the Ambassador Bridge. It may want to use an expanded customs plaza at the foot of the bridge for both crossings, said a source.
    “They may want to use the foot of the Ambassador Bridge and the expanded plaza there as an economy," said a source. "The expanded plaza can serve two bridges."

    The binational team has already said it wants to link the new crossing to the new American gateway. If the new crossing is linked to that plaza, it will make sense to build the crossing farther north, the source said."
I was flabbergasted. I had heard all of these horrible stories about the owner of the Bridge Co. It appeared from the story that not only was he going to lose a good part of his business to the new bridge, but he was going to allow his competitor to make use of the Plaza that he built and owned to help them do it. I knew it was the Christmas season but really…

Then Deep Throat took out a pen and wrote the word “BRIDGE” with a great flourish. I thought about it and then it hit me---a “Signature Bridge.”

I remembered the words of Transport Canada’s Mark Butler “We wouldn't (rule out) a bridge that would be on a diagonal. What we're saying is we want to get it as close to where the U.S. wants a landing site." We would have our tourist attraction: a diagonal bridge across the Detroit River. The cities of Windsor and Detroit could be the laughing stock of the world by having the world's longest diagonal bridge, built for political reasons. What a tourist draw that will be. I wonder if that is what Gridlock Sam meant by a "Signature Bridge."

My head was spinning now. Deep Throat just smiled in his enigmatic fashion and said, “It’s the politics, stupid!”

Politics----Sam wrote a “political” Report to help the Mayor, Governor Granholm killed the Downriver and East Bridge locations because of “political” pressure without telling anyone and so the Canucks had to get their “political” quid pro quo didn’t they or at least make it appear that way!

No one in their right mind was going to put a new crossing within a stone’s throw of the Ambassador Gateway project. It would require several hundred million dollars again and staffing at another site by US Customs. A diagonal bridge to the Gateway, absurd! And to think that the Bridge Co. would graciously go along with this was nonsense.

“I got it!” I shouted out. “This is all a diversion from the real solution. That’s how bureaucrats do it! They did it before with the 15 corridors and now they were doing it again. Why it is so Machiavellian it is brilliant”

It all fell into place now:

1) Let the Canadians think they had won and got Ojibway. The various factions within Windsor would fight the 2 selections as they already started to do so that neither would be acceptable.

2) The Delray people would also mobilize using “Environmental Justice” as their rallying cry to stop Ojibway.

3) The route to the new bridge would be ignored and, in fact, accepted since the nature complex was preserved and bigger battles over location were being fought

4) It would finally dawn on people that the Bridge Co. was the only proponent that did NOT want to use E C Row and did NOT want to go through the nature complex as a route to their crossing

5) The US side would insist on the Ambassador Gateway being used

6) Some engineer would be retained to say that a diagonal bridge would be a hazard on the Detroit River as the columnists and editorial cartoonists would mock it forcing the Mayors of Windsor and Detroit to kill the concept

7) A genius looking at the Bi-national map one day would say why don’t we go north and link up to the Ambassador Bridge and “enhance” that last bit to keep Sandwich residents happy.

“My goodness,” I said as I sank, mentally exhausted in my seat. “The Ambassador Bridge Co. won. Not only will they get their Twinned Bridge, if it is ever needed if traffic picks up, but also they will get their 200 booths project too and the road on the Windsor side to get there.”

Deep Throat laughed out loud and waving the waiter over said, “ A bottle of Dom Perignon for my friend.”

OMERS write-down required?

I got to thinking, what would an appraiser say today if asked to value DRTP as an asset of OMERS or its subsidiary? Is it worth the same after as before the announcement by the four governments of the border finalists?

Presumably the appraiser would have to take into account the decision of the Bi-national Partnership who stated:

  • "The capacity provided by the Detroit River Tunnel Partnership’s two-lane truckway proposal was determined to be inadequate to serve the region’s long-term needs.

    It was also determined that a six-lane freeway following the Canada Southern (CASO) Rail corridor in Canada to a new river crossing, would have caused major community impacts in significant urban areas on the Canadian side of the border."

I would think also that the opposition of the Mayor of Detroit, who was just re-elected, might mean that DRTP would not be able to purchase some land required by them so that trucks could connect to I-75.

So if the project will not go forward, should we expect another significant OMERS write-down?

Even if the asset is written down or even written off, it will not matter to OMERS. They'll just ask every municipality in Ontario and every contributor to increase their payment to cover the deficiency.

How Can OMERS Be Revised

It astounds me that the Government is moving forward on a bill to revise OMERS when the FSCO has not completed its investigation into OMERS. That investigation has taken over a year so far with no public report issued yet.

Just recently five directors of an OMERS subsidiary left "out of a sense of frustration with the incompetence of the OMERS board."

We do not need to revise their Act. We need a judicial inquiry into their affairs! That is what CUPE and municipal councils should really be pressing for.

Liberals playing with fire over pension bill
Nov. 14, 2005. 01:00 AM

Now, however, the McGuinty government is itself at risk of losing the support of municipal leaders with an obscure piece of legislation called Bill 206, which is the subject of public hearings starting today at Queen's Park.

Bill 206 would change the governing structure and the basic rules for the Ontario Municipal Employees Retirement System, or OMERS, as it is known.

OMERS is the pension plan for 355,000 current employees and retirees from some 900 municipalities, emergency services, and other agencies. With $36 billion in assets, it is the second biggest pension fund in the province, after the teachers'.

The changes proposed in Bill 206 legislation are couched in the arcane language of the pension industry. Suffice it to say that under the bill, responsibility for the plan would shift from the province to the employers and employees.

That's the non-controversial part.

What has the municipalities worried is that the bill would also make way for the establishment of "supplemental" pension plans for police officers and firefighters.

The municipalities' concern, articulated in stiffly worded council resolutions and letters to Liberal MPPs, is that the unions representing the police officers and firefighters will use these supplemental plans to enrich their pension benefits.

That, in turn, would force higher costs on the municipalities in the form of matching contributions to the plans.

Municipal sources estimate the move will cost municipalities an additional $360 million a year, which would drive up property taxes by 3 per cent on average. Municipal Affairs Minister John Gerretsen, the sponsor of Bill 206, dismisses such concerns as based on worst-case scenarios.

He notes that the police and fire unions would still have to negotiate improvements in their pensions with their employers and says of his municipal critics: "They are not really trusting their own negotiating skills."

But the municipalities point out that emergency workers don't have the right to strike and, therefore, their contracts are often settled through binding arbitration.

Over the years, municipal leaders have learned not to put much faith in the whims of arbitrators.

All of which raises the question: Why are the Liberals doing this?

The short answer is that, as in so many other cases, McGuinty made a pre-election promise to do it. As leader of the opposition, McGuinty wrote a letter to Rick Miller, the firefighters' representative on the OMERS board, saying that he supported "additional supplemental plans."

Notwithstanding this previous commitment, when Bill 206 was brought to cabinet earlier this year, there was reportedly a spirited debate, with some ministers suggesting the government should disavow the McGuinty letter because it was written without full knowledge of the potential consequences.

But, in the end, the government decided to give the bill first reading in the Legislature and then send it straight to committee. Whether the Liberals have the tenacity to take the bill all the way to third reading remains to be seen.

A footnote: Bill 206 also faces stiff opposition from the Canadian Union of Public Employees, the biggest union covered by OMERS. CUPE believes the bill will leave it underrepresented on the OMERS board and will prevent its members from bargaining better benefits.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Environmental Justice Part 2

In my previous Blog on this topic, I included a letter from a person who lived in the Delray area of Detroit. She cannot be too pleased with the results just announced. I do not think the war is over yet! Here is a Detroit News article on the subject. Sandwich residents may find the language used sounds very familiar to them.

Bleak area may get crossing

Polluted Delray neighborhood in Detroit favored for bridge or tunnel; residents say they don't want it.

By Joel Kurth / The Detroit News

DETROIT -- The politically charged process of selecting a site for another bridge or tunnel between southeast Michigan and Ontario has zeroed in on one of the bleakest neighborhoods in Michigan.

Monday, a bi-national group conducting a $25 million study of border congestion announced that a 2 1/2 -mile stretch of the Detroit River centered on the Delray neighborhood in Detroit is the preferred site for another bridge or tunnel. A spot will be selected in 2007, with construction expected to last up to six years.

The group of Michigan, Ontario, United States and Canadian transportation officials ruled out two top contenders for the crossing: The Jobs Tunnel -- a plan to expand an existing train tunnel to handle trucks -- and plans to twin the Ambassador Bridge. Both would cost about $400 million.

"We're going to fight this right to the end," said Mary Loubriel, 48, a member of the Delray Community Council, a neighborhood group. "We're on an upswing. We need a chance to come back. We don't want to disappear for trucks."

The stakes are huge, not just for Delray but the state. The nation's busiest commercial gateway, the Detroit-Windsor border handles some $100 billion in trade a year. Without another crossing, Michigan and Ontario will lose 48,000 jobs a year by 2020, according to the group, the Border Transportation Partnership.

Delray is in a fight for its existence. It's a fight some residents admit may not make much sense to outsiders. The neighborhood is one of the most polluted in Michigan. On some streets, torched houses and vacant lots are more common than occupied structures.

"As a non-priest, I might do the same thing (and put the bridge here,)" said the Rev. Barnabas G. Kiss, pastor of the Holy Cross Hungarian Roman Catholic Church.

"It's an ugly neighborhood. We have no interests. No one is standing up for us. We have to stand up for ourselves. Some people look at this territory as nowhere and treat us as non-humans without history or culture. It's terrible."

The church has been in the neighborhood since 1905. That's the year Detroit annexed the former suburb into the city. Once a working-class hub where residents walked to factories, the racially mixed neighborhood of 5,000 residents is bordered by the Ambassador Bridge, Zug Island, Fort Street and the river.

Local landmarks include the Detroit Water and Sewerage treatment plant, factories that belch yellow smoke and the Hungarian church.

The church has spent millions in recent years bullet-proofing its 26-foot-high stained glass windows and restoring 80-year-old oak pews, gold-leaf altar, masonry work and a statue outside of Jesus Christ. On Sundays, about 300 parishioners come from as far as Toledo and Flint for bilingual services.

"It looks like we have no say," Kiss said. "We have no information or anywhere to turn."

Ben Kohrman, spokesman for the Michigan Department of Transportation, said "sound technical analysis" of community, economic and environmental effects narrowed site selection to Delray. Both governments would have to issue permits necessary to build a bridge or tunnel, but Jobs Tunnel spokeswoman Marge Byington insisted her plan remains viable.

"We have multiple options," she said, but did not elaborate.

Dan Stamper, president of the private company that owns the Ambassador Bridge, did not return a call seeking comment. In the past, he's said the bridge is moving forward with a $400 million plan to add 100 inspection booths and expand the truck gateway, regardless of what the bi-national group decides.

Trust and the Politician

Eddie Francis will never be successful as a politician.

Oh Eddie will win elections all right, just as he became Councillor and then Mayor in Windsor. If he ran federally this time around, he might even win a seat as well.

However the real test for a politician is whether he can be re-elected.

I know I am speaking heresy now. The view is that Eddie is invincible (and his political machine tries to chase away a challenger when one appears or even before---Marra, Brister and Lewenza have been the targets so far. Who is next?). In my opinion, Eddie Francis cannot be re-elected as Mayor if a credible candidate runs against him unless he drastically changes over the next few months. And I am not sure that he can.

You are obviously thinking, dear reader, that I am going to slam him over his failure to achieve results over the border issue. Well you are partially correct but not in the way you are thinking.

You are obviously thinking that I am going to list his failures and lack of accomplishment since taking office, comparing what he promised to do as a mayoral candidate with what he has actually done. Not this time.

Eddie’s fundamental weakness as a politician is that he does not trust the electorate even though he asks us to trust him.

Eddie has forgotten who put him in power and what his obligation to the People is. The People are there, he must believe, merely to vote him into office. They can be ignored otherwise until the next election when they are expected to see the wonderful results achieved that only he could have accomplished. At that time, they are to follow his PLAN and re-elect him.

The man should be exulting in victory today along with Windsorites who helped achieve what seems to be a great success on the border file. Instead the best he can say is that we should be cautiously optimistic and wait more months for the Bi-National and attend Open Houses. Has anyone heard what the "official" City position is? Of course, citizens will not be asked for any input.

Perhaps Eddie can learn finally that LIFE does not necessarily work out the way his business model says it must. I have heard several times over the past few weeks that Eddie is going around asking people why he is so “disliked” in the Community. He started going on the rubber chicken circuit for a bit and doing photo ops. But that seems to have stopped as Councillors are again standing in for him at local functions. Locking himself up in his office, working 18 hours a day and having only a small group of loyalists around him for advice will not make it easy for him to discover the truth.

How can I justify my opening statement? Here it comes, my border fixation. It was like an unexpected bolt of lightening. It was the coming together of a number of factors. Let me explain.

Several things have always bothered me about the border file since they made no sense and were illogical:
  1. First and foremost, why have the Mayor and Council always rallied for the short-term solution and not the long-term
  2. Why didn’t Schwartz end his presentation at the Cleary at the intermission when he had set out the long-term Ojibway solution as the answer? Why was it necessary to dilute it with the short-term nonsense in the second half
  3. Why have the Mayor and Council ignored the principle of “open and transparent” government by endorsing Schwartz in secret and never giving the people the chance to express their opinion on it
  4. Why didn’t the Mayor and Council object vigorously when the Federal Government and then the Province said that they would “respect” the Bi-National process, in other words, stall the whole issue
  5. Why was the Schwartz Report that Council saw a few days before Schwartz’s presentation not similar to the one they saw in the summer
  6. Why did the Mayor on the Sunday following the Schwartz presentation say in an interview on Detroit TV that the Bi-national were the decision makers
  7. Why did Sam Schwartz say months ago that his Report was a thought provoker and now Councillor Valentinis says it is a starting point

It all came together when I learned that Schwartz has not done any border related work for the City for a very long time now, and may not do any more. Can you believe it—the architect of what the City has been advocating and what some Councillors are asking us to support may be through? What a shocker that was, especially when it seems that not all of the Councillors know that yet! Once the Feds called Eddie’s bluff with the Cansult Report, Eddie knew that the game was over. That is why Councillor Valentinis, Eddie’s closest ally on Council, had to back-peddle from the Schwartz Report publicly.

In my opinion, Eddie learned in the November-December time-period last year, if not earlier that the Feds, and perhaps the Province too, as can be seen by the Border Czar appointment subsequently, were reneging on what they led him to believe: that what Windsor wanted as a solution, we would get. Whatever the first version of Schwartz was, the Feds were not buying into it. Their excuse became “respecting” the process.

I suspect that Eddie panicked. He is results and success-oriented. The Feds' position would mean that he failed, at least in his mind. His “building of relationships” using the border as an excuse had cost him, and Windsorites, dearly. His mistake was thinking that no one would ever meet with a Windsor mayor but for the border mess. This had taken so much time that he had lost the momentum after Phase 1 (another bad Francis decision that came back to haunt him) allowing the Federal and Provincial bureaucrats time to regroup. He had also lulled most Windsorites into a false sense of security on the border making us think that we were in charge. We would be rudely awakened later by the “SNUB.”

Accordingly, Schwartz Report #2 was prepared (or #3, I am not sure because of the earlier leak over E C Row) and had to be “sold.” Knowing that the Feds would NOT allow the long-term, Ojibway corridor solution at this time, the short-term had to be emphasized. The solution “genius” was to be the Horseshoe Road. Once it was agreed to, the Ojibway corridor, most people’s choice for the new crossing, had to be completed. It made no sense otherwise to spend hundreds of millions on a road to nowhere. In that way, Eddie would “trick” the Feds into supporting Schwartz and undermine the Bi-national process. Eddie would get what he wanted by doing indirectly what he could not do directly.

Eddie and his strategists took a very big gamble. The Schwartz short-term solution was written as a “political” statement not an engineering document giving just about every group in the City everything they wanted other than the Ambassador Bridge Co. that was targetted. As an example, I was told before the public announcement, without any details being given, that STOPDRTP should be overjoyed since we had won big time!

I am sure that they expected a temporary, negative reaction from environmentalists and those who lived in the path of the new road but it would be drowned out by the cheerleading and applause that was to follow for “THINKING BIG.”

Almost immediately, this strategy started to unravel! Within days, many thoughtful commentators came out stating that the Schwartz short-term plan made no sense. One by one, each element of the plan, when looked at closely, fell apart. But it was too late for the Mayor and Council. They had bought into a strategy designed to save their necks and they could not now admit they were wrong. They had to tough it out.

They dared not “ratify” their secret endorsement of Schwartz publicly by Resolution since that would allow delegations to appear and to speak against it. (You saw what happened with the infamous Agenda Item #5---16 delegations signed up overnight to oppose it. The Mayor and Council chickened out and deferred it) They tried hard to sell it. When the Feds finally had enough and hired a consultant to do a peer review of Schwartz, Eddie knew that the Schwartz Plan was unsupportable. Everyone knew what the answer would be.

Ergo, no more work for Sam, ergo the “starting point” comment, ergo a new strategy was needed. Therefore the Tunnel purchase and/or lease was trotted out. (That is a whole different story too.)

What went wrong? Simple. Eddie was afraid to face the electorate and tell us the truth. He forgot he became Mayor because of the votes of the people of Windsor. He forgot that it was the people that made him a success. He forgot about STOPDRTP’s 1400 lawn signs as an example, the biggest Special Council meeting in 20 years, our thousands of emails and letters, our pressure on every politician in the area and even our picketing of the Premier. He could talk to "stakeholders" in advance and get them to write glowing endorsements about the Schwartz Plan but could not speak to citizens or even re-schedule a meeting he cancelled in the last minute. He was the golden boy who would arrive at a solution, who had the Plan. Everyone was kowtowing to him: the PM, the Premier, various Ministers, even the US Ambassador. How could he admit he blew it?

Like someone making a mistake and hoping it would somehow all go away, all we have been hearing from the Mayor and Council is “Schwartz, Schwartz, Schwartz.” It made no sense from someone as intelligent as the Mayor.

If Eddie had faith in the electorate, and in himself, if he trusted Windsorites, when he saw the Feds backing off, he should immediately have called them on it by going public. But he could not do that.

Can you imagine what the reaction would have been locally had Eddie done so? No one would have criticized him since everyone was under the belief that everything was OK. The Federal Liberals would have been slammed as Eddie could have put forward his long-term solution that the vast majority of Windsorites would have supported in a heart-beat. The snubbing of the Senior Levels was the first indication of a serious problem, a realization that Windsor was in big trouble and perhaps that Eddie was not sharing the truth with us.

It was all down-hill from there. A waste of almost a year on a short-term, billion dollar dream that was doomed to failure. Millions of dollars of taxpayer money wasted since all we have achieved is a “starting point” for more negotiations. The credibility of the Mayor and Council is in tatters.

What is Eddie going to do now—sell us on his Tunnel scheme? Will he try and convince us that the Schwartz Report was a diversion, that his PLAN was always to buy and then lease the Tunnel for hundreds of millions of dollars and then try and take over the Ambassador Bridge from Matty Moroun? Ojibway and the Schwartz Report, in other words, were nothing more than pressure points to convince Moroun to sell out while the selling was good. He cannot take credit for the Bi-national's decision. Isn't it strange that it was the bureaucrats who actually listened to the people! That is why there is so much silence from City Hall

Was Eddie trying to out-Hurst Mike Hurst, to do in one-term what Mike could never accomplish as Mayor? Does Eddie really think we will buy his story now?

In the ultimate irony, the Bi-national picked the Ojibway route as the long-term solution. If only Eddie had allowed Sam to stop at the intermission.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Bordering On The Sublime Or ...

What a day yesterday was. A whole range of emotions from gloating over a seeming victory to worrying about what will happen next. I’ve been there before with Council resolutions that meant little to bureaucrats who were the “decision-makers,” quiet by-law changes that almost thwarted the will of the Community, and announcements by a Prime Minister and Premier that seemed to give hope but then seemed to be ignored.

Let’s get out the good news first. This was a total victory for the group I founded, OJIBWAY NOW! and for the group of which I was General Counsel previously, STOPDRTP and the Windsorites who supported us so strongly for almost 3 years now.

DRTP should be dead, finally! As was clear for years now:
  • “The capacity provided by the Detroit River Tunnel Partnership (DRTP) two-lane truckway proposal was determined to be inadequate to serve the region’s long-term needs.

    It was also determined that a six-lane freeway following the Canadian Southern (CASO) Rail corridor in Canada, to a new river crossing, would have caused major community impacts in significant urban areas on the Canadian side of the border.

As for the new crossing, the obvious corridor was picked—OJIBWAY! What more needs to be said.

The big surprise to me was that only one corridor was chosen and that both DRTP and the Twinned Bridge were killed off now. Did someone in Government get guts finally? I had heard rumours of this decision for several weeks now including that our Cabinet members/MPPs, Sandra and Dwight, were to make the announcement last week! I guess someone decided that we Canadians were “courteous” after all and that we should not try to out-Granholm Granholm and follow proper etiquette.

I expect the inevitable risk of lawsuits will happen as the losing parties threaten legal action. That is my biggest worry that may delay the process.

What else can one say after DRTP’s Marge Byington’s press release the day before Kwame was re-elected. The threat is there. I frankly doubt if DRTP will sue since they would probably never get their connection to I-75 if Kwame had his way after Marge’s comments against him in Today’s Trucking magazine.

The Bridge Co. might be angry but for different reasons. Why the Twinned Bridge was killed off when it was ranked highly as well is the big mystery to me. The reason given---"twinning the existing Ambassador Bridge was determined to not be practical based on the community impacts of the proposed plaza and access road in Canada"---makes little sense to me. Obviously, the plaza location the Bi-national identified for the Twinned Bridge killed that project but the Bridge Co. never supported that location at all as far as I recall. Strange!

But it is more than that. The Bridge Co. owns most of the the land on both sides of the border where the crossing goes and they "own" the business now across the border, especially the truck traffic. They are not going to give up their operations to anyone without a fight or a very big cheque.

And if one wants to talk politics, the Michigan Governor and Detroit Mayor like the Bridge Co. for the developments proposed and jobs to be created on their side.

The biggest losers have to be Mayor Francis and the Councillors. According to the Mayor, he was briefed today on the decision. So much for Windsor having a seat at the table and being a partner in the process.

It is just dessert for a Mayor who can now be seen to have wasted so much time, effort and taxpayer dollars on a short-term billion dollar dream that made no sense instead of rallying Windsorites for the long-term, Ojibway solution. Imagine where we would be now if the Mayor and Council had truly focused on the reasons for which they were elected.

Of course, heaven forbid, the Mayor may still try and salvage his Tunnel dream. A strong argument can be made that the Tunnel’s value has been diminished greatly by today’s announcement so that may no longer be possible. Therefore, Council can get back to running the city and not a border crossing, as exciting as that may be!

Oh watch the Mayor get on his high horse about trucks on E C Row, even temporarily (or he might even cave in on that to save face with the Senior Levels). No one will say that the route chosen by the Bi-national was effectively that identified by the Bridge Co. as part of their solution and they NEVER suggested putting trucks on E C Row during construction.

So what should be done now? We will have to determine if a new crossing is really needed with the fall in traffic or if needed, when it should be built. I see the language---“The Partnership will continue to explore the U.S. customs plaza area of the Ambassador Bridge to connect to a potential customs plaza on the Canadian side in the remaining area of continued analysis”---which may mean that the 200 booth proposal is on the table finally and with reverse customs. We need to assess what the impact of a new crossing will be on existing crossings since we do not want to bankrupt them, especially the City-owned Tunnel.

Assuming that the 200 booth proposal works for 20-25 years, or even if it does not and we decide to build now, we need to identify exactly and protect the corridor to the new crossing. Quoting from the letter I and my colleagues sent to the Mayor and Council back in December 2003:

  • "We offer the following solution:
    -Provide a by-pass away from the densely populated areas of Windsor to a new bridge focusing on the Ojibway West corridor
    -Commence the environmental assessment of Hwy. #3/ Huron Church Road from Howard Avenue to the E.C. Row Expressway interchange and the Ojibway West Corridor immediately
    -Commence engineering work on the Ojibway West Corridor to determine the best routing to minimize impact
    -Expropriate/move the Ambassador Bridge Co.’s Montreal-to-Tijuana truck traffic for the benefit of the Community in a manner consistent with other such actions by the City [when required]
    -Utilize the Ojibway West Corridor and the new bridge for this international truck traffic
    -Use the existing bridge for car and local international truck traffic only to give local businesses, the tourist trade and commuters an advantage.
    -Immediately start a dialogue with the relevant stake-holders including citizens groups, Governments, the Ambassador Bridge, to deal with how we are going to accomplish this solution in a timely manner.

    Our solution accomplishes many objectives that support the economy, international trade and protects Windsor:

    1. It meets the needs of our region and the nation’s economy now
    2. It gives our area an economic advantage for diversity and the economic boost it needs
    3. Huron Church Road from the E.C. Row Expressway to the foot of the Ambassador Bridge can be turned into a new Windsor destination centre
    4. It moves the Montreal-to-Tijuana trucks out of the densely populated areas and can help keep them off city streets.
    5. Highway 401 is finally completed to the border
    6. E C Row is preserved for the Community
    7. Our suggested corridor to the border would not result in major traffic congestion and therefore not interfere with ongoing cross border traffic so vital to the Canadian economy.
    8. Our routing can be set up as a secured corridor to support the anti-terrorism initiatives of the Canadian and U.S. Governments
    9. While our corridor is designated as a truck route, it could be used for auto traffic redundancy if an emergency situation arose."

Monday, November 14, 2005

Windsor In Goodale's "Budget"

For Canada, Asia-Pacific’s emergence as an economic powerhouse spells opportunity if—and only if—we are prepared. This government has already begun. As announced in October, we are ready to invest $590 million in the further development of our Pacific gateway to ensure that our country is positioned to capitalize on these new opportunities.

To better connect rural, remote and Aboriginal communities to global networks, we will invest $100 million to extend broadband services.

We will also build on our strong trading relationship with the United States through, for example, the Windsor-Detroit corridor and improved cooperation under the North American Security and Prosperity Partnership.


WINDSOR – The governments of Canada, the United States, Ontario and Michigan announced today that they have made significant progress towards developing a new river crossing at the Detroit-Windsor Gateway.

Applying the evaluation criteria jointly established in May in both Canada and the United States has led the Border Transportation Partnership to concentrate future study of a new border crossing and inspection plazas to the industrial area of West Windsor. This area extends north generally from Broadway Boulevard to the vicinity of Brock Street on the Canadian side and a corresponding area on the U.S. side extending upriver from Zug Island to just south of the Ambassador Bridge.

As part of the next phase of environmental studies, the Border Transportation Partnership will consider all aspects of developing the border crossing system, which includes a river crossing as well as appropriate customs plaza locations and connecting roads on both the U.S. and Canadian sides of the border. Further detailed study, technical analysis and public consultation will be conducted to identify the best end-to-end solution within this area.

With this announcement, the Partnership is on track to identify the preferred location of a new river crossing by mid-2007, with final completion of all U.S. and Canadian environmental studies by the end of 2007. The environmental review requirements of both countries have been, and will continue to be, carefully applied throughout this process.

“Today the Partnership has taken a major step forward in the planning process to develop additional border capacity at the Detroit-Windsor Gateway,” said Federal Transport Minister Jean-C. Lapierre. “Canada shares a dynamic multi-billion dollar trade economy with the United States, and it is important that we continue to move forward on this project in both a practical and timely fashion to ensure no disruption to the safe, efficient and secure movement of people and goods across the border in the Windsor-Detroit area.”

“Relieving border congestion is a top priority for the McGuinty Government,” said Ontario Transportation Minister Harinder Takhar. “Forty-one per cent of Ontario-U.S. trade flows through the Windsor-Detroit border crossing, making it Canada’s premier trade gateway. We look forward to public and stakeholder input as a vital part of the ongoing Environmental Assessment process.”

"The Border Transportation Partnership is a strong, respectful collaboration between the United States and Canada. Together we have taken another important step toward concluding this study. Now we will continue our commitment to public participation and input during our careful analysis of impacts and options as we move forward to provide safe, efficient border crossings that strengthen our regional economy and quality of life,” said Gloria J. Jeff, Director of the Michigan Department of Transportation.

The Canada-United States-Ontario-Michigan Border Transportation Partnership is comprised of technical experts and officials from Transport Canada, the U.S. Federal Highway Administration, the Ontario Ministry of Transportation and the Michigan Department of Transportation. The Partnership’s purpose is to improve the movement of people and goods across the United States and Canadian border in the Detroit-Windsor Gateway.

In October, the government partners announced that the south and east alternatives were eliminated from further study as the result of analysis. With today’s announcement, additional crossing alternatives have been eliminated:

The capacity provided by the Detroit River Tunnel Partnership (DRTP) two-lane truckway proposal was determined to be inadequate to serve the region’s long-term needs.
It was also determined that a six-lane freeway following the Canadian Southern (CASO) Rail corridor in Canada, to a new river crossing, would have caused major community impacts in significant urban areas on the Canadian side of the border.
Alternative crossings in the Morton Industrial Park area in Windsor were determined to not be practical because the proposed U.S. plaza site in River Rouge would have resulted in significant economic impacts and time delays.
Twinning the existing Ambassador Bridge was determined to not be practical based on the community impacts of the proposed plaza and access road in Canada. The Partnership will continue to explore the U.S. customs plaza area of the Ambassador Bridge to connect to a potential customs plaza on the Canadian side in the remaining area of continued analysis.
The start of the formal environmental review was announced in February 2005. In June 2005, the Partnership presented the 15 alternative locations for river crossings, along with the associated customs plazas and roadways to connect the plazas to the freeway systems in both countries. Eight other options, including southerly routes through LaSalle, and Amherstburg, Ontario and communities extending south from Ecorse to Trenton, Michigan, and the area upriver near Belle Isle, were eliminated in early October 2005.

The Border Transportation Partnership will soon hold public meetings to present the technical assessment to date, and seek public and stakeholder comment on the preliminary list of practical alternatives. Public Information Open Houses are scheduled in the Windsor area during the week of November 28, 2005 and public meetings are scheduled in the Detroit area during the week of December 5, 2005. In March, the Partnership will hold Public Information Open Houses and public meetings in Canada and the United States to present a final list of practical alternatives.

The Governments of Canada, the United States, Ontario and Michigan are committed to an efficient and secure Windsor-Detroit gateway. The development of additional border capacity is a national priority in both countries to support the continued growth in trade between Canada and the United States.

The Border According To The Toronto Star

For those that want a relatively straight forward feature news story about the border, take a look at the Toronto Star article published below. There are several obvious errors:
  1. 1) The Bridge Co has a monopoly (the Bi-national killed that one years ago)
  2. 2) Chronic delays at the Bridge (not since it opened more booths)
  3. 3) There's another big one, made over a dozen times (let's see who can spot it)
  4. 4) The Bridge is close to capacity (only about 50-60%)

However, it does point out the most important fact that our Mayor and Council seem to have forgotten or are afraid to deal with: "if you want to build a new crossing over or under the Detroit River, you're going to end up having to deal with Maroun."

It is interesting that the other proponents have pretty much conceded the battle to the Bridge Co. as well:

  • [Marge Byington of DRTP] has, over the years, come to know this spot well, a place to gaze directly at a seemingly grand business opportunity. "I used to come up here and sit," she says.
  • "Support for the DRTP soon started evaporating"
  • So has [Ross] Clarke [of Mich-Can] wasted 14 years pursuing the project? "It could end up that way, yeah, could be."
  • The [Cansult] report did not warm to the [Schwartz] horseshoe road and its marshalling yard, a combination Cansult deemed not to be "practical or cost-effective." Indeed, Cansult reckoned the cost of tunnelling under the nature preserves with boring machines might itself prove "exorbitantly expensive." This was not happy news for Francis, who's spent much of this year trying to get Ottawa to agree to a full federal-provincial environmental assessment of the Schwartz plan, to no avail
  • "He's got it so close to checkmate," says [Greg] Ward [of the Detroit-Windsor Truck Ferry]. "He's that close, man."
  • All roads would now lead to Maroun, who got an added boost in last week's election when Detroit's Maroun-friendly mayor, Kwame Kilpatrick, beat out rival Freman Hendrix, whose affections lie with the Jobs Tunnel.

Enjoy the read!

Billionaire's bridge
Nov. 13, 2005. 07:05 AM

Marge Byington, her blonde-grey hair tied back in a ponytail, is standing on a railway overpass, the rain drizzling onto her black sweater and slacks. She has, over the years, come to know this spot well, a place to gaze directly at a seemingly grand business opportunity. "I used to come up here and sit," she says.

Several hundred metres away to the south, the rail line dips down into a two-lane tunnel, above which, cast in concrete, is the legend: "Detroit River Tunnel 1909." From there, it continues southward, under the water, until it emerges on the Canadian side in Windsor.

The tunnel's two lanes were round when built, but they've since been altered to accommodate slightly taller, more modern trains. This was not an artful renovation: The concrete above the tubes was simply cut and chipped away, so each opening now looks like a small rectangle perched on a circle.

More substantial changes could one day ensue. Or not.

Byington's group — a joint venture between CP Rail and the Ontario Municipal Employees Pension System — hopes to transform the old tunnel into a highway for trans-border trucks. They call it the "Jobs Tunnel," a way of advertising its claimed economic boost.

Sometime this month, a bureaucratic Canada-U.S. panel — dubbed The Border Transportation Partnership, then needlessly renamed the Detroit River International Crossing study, or DRIC, but known locally as simply "The Bi-National" — will unveil a short list of four proposals to add another border crossing for trucks. A prizewinner won't be crowned until 2007. Construction would be completed by 2013. At least that's the plan.

As it happens, most of these ideas for new crossings have keen kicking around in one form or another for at least a decade, ever since the economic burst of free trade started clogging up Windsor streets with trucks waiting to cross into Detroit.

But there have been, well, complications along the way. The other short list reads like this: complicated political intrigues, proposals and counter-proposals, NIMBY neighbourhood fighting, and enough players to fill a season at Stratford — all with a jurisdictional overlay of local, provincial, state and federal authorities, a group not known for easy unanimity.

At one point, a veteran of the crossing battles counted more than 60 agencies that might come into play.

All this might aspire to farce were the economic consequences not so potentially dire. Fully one quarter of all merchandise trade between Canada and the United States now passes through the Windsor-Detroit corridor. The cost of delays and disruptions along that path soon adds up to hundreds of millions of dollars.

Hence Byington's occasional desire to sit on the overpass to plot strategy, not least about one complication in particular.

Underneath her is Interstate 75, and the view to the west eventually gives way to the 76-year-old Ambassador Bridge, which is where trouble both begins and may, ultimately, end.

As it now stands, the bridge is the only major truck crossing in this part of the world, a dizzy monopoly through which roughly 12,000 trucks now pass daily, paying (together with cars) an estimated $60 million (U.S.) in annual tolls.

Now add another distinction: Of the more than 130 border crossings between Canada and the U.S., it's the only one owned by a private individual, a 78-year-old trucking magnate named Manuel "Matty" Maroun. (The only other non-government crossing, at Fort Frances, Ont., is owned by two publicly traded forest companies.)

"We're dealing with a monopoly here, a private monopoly, and the bridge company does an extremely good job of protecting that monopoly," says Byington, one-time aide to former Detroit mayor Dennis Archer.

When the Jobs Tunnel purchased a strip of land next to the rail line here, the group ended up in a protracted (though recently successful) court fight with Maroun, who happens to own the adjacent and windowless Michigan Central Depot, a once grand 12-storey train station built in 1913, through which generations of soldiers departed for war, including Byington's Vietnam veteran husband.

Maroun has an affection for such piles. He also owns a handful of other derelict buildings nearby, as well as vast swaths of riverfront and what used to be Detroit's industrial core. "They have no windows," says Byington. "You can always tell."

But all that land also means that, if you want to build a new crossing over or under the Detroit River, you're going to end up having to deal with Maroun.

Windsor itself may be flat as the prairies, but its man-made geography has a certain surreal quality, not least a weird penchant for highways that lead nowhere and then end abruptly.

A half-century ago, local opposition stopped Highway 401 on the outskirts of Windsor, 12 kilometres away from the Ambassador Bridge. Nor does the 401 come anywhere near the E.C. Row Expressway that cuts east-west across the city and which also sputters onto urban streets at either end.

Once the 401 comes to a halt, any trucker heading to Detroit must follow two city streets — Talbot Rd. and then Huron Church Rd. — through 17 traffic lights to get to the bridge, where there is a single lane for trucks in each direction. This is not a design they teach in university.

For decades, though, it was scarcely a problem. The Ambassador Bridge, which opened 76 years ago next week, was never built with a lot of truck traffic in mind, and by 1961 only 800 trucks were crossing it daily.

Apart from the griping about tolls, the bridge was rarely in the spotlight — one of those times being when Matty Maroun happened along to buy it in 1979.

Ever since the Depression, when the bridge's original owner sold shares to stave off bankruptcy, the Ambassador Bridge had been owned by a publicly traded company. By the late 1970s, one of the biggest investors was the legendary Warren Buffett, with 25 per cent of the stock. But Maroun, a Detroit native backed by his family's trucking business, matched that stake, bought out Buffett and then the remaining shareholders for $30 million (U.S.).

If you wanted to script a billionaire who still throws Gordie Howe elbows like the scrappy entrepreneur he once was, Maroun wouldn't be a bad model. His Arab grandfather was peripatetic enough to move the family from Argentina to Quebec to Windsor, where the family home was razed to make way for, yes, the Ambassador Bridge.

Maroun's father ended up in the trucking business in 1950 after he took over Central Cartage, a struggling company that owed him back rent. Matty did the books and any other odd job that needed doing, from changing oil to fixing tires. As the only son, Matty naturally ended up overseeing the business — though he later had to fight to keep it, when two of his sisters sued him over the way he was running the company. They finally settled in 1999, when Matty bought them out.

He has always had, it seems, a troll-like possessiveness about the bridge, insisting (often in court) on its private status. He won't release maintenance records and refuses to let law enforcement officials onto the bridge to nab trucks that could be carrying explosives, toxic waste or other materials banned by law from crossing the bridge.

About his personal life, he's equally protective. Maroun doesn't grant media interviews, rarely appears in public, and his officials did not return phone messages. His relative obscurity, in fact, might have survived intact were it not for two events: the Canada-U.S. free trade agreement and the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Centre.

By the early 1990s, truck traffic had already swelled to 8,000 trucks daily, en route to an eventual peak of 14,000, testing the bridge's capacity and backing trucks up along Huron Church Rd. in Windsor.

Then came 9/11. Amid the security crackdown that followed, the backup stretched for kilometres, hinting at the havoc any terrorist attack on the bridge would wreak. On some days it took 12 hours for a truck to get from Windsor to U.S. Customs on the other side, prompting the Ontario Ministry of Transportation to place portable toilets all along Huron Church.

None of which surprised Ross Clarke, a local surveyor and former head of the Windsor Chamber of Commerce, who'd been warning about the economic cost of such traffic jams since 1991, when he and a group of local businessman first proposed building a second crossing to relieve the pressure.

The need was already clear back then. "If something wasn't done, there was going to be a diversion of economic activity. Companies weren't going to come to Windsor or Detroit."

Clarke's group called themselves Mich-Can. They picked a site in Windsor's industrial west end, brought in the engineers, and lined up Bear Stearns to do the financing. Windsor city council seemed to be receptive.

There was just one problem: Although Clarke's proposal was simply to build a new bridge, the project assumed that the 401 would eventually be connected to E.C. Row, which just happens to run in a direct line toward their new crossing. As traffic grew, they figured, E.C. Row could easily be expanded to eight lanes from four. There'd be no trucks on city streets. "From an engineering point of view, the E.C. Row expressway makes sense to anybody from out of town because it's a controlled-access route," says Clarke.

But if there's one taboo in Windsor — and a curiously masochistic one, given the city's reliance on the auto industry — it's putting more vehicles on E.C. Row. The highway to nowhere affects the ward of every local councillor, so worries about noise and pollution rarely fall on deaf ears. As soon as everyone figured out what the new bridge would entail, Mich-Can's idea was shunted to the wings, where it's lingered ever since.

Sure, the Mich-Can site is still on the short list being studied by the Bi-National commission on a new border crossing, but even if that site emerges victorious, there's no guarantee Clarke's group would win the right to build the bridge there.

So has Clarke wasted 14 years pursuing the project? "It could end up that way, yeah, could be."

Lou Tortola hauls out an aerial photograph of his part of Windsor. "This is my house right here," he says. "From my backyard, I could throw a snowball and hit a truck."

Not just any truck, mind you, but what could be thousands of them heading along what is now a railway line if Byington's Job's Tunnel, a.k.a. the Detroit River Tunnel Partnership, ever gets its way. "If this DRTP goes through, our neighbourhood goes to ratshit."

It didn't help that the DRTP was a well-oiled publicity machine, with former Windsor mayor Mike Hurst emerging as its head. "I don't want this forced into our community by people who have more money than God," says Tortola.

He's especially galled at one publicity stunt — the time a CP train, with Santa Claus on board, slowly made its way through town and over to Detroit, collecting contributions for a local food bank.

The DRTP's Byington might recall that event as a touching affair, but not so Tortola. "It was the worst American bullshit campaign you've ever seen in your life," he says. "I just went nuts. I can't believe they had the balls to do that."

Not that Tortola is unfamiliar with campaigning. He worked as (now) Ontario Finance Minister Dwight Duncan's campaign manager in the 1995 provincial election and runs a local marketing firm, designing websites and the like. Which is to say, a well-oiled anti-DRTP campaign was inevitable, much of it orchestrated by Tortola.

There were lawn signs — "like a federal campaign, really" — and town-hall meetings and letter-writing campaigns. The group boasted 1,200 members at its height, and raised roughly $21,000.

Support for the DRTP soon started evaporating, but Tortola's group spawned such a taste for change that it eventually ushered in a slew of new city councillors, along with a new mayor.

That would be Eddie Francis, now 31, late of the family pita business started by his Lebanese immigrant father. Francis the younger has staked much of his short public career on solving the border problem — a brave and worthy thing to do, but also the kind of stand that, for politicians, is often eventually accompanied by grief.

For starters, Francis still can't understand why the rest of the country hasn't really cottoned on to the border problem in Windsor, which is where 40 per cent of all the trucks entering Canada from the United States make their crossing.

"I don't think others have an appreciation of what impact it has on them," says Francis, wielding one of those laser pointers so he can highlight parts of the slide show he's got going in his office boardroom. "Toronto has more at stake on the Windsor crossing than it does on the Peace Bridge." The Francis laser alights on how nearly half the bridge's truck traffic is long distance — shuttling between factories and showrooms throughout southern Ontario and their U.S. counterparts well beyond Detroit.

Still, Francis figured Windsor would have to resolve its own internal conflicts first, so he turned to former New York City traffic maven Sam Schwartz, the guy credited with coining the word "gridlock."

Francis figured if anyone could come up with a plan, it was Gridlock Sam, hired by city council in early 2004.

The night the Schwartz plan was made public last spring, at a town hall meeting in Windsor, a crisply suited Francis took to the stage to do the introductions. He also had a caution, and like many young politicians seeking a gravitas beyond their years, he quoted wartime Churchill: "This is not the end. It's not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning."

Schwartz, he noted, was an independent voice, though that hadn't stopped Windsor council from giving him "principles" to abide by, such as getting trucks off city streets, protecting neighbourhoods, and not unduly disrupting the local automakers.

The result was what you'd expect: a consultant's report highly cognizant of local politics. No, Schwartz wasn't proposing to clog E.C. Row with trucks. There are already too many off ramps, he said, often only 700 metres apart, much less than the provincial standard of two kilometres.

Nor was he fond of the Jobs Tunnel. He called it a cattle chute, with so little side-clearance for trucks there were bound to be accidents — and idling trucks backed up into the heart of Windsor.

Schwartz had a plan of his own. Trucks would continue to flow off the 401 onto Talbot Rd./Huron Church, but they'd be intercepted partway and diverted onto a giant horseshoe road that would swing toward the Detroit River where it bends southwest. In other words, right where Clarke's Mich-Can group long ago proposed putting a new bridge.

But until the new crossing gets resolved, the trucks would enter a marshalling yard, where they'd be "metered" — released at set intervals — to continue along the horseshoe and back onto, well, Huron Church.

Having travelled eight kilometres along the horseshoe — to avoid a two-kilometre stretch of Huron Church — trucks would then still have to pass the remaining 10 traffic lights approaching the Ambassador Bridge. But Schwartz insisted metering would still make for orderly traffic, since no trucks would be released if there were any tie-ups at the bridge itself.

There were other parts of his plan, too, like adding a major rail terminus to the airport area, but the key was the horseshoe, with an estimated price tag of $300 million. "You should not be afraid to think big and demand big," Schwartz told the assembled that night.

Toward the end of his presentation, he spoke of "generational ethics," creating something of value for the future. He said Windsor deserved a "signature bridge." A portrait of London's Tower Bridge came up on the screen.

There followed an artist's rendition of Huron Church, with trees and cyclists. "They will call the Champs-Elysées the Huron Church Rd. of Paris. That's how great it's going to be."

There was, oddly, no one rolling in the aisles.

There's a simple reason that Schwartz's horseshoe road was so warmly received when first unveiled to a Windsor audience: The homeowners who might be most hostile don't live in Windsor. They live in the adjacent town of LaSalle, near a group of noted nature preserves, including Ojibway Prairie Provincial Nature Reserve and Tall-grass Heritage Park (owned by the Nature Conservancy of Canada).

As it happens — and this shouldn't surprise, given Windsor's history of road design — Schwartz's horseshoe road would run through and under the Ojibway Reserve as well as Spring Garden, a provincially designated "Area of Natural and Scientific Interest."

"It was pretty clear to us right away that it was a pretty expedient political decision: Let's put it through the forest," says Alan McKinnon, walking through the wild parkland behind his house.

McKinnon, production director at a local rock station, has since been spearheading a "Save Ojibway" campaign, with brochures, letters to politicians, T-shirts, and support from a raft of environmental groups.

He concedes some of the most endangered inhabitants of Ojibway — grey foxes and Massasauga rattlesnakes — are not the cuddliest critters around which to build a campaign. But in the end, he may not need them.

Not long after the Schwartz report, Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty and Anne McLellan, the deputy prime minister, arrived in town to unveil a major road expansion, much of it through farmland near the airport in east-end Windsor. That roadwork would wind up connecting the 401 with E.C. Row.

Francis was incensed. Anything that might put trans-border trucks on E.C. Row is, to him, "a non-starter." So he and the rest of Windsor council snubbed the ceremony. "Had we attended," he says, "we would have condoned it.

"Yes, we've got explosive growth. Yes, things are going well for trade and commerce. But it shouldn't be on the backs and shoulders of Windsor residents. Why are they not entitled to the same quality of life as anyone else in the province?"

Amid all the border woes, the City of Windsor's absence at the ceremony passes strange to Tom Burton, deputy mayor of Tecumseh, an adjacent town east of Windsor, which supports expanding E.C. Row. "It just boggles my mind that they would think they don't need the province and the feds to solve this problem."

Then last month, Transport Canada released a critique of the Schwartz report it had commissioned from Markham's Cansult Ltd. The report did not warm to the horseshoe road and its marshalling yard, a combination Cansult deemed not to be "practical or cost-effective." Indeed, Cansult reckoned the cost of tunnelling under the nature preserves with boring machines might itself prove "exorbitantly expensive."

This was not happy news for Francis, who's spent much of this year trying to get Ottawa to agree to a full federal-provincial environmental assessment of the Schwartz plan, to no avail.

Gregg Ward, a big friendly guy with a killer handshake, is wheeling his silver F-150 along the Windsor side of the Detroit River, playing a familiar game of local trivia. What does Matty Maroun own now?

"Right where you see that blue building over there," he says, pointing across the river. "He just bought that terminal."

There is, for Ward, a philosophical point about Maroun's monopoly. "Should critical infrastructure be privately owned?"

And he's well aware of the irony. Ward's family operates its own species of private crossing, the Detroit-Windsor Truck Ferry, essentially a barge for carrying oversized trucks and those containing hazardous material — or "haz-mat" in industry jargon. It's a tiny business, grossing under $2 million a year. "There's only a certain amount of haz-mat that crosses in a day," he says.

Even if, as Schwartz recommends, his ferry service were expanded to two barges operating 24 hours a day, that would still add up to only 1,000 trucks per diem.

"This is his property, too," says Ward, of a vacant lot on the Canadian side, near where Clarke's Mich-Can group proposed building its second bridge. "Ross Clarke has a great idea, but he doesn't own property."

Ward, like many in Windsor, holds Maroun in a kind of twisted awe — marvelling at how he plays the game, gobbling up all that real estate. "He's got it so close to checkmate," says Ward. "He's that close, man."

As it happens, Maroun's next move comes the following day: The Ambassador Bridge has a new plan, a big finger directed at the whole Bi-National quest for a second crossing. Instead of adding another bridge right next to the Ambassador, as he'd long threatened to do, Maroun now proposes building a giant customs plaza on 80 hectares of Detroit industrial land, most of which he already owns.

There would be 100 customs booths, double the current number on both sides of the border, with the possibility of more to come. According to Maroun's calculations, the new plaza would cut crossing times so dramatically that another bridge might not be needed for, well, another 25 years.

And, in a final flourish, Maroun proposed paying the cash-strapped City of Detroit in a deal to take over management of the U.S. side of the Detroit-Windsor car tunnel, and then funnelling its traffic along a secure corridor to the new customs plaza.

All roads would now lead to Maroun, who got an added boost in last week's election when Detroit's Maroun-friendly mayor, Kwame Kilpatrick, beat out rival Freman Hendrix, whose affections lie with the Jobs Tunnel.

None of which is a surprise to Ed Arditti, a retired Windsor lawyer and now a tireless blogger on border developments. "Maroun's got a business and he's going to protect it," he says, leaning over his kitchen table.

In a way that combines laughter and scorn, Arditti's blog has lately been peppered with words like "hilarious." He reckons Windsor could have worked out some sort of favourable deal with Maroun years ago, but has since squandered whatever bargaining power it once had.

Ironically, he says, all the successful campaigns against various proposals — and Arditti was a big foe of the Jobs Tunnel — may have left the city feeling more empowered than it had any right to be. "We effectively gave our city the balls to say `no' to everyone."

Which has also meant shunning the likes of Matty Maroun.

Arditti shakes his head. "Like it or not, you're going to have to deal with Maroun, and no one seems to want to talk to him," he says. "It's like the Fram commercial: You can see me now or see me later."