Thoughts and Opinions On Today's Important Issues

Friday, December 02, 2005

DRIC Dreck

After listening to the DRIC reps at Council, I was confused again on the border issue. That seems to be a constant theme with me these days I am afraid so please be a bit understanding. I decided that I would attend the public sessions to see if I could get some questions that were bothering me answered.

From what I had understood, the Americans wanted the Ambassador Gateway Plaza as the landing spot for a bridge, the Canadians favoured a crossing somewhere near Prospect or slightly north to keep away from sinkholes (the Brock area seems to have disappeared rather quickly) and to link the two areas we would need this gigantic diagonal bridge.

I really could not believe that anyone was seriously going to propose this as a solution. It would be a "Signature Bridge" all right---a totally laughable solution whose extra costs would be huge, and the angle ridiculous. It truly seemed like a decision made by a committee!

Obviously, there must be disagreements between the two sides of the border. The Americans can rightfully say that they have already paid hundreds of millions of dollars for the Gateway and that is why they want it as their plaza. The Canadians seem to be saying that they want a bridge as far away from the Ambassador bridge as possible for redundancy/security reasons. The talk is that the concept of "public oversight" may mean "public ownership" of the new crossing but how would that fit in with what is being proposed and the Bridge Co.'s ownership of the Gateway?

So when I went to the meeting I decided to see how far I could press the various reps there to try and get an understanding of what may really happen. Of course I got the usual "we have to study this more" stuff. Let me give you my impressions since obviously no one would really answer my questions at this stage.

A more likely scenario is a bridge in the Prospect area that crosses directly into the US straight across the river and that links up to a plaza via a 6-lane truck expressway that is "secured" for Customs purposes. It would probably NOT use the Gateway itself but a separate area near the Gateway that would tie into the Gateway's traffic configuration and separately staffed by Customs officers.

Let us assume that is it going to happen? I do not think so and let me explain why not:
  1. It just strikes me that this road structure is really like the City's WALTS road to the Ambassador Bridge (the Ring Road) except on the American side. If it was rejected for Canada, why is it acceptable on the US side (In fact, the Bi-national put forward a plaza for the Ambassador Bridge which killed their project that the Bridge Co. itself never advocated to my knowledge). I did not ask if this approach was consistent with their criteria for a crossing but it is one to remember for next time.
  2. Why would the Americans pay for this new 6 lane expressway and what areas will it disrupt
  3. Why would the Americans pay for this new plaza right next to the Gateway Plaza which the Americans already are paying for
  4. Will US Customs be willing to staff another crossing, especially one so close to the Gateway Plaza
  5. If terrorists can seize 4 airplanes, crash them into 3 separate buildings in 2 cities at about the same time and do something similar in London with several subway trains and buses, are they going to be put off by a new bridge a mile or so away from the existing bridge and tunnel? What security and redundancy are we really buying with that?

I must admit that when I put this all together, it made no sense to me either. Why are we going through this process? My final question was why aren't the Engineers being asked to look at the obvious spot on the DRIC map that begs out for completion....making the short right turn to the Ambassador Bridge (the missing yellow line on the proposed route) and "enhancing" it so that Sandwich residents are not inconvenienced. It just seems so obvious and so inexpensive and it uses the Ring Road which effectively is what the Engineers have proposed!

Of course I received no answer other than put this suggestion on a "Comment Card" so they can consider it!

So why are we going through this charade? I do not have the answer but I have a suspicion. Bill C-44, Schwartz's public authority, public oversight, the Border all means ownership by the Government of the new crossing, primarily being promoted by the Canadian Governments. That is why we had the bizarre concept of the diagonal bridge: there is a big fight about how this is all going to end up between the Governments on both sides.

That is the only explanation also of the strange action by the Canadian Government in using its US law firm to threaten the Mayor and Council of Detroit. According to the Detroit News, they were told "Do not move forward with the city's proposal to connect the Ambassador Bridge to the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel, or Canada may take legal action...The plan is an international security threat and would provide Detroit businessman Matty Moroun with the equivalent of a monopoly over the Ambassador Bridge and Detroit-Windsor Tunnel."

Let's see, this is the Canadian Government telling the Americans what they can or cannot do on the US side? I assume the Americans still have the right to put THEIR customs officers where they want on the US side. Moreover, I assume it is US law that applies to whether there is a monopoly or not since it would be a US deal on the US side. Why is the Canadian Government butting in?

I assume that some genius in Ottawa or Toronto thinks that they can goad the Bridge Co. into doing something stupid so that the authorities have the justification for taking some drastic action against them. If so, this is becoming brinkmanship that could negatively impact the Canadian economy. Without too much difficulty, I can think of all kinds of retaliatory measures that could be taken by the Americans that would hurt our side of the border badly.

If this is to the Canadian Government as "Anybody But Moroun" then someone should have the guts to pick up the phone, call him and start the negotiations over price! I am sure that his price would take up a good part of the Liberals' budgetary surplus that they were otherwise going to bribe us with to get us to vote for them.

So the objective must be to wear him down with proposed routes to take his business away, introduce legislation and provide all kinds of irritants so that Matty will cry "Uncle." And of course, the city's hypocritical actions to start a lawsuit over a route they have supported for a year now makes no sense other than as part of an action to put more pressure on the Bridge Co. to slow down what they are doing.

The trouble is that Moroun will cry "Uncle" except he will cry "Uncle Sam!" We saw what Governor Granholm could do. Imagine if George W. got interested too. Then Windsor and Canada would be in real trouble!

We AUTO Be Doing Something Quickly

Don't you think that Mayor Francis and Council ought to be doing something rather than being fixated on the border....something like economic redevelopment and providing an environment for creating jobs.

The latest shocker may come from another auto plant closing down resulting in more job losses.

The Wall Street Journal reported today:

Ford Looks to Close Plants,
Shed Jobs in Overhaul

Moves Seen as One Element
Of Broader Strategy Review
Amid Losses, Falling Sales
December 2, 2005; Page A1

Weeks after rival General Motors Corp. announced plans to eliminate 30,000 jobs next year, some details are starting to emerge about job cuts and plant closings at the U.S.'s other big auto maker, Ford Motor Co.

Though Ford's plan, dubbed the "Way Forward," is still being formulated and is subject to change, the nation's second-largest auto maker is likely to shutter assembly plants in St. Louis, Atlanta and St. Paul, Minn., according to two people familiar with its product plans. Also slated for closure are an engine-parts plant in Windsor, Ontario, and a truck-assembly plant in Cuautitlan, Mexico, said these people.

I Guessed Correctly

The Star reported that the Councillors are considering a lawsuit over the roadway to the border. Of course it is completely hypocritical since the Mayor and Council voted unanimously in favour of going on Talbot Road when the guru, Gridlock Sam, made that his choice.

So what's the deal?

Obviously Council has failed miserably at doing anything on the border so it is time to talk tough again since an election is coming up. If you failed totally at what you were elected to do, then you have to do something don't you? And if a lawsuit is started, then when you are asked a question, the easy way is not to answer since it is under litigation! That should shut everyone up about the border! As we have seen with the Mady parking garage issue, the Mayor is a master of that being the lawyer that he is.

Wow, Eddie's strategists sure are smart aren't they?

The excuse is "protecting neighbourhoods" and apple pie!

At the least, it is seemingly an action to please the Talbot Road people (whom Council ignored before.) We are fighting for people rather than vacant agricultural land will be the cry. In the end, the City will take the praise as the Senior Levels "give in" and buy the residents out (as they already want to do!)

But I think it is much more than that....I believe it is part of an "irritant" and "delay" strategy. I expect that the Mayor is part of that as well as the Senior Levels. Of course it hurts the City of Windsor but who cares because there are bigger fish to fry.

It all makes sense now....It is all well-orchestrated.

I'll talk about that in another BLOG.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Brian And Joe Finally Listened To Me

Nice to see that our two NDP members are worried about re-election and have convinced their Leader to do something on the border. Finally it looks like the NDP has recognized the importance of Windsor and the border to Canada and the auto industry in particular

Here are some excerpts from Jack Layton's speech today:

Jack Layton's speech at Oshawa, Ontario
Thu 1 Dec 2005

Now let’s talk about jobs in the auto industry.

Today I’m going to speak very directly about this topic… I’m going to make a commitment to you, and then I’m going to issue a challenge to Prime Minister Paul Martin and the other party leaders.

Canada cannot and we will not permit the Canadian auto industry to fade away. Nobody knows better than you why that’s important. So here’s what we’ll do about it.

In the next Parliament, we will introduce and insist on early adoption of a comprehensive auto strategy. Our auto strategy will have four key pillars.

First, a sustained and serious commitment to research and development to get products that will give our auto industry the cars of the future.

Second, carefully-designed, targeted incentives – tied to performance – to encourage the retooling of our plants and the launch of new products here in Canada.

Mr. Martin’s government is about broad-brush, no-strings-attached tax giveaways to corporations. We’re about getting results for people – including protecting their jobs by turning targeted incentives into real work.

Third, a fair trade policy. As I speak today, Mr. Martin’s government is entering into negotiations with Korea and Japan. Diversifying our trade has a lot to recommend it. But fair has to be fair. Canada must not enter into agreements that open our markets even wider than they are now to foreign car imports, when the doors are closed to our products over there. It has to be a level playing field, or it’s no deal.

Finally, we have to address border infrastructure – right now, as quickly as possible. As Sid Ryan likes to say, Oshawa is a border town. What happens on that bridge in Windsor drives what happens to your jobs here.

Canada needs a national border infrastructure program… Ontario’s auto industry does… and so does Oshawa. One broken down dump truck on that bridge can bring the auto industry to a halt.

R&D, targeted incentives, fair trade, infrastructure
. We’re running out of time to get going on these priorities. If Plant number 2 in Oshawa – the jewel of General Motors… one of the best, most-productive plants in North America – can be put under threat, then there are no safe jobs in this industry.

If the plants aren’t safe, you know what’s next. What’s next on the block are the promises made to workers for decent pensions. This is high stakes for the working families of Oshawa. So here is a commitment I’m going to make to you today.

A comprehensive and effective auto strategy will be a core element of our program in the next Parliament. Any political party hoping to work with us in the next Parliament had better understand that an early, comprehensive, effective auto strategy must be part of the agenda.

I’m told Prime Minister Martin will be dropping by the Canadian Autoworkers National Council tomorrow.

I issue this challenge to him, to Stephen Harper and to Gilles Duceppe. Don’t tell us about promises you’ve made in the past. And Mr. Prime Minister, don’t tell us about programs you launched that clearly have done nothing for the working families in Oshawa and in industrial communities across Canada.

Instead I challenge all of you to commit that you will support our plan for the auto industry no matter what role the Canadian people decide to give your party in the next Parliament.

Where's Citistat

Oh well, the Fire Chief is going to be the fall guy for this story in the Star. What should Council do to him now---criticize him, demote him, fire him or cut his salary by say $21,000 or so! Anything but take the blame for the Mayor's broken campaign promise.

Of course someone leaked the audit report in advance of the "in camera" Council meeting to embarrass Chief Fields and to justify what I suspect has been proposed....I wonder who did that!

  • Sick days boost fire OT
    Department $300,000 over budget this year

    Firefighters are calling in sick too often, according to a city councillor who is raising questions about the fire department's overtime costs of about $800,000 this year.

    "There's a suggestion there might be some abuse there and I think we're obliged to follow up and make people accountable," Coun. Alan Halberstadt said...

    Fire chief Dave Fields could not confirm that figure, but he admitted there's a problem.

    "Even if it was nine or 10, that is high," he said. "If it was high, obviously there's a problem and I have to look into the problem...

    Fields said he was at a loss to explain the number but the department has plans to implement a monitoring program that keeps a tally of sick days.

    If you don't have the resources to be able to monitor certain things, you're open to abuse," Fields said.

Gee, where were Councillor Budget and the Budgeteers when this was happening? Did they fail to ensure that proper financial controls were in place?

I guess they were too busy playing Scrooge to save a few dollars from the Science Centre rather than watching over city finances! And they should be praised for this? Save a penny, lose a dollar seems to be all that they are capable of doing.

Wasn't Citistat, the jewel of Eddie's election campaign platform? Didn't Citistat separate him from Bill Marra? Wasn't Citistat supposed to control overtime. Didn't it cut millions from overtime in Baltimore?

Take pity on the Chief. His staff is cut and his resources are limited. Put the blame where it should be---right with the Mayor and Councillor Brister!

The Councillor Is Making It Hard For Me

I said again how much I respected Councillor Valentinis but that can only go so far.

He is quoted in the Star today as saying:

"council is not married to the controversial truck by-pass called for by the City's traffic expert Sam Schwartz that cuts through sensitive environmental lands near Ojibway Park.

"Schwartz is just one option, but the concept is there and that is, get this away from people...Create a by-pass. If you do not want to go near Ojibway, that's fine, then go to another site."

And Councillor STOPDRTP still supports the Schwartz strategy that is deader than dead. How out of touch the Ward 1 Councillor has become. But then again he has morphed himself now into Councillor Budget.

Frankly, this proves the utter and complete stupidity of the Mayor's and Council's strategy on the border.

DRIC gave them the road along Talbot that they agreed with unanimously for the past year and now they complain about it and want to waste millions on a lawsuit that makes no sense. They would be fighting against the road they wanted! [I hope someone retains me to act for the defendant on this one.]

Or did they outsmart themselves by knowing that the tree-huggers would win and that DRIC would be so intimidated that they would go through the empty lands of LaSalle. DRIC's proposal killed that one didn't it? I guess that DRIC was not as smart as the City thought or maybe they are smarter.

For heaven's sake....they have been advocating "Schwartz, Schwartz, Schwartz" for a year now until Fulvio said it was just a "starting point." Now it is just "one option." It really meant something totally different.

Why can't the City be honest already and stop playing these stupid games! Why didn't the City set out its true position right at the start and not waste a year and millions of dollars in fees.

I guess that is MY mistake. I worked to elect a "YOUNG entrepreneur of the year" instead of an experienced, real one!

Councillor Valentinis And The New Route

I am a bit slow when it comes to maps and directions. That is why a friend of mine who works for a company that makes portable GPS devices for cars sent me one to help prevent me from getting lost! [If you want one, dear reader, let me know and I can send you info about it ]. I say this to explain why it took me so much time to understand why some of what Councillor Valentinis said at Council on Monday night bothered me.

I always take very seriously what Councillor Valentinis has to say. As I said before, I wish that he had run for mayor during the last election.

I don't think I have ever heard him speak as emotionally as I did on Monday night at Council when he was complaining that the Bi-national picked going down the Talbot Road corridor rather than going through "agricultural" and vacant lands in LaSalle. After all the argument went, aren't existing homes more important than "future" developments. The Mayor also picked up on that theme.

I finally figured it out. Didn't Schwartz suggest using the same Talbot Road corridor (but not including the Ojibway nature reserve) that the Councillor and Mayor were now objecting to and they and the rest of Council supported him unanimously! I am sure that the Bi-national people were as surprised by the viciousness of the attack as I was.

Here is what Sam said:
  • Option 1
    However the major impact of the route would be on the Town of LaSalle’s future town center plans. The proposed route bisects the town’s proposed urban center and a number of planned residential neighborhoods.

    Option 2
    As in Option 1, the Talbot Road – Huron Church Bypass Combination would have considerable impacts to the Town of LaSalle, especially to areas that are currently being planned for town commercial districts and residential areas.

    Option 3
    Unlike the first two alternatives, this route would largely bypass proposed urban and residential centers within the Town of LaSalle. Property takings would be substantially reduced from those needed in the first two alternative routes.


    We think all four options must be developed in greater detail and receive public exposure to identify issues, faults and improvements. However, because of the potential impacts Options 1 and 2 would have on the future of the Town of LaSalle, SSC does not recommend pursuing them...Consequently, at this point, our preferred option is #3.

This is one of the few times that I respectfully do not understand why the Councillor is taking the position he did. Or have I missed the point the Councillor was making?

Options using Talbot Road seemed to be just fine for the City's guru and for Council yet now that decision was being attacked. I wonder if that will mean that some Councillors who have finally figured out that the Mayor's Schwartz strategy did not work and who have had reservations about that strategy will now feel free to speak out finally and develop their own independent position in time for the next election.

I assume that the attack must be part of the David Estrin strategy and that a number of the remarks by the Mayor and Councilors were designed to help the City out if a lawsuit is to be started. The City's position---talk tough and carry no stick!

Adn do not worry about legal fees, the City has a slush fund of $15 million to pick them up rather than to build roads and sewers.

The Mayor Is...

To those who guessed the column was about Eddie Francis....wrong again.

The answer to the contest is again David Miller of the City of Toronto.

Perhaps if he focused on running the City of Toronto and not losing so much weight---30 pounds in a year--- the column would not have been written.

He reduced in size the wrong "waist" at City Hall it seems. In 2006, he better cut out the city waste. Perhaps we can help him out with our Citistat initiative if it ever gets started.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Wearing Too Many Hats

Is Eddie Francis speaking as Mayor about the Bridge Co.'s proposal respecting the Tunnel or as Chair of the Windsor Tunnel Commission or both?

Fortunately for Windsor, the Bridge remained open when the Tunnel's operations had to close down because of the DTE problems. The Mayor should contact himself immediately as the WTC Chair and demand of himself how this could happen since it severely prejudiced the City and what steps was he going to take to make sure this never happened again!

I mention this because of what the Mayor is quoted as saying in the Star today. So sayeth the Mayor/WTC Chair about the Ambassador Bridge's proposal re the Tunnel: "This will close down traffic in the tunnel, destroy business in both city centres and affect large numbers of commuters who work or attend school."

Let's look at each point:

1) "This will close down traffic in the tunnel"
Saying that will happen does not mean that will happen. I do not understand the point. A Tunnel outage that is reported across North America and suggestions that people get subsidized NEXUS cards to beat backups will damage traffic a lot more. Frankly, if the Bridge Co. builds 200 booths and the Tunnel remains with the much fewer boths, who would ever take a chance again and use the Tunnel for fear of being caught in a back-up.

2)"Destroy business in both city centres"
That is a big fear on the Windsor side especially. Again, my view is that the issues for someone crossing the border are the speed in which they can get across (as Casino Windsor understood in their radio ads directed to US visitors) and the lack of backups. Most US visitors will be coming via the interstate system and a simple sign "To Canada" is all that they would need. Once they clear Customs, a sign "To Downtown" or "To the West End" would take them to their desired location and without stopping. I do not find this confusing. Frankly, I would find it more confusing now to see signs saying to the Tunnel or to the Bridge if I were a tourist and did not know which one would take me to downtown quicker.

3)"affect large numbers of commuters who work or attend school"
This is a myth that is constantly told. The Bridge Co. proposal still maintains a downtown exit for commuters.

One point that needs repeating. The Tunnel Plaza Master Planning project under Phase 1 of the Border Agreement was "suspended" in early 2005 and changes to the roadway are unlikely before 2007. If we have such a mess, then why is the project suspended? The WTC Chair should ask the Mayor that forthwith!

Windsor Ballet Alternative

As I am sure everyone knows, about the only time Windsor gets media coverage is when there is talk about booze (from the good old days), strippers and gambling at the Casino.

Well the border has given us a bit more coverage. Now we got some national attention in the US (over 150 media outlets carried the story as of 6:15 AM this morning) and we can thank DTE Energy and the Detroit/Windsor Tunnel for that. Here are some excerpts from the story:

  • CBS News

    Power Outage Affects Parts of Detroit

    DETROIT, Nov. 29, 2005

    (AP) A power outage Tuesday affected a large area of Detroit's east side and shut down a tunnel connecting the city with Canada.

    Officials at the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel informed Canadian authorities that it closed at 11:57 a.m., said Danny Yen of the Canada Border Services Agency. The Ambassador Bridge, the other crossing connecting Detroit and Windsor, Ontario, was not affected by the outage.

    It was caused by a problem at an electrical station that feeds several substations, said Len Singer, a spokesman for DTE Energy Co.

I guess we are lucky that the Bridge did not have power problems or if they did, they had backup generators so that traffic could continue or imagine the back-ups. My recollection is that when we had the big blackout, the Tunnel was closed down for a period of time but the Bridge was not.

One of the troubling aspects from the perspective of the City's ownership of the Tunnel however is the Free Press headline "Partial blackout in Detroit shuts down tunnel." If you were coming into Canada, which crossing would you use?

Not only now do we have to fight back-ups but power outages as well to convince people to come over here.

Name That Mayor Contest

Well readers, it is time again for another contest. Who is the Mayor that is being referred to in this article from a leading newspaper. [A few changes were made to mask the City's identity so it would not be that easy]

Dear Mr. Mayor:

If an election were held tomorrow, I'd probably vote for you again. Reluctantly. And mainly because it's hard to give up on the dream.

I'm not alone. Many in this city are still stuck on the promise of a modern, 21st century city we thought you'd usher in following that exultant election night two years ago.

The possibilities seemed endless. You'd inherited a city bursting with energy and expectations, a town aching to achieve greatness, a populace willing to be led. From the intelligentsia to the hoi polloi, rarely has the City been so ready for a renaissance.

This was our gift to you. The only acknowledgement required was that you lead with boldness.

But instead of inspiring us with grand schemes or simple glimpses of what we are about to achieve, you've sedated us, preoccupied as you are with being a navel-gazing policy wonk — "getting it right," you say.

That's not why we elected you, sir. We elected you to be mayor, chief magistrate, the repository and reflection of our hurts and our dreams; the one to sing with us, weep with us, pray with us, dream with us.

You've spent so much time looking at the entrails of city hall — a landscape we thought you knew from being in the belly of the beast — that you miss opportunities to be mayor.

When your name is mentioned, sir, people's eyes don't light up the way they did a year ago.

The flash of delight and anticipation has been replaced by resignation that you just might be a go-easy, status quo kind of guy more suited to a job as an insurance salesman than big-city mayor.

But, oh, how you look the part, and still. And how you sound the part. You're gifted, smart, articulate. Only, you just aren't playing the part. And it has deflated our hopes and threatens to eclipse the dream.

Why haven't you outlined your vision of how to meet the city's great challenges? We must tackle transit growth, services for children, and ugly, dirty streets. So where are the goals, benchmarks we must reach.

We don't know. We sit and wait and despair at your inaction and underachievement. You are busy doing important things. But they are not things that capture our imagination or engage us or call us to sacrifice or act for a grand cause.

This sense of unrealized potential explains a recent poll that put your approval rating at only "X" per cent. "X" per cent, sir! With no opposition, no alternative, just you against yourself. "Y's" approval was in the mid-80s at this time in his first term.

Many are asking why? And the answer most frequently given is you are poorly advised, have no advice at all, or, worse, ignore the advice you get.

All three are crippling. All three point to your office administration, the men and women who are supposed to do your heavy lifting, build the political alliances, design the policy positions, manage the political minefields, give you savvy advice, watch your back, and communicate your message and vision.

Sir, by all accounts, your office staff is weak and ineffective. Wonderful people, they are too out of their depth to enable the mayor we expect, and too overmatched to deliver the city you must.

You'll bristle at this. You say your crew is efficient and effective. With respect, sir, you can't be that deluded.

Too many people have told you the opposite — from internal to external sources, from councillors who are your allies to those who are not, from the diligent city builders to those just trying to navigate the system.

You need to blow up your office staff and start again. Begin with a chief of staff instead of the chief-by-committee approach that observers say has been disastrous.

You are no longer a ward councillor, Mr. Mayor. You are running a government more complex than some provinces. And you are supposed to be the one to tend to every emergency and unforeseen crisis and still be the symbolic glad-handing, ribbon-cutting, baby-hugging everyman's mayor.

To play the role, you need a chief of staff, almost a surrogate, backed up by a strong team. You can't continue to be the smartest person in your office — not if you want to build a great city. You need a peer, someone with the leadership, stature, moxie and savvy to challenge you, advise you and lead in the political management of big-city, top-tier government caught in tremendous global and domestic competition. are now the establishment candidate.

Somehow, that's not what we thought we were getting.

Somehow, we hope you find your way, and soon, before we give up on the dream.

Sincerely, in search of a mayor, not a manager

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Driving Transport Minister Lapierre

What do I know about roads and traffic. I have an LL.M not a P.Eng. But it is like "Art." I know what like and what I do not like (Oh no, Councillor Cassivi will ask me for a definition) And I do NOT like driving on the E C Row.

We know that E C Row needs to be expanded to meet community purposes. We know that E C Row will need a ton of money to repair it as it falls apart. We know we want to keep Montreal-to-Tijuana trucks off of that road. We know that Cansult spent a good part of their report on Schwartz talking about E C Row leading everyone to believe that the Feds want it for international truck traffic.

Transport Minister LaPierre laid it out directly in his letter in the Star:

  • "It mystifies me how a study of an independent engineer to provide advice on the feasibility of Sam Schwartz’s truck bypass proposal has been misrepresented as the federal government supporting international truck traffic on E.C. Row Expressway....Nothing could be further from the truth...The prime minister and I recognize that E.C. Row is owned by ... the taxpayers of Windsor...It is therefore up to the city to determine the future of E.C. Row. If the city decides some day to expand this expressway, then that decision will be solely within the purview of the Windsor City Council and presumably it will be funded out of the City of Windsor capital budget."

So what the Minister is really saying is play ball with us and we'll give you the money for E C Row and if you do not, then Windsor pay for expansion yourself!

I had no idea how to resolve this mess. But I knew to whom to talk! And talk he did:

  • "EC Row is by modern design standards a substandard urban freeway.

    It has little in the way of redemptive qualities when compared to other modern and URBAN freeways running through 21st century cities; it is above grade thus amplifying the noise and visual pollution, the interchanges are too close together, there is no contiguous service roadway system, it requires difficult weaving movements to get on and off and no two interchanges are designed the same. And now the pavement is in distress and the roadway is reaching capacity as far as being able to handle regional east-west traffic. There is no lighting east of Central. If you go beyond Lauzon Parkway the freeway ends in a SIGNALIZED intersection at Banwell and has another two signalized intersections at Lesperance and Manning. This goes beyond dumb design – this is dangerous. Long queues of traffic are seen all the time on the expressway on the east end.

    Clearly, EC Row has to be reconstructed and expanded in the next 10 to 15 years if the region is to continue growing economically and population wise. EC Row is essential to local industry and commerce and will be essential to any planned industrial developments east of the airport, or even to possible inter-modal facilities there. Right now it is one infrastructure advantage we have over London (which has no expressway) or Kitchener-Waterloo (Highway 7 and 8 are plugged solid through the cities).

    But we should not settle for simply “widening” the freeway as was discussed in the Cansult report or the IBI Group Regional transportation plan. In fact, simply widening the freeway may only exacerbate the bad qualities of the existing roadway. Instead we should insist on a properly reconstructed EC Row, from Manning to Ojibway; a below grade freeway with the cross-streets like Walker, Dougall and Howard going OVER EC Row rather than under, with a comprehensive service road system that allows redundancy for east-west traffic in the event of an accident and with superior interchange lay-outs such as Single Point Urban Interchanges (SPUI’s) that will be able to move Windsor and region residents off and on EC Row better and more safely. Such a freeway would address capacity issues for the next 40 years, reduce air and noise pollution and improve safety.

    The cost for such a project would more than likely be in excess of $500 million. But the cost of fixing EC Row and fixing right, compared to the economic, health and safety benefits of a freeway as described above would be worth four or five times its cost.

    Absolutely nobody wants international truck traffic using EC Row as a route between the 401 and the border. And now that the DRIC has removed EC Row from consideration as cross-border route perhaps it might not be taboo any longer to discuss the future of this important transportation route from a regional perspective. It is going to take 7 years of an accelerated EA program to decide on a new border crossing. Can we afford to wait too much longer to initiate what will also be a 5 year plus study on EC Row?”

Whew, I guess I asked for it. Now I knew what he thought about E C Row but $500 were we going to pay for that I asked. The answer was easy!

  • "Just do what the Americans are doing now. Don't you remember what the News Herald news story said: examine the need for redundancy in the infrastructure leading to the Ambassador Bridge. We need to provide redundancy in the road network so a breakdown on the way to the (Ambassador Bridge) does not shut the border crossings down."

    If there are no improvements to EC Row, all will be negative for the region. Why not then go to the Senior Levels and say that you might entertain officially allowing EC Row as a redundant or emergency route if the Feds come in and pay for improvements to the corridor. Make it part of the border route and use the Federal/Provincial monies to pay for it all.

    Beat Lapierre at his own game! Call his bluff and Dwight's too. Remember Dwight likes being Finance Minister and to continue, he needs to be re-elected. Call him on his Gong Show $500 million!

    After all is said and done, we get a route for international traffic on the edge of the city, a rebuilt EC Row and the Feds/Industry get a transportation system with redundancy to the border in the event of an accident or incident.

    All I suggest is a little bit of horse trading with the Feds and MTO. The money is there. And the benefit to Windsor/Essex County with a beefed up EC Row would be enourmous. However, are your civic leaders up to the challenge and will they actually learn how to protect properly the City's interests this time and not give it away like they did with the Phase 1 Agreement "

I forgot to ask my friend....if the new Cabana Road is built with four lanes as was proposed (notwithstanding that citizens apparently only wanted a three lane road) will we have our cross city truck expressway to Huron Church? We'll talk about that another time I am sure

DRIC, Science Centre, Keg And Council

Wow the performance was fantastic last night. Everyone played exactly the role one expected of them. From the tough questioning Mayor/lawyer to the "I wish I could vote for your proposal but I cannot" Budgeteers to the "quality of life" spenders to the "why don't you listen to us" Councillors.

Some thoughts on what I saw.

Like it or not and regadless where some Councillors wanted part of the road to go, it is still headed to the Ambassador Bridge ultimately. It was clear that the Ambassador Gateway plaza is the plaza of choice on the US side. It was also confirmed that the Bridge cost would grow significantly if it were to be made "diagonal" from, say Prospect.

Since the crossing is not going to destroy Sandwich, will the rally by the Ward 2 Councillors be called off or does Brian Masse still need it so he can declare he actually did something on the border!

I don't usually like how Dave Wake of the Ontario Ministry of Transportation answers border questions but he was good last night. He shot Councillor Valentinis down in flames when he demonstrated how DRIC listened to the Community by supporting the Ojibway crossing, rejecting DRTP, rejecting the Twinned Bridge, rejecting the use of E C Row and preserving Ojibway nature Reserve.

I thought Councillor Valentinis was on thin ice also talking about homes backing on to the suggested corridor. If that is a problem, one cannot blame DRIC but must direct the attention on the Windsor Councillors who allowed residences to be built on the corridor to the Ambassador Bridge for the last 75 years!

I thought one comment deserved an answer---why did DRIC listen to all of the other communities on both sides of the border and not Windsor. The answer is very simple. The other cities and towns focused on the problem: the long-term solution. In Windsor, our Mayor and Council forgot why they were elected and rallied for a billion dollar short-term dream that was dead the moment Schwartz revealed it. Our Council is to blame NOT DRIC if Windsor is short-changed. It is a bit late in the day to complain and to try to divert attention away from Council's mistakes and poor strategy.

It again demonstrates how badly the Mayor and Council mismanaged the broder file---from having the PM, Premier and US Ambassador onside and having a seat at the table to being ignored by the bureaucrats!

Had Council gathered the active and vocal support of its citizens as was done in the Downriver and County communities instead of acting in secret, then perhaps someone might have listened to us.

On the vote to give a "grant" to the Science Centre or not, Ward 1 is lucky to have a choice in the next election between Santa Claus and Scrooge!

I wonder if Councillor Zuk's motion after the Border discussion is "legal" or not? It seems to be in violation of the Procedural By-law that the Mayor likes to enforce since the rules did not seem to be followed. I guess it has to be "ratified" which would give residents a chance to speak. That will NEVER happen.

We learned that the Tunnel Plaza Master Planning project under Phase 1 of the Border Agreement was "suspended" in early 2005 and changes to the roadway are unlikely before 2007. OOOOOOOps, don't say it too loudly but the Bridge Co.'s Tunnel deal would have solved many of the road problems without spending millions. Is that why the project is still "suspended?" the Keg and Canderel and parking....Do you think the Keg will still go into Canderel if Chrysler may move to Toronto? Will that garage be the third one to go broke?

Monday, November 28, 2005

What A Nerve!

No wonder the big border rally has been moved up from the spring, as the two Ward 2 Councillors originally proposed, until some time soon. We may have a federal election and it looks like Brian Masse may need all of the help that he can get.

Did you read his quote in the Star today? His top priority will be the border. "We have an obligation to look for options with minimal impact."

Well Brian, the NDP leader, Mr. Layton, did not rank the border very highly when he laid out his conditions for supporting the Liberal minority government a few months ago. In fact, he never mentioned it at all.

Your Party held the balance of power in Government and what did you accomplish for this area, especially on the border issue? Your power is so minimal that one of the alternatives being seriously considered is destroying Sandwich!

You cannot hide behind the fact that your Party was not in power. You had the chance to do something for the region and failed.

Tell me again why you should be re-elected!

You Can't Fight City Hall

I am starting to develop a complex to be honest.

I wanted to have a coffee with a fellow in town who had sent me a fascinating comment on a BLOG I had written. He refused initially to meet. He was afraid to be seen with me in public since it might get back to City Hall he said and could impact his business negatively. To be direct, I could not believe what I had just heard. We did meet finally several weeks later and in public too.

I guess I am too naive after all. Sure I criticize the Mayor and Council, where deserved, but I thought that my message would be seen as a positive one as well. I try to give a helpful solution to a problem that is reasonable and practical even if not popular and that might even help them get re-elected. Surely as public figures, their skins are not that thin.

What prompted this remark? I wanted to make a Presentation to the Council Operating Budget Committee on the OMERS matter since I believe that I have a better alternative than continually pouring money into OMERS. After all, the City issued a press release which stated:

  • "Our City Council is doing its utmost to minimize the effect of increasing costs on the local taxpayer while maintaining effective services,” said Mayor Eddie Francis, “and here is a draft bill that public employers weren’t consulted on that could hike local taxes by as much as 2.1 per cent without the Government of Ontario understanding the real consequences."

I had phoned a person at Administration to ask how I could appear and was told that Councillors would be asked. I emailed and faxed the Committee Chair, Councillor Brister, what I should do and he sent my request to Administration for review. Catch-22?

Imagine then my thoughts when one of the Councillors wrote to me about a different way to appear and concluded: "I can make a motion that you be heard... although I cannot guarantee that Council will vote to do so. You are no doubt aware Ed that you are not a favoured person among Councillors. I don't mind you at all no matter what you say about Council, but that's just me."

And then I got a response from Administration (not the Committee Chair) that blew me away!

I thought I would provide a copy of the exchange of emails between myself and the City for your edification:

  • Nov 24--my email to Councillor Brister
  • I trust that you received my fax which I sent yesterday formally requesting that I appear in front of your Committee with respect to OMERS. The tax hike mentioned below makes this even more critical.

    Windsor Star--City raps pension proposal

    The average Windsor homeowner would see a $40 tax hike next year to cover increased pension benefits for city employees under proposed changes to the Ontario Municipal Employees Retirement System (OMERS), Mayor Eddie Francis warned Wednesday.

    November 24--Councillor Brister's reply

    Thanks for the e-mail. Public consultation has been included in as an important part of the .MZBB process. As such, I have forwarded your e-mail to Administration for review.

    November 24---my reply to Councillor Brister

    Thanks for your note.

    I do not know what .MZBB means I am sorry

    I was told by Administration and by one of your Colleagues to contact you about appearing. That is why I sent the fax. Looks like it is a Catch-22 right now.

    November 24--email from Onorio Colucci, the Acting Treasurer

    Thank you for your email which Councilor Brister forwarded to my attention. Firstly MZBB represents modified zero based budgeting.

    With respect to your request to appear before the Operating Budget Committee, two dates were set by City Council for public consultation, one on June 21st and the second the week of January 23rd, prior to council's budget deliberations. In order to ensure that the process is fair to everyone, and in compliance with Council's direction to administration and the Operating Budget Committee, your presentation should be made at the Council meeting the week of January 23rd. Having said that, please feel free to forward a written submission to my attention and I will certainly make it available to the Committee. I should also add that the issue of the rising costs of the OMERS plan has been taken very seriously by both administration and Council. In fact the CAO made a presentation to the Standing Committee on the OMERS bill this week outlining the very serious concerns that this municipality has with the proposed legislation.

    November 27---my email to the Acting Treasurer

    I read the press release on the City's website and saw the following:

    "Our City Council is doing its utmost to minimize the effect of increasing costs on the local taxpayer while maintaining effective services,” said Mayor Eddie Francis, “and here is a draft bill that public employers weren’t consulted on that could hike local taxes by as much as 2.1 per cent without the Government of Ontario understanding the real consequences."

    I also had read that the per household increase on the tax bill was about $40, a considerable amount considering that City employees would also have to pay out an equivalent amount in total as their contribution.

    As you may recall, in June, at the Budget meeting, I made Council aware that I was working on a proposal with a major Canadian Financial Institution that I thought would eliminate the uncertainty around the OMERS approach and would be advantageous in a number of ways for both the City and its employees. I took some comfort that my concept would be taken seriously since Councillor Valentinis had the courtesy to say that my idea was the only Presentation that was going to save the City money!

    It is rather disturbing to read now from your email that there is little interest in hearing what I have to say until the end of January, clearly at a time when the budget process for next year has been completed. It must mean that Council has already decided that it can do nothing other than ask taxpayers and employees to pay out more money in increased taxes and contributions. That, in my respectful opinion, is hardly "doing its utmost to minimize the effect of increasing costs on the local taxpayer."

    I assume as well that if I am to present at Council along with other concerned citizens, then I am limited to 5 minutes under the City's Procedural By-law. To be fair, a matter that is so technically complicated legally and financially cannot be presented properly in such a short period of time. Both I and a representative of the Financial Institution would need considerably longer just to introduce the topic given the radically different approach we are suggesting.

    As far as putting it in writing as you suggested so that it can be passed on to Councillors, it hardly makes sense to do that as well given all the questions which may arise and which would require an answer to make the proposal understandable. Moreover, consideration would need to be given as to how it could be implemented and what action steps were required since it is not a simple answer.

    Accordingly, I would appreciate if you would ask Committee members if they would be prepared to allow my colleague and I the opportunity to present to the Committee while it is still in deliberations for the next fiscal year.

What will the end result be? I don't know frankly. If Windsor is not interested in saving its taxpayers and its employees money, then I am sure that there are others who are.

If I am reading to much into this ie be quiet and less negative if you want to get anywhere at City Hall, then I am just reacting to what I have been told by third parties above and by what I have read.

If anyone thinks that being "unpopular" with the powers that be will shut me up, then remember what I wrote in a recent BLOG about retirees!

Turkey Leftovers

The Americans have just finished Thanksgiving. I, like them, have some leftovers to finish off . Here goes:

I like Lewenza's reasoning

I grow some tomatoes in my garden, not a lot mind you, but enough to make some bruschetta or to put in a salad. I also pay out some money for charities when the neighbour's kids come by to sell me a chocolate bar or some cookie dough to raise money for their school.

Accordingly, using Ken Senior's logic, I should have my property re-assessed as "agricultural" or at the least have my property taxes reduced so I can continue buying these sweets!

Is this the logic used when CAW 444 negotiates with Chrysler or the Casino? It will be hilarious to watch Councillors squirming too. I wonder if the Mayor will vote.

MDOT's Gloria Jeff

Gloria Jeff is director of the Michigan Department of Transportation and a key player in the border crossing game. I first met her when my colleague and I did a Presentation to Detroit City Council on the border some time ago. (Sheeeeeeeeesh, we can meet their Council and our Council still has not done so).

Her introductory remarks were fascinating since she told Council straight out that IF there was going to be another crossing other than at the Ambassador Bridge, someone would have to come up with several hundred milion dollars to replicate what was done at the Ambassador Gateway project.

WWJ reported on Saturday that Jeff may be leaving her job. I had heard rumours before about her and Governor Granholm not getting along. According to WWJ, The Governor's Office apparently said to ask Jeff if she was going.

What does it mean for the border? My view---the Governor is going to be a lot more hands on than before. She made the announcement killing 8 of the routes after all, not Ms Jeff thereby scooping the process! And she knows that she is in a financial crisis especially over roads. (eg Detroit News: Granholm, GOP spar over what's best for Michigan roads...Governor puts focus on fixing existing roads; Republicans say failure to build stifles growth)

Do you really think the Governor is going to spend all of that money on NEW international border infrastructure when Michigan roads need improvement.

Poor Sandra Pupatello

She's between a rock and a hard place.

She has to be perceived as helping Sandwich since it is part of her Constituency, yet she has to appear "neutral" or she can be accused of prejudicing the Bi-national process. (Perhaps that is why the rumoured Sandra/Dwight press conference about the border BEFORE the recent announcement never took place)

"Trust DRIC' is what Sandra supposedly said at a recent meeting in Sandwich. Sure sounds a lot like what Susan Whelan had to say as a Cabinet member when the JMC proposal was first disclosed and she had to take the heat politically for their fiasco.

Now perhaps Sandra knows how Susan must have felt and remembers what happened to her at the last election! Sandra better find a way out soon or....

West Side Logic

I wonder if the rumours are true that Mary Ann Cuderman is going to run for Council in Ward 2 on her "Save Sandwich" platform. (No, not that kind of sandwich from her bakery!)

She is getting almost as much press as Councillor STOPDRTP did before he announced that he was going to run, (although he has been very silent over the past 2 years on what got him elected.) Using the border keeps her name in front of constituents more than the elected Councillors---not a bad strategy.

Oh she will get her way. No one is really going through Sandwich but the question remains where will the new crossing go?

Paradoxically, she may be the person who does the most to build the Twinned Bridge, the last thing she wants to happen! Her strong support of the South Bridge, when it had little chance of success, and her disclosure of all of the problems at Prospect mean that there is only one place where the new crossing can logically go! After all, she can hardly support a bridge that destroys Delray when she rallies so strongly for the Sandwich community!

So wouldn't it be really ironic if Mary Ann, not the Mayor or Brian Masse or the two Ward Councillors today, finally sees the light and demands that negotiations immediately commence with the Bridge Co. She would demand an "enhancement" of the road to the Twinned Bridge to alleviate any negatives and that they spend money to redevelop Sandwich as in SW Detroit and create jobs.

Heck, I might even buy her famous brownies from her bakery if she did that!

This could work for Sandra too now that I think of it. (I vaguely remember some Provincial Liberals suggesting this idea quite some time ago too).

Let's see who becomes the border heroine: Sandra, Caroline or Mary Ann?

Sutts Strosberg Ads

My old law firm was never this nice!

They never ran a bunch of ads for me in the local press talking about my "long-standing commitment and dedication to our community" the way that the firm did for Werner Keller.

Cabana Road Truck Semi-Expressway

Remember Gord Henderson's column on the victory on Howard Avenue "Speaking of Cabana, foes of a similar plan for that primarily residential road were at council Monday night cheering on their Howard Avenue allies and feeding off the thrill of victory while girding for the city's next big street fight."

5 lanes were wanted initially, citizens wanted 3 so they compromised on 4! Yea right!

Anyway, here is the road that can be used for international trucks instead of E C Row when the new Huron Church route to the bridge is being built!

Canada South Science City

How will Councillor Brister vote on this matter? Darn Gord Henderson....he did not write a column on Saturday. Remember Councillor, "Pocketbook benefits... through increased tourism."

A Globe and Mail story says that "Anticipation is high in Toronto that the federal and provincial governments will announce within the next few weeks a commitment of at least $100-million to the capital costs of six cultural organizations."

That snub costs us again!

Is Chrysler moving its HQ?

The Company has done studies before like this I am sure as most companies do eg is it better for an oil company to stay in Ontario or to move its HQ out west where the oil is (and where taxes are lower too)? Is it better to move jobs to the US to consolidate operations there or to have more functions in Canada as a "cheaper" alternative...stuff like that!

Notice that the news story was written by Gord Henderson. Obviously, someone was very concerned that it was going to happen and to happen soon. Now that it was leaked, I would not expect it to happen for some time, probably not until after the next municipal election at least.

Who would want to have Chrysler leave town on his/her mayoral watch!