Thoughts and Opinions On Today's Important Issues

Friday, January 13, 2006

On The Road With Hope And Crosby

I wonder what Bing Crosby and Bob Hope would have done if someone had written a movie script for “The Road to the Border” as part of their "Road" movie series. Would their song writers have been able to come up with a line similar to one of my favourite musical lyrics of all time: “Like Webster's Dictionary we're Morocco bound” from the movie The Road to Morocco.

This journey into movie nostalgia is prompted by a quote by Dave Wake of the Ontario Ministry of Transportation in the Star today. You’ve seen Dave at Council when the DRIC reps come to town to make a presentation to Council. He is quite quiet, low-key and even-mannered, speaking in a hushed voice even when he puts the boots to a Councillor as he did last time around. He tries very hard, like the good public servant that he is, to waffle, never say anything that can pin him down, and defer to his political masters.

So imagine my surprise when I read his comment in the Star: “Our study removed the CASO corridor from consideration for our purposes," Wake said. "The connecting road will be in the Huron Church Road and Talbot Road corridor.” Imagine “will be” instead of some less definitive term. No ifs, ands or buts.

The consultants, Cansult, put the knife into the Schwartz Horseshoe Road for the Feds and now Wake is finishing off the job if anyone thought otherwise for the Province. And Eddie finally knows better too that is why Sam will be asked to do his CODA study ie how to design the road chosen by the Senior Levels.

This is an important task too. We are not going to get a bridge built here for a very long time with traffic falling. The NO ACTION case is gaining momentum on the other side. Accordingly, trucks can continue to go on Huron Church Road for the next 20 years or can go on a route that takes them away from that street.

So here is what I would suggest as a Plan of Action:
  • Accept as a given that the road to the border is the Talbot Road/Huron Church corridor. It is after all the Schwartz #4 route and one the city proposed years ago in the WALTS Study.
  • Council has to force the Feds and Province to pay for it under the Border Infrastructure Fund (There is about $220 million left for Windsor in BIF and Dwight has a half a billion more too remember) since it is an improvement to an existing crossing
  • Recognize that the missing link to the bridge has to be constructed since the border does have to work after all.
  • The agreement must say that it is a MUNICIPAL road (although the Senior Levels have to pay to maintain it since it is really for trucks and has no benefit for the City).
  • Since it is MUNICIPAL, Sam can do the CODA work and engineer it
  • The design has to be realistic and practical and have few negative impacts on the Sandwich community: eg cantilevered roads, some tunnelling, parkettes etc
  • The road can be designed such that it can be made to go to a new bridge crossing wherever that may be positioned in the future ie at Prospect or Brock or in-between or even a Twinned Bridge.
In other words, this is an intermediate step to solve our road problems for the next 20 years or more since trucks will have to use the bridge for the crossing. It is the solution for the future as well since it is designed for the future bridge wherever that goes in the area and whenever it is needed.

It solves Windsor's road problems since it means we take trucks off of community roads and out of neighbourhoods and focuses our attention on local needs for once.

Traffic volumes are still decreasing! I heard that the Americans have studies that say there is no need for a crossing until after 2020, way longer than DRIC projected! Why spend money if there is no need to do so when we have other more pressing demands like roads and sewers and doctors.

Perhaps, if we are fortunate, just like Bing and Bob, we might wind up on “The Road to Utopia”

It Is Time To Pull The Plug

I had a choice the other night at the DRIC Community Consultation Group meeting. I could pretend that I was interested to help the bureaucrats design a Customs Plaza location on the Canadian side or have a piece of cake and a coffee. Instead of building the plaza, I “desserted” them.

I am not being a smart ass…well maybe I am. I do not understand the reason for an exercise where people who have little engineering skill, lack knowledge about the economic needs of businesses on the waterfront and who are not provided with relevant information are given the task to determine where an 80-100 acre plaza should go for trucks to clear Customs. You will see the results of my colleagues’ work on the DRIC website. It does fulfill the requirement for “public participation.” To top this off, we heard that there are going to be public workshops soon so many more of my fellow citizens can have sweets too. As an American friend of mine told me "This whole study fiasco is the difference between ensuring due process and making sure the people are duly processed!"

I have written already about the faults of the “Vision Statement of Future” exercise on the other side and wondered how expropriating the assets of private companies all of a sudden became part of the DRIC exercise. It was pretty obvious as well how the move to “public ownership” is being handled over there too. Who am I to say that the only proponent left after the “privately owned ” Ambassador Bridge and DRTP have been eliminated is the “public.” (Oh I know about Mich-Can but even that is a publicly owned bridge run by private operators for a period of time).

If DRIC wanted true “citizen participation,” then the Governments would have provided intervenor status for citizens. That means funding the retention of experts who would understand the process and have the required skills to provide assistance to citizens groups to allow for meaningful participation. That was refused. Of course, the Process could have been designed differently but the way it was done meant no money. Governments could have provided funding if they chose to do so, but they did not. We cannot allow citizens to be too involved after all.

I am tired of the DRIC process. I am getting eyestrain from reading all of their reports and a backache from lifting them. They already gave us the solution after spending about 2 years of time and several million dollars of taxpayer money. The answer was a crossing either at the Ojibway corridor or at the twinned bridge corridor. It really is still the same answer today except we had to spend more time and money to get to the same point and now have to spend even more to get to the Final Point. (Yes I know they eliminated the Twinned Bridge from DRIC but how they did it is also something that bugs me: choose a plaza that no one suggested and a road route no one advocated)

What else was achieved during the period? Many residents on both sides of the river had to fear that the truck road was going in their backyard because of the 15 alternatives. I won’t speak about the US side but on our side the Court of Appeal did not legally require this kind of examination of alternative routes in my opinion. It scared people and accomplished little other than make people stay up late at night worrying about their homes and families.

Look at the potential messes we have had to endure in Windsor from the time the JMC made their first report until now: truck roads all over the City to allow each proponent to have an equal chance of success, loss of EC Row as a community road, residents of Riberdy Road waking up one morning to find they are a target as did residents of Todd Lane, destruction of the Ojibway nature reserve. On the other side…the Downriver communities, Delray, SW Detroit. It would be hilarious if it was not so disturbing.

And what are we looking at now?

There is the obvious disarray amongst the experts on the US and Canadian teams. The Americans like the Ambassador Gateway plaza since they are spending $200 million for it. The Canadians only like part of what the Bridge Co. is doing, probably because we have spent little in comparison.

Are we going to have a bridge at Prospect or Brock or somewhere in between as a compromise between the two sides? Then we get the engineering fiasco: the link up. We hear talk of straight line bridges, diagonal bridges and now S-shaped bridges. The length of the bridge----well you calculate the distance and the extra costs for one going between Prospect or even further south and the Ambassador Gateway Plaza. When push comes to shove, are the Americans going to spend even more of their money to please us when it comes time to build something?

In fact, there is a new proposal that is gaining tremendous momentum now. DO NOTHING. That came through loud and clear from several Michigan newspaper editorials. I heard Detroit Councillor Watson ask the question of US DRIC and force the MDOT rep to admit that were looking at that option (but not very visibly I might add) and would consider it. Seriously, who needs a new crossing if traffic is not growing and if there is not enough of it to sustain so many crossings economically? The crossings could go broke. In other words why spend the billions being projected as the costs for roads, plazas and bridges when there are other community needs?

Are we seeing true engineering concerns or the agendas of Governments playing out through DRIC?

The process is clearly political so let’s agree on that. DRIC is convenient for the politicians at the Senior Levels on our side. We must “respect” the process which is the call for inaction. On the US side, on the other hand, when the going got tough politically Downriver, Governor Granholm got going!

What the Governments are being forced to do by citizen power on the US side is to do their job and make decisions in a timely fashion. They and not a bunch of bureaucrats will have to make and take responsibility for what has to be done on choosing a new crossing. Governor Granholm and Detroit Councillors Cockrel and Watson understand that very well and let DRIC US know that in no uncertain terms. By the way, it is election year for the Governor and certain legislators at the State and Federal levels. Voter power!

On our side, it’s time our politicians did so or they will become irrelevant. We all knew the process ultimately had to have the Americans’ approval. A region of 200,000 was not going to tell Detroit and SE Michigan what was going to be done. Our politicians have to start making decisions and not hide behind more studies and more experts’ reports.

It will be interesting to see what the 2005 traffic numbers are for cars and trucks at the border at the Bridge and Tunnel. Have they gone up, remained steady or, heaven forbid, dropped again? I am sure that it is safe to say that at best, they would have increased by a fraction. At the worst, they will have dropped considerably.

Using this as our scenario, doesn’t it mean that we have to revise our thinking? Doesn't it mean that the wild-eyed projections of dramatic traffic growth have to be abandoned? Doesn’t it mean that we have to look differently at the border?

If that is so, since DRIC has given us the options for a crossing and how to get there, what more do we need from them? If that is so, why are we spending money and wasting time on more and more studies and reports that deal with a problem that we do not need to deal with for the foreseeable future? If that is so, why do we need DRIC any longer?

It is time to do the merciful thing for everyone involved. It is time to pull the funding of DRIC on both sides of the border. It is time to pull the plug on DRIC and end it.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

More On Public And Private

It will be a debate that is going to heat up over the next year as decisions are being made about who should own and operate the new bridge if one will ever be built. Should it all be public or private or some combination of both.

Who will finance it? Do the traffic numbers justify spending billions for a new crossing when you take into account the costs of roads, bridge and plazas never mind the annual operating costs. Government could do it but will they when there are other demands on the public purse.

Do the math yourself to determine if there is a business case to be made for private parties to finance the crossing, especially when the Bridge Co.'s 200 booth proposal can clear 50 million vehicles a year at a construction cost only a small fraction of the cost of a new crossing.

My understanding was that even DRTP was never more than 90% financed even when they looked like they might actually be operational. Even then, one of their reps said at a meeting I attended that their payback period was more than 20 years.

It is very clear what the Canadian side wants. If you want a big hint, read the Federal Government's Bill C-44. Has the US accepted this view and gone one step further with the DRIC Vision Statement about expropriating the Ambassador Bridge?

What position will the Bridge Co. take since everyone seems to want to take away their business: litigation, buy-out, partnership.

Of course, I don't want to confuse the situation with facts but it might be interesting, dear reader, for me to provide you with some information from a US Government Federal Highways Department Conditions and Performance Report. You may be shocked, or not, to see who is the best border operator

Now I am NOT picking on the Peace Bridge but wasn't that the model that Brian Masse wanted us to consider when he brought some people up here from Buffalo last summer? Read right to the bottom to see how public bridges price too.

  • Delays at International Border Crossings

    The FY 2003 FHWA Performance Plan aims to improve the economic efficiency of the U.S. transportation system, thereby enhancing the Nation's position in the global economy. One way to promote improvement is to ensure the continuing mobility and efficiency of cargo shipments as they move along the surface transportation system. An objective of this goal, therefore, is to reduce the hours of delay for commercial motor vehicles entering and leaving the United States at its northern and southern ports-of-entry with Canada and Mexico. The border crossing process is one of the few elements in logistical planning and execution that is almost completely beyond the control of both motor carrier and the shipper. Predicting with certainty the time needed to cross a border crossing is difficult.

    Increased traffic volume did not necessarily correlate with significantly increased delay... By contrast, at the Peace Bridge, New York crossing, increases in vehicle volume tended to be a precursor for increased average delay times, with an increase in one leading directly to an increase in the other.

    A “buffer time” and “buffer index” for each port-of-entry also was also calculated. The buffer time represents the difference between the 95th percentile crossing time (i.e., the time within which 95 percent of all surveyed trucks passed through the survey checkpoints) and the average crossing time for all trucks. The buffer index is the buffer time expressed as a percentage of average time (i.e., the extra percentage of time that must be budgeted by shippers and motor carriers planning to cross the border at a particular location).

    The buffer time for all inbound crossings is almost twice that for outbound traffic. The average buffer time for all outbound crossings was 23.3 minutes, with an average buffer index of 164 percent. The average buffer time for all inbound crossings was 43.3 minutes, with an average buffer index of 162 percent. These aggregated times camouflage the wide variations in the buffer indices at the individual ports-of-entry, however. For example, at the Ambassador Bridge, the buffer index for inbound truck traffic was just over 65 percent, reflecting a 95th percentile time of 33.9 minutes during the average travel time of 20.4 minutes. This indicates that, even with its substantial volume of traffic, operators of the Ambassador Bridge sustained movement across the bridge without imposing lengthy increases in delay times. Contrasting markedly with this was the inbound buffer index at the Peace Bridge of 266 percent, where the 95th percentile time (83.4 minutes) far exceeded the calculated average crossing time (23.3 minutes).

    What are some additional findings from the review of the seven ports of entry?

    The review reached several other conclusions. For example, the number of inspection and processing booths open at each port-of-entry at any given time has significantly influenced travel time and delay. At many ports, there appeared to be significant variability during the day with respect to the number of booths open at any given time. There is a definite relationship between the number of booths open, the travel demand, and the travel time through the crossing. Decisions on how many to open at any given time are apparently not made purely with mobility or crossing times in mind and are not always made by the transportation agencies.

    Speed is an important factor in the movement of cargo, although the security of shipments is now of great concern. Crossing times at Detroit's Ambassador Bridge port-of-entry, as noted above, were markedly different from others in the sample. Despite the bridge's dramatically higher volume of traffic, generally shorter crossing times were achieved. While inbound crossing times exceeded outbound, as at the other six locations, the margin of difference was significantly narrower and more consistent across the sample period. Whether the reason for this difference in performance is a function of policy, bridge ownership, tactics, infrastructure, capacity, or facility design remains to be determined.

    The Peace Bridge at Buffalo was found to have the greatest similarity between inbound and outbound average crossing times, registering relatively low among the 7 ports-of-entry in this regard. However, it also demonstrates the highest inbound buffer index (265.7 percent). Thus, while its average crossing times are similar in both directions, the potential exists for motor carriers to be significantly delayed when traveling from Canada into the United States at this location.

By the way, do you want to know how a public bridge decides how to set the price for its tolls? Here's an explanation given in a hearing in the Ontario Legislature some years ago by the secretary-treasurer and Canadian officer of the Buffalo and Fort Erie Public Bridge Authority:

"...most not-for-profit international bridges are already bound into major infrastructure expansion programs financed by private United States bond issues. The indentures already include fairly aggressive toll increase schedules over the next decade calculated to the maximum point of consumer resistance." OUCH!

Martian Chronicle

It is a few days before the Canadian Federal Election. The people from the Planet Mars have been receiving our TV signals from Earth and are very confused. They have seen the reports about how important the Windsor border is to the economy of Canada but they are not getting clear messages about what is happening here. Since they hold shares in Canadian mutual funds (Those Martians are out of this world investors), they decide to send one of their analysts to Earth to check out what is going on. [CBS News, January 9---Mars Rover "has provided convincing evidence that Mars once had water. It is still unclear if there was life"]

The quickest way to get information is to use the Internet so that is what our Martian friend does. He knows the three relevant Windsor ridings and knows who the candidates from the three major parties are. Here is what he discovers when he goes to each of their websites to see what their position is on the border.


Brian Masse---As the Martian expected, there were pages of Masse material on the border. A link made it easy to find what Brian's position was and explained what he wanted: public ownership of the next crossing and a Public Authority to manage all of the crossings. He sets out the NDP commitment of $2.5 billion over 10 years (not just for Windsor though) to get trucks off of city streets. Our Martian noted that Brian did not say where he wanted the crossing to go or how to get there other than to keep it out of Sandwich.

What the Martian found hilarious however was Brian's tagline and how it was positioned on the .pdf page: "Getting Results for People. This Time." I guess, thought our Martian, that Brian was admitting that he had done nothing for the People LAST time around.

Werner Keller----no website it seems other than the Liberal Party created one

Alfonso Teshuba---No idea what his solution is but he does say "I Guarantee that I will Stand Up and FIGHT for Windsor, as your next community MP. I have the most serious conviction for getting the proper funds committed for the right area solution, which a Conservative Government will respect. I have already went on record, stating that I am very confident in my communication skills to do so, that if such funds aren’t committed accordingly, within 18 months from the time I am elected, that I would resign."

Windsor Tecumseh

Joe Comartin--The Martian had read the Globe and Mail story about how important the border was to the riding so expected to see a lot of information about what Joe stood for. Instead all he saw was "The border remains one of the most important issues for citizens of Windsor." Joe’s plan: "A third border crossing that will end the crisis of truck traffic in our neighbourhoods and ensure that our goods and services can be exported efficiently…." and that Joe "Fought for community input on border traffic and supported a third border crossing to keep transport trucks off of our streets."

Bruck Easton----nothing on the border

Rick Fuschi---"Our area is facing a border crisis that may come as soon as 2013 if no new crossing is built. A Conservative government will respect the local solution to our border problem and will make sure the funding is available to implement it." The Martian wondered if that meant he supported the Schwartz Plan and if so, why he did not say it.


Taras Natyshak---nothing on the border

Susan Whelan--- nothing on the border

Jeff Watson---"I have fought for action to reduce congestion at the Windsor-Essex border." Hmmm thought our Martian, no mention of DRTP this time.

As you can expect, the Martian was more confused now than before. Four of the nine had no position on their website and of the others, none of them said precisely what crossing they wanted. Maybe it was buried somewhere on their website but if they could not make it easy to find, since this was such an important topic, he wasn't going to spend time looking when he could be downloading MP3s instead.

So what were the Martian's conclusions: sell Canada and quickly!

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Whatever happened to....

Can you imagine how many jobs would have been created and how far down the road we would be with the border crossing issue if these planned projects were actually underway. Oh the Francis Overpass has been built on Huron Church but who knows when the big ticket items will ever get stated or finished!

Canada – Ontario Border Infrastructure Fund Initiative

The Canada - Ontario Border Infrastructure Fund Initiative has identified approximately $82 million in capital projects that have either already been started or that are in the planning stages.

Canada - Ontario Border Infrastructure Initiative Projects

Walker Road Grade Separation $30,100,000

Windsor Tunnel Plaza $30,000,000

Inteligent Transportation System $18,650,000

Huron Church Road Pedestrian Bridge $3,000,000

Intersection Improvements - Huron Church & Industrial Drive $250,000

Total Estimated Gross Cost $82,000,000

And if the balance of the $300,000,000 was being used now for the road to the border as identified by WALTS/Schwartz/City/DRIC...but no, we will have to watch macho games being played first! Political careers have to be salvaged in an election year don't you know.

More On Cogeco

I had a meeting with Cogeco's Programming and Community Relations Manager and the Producer of Mandal's Media Mix this morning to clarify what had happened to my interview on Cable 11. As you know it was bumped first on December 21, not shown on December 25 and then not shown again on January 8 although advertised on air. It was however broadcast since I know others have seen it but I am not sure when.

It was explained to me that there was a technical "glitch" on the 8th. Since the station is not staffed 24 hours a day, the technical person is able to correct problems from home. That person did not have the schedule and must have put on the wrong Mandal interview show I was told.

As I had posted, the show was to have been broadcast on January 15 as well. I was told at the meeting for the first time that it was definitely now not going to be shown then since a "more timely" show was going to be broadcast dealing with the Auto Show. (My show is now scheduled to be broadcast on January 18 at 8PM. I only found this out when a reader of the Blog contacted Cogeco and was given this new date)

As for those who saw the show, I was told that it must have been seen late at night when they rebroadcast their shows (I did point out though that it had never been broadcast!)

I was scolded for not contacting the Manager to allow him to find out what happened before posting my Blog although I did contact him and the Producer and left a message for both. He was quite offended at any suggestion that there was a "conspiracy" about my interview and absolutely denied it.

I told him that the concern I had was my credibility with readers of this BLOG. I asked him if he could imagine how completely foolish I would have looked if it had been bumped again on the 15th after I had posted about it again! The Producer said that my "advertising" of the show was unusual and they would not normally tell interviewees about changes in schedule.

So that is the story. I promised the Manager that I would post this BLOG about our meeting. See you on air on the 18th!

Expropriating The Ambassador Bridge

Does someone on the American DRIC team really want to expropriate the bridge or rather is this a trial balloon that some clever person thought should be tried out to see what the reaction would be. It came out of the blue to me!

Wow, I thought, those Americans are even more "socialist" than we Canadians. Heck, we are merely talking about a "public" bridge for the new crossing. We have never dared talk about expropriating the Bridge Co.'s existing bridge crossing. We know it would cost billions of taxpayer dollars to buy them out! The Americans were now talking about expropriating the assets not only of the Bridge Co. and but also of National Steel as well. I do not remember that being part of the DRIC mandate.

This was bizarre.

The reason I say this is because I read in a "Vision Statement of Future" prepared by the Americans a comment about "Public Ownership of Ambassador Bridge." That comment was part of a process by which participants in a workshop on the other side were to vote for three vision statements for the community. That comment was one of the statements to be voted on. Not only that, another comment was to turn Zug Island into a state park. Accordingly, the assets of National Steel would have to be expropriated as well.

I wrote a letter to the Americans asking:

  • "Is the US side now considering expropriating the assets of the Ambassador Bridge Co.? I noted the comment in the Vision about "Public Ownership of Ambassador Bridge."

    Is this now an option and what is the cost price estimated to buy out the Bridge Co.?"
The answer back was:
  • "In response to your question: The information to which this refers was developed as part of a community workshop on "visioning" conducted by MDOT as part of the Detroit River International Crossing Study. It was one of many thoughts expressed by the workshop participants."
Well what do I know about these kind of exercises. "One of many thoughts"...obviously. But to be made part of the final list to be voted on by participants....The whole episode seemed so peculiar to me. It just seemed so out of the ordinary.

There was only one thing to do. I asked an expert on these types of sessions to comment on what was done. His opinion is quite disturbing. Here is part of what he wrote:

  • "Notes Re: DRIC Visioning Process

    The Visioning Exercise involves small groups identifying as many issues as they can come up with and then voting to identify their top three or five issues as the case warrants. The Top 3 from each group is then placed on a board or a wall and each person participating is permitted to record three votes from among the entire list. The long list (all items on the board) then becomes the list of issues. The emerging Top 3 or Top 5 as identified by the entire group of participants then becomes the Top Issues for the group.

    In the materials provided I find a long list from each of ten tables (each table had 4 to 6 participants). There is no indication of the Top 3 or Top 5. Consequently, every item that was mentioned by even one person is listed on the list of issues. There seems to be no attempt to identify major issues from minor, nor to identify the issues that really matter to each of the ten tables. This permits an item that is listed by one person to make the list even if all of the others at the same table disagree with it. This is a kind of visioning anarchy.

    Nevertheless, I noticed that only 11 of the 526 items mentioned by all participants that evening suggested public ownership of a new bridge. Yet public ownership of a bridge is included in two of the seven choices being distributed for a wider group to now vote on.

    The “VOTING FORM” that is being sent out to a larger group for the purpose of obtaining a community list of issues contains 23 items under 5 headings. Two of the items under “Transportation” require the voter to choose public ownership of a bridge. The very first item listed under “Transportation” in the “VOTING FORM” is

    “ New Bridge Publicly Owned/Operated and with Minimal Footprint.”

    This is an outrageous distortion of the issues from the Visioning meeting. Two mentions are made of a “minimal footprint” and they are contained in items as:

    “24-hour efficient operation with a minimum footprint”
    “Keep small footprint of bridge (so neighborhood can rebuild)”

    Another item is:

    “Minimum-sized plaza with direct access to interstate”

    The VOTING FORM is set up so that if one prefers a “minimal footprint” then one must choose to also prefer “publicly owned/operated.” This distortion will artificially inflate the vote for public ownership.

    A second item under Transportation is :
    “Public ownership of Ambassador Bridge”

    This issue was listed by Table 1 under “Visions of Community WITHOUT a Crossing” and then at the same Table under “Visions of Community WITH a Crossing.” It is VERY LIKELY that these two mentions were by the same person and there is no indication that anyone else agreed with this. And yet this item becomes one of the choices on the list being submitted for a much larger group to vote on! Absolutely unconscionable! One mention out of 526!!

    There were many concerns identified by the participants. The vast majority were community development or governmental activity concerns. Almost none (2.1%) mentioned public ownership of a bridge."

What should one conclude by all of this? One just has to take to shake one's head with disbelief. After all, how different is this from rejecting the Bridge Co.'s Twinned Bridge proposal on the Canadian side by suggesting a route to the crossing that they never did and suggesting a plaza where they never wanted it located.

I wish I knew what was really going on. {Sigh}

Should Canderel Be A "Sick Building"

As you know, I have been a big supporter of bringing doctors to Windsor. (See my BLOG, September 19 "Is There A Doctor In The House?") So I was interested in Councillor Zuk's idea to attract new doctors to Windsor by giving them rent-free office space in the Canderel Building. We are paying for the space there anyway so why not make it worthwhile is the argument being made.

Frankly, that idea makes little sense since all it does is make doctors who already pay for their office space angry. Why shouldn't they be subsidized too? It's like the idea of giving doctors memberships to the Yacht Club that was "floated" a few years ago. It's really not going to attract a doctor who would not come here anyway. We need foreign trained doctors to come to Canada to work. They will pay to come here and to be educated to Canadian standards. We don't need to throw away money.

Anyway, do you really think that the Chrysler executives want to share the elevators in Canderel with sick people or does Joyce know something about them moving to Toronto. I know patients might help fill the parking garage but people who are ill will probably not eat too much at The Keg.

In passing, what was funny was that I heard Councillor Halberstadt say at Council that it might take a million dollars to upgrade the work environment for the City's HR Department. Wasn't that the number being thrown around too to do the leasehold improvements for the two floors at Canderel. [Note the City is willing to pay $20 per square foot to a tenant of the 2 floors if someone will take it off our hands or slightly more than $500K]

Joyce's idea is a good one for economic development rather than for doctors and should be followed up immediately. (Too bad we do not have anyone who seems to do economic development but that's another story!)

I met a developer in town a few months ago when I started doing this BLOG for a coffee. He told me how another City started their software development industry-----by doing precisely what Joyce suggested. They allowed software developers to rent office space for free but in exchange for a piece of their company. Obviously, some of the ideas worked and the City did well financially. More importantly, the building became the centre where developers came and gradually the area expanded as more and more companies came to town.

It's not quite as simple as I outlined obviously. I am sure that this developer would be interested in helping out. All someone at City Hall needs to do is call me and I will put them in touch with the person.

Frankly, I won't hold my breath waiting!

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Gord Lisa

If you want to know what is really going on in this City there are three places you have to look (other than reading my BLOG):
  1. The Star's Letters to the Editor... they are fascinating seeing who writes, which ones are published and where the letter is positioned on the page
  2. The Star's Editorials which will either signal what the City wants or where the Star wants the City to go
  3. Gord Henderson's column since so many at City Hall seem to be afraid of him and think their careers hang on what he says.

Obviously everything revolves around the Windsor Star in Windsor since it is the major media outlet (a well-known politico told me that 80% of the people get their information about the City from the Star). The Star knows this and has to be careful not to act as the 800 pound gorilla.

I had my fights with them when I was General Counsel of STOPDRTP. I thought their coverage at times was unfair since they were pro-DRTP and told them so in the strongest terms. To be fair to them, they explained what they did and how they felt they were even-handed. We met with their Editorial Board to express our position, their news coverage was generally even-handed and eventually they changed their point of view. It was like changing the direction of an aircraft carrier but change they did.

Which all brings me to Gord Henderson's column today, his Report Card. It's not clear when he is going to assess Eddie, if at all, but if you read his column closely, he is hedging his bets. Perhaps the Editorial Board is not too happy with the Mayor either.....the recent Eddie "boy scout" editorial cartoon was rather vicious I thought....or maybe Gord and the Editors are teaching him a lesson again as they did with the secrecy issue.

Gord has a great facility for attacking Eddie but not blaming him. Read the first few paragraphs again. Who is responsible for the Council being "dysfunctional" and not getting along. Who is the head of Council. Who is the leader. That is the Mayor's job. It is no excuse by saying he is "trapped." If Council does not work, there is only one person to blame.

But it is more than that. Let's look more closely at what he wrote and how he wrote it. He started at Ward 5 and worked backwards. Did you find that order as odd as I did? Was it just for fun or is the explanation that he knows that not everyone will choose to read to the end. He wanted us to know that Joanne Gignac is "sterling!" She is an "A" performer. No one else is ranked that highly.

And why Joanne, because the word is that of all the Councillors, she is the biggest risk to Eddie to run against him. Is Gord encouraging her to run? Perhaps. Hedging his bets if Eddie flops even more? Perhaps.

Or is he chasing away competitors as he has done before? Eddie could beat her easily since she is no threat to him. More importantly, she is a good third candidate if Bill Marra or some other credible candidate decided to run. She would split the anti-Eddie vote.

Gord made sure that Councillor "I am never going to run for Mayor" Brister really meant it by demoting him one notch. (Poor Dave must be gulping oxygen now he is so upset). As for the only other potential Mayoral candidate, Joyce Zuk, she got a D+, Tom Wilson's ranking! (Oh Drew and Charlie, you can run now too since Joyce is vulnerable). So they are no threat to the Mayor and can wait for three more years

So another well-written column by the Master. Everyone can read what they want into it. As for Gord, he is just smiling that smile. I wonder if he is Mona's relative.

Granholm To End DRIC

Remember when I said back in November that MDOT's Transportation director, Gloria Jeff, may be leaving her job. A Michigan paper reported recently that "Jeff is on her way out." She was called a political liability for Governor Granholm.

Jeff is a key player in the border crossing game. Interestingly, the Governor played a very important role in the process seemingly undercutting her own Department, MDOT.

As the News Herald reported "Granholm, who had not actively participated in the debate or even the unveiling of the bi-national study in December, suddenly announced that any new border crossing between the United States and Canada would not be anywhere but in was not made by the Detroit River International Crossing Project partnership, as MDOT Senior Project Manager Mohammed Alghurabi had planned...A reluctant Alghurabi said ... that "it's very difficult to assess an action of the governor."

Actually, it's very easy. The Governor made a political decision since my informants tell me that she acted to preserve her political position Downriver and moreover to prevent a number of legislators from trying to pull the DRIC funding at that time.

Clearly the News Herald got it right. The Governor's announcement damaged the credibility of the binational partnership, especially by catching our side by surprise too.

The Jeff leaving means that the Governor must take over control of the process and that will mean, as I predicted, DRIC's ending soon. DRIC is too much out of control...the Downriver alternatives stirred up a hornet's nest that the Governor did not need. It is re-election year for her too and she does not need supporters mad at her.

Speaking of supporters, as I reported previously, "Big City Politicians Take Charge" on December 8, Detroit Council member JoAnn Watson said

  • "flat out that the bridge was not going in Delray, that the SouthWest of Detroit was growing in population and that a bridge there would stop this growth at a time when Detroit needed more people. As for politics, and this was the good part, she let everyone know that Detroiters cast more votes for Governor Granholm than the people did Downriver. And isn't next year an election year for the Governor and Members of Congress?"

Council President Kenneth V. Cockrel, Jr pointed out as well

  • "SW Detroit was going to be the proposed home of a number of major developments and no one had looked at all of them in total to see what the impact on the community was going to be. One at a time perhaps, but not altogether. Accordingly to him, nothing would happen until Detroit finished whatever studies it was going to make."

So my Delray friend can rest easy...Detroit Council has said no one is going to construct a bridge there so a Prospect crossing is out on the Windsor side. Now Sandwich residents better start getting worried about a Brock street crossing. As the Governor said in her press release killing any Downriver bridge, her concern is "the right decision is made for the residents of southeast Michigan." Not a word for it being right for Windsor too.

Guess who Sandwich's only friend in the world is now! I wonder if Brian Masse, Sandra Pupatello and the Ward 2 Councillors have finally figured out the answer yet.

Windsor Budget Fables

Oh come on, we do not have any financial woes in Windsor. I am shocked that we do not have a Triple "A" rating from Standard and Poors frankly. It's just those politicians playing games to make it appear that they are working hard to keep our taxes down.

Last night at Council was hilarious. I actually agreed with Councillors Gignac and Brister who voted against giving to the CAW their tax break. I guess "to err is human" does not apply in an election year. I wonder what kind of precedent Council has set.

And if that was not strange enough, there were the so-called spenders, Councillors Zuk and Postma, voting against giving the Detroit Auto Show US$12,500 for sponsoring a dinner and some TV screen advertising (I did not see that item on the Council agenda posted online.) But it's OK....Council approved it.

So we have money to burn here...all kinds of slush funds, errrrrrrrr Reserve funds, so Councillors can find the money to spend and not collect whenever they choose. I am so relieved

Monday, January 09, 2006

Will Eddie Follow Granholm

Interesting story in the WSJ about how the Michigan Governor is going after import factories and dealing with Michigan's union image. Perhaps our Mayor can learn from her.

Toyota Considers Michigan As Site for New Engine Plant

January 7, 2006

In a symbolic move in part aimed at defusing a possible backlash against its growing success in the U.S., Toyota Motor Corp. has put Michigan among the top potential sites for a new engine plant that would create hundreds of jobs at a time when General Motors Corp. and Ford Motor Co. are cutting their work forces in North America...

The official and other executives said Toyota is considering areas around Kalamazoo and Battle Creek in part because southwestern Michigan is deemed more or less free of the influence of the United Auto Workers union. That would allow the Japanese auto maker to set up a nonunion plant just like most of the seven major manufacturing plants it operates in North America, except for one in northern California, which is run jointly with GM...

The emergence of Michigan as a potential site follows persistent courting by Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm. According to Toyota executives familiar with the auto maker's talks with Ms. Granholm, the governor made two trips to New York in the autumn last year to meet with Harry Otaka, a top Toyota executive in North America, and executives from Toyota's North American manufacturing operations...

Ms. Granholm, according to the same executives, pitched Michigan as a place where Toyota could set up a non-union plant depending on where it sites the plant, and asked Toyota not to look at Michigan in a stereotypical way that characterizes the state as a union-dominated place hostile to a company like Toyota.

In a recent interview with the Wall Street Journal, the governor stressed Michigan is just as competitive as southern U.S. states like Alabama and Mississippi that have been successful in attracting an array of Japanese and Korean auto makers and suppliers. "Their pitch is they are non-union. But Michigan has both union and non-union shops… and we have got equally aggressive economic incentives to make the case for Toyota..."

Governor Granholm believes if Toyota builds a new engine facility [in North America], they should build it in Michigan. We have the most skilled workforce in the world and we are the automotive R&D capital in North America. We will continue to make that case to Toyota and to the world," the spokeswoman said.

Council Agenda: 400 City Hall Square Office Space Availability

I was invited to a meeting at 400 City Hall Square a few days ago. It is quite a nice building and seemed very well constructed. While in an elevator, I mentioned to a lady who worked for the City that it seemed to be a lot better environment in which to work than the old City Hall building and she agreed. So George Wilkki and his colleagues and the Internal Audit Department should not be too upset that they are being asked to move over there.

Now in wandering around one of the floors in the building, I noticed a lot of space being occupied by large meeting rooms. I wondered if that was part of the Plan from Day One or whether that was space that St. Clair College was supposed to have occupied but they backed out (no lease signed). I had heard that a Provincial Government Department had also not moved in yet which would cost the City some money I guess. Hmmmmm I wonder when Fulvio's requested $15,000 audit will be completed and made public so we can know what is really going on in that building.

On Monday, Councillors will be asked to move the 2 Departments there and to spend $97,500 for leasehold improvements since it seems no other external agencies want to go there. (I hope Ken Jr. tells us how much that is per Windsor household so we won't get too upset at the extra cost to be incurred by taxpayers). Imagine then moving out two vital staff functions from the CAO's area to another building so that the Director of Corporate Communications (and several other groups) can be close by. Mind you we do need someone near to crank out all those exciting news releases for the Mayor about how well off we all are in Windsor economically!

I got to thinking why external agencies would not move in and thought maybe it had to do about cost. Clearly this must be a Triple A building so I expect that the rents would be Triple A also. I guess the external agencies might have gone to the Windsor Real Estate Board listing service as I did for fun and have seen that a building like 500 Ouellette (see picture above) where City employees used to work (and to park in the nearby Park N Go garage) had space available. The building is described as:
Given that the City now knows how other downtown landlords feel about not being able to rent out their space, when will Departments be transferred over to the 2 empty floors at Canderel and how much will have to be taken out of Capital Expenditure Reserves for leasehold improvements!

Chuck Mady must be laughing himself silly!

More Super Bowl "XXX"L Fall-Out

Who expected the Detroit media story about Windsor as "Sin City" to start getting a life of its own. Below is a story out of Denver.

I had this one other horrible thought. Can you imagine the negative publicity if the Budweiser Super Bowl "tailgate" train has problems. I remember the bad old days of college football when I was in University in Toronto when students used to go by train from Toronto to Kingston. There were always problems.

I expect the more than 500 people travelling to Windsor for the Budweiser party won't be drinking just tea and coffee if the TV ad is right! What if the train never makes it past London or a whole bunch of people are ejected for disorderly conduct!

Oh a big black eye on the horizon?

A Super Bowl of sin with CU cheerleaders?

By Bill Husted
Denver Post Staff Columnist

The Broncos may not go to the Super Bowl in Detroit, but Colorado may still be represented.

Former Denver Post reporter Louis Aguilar, now with The Detroit News, recently wrote that Super Bowl fans will most likely cross the border in droves to find Sin City in Windsor, Ontario. Unlike Detroit, Windsor sells Cuban cigars, sex for money and has all-nude strip clubs.

Windsor Mayor Eddie Francis is understandably upset, but strip-club owners love the publicity. Renaldo Agostino, PR rep for four all-nude clubs in Windsor, has gone on national Canadian TV and specifically mentioned that University of Colorado cheerleaders have applied to be dancers with "The Windsor Ballet," a.k.a. Cheetah's.

Agostino told me that he has received e-mail from the cheerleaders and is corresponding with the young women. He wants them onstage. "They're beautiful girls!" he says.

CU sports-information guy Dave Plati doesn't believe it. "Everyone here is under the impression that there is no way that would happen. And if so, whoever would actually volunteer and go do that, thinking they're representing us, would no longer be representing us. They would be suspended from the squad."

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Mandal's Media Mix On Cogeco

I now know how Bill Marra must have felt when his "Council Close-up" show, where he commented on City Council before the Council session each Monday, was cancelled by Cogeco.

My interview with Veronique Mandal on "Blogging" on Cogeco was bumped....for the second time.

It was advertised on air on Cogeco for 12:30 PM on Sunday, I was told that it was to be broadcast at that time and naturally, the program was not run.

Of course I am sure that it had nothing to do with the fact that the Mayor's Face-to-Face interview was on immediately before and might have been a nice lead-in to what I was going to talk about.

I know the show has been run because of the emails I have received telling me that readers have seen it (although Cogeco never told me those dates).

Is this embarrassing since I posted that it was to be run? Sure is.

Surely Cogeco cannot be this incompetent. Or is there more to this than meets the eye? I think I need to give Bill a call!