A Perfect EA Storm
Frankly, it makes little sense to me except if you look at it in one way. It's all a turf war. A big inter-governmental battle is about to be fought now that Bill C-3 has passed in the House of Commons. That has to be why Brian Masse tried so hard and failed so miserably to get City of Windsor amendments passed when the Bill was in hearings. That's why Brian was so insistent about the right of local Government to be involved in decisions and to be consulted on border matters.
Who will control the Windsor border crossing: the Feds who have constitutional responsibility or the Province and Eddie who want the money that they think the border will bring them and who will control the border as the operator. If in the process the Ambassador Bridge suffers financially, well that is a bonus for them.
The other bitter and obsessed old man would say that it takes Eddie months to do anything, if he ever does, so why be suprised that it has taken almost 16 months after the money was set aside by the Province for him to act.
An Eddie booster would say that Eddie never hurries since he is a legal technocrat and wants to ensure that the proper process has been followed, that everything is thought out clearly and that everything is in place before he acts. He works to his timetable not to that of others.
They are both right but there is more, much more. A variety of forces make this the ideal time to act.
Just a bit more background to help you out. As I said yesterday, the Province back on April 20, 2005 announced that the province was willing to fund the municipal environmental assessment study and detailed work for a Huron Church Road truck bypass in Windsor. In case you forgot, the next day, on the 21st, the Mayor and Council "snubbed" the Senior Levels. They had offered Windsor environmental assessments and detailed designs for improvements to Highway 3/Talbot Road from Highway 401 to Todd Lane, to upgrade and extend Lauzon Parkway, from Highway 401 to E.C. Row; and to upgrade Manning Road from Highway 401 to County Road 22, including the interchange at Highway 401, in the County of Essex."
Here is what Eddie said on April 26, 2005
- " Last week, the mayor and city council snubbed a federal- provincial border announcement made by Premier Dalton McGuinty and Deputy Prime Minister Anne McLellan, dismissing it as $21 million in studies for a $1-billion problem.
Francis lashed out at Ottawa for refusing to OK its share of a $300-million truck bypass that the province had approved the day before.
On Monday, he defended council's boycott of the announcement.
"if that announcement had included a commitment to fund construction, we would have been there," he said.
"But a commitment to fund some studies that might result in 500 trucks an hour entering the E.C. Row Expressway is not a commitment to fund construction and we could not be a party to that."
I noticed that the Mayor has talked about environmental assessments many times after April, 2005. Why didn't he act then but instead wait until now. He had the opportunities. Let me give a few examples
On May 14, he said
- "Mayor Eddie Francis insists city council is committed to an environmental assessment process that ensures no project proceeds unless it can be demonstrated it won't have a negative impact. People think we're going to plow a road through environmental lands. That's not what Sam's report talks about," says Francis. Council favours a full EA that meets requirements of both provincial and federal regulations -- the most stringent possible."
- "The mayor suggested having the feds review the city's border blueprint is redundant, since "all elements of the Schwartz plan will be subject to a full and comprehensive environmental assessment."
- "We want to see every option explored, including tunneling or anything that would basically see the trucks buried," Francis said. "It would improve the environment, quality of life and allow trucks to move more freely toward the border."
- "Mayor Eddie Francis is calling attention to the environmental impact of a potential border traffic feeder route leading to the new plaza and crossing. City council is concerned the DRIC team is on the verge of calling for a major at-grade expansion of the Talbot Road-Huron Church corridor as its solution to the local border traffic problems, he said."
- "City council will demand at a special meeting tonight that provincial authorities conduct an environmental assessment on a three-kilometre zone west of Huron Church Road to find a new route that takes international trucks away from South Windsor subdivisions.
- Francis said "the city is continuing its call for a full environmental assessment which might help identify alternative routes."
With all of these statements and with money already allocated, why didn't the Mayor act before? Why now?
It is a perfect storm. All the forces are there and have come together so well now. Let me give you a number of reasons. The EA realistically could only be set up now to accomplish the objectives of Eddie and the Province:
1) It's Election time
How do you defend 3 years of inaction and total failure on the Schwartz Report while pretending you are doing something. Simple, set up an EA (You did what the Council resolution said you must do, check mark granted). Because lawyers are now involved, you cannot speak about it because of solicitor-client privilege. No one can dare question you about it and if they do, you have a non-answer answer and who could can argue with that!
2) Block the Ambassador Bridge's enhancement program
Everyone knows that the Bridge Co. is going to move forward and have their enhancement project completed before a shovel is put into the ground for the bureaucrat favoured public bridge. The only way to try and stop them is to delay them. So throw another several years long "full and comprehensive" EA project their way after having them involved in DRIC for years just to throw them out! This time it is for by-pass roads to the border that will tie onto where the bureaucrats want the new bridge to go. Of course EVERY alternative will have to be examined fully including those in LaSalle to drive them nuts. Who knows, LaSalle might choose to litigate to tie this up in the courts forever!
3) Hope that the Bridge Co. sues
Keep on egging them on to sue since that will confirm in everyone's minds that they are the "bad guys" preventing a border solution. Make them the ones who are the border problem rather than what they are: the border solution. After all, Eddie must be tired of everyone pointing at him saying that he is the one stalling new infrastructure work in Windsor and the spending of $300M BIF monies. [Imagine, Coco Paving doing the Sarnia job instead of doing one in Windsor!]. And "bad guys" should not be allowed to build enhancement projects should they!
How many more anti-Bridge Co. actions will it take before they say enough and litigate so that the bureaucrats can get their bridge started.
4) Divert attention away from Eddie's Main Interest
Eddie wants to do a deal on the Tunnel although the front page Star story about the drop in revenues may be the straw that broke the camel's back for anyone interested in doing so. What investor would want to take a chance when ther are so many other bettr deals around? Trying to do a deal is what he has been doing for the past few months in secret. Work together with the Province on this too to pressure the Feds to put money in. After all the $30 million for Tunnel Plaza improvements should only be viewed as a down-payment.
Talk about quality of life, tunnels, get DRTP mad, send out scare letters, flog the Schwartz Report (who cares what it says), get neighbourhoods fighting neighbourhoods, attack DRIC----it does not matter. Just make sure no one follows what is going on at the Tunnel.
5) Allow Eddie and the Province to own and control the crossings
This is what the EAing is really all about. I will be discussing this subject in more detail in another BLOG, but if you read the paper on Ontario's position on infrastructure, it is clear that the Province wants to "own" the Bridge. That ties in with Eddie's ambitions about the Tunnel and, in my opinion, his long-term new bridge ambitions. [Watch their uneasy alliance collapse if their goals are accomplished]. For both of them, the common enemy is the Government that controls anything to do with international crossings and the Government that has money to spend that they want for infrastructure: the Feds. Their method is to create animosity directed against the Ambassador Bridge Co.
Each of the two lower level governments has their own objective. The object is to isolate the Feds and force them into doing what the 2 parties want. Therefore, they are working together, not necessarily as friends, but together as against a common enemy. There is no other way to explain the total breach of protocol in the Province putting forward their $150M Schwartz solution funding the day before the "snub" meeting. There is no other way to explain Eddie's praise of the Province. There is no other way to explain what is going on in municipal politics either.
They are both gambling that Bill C-3 will stop the Bridge Co. and that the Feds can still be pushed around on "Government Oversight." So far, the Fed's bark is worse than their bite. They must have known for years about the Tunnel's unique security problem but have done nothing to force Eddie to correct it. They have not dealt effectively with the City's overruns on projects. They are sitting by as millions will be wasted on theTunnel Plaza Improvements. They are being pushed around and reacting to the Tunnelleers.
6) Wreck the DRIC
With their common border éminence grise advising both of them, it will be fascinating to watch if the Feds wake up or continue to drift as another election might take place. If you do not think that election politics will have an important role to play in this--on both sides of the border---by the time it is done, then you do not understand how border battles are won and lost. Been there. Done that!