Thoughts and Opinions On Today's Important Issues

Friday, February 03, 2006

Now It's The CFL Dream

I have one line to use, especially when I hear talk that the new stadium at the University can be increased to 25,000 seats so a new CFL football team can play there


Did I miss the story that said that the existing stadium had been paid off through the receipt of funding from someone? Did I miss the story where the City was actually going to pay the $5 million to the University as ex-Mayor Hurst hoped that Council might do? Did I miss the story where the University and City could agree on the University going to the Cleary?

I think that Eddie has been around too many footballs this week and has caught pigskin fever! He cannot build an arena and now we are talking about CFL franchises and a new stadium.


You know what this is all about don't you? The Arena is to be discussed at Council on Monday. Unfortunately, this BLOG broke the story too early so damage control was needed. First an Editorial in the Star calling on the County to help pay for an arena, then Councillor Cassivi saying the arena is alive and finally Councillor Halberstadt saying the arena is still alive.

Wait until you hear about a joint stadium/arena complex at the University

I only have one more thing to say about this.


The Border Crisis Is Officially OVER!

In a story in the Windsor Star, Mayor Eddie Francis today confirmed what others like the Bridge Company have been saying for a very long time. There no longer is a border crisis in the Windsor/Detroit region.

Eddie stated in relation to a new stadium and a new CFL franchise:
  • "If you look at the numbers alone, we have six million people here and the border is a way of life for us, it's not an impediment"
Only a few months ago Eddie said
  • "Peterborough Examiner 03-16-2005 Delay is no longer an option on a costly new bridge to break chronic congestion at Canada's busiest border crossing, says Windsor Mayor Eddie Francis, who lobbied U.S. officials on the massive project yesterday."We need to invest today, we can't wait,"

Congratulations are in order to Matty Moroun and the Ambassador Bridge Company for building their new booths into the US and the new "insurance" booths into Canada for fixing the border for Eddie!

Bankrupting The Border

Anthony Downs in his book Stuck in Traffic (1992) wrote about "triple convergence." It was an interesting concept:
  • “Nearly every vehicle driver normally searches for the quickest route, one that is shorter or less encumbered by obstacles (such as traffic signals or cross-streets) than most other routes. These direct routes are usually limited-access roads (freeways, expressways, or beltways) that are faster than local streets if they are not congested. Since most drivers know this, they converge on such 'best' routes from many points of origin…

    Now suppose that the limited-access route undergoes a vast improvement -- its four lanes are expanded to eight. Once its carrying capacity is increased, the drivers using it move much faster than those using alternative routes. But this disequilibrium does not last long because word soon gets around that conditions on the expressway are superior.

    In response, three types of convergence occur on the improved expressway: (1) many drivers who formerly used alternative routes during peak hours switch to the improved expressway (spatial convergence); (2) many drivers who formerly traveled just before or after the peak hours start traveling during those hours (time convergence); and (3) some commuters who used to take public transportation during peak hours now switch to driving, since it has become faster (modal convergence).

    The triple convergence causes more and more drivers to use the improved expressway during peak hours. Therefore its traffic volumes keep rising until vehicles are once again moving at a crawl during the peak period.”

In thinking about this, I remembered that I had written a BLOG a few days ago (“New Border Bridge Financing 101") saying that no one would finance a new bridge. I asked:
  • “If the traffic is not there and we build another crossing, can someone please explain to me how the existing crossings are going to make money? Take a declining volume of cars and trucks and have a new crossing trying to capture the business. Want to bet how long the Tunnel remains solvent or even the new crossing? Even the Ambassasdor Bridge might see some lower revenues.”
It seemed pretty obvious to me that if a new crossing was opened and traffic was not growing as projected, then the existing crossings and even the new one could suffer and potentially go broke. I thought I should go into some more detail and that the triple convergence theory could help explain what I was getting at. (Since we are dealing with trucks you might not think that the theory works but change “public transit” to “marine” or “rail” and it does).

Let us make some assumptions and see where it takes us. We will look at the Blue Water Bridge, Ambassador Bridge and Detroit/Windsor Tunnel. Our assumptions include some of those set out in the many volumes of the Bi-national work:

1) Neither truck nor car traffic is increasing as rapidly as was originally projected and may in fact be holding steady or decreasing

2) There are no significant trade agreements/commerce initiatives or tariff reductions on the horizon

3) The closing of auto assembly plants, reduction in tier one suppliers, no emergence of new product categories to bolster flat border volumes all point toward less optimistic crossing volumes.

4) Rigorous Customs security measures, persistent perception of Customs delays and a stable currency exchange rate all point to flat tourist & discretionary border traffic, with no dramatic demand increases on the horizon.

5) The distance for many trucks to travel is the same whether a truck uses the Blue Water Bridge or the Ambassador Bridge. ie those two locations compete with each other for a lot of the traffic

6) The cost to build a new crossing including roads, plazas and the bridge on both sides of the border is at least $4 billion

7) The cost of a bridge alone is around $600 million

8) The new bridge will have to pay customs cost recovery charges

9) The new bridge will be financed by issuing bonds secured against the tolls and probably guaranteed by the Government. The toll rates are used to pay off the debt and therefore are “fairly aggressive calculated to the maximum point of consumer resistance.” ie charging what the market will bear.

10) The Bridge Co. builds its 200 booth project at a cost of $200 million

If a new bridge is built, it will have three lanes for trucks in each direction (no cars), many Customs booths and the latest technologies to speed trucks through. It would be state-of-the-art, fully staffed and a showcase location for Customs on both sides of the border. Given its attractiveness, one should expect triple convergence: draws traffic from alternate routes, and at hours other than just the peak hours while attracting business from competitive modes of transport. Certain consequences flow from that. I want to discuss now what they may be for the border crossings and they are not pretty.

What can we expect? Mathematically, with about the same amount of traffic and a new crossing, all things being equal, the traffic would be split evenly. Where before each crossing had a third of the traffic, now they would each have a quarter. Revenues would drop significantly and there would be pressure to find the money to pay off bondholders. To reach the same revenues as before, the only thing that a crossing could do would be to increase rates OR go after the business of another crossing. With the already steep decline in traffic after 9/11, a further reduction could be catastrophic to the bottom line. And if rates are increased at one crossing and not at the others, what do you think will happen to that price increase? It would drive away traffic or would have to be reduced back.

Another alternative as my reader wrote is “If you build it they will come!… If you build a new crossing, with a new 6-lane freeway what’s to say that with a new faucet opened up for trucks that freight wouldn’t migrate from rail and/or other business models” and thus we get many more trucks not in the future but sooner. I-696 he said was a prime example. It was designed for a “20 year design window. It met capacity in less than 5 years.” That’s good for the crossings’ financial statements but not so good for us because we are back to where we started…traffic problems and very quickly. All we have done is drawn traffic away from rail and marine and back to the highways.

Let’s talk about Sarnia. The Blue Water Bridge has 2 bridges yet how often do you hear on the radio that there is a big truck tie-up there while there is none here. There is also a perception that the distance is shorter through Windsor although it is not true depending on end point. The US Government has said that the Ambassador Bridge operation is a very good one so I am certain that draws trucks here too. If a new crossing is opened up in Windsor designed to make it easy and quick for trucks to go through it would be natural to assume that truck traffic would come to Windsor rather than go to the Blue Water Bridge. In fact, we could expect some car traffic to pass this way as well since the Ambassador Bridge would be less crowded with trucks. The result would be a significant decrease in traffic in Sarnia and a large increase in tolls to cover costs. That increase would also tend to chase trucks away compounding the problem. The end result: financial problems for the Blue Water Bridge.

Let’s take that bridge out and just deal with Windsor. I have already asked how that new crossing can possibly make money with its huge costs and given the traffic numbers. How can a bridge costing so much compete with the Bridge's 200 booth project that costs significantly less. If I prove to be right, then it has financial problems right off the bat and the bondholders will call upon the Government on their guarantee.

The new bridge will obviously try to attract traffic away from the Ambassador Bridge and Tunnel. That will hurt the Tunnel less since it has fewer trucks but it will result in a decrease in revenues that will impact taxpayers negatively.

Obviously truckers will want to use the new bridge since it has more lanes and presumably they can get through Customs more quickly. The Ambassador Bridge is "paid off" so its costs per truck should be lower than the new bridge. That means that the Ambassador Bridge’s tolls would probably be lower to meet the new competition. Lower tolls due to lower costs to build 200 booths and lower overall costs would mean that the Ambassador Bridge could put up a good fight to the point that the new bridge experiences financial problems and the Government is forced to act on its guarantee.

I am just waiting too for some genius to decide that the road to the new bridge should be tolled as well to help pay for the construction cost. If the extra toll charge does not drive away traffic and bankrupt the new bridge, then nothing will!

What if the new bridge is so successful that it still draws truck traffic no matter what the Ambassador Bridge does? In that case the Ambassador Bridge would have severe financial problems AND its owner would decide to take a shot at the Tunnel’s car traffic to make up the difference.

The toll price charged by the Bridge is $8 while that of the Tunnel is $8.25 with the City of Windsor’s charge for its half only being $3.50. Is that being kept artificially low to boost tourist traffic? With its truck traffic, the Bridge could afford to compete aggressively for the car traffic and if successful, could significantly impact the Tunnel’s revenues and impact taxpayers significantly.

And if the Bridge Co. renegotiates its deal with the City of Detroit and the Port Authority respecting the Tunnel, if Eddie is right about the negative impact on the Tunnel (with which I do NOT agree) then the Tunnel is in deep trouble financially as its business dries up!

I am certain that you can figure out other permutations of the situation but the end result would be financial trouble for the crossings.

Again, I will add a comment that I have set out before from Today’s Trucking Magazine that I found very ironic:

“Even in the event that the new bridge would be contracted to another party, how would it compete with the Ambassador? Any new bridge would be heavily reliant on toll revenue just to keep above water for the next 30 years. If the Ambassador slashed rates (and Moroun could run for years at a loss), it would deter volume from spilling over to the new crossing and keep a large chunk of truck traffic right where it is. Then, with the new bridge desperate for revenue to pay off debt, can you guess who comes to the rescue?"

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Is This Windsor Art

Remember the brouhaha over the work of art that the Americans might not have liked? I thought that we had some kind of a new Art Commitee set up to deal with art in public places. Aren't we going to have a Cultural group set up to develop a cultural policy for the City? I may have a job for them right away.

I was really heartened by a story in today's Windsor Star:
  • "New mural
    Just in time for Super Bowl XL, the city has unveiled a new mural depicting the downtown skylines of Windsor and Detroit.

    Mayor Eddie Francis said the painting, on the wall of the E.C. Row Expressway underpass on Dougall Avenue, is a vast improvement over what had been "an ugly" bit of infrastructure."

Now I happen to travel down Dougall to get home from downtown so imagine how excited I was. BUT that area is also dangerous with the stoplights and the entrance to E C Row and all of that. I wanted to help out myself to be direct and not get rear-ended by someone looking at the magnificent work of art. Accordingly, I went out this morning and took a picture of it for you, dear Reader, to see first.

Yup, that's the top of the BLOG. I swear that this is true. I did not drink too much last night. I did not make this up. I took the picture with my digital camera this morning (I am NOT a good photographer and I needed a wide-angle camera to get a proper shot).

This is art according to Eddie Francis

It is nothing more than a bloody billboard advertising the Tunnel! It is NOT a painting! Don't we have a sign by-law in this City? I better check it out.

What a disgrace! How it cheapens the area especially after all of those nice trees were planted there so Eddie could get a checkmark on his report card!

Now in case you don't know the area, there is a billboard telling people to go to the Tunnel nearby and big one for the Ambassador Bridge. Now we have a third billboard called "art." The problem is, for a tourist coming to town, the last billboard is for the bridge so most tourists would probably make the left turn to EC Row thinking that is how they would get to the Tunnel.

But you know what this really is don't is part of a fight by the Chair of the Windsor Tunnel Commission, Mayor Eddie Francis, against the Bridge Company, chaired by Matty Moroun over the border.

Here is what my spies tell me that the Bridge Co. Chair does for art---he holds a fundraiser during Super Bowl NOT in Detroit but at the WINDSOR Art Gallery to help their operations. All the Tunnel Chair can do is put up a billboard and dare to call it art!

It's a pathetic game of oneupsmanship by a Mayor who has failed us on the border. Perhaps if he stopped running the Tunnel and started running the City, we would all be better off!

Bureaucratic Empire-Building

Lots of good border stories coming out of the News Herald these days. It's the Downriver Michigan newspaper. Check out the excerpts from the story below

What I like about what I read is that it expresses an interesting view being put forward by the bureaucrats: while "do-nothing" is an alternative because border traffic may be going down or rather, may not be increasing as was predicted, we are going to build a bridge anyway since otherwise a "private" proponent might do it!

Heaven forbid that private enterprise spend its money rather than taxpayer money. Oh and no mention that the new bridge could bankrupt all of the other SW Ontario crossings since there is not enough volume.

Let's end the Bridge Co. "monopoly" is their first cry although they must have forgotten that the Bi-national Engineers proved there never was one.

And then my real favourite: redundancy. That came back in vogue after about a year of hiding. We should spend hundreds of millions by building a new crossing to protect the border structures when "reverse customs" would do a better and cheaper job of it! (Actually it's $3 billion plus if you add in the cost of infrastructure, roads and plazas)

“Redundancy” is a red herring. There were 4 targets on Sept.11 hit simultaneously. Subways and buses were hit simultaneously in London. What makes us think that only ONE border crossing would be hit and not all of them in southern Ontario simultaneously.

The need for redundancy is dealt with by “hardening the target” i.e., additional passive & overt security measures (radiation detectors, perimeter security, airspace security) independent of the actual customs inspections with the ability to stop traffic prior to the crossing. “Redundancy”, like “capacity” has been an evolving argument: they have extended redundancy to mean additional roadway routes to the border as well as additional crossings.

It's odd that we have not had a discussion about what are the cost effective limits of redundancy. How much shall we spend? How many new crossings are enough to build to make us secure in Windsor/Detroit---one, three, more? I do not remember hearing anyone crying for a redundant electricity or pipeline or communication capabilities or even a redundant municipal headquarters/city hall.

Let's call redundancy what it is: a phony issue to reach a pre-ordained conclusion, a public bridge at any cost!

Now if only a part of another story in the News Herald came true, we might have a happy end to the border mess: State Sen. Bruce Patterson (R-Canton Twp.) vowed to fight to have all state funding for the study examined and possibly cut.

International trade drives effort to create options
By Bobby Ampezzan, The News-Herald

PUBLISHED: January 1, 2006

DETROIT — "International trade" is the issue behind plans to build another border crossing near the city's downtown area, said Mohammed Alghurabi, senior project manager for the Michigan Department of Transportation.

Despite being the pre-eminent corridor for binational traffic in the Northern Hemisphere and the nexus for the largest volume of goods exchanged in the world, Detroit and Windsor share only two border crossings for auto and truck traffic — the Ambassador Bridge and the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel — and only one, the bridge, handles trade...

According to the group's analyses, there are a number of reasons for another area border crossing.

First, according to projections calculated by the Corradino Group, the chief U.S. consultants for the project, travel demands in the Detroit-Windsor corridor will reach unstable conditions — or about 4,500 vehicles an hour — in 10 years.

Ten years later, by 2025, traffic demand will have surpassed maximum border crossing capacity, or about 5,000 vehicles an hour.

But at public meetings in June, a number of people voiced disbelief that trade and passenger traffic would increase substantially in the future, citing U.S. Department of Transportation figures that show decreasing trade traffic since 2000.

Many also said the decline of Michigan's manufacturing base, the presence of casinos on both sides of the river and improvements to the Ambassador Bridge expected to expedite customs and toll booth processing was reason to expect slow or no growth in border traffic.

But project officials also suggested the area needs "redundancy" in the event of a catastrophe.

That issue recently was addressed Downriver by former federal counter-terrorism "czar" Richard Clarke, who called border crossings in the area "single-point failures" — a systemic failure at a single location.

Many proponents of the project also have said another benefit of redundancy comes in the form of economic competition: Currently, truck transportation businessman Manuel Moroun has a monopoly on Detroit River crossings worth $60 million annually...

While the partnership, after nearly a $17 million study, has reserved the right to "do nothing," Mark Butler, communications director for Transport Canada, has said each milestone in the process makes that alternative less likely.

Alghurabi has said, "If we choose to do nothing, then the likelihood is a private proponent will build (a crossing)."

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

What's Good For GM May Save Us All

A reader sent this article to me. I remember when I first moved down here to work for Chrysler, one of my colleagues tried to tell me how important the auto industry was to the economy of Ontario. I humoured him but did not believe him at first, thinking it to be auto company self-importance. But I learned. Perhaps the title of the article should have been: "What's good for General Motors is good for America--and for Canada too!"

It's time for the President to provide leadership that's relevant.

Detroit. On the eve of Super Bowl XL, with the city of Detroit under the microscope, I think it's the perfect time to focus the attention of the national media on the crisis facing the Detroit automobile manufacturers - and work to eliminate the preconceived notions prevalent in Washington and around the country. I was quite interested in the response President Bush gave to The Wall Street Journal last week when the idea of a government bailout for the Detroit manufacturers was brought up in an interview. He said, "I think it's very important for the market to function," which was a predictable response. But the President's flippant assertion that Detroit should offer "a product that's relevant" is more troubling, because his take on things pretty much crystallizes the prevailing thinking currently running amuck in Washington - and it's clear that a large majority in our U.S. capitol are clearly clueless and out of touch when it comes to the problems facing Detroit and the problems looming for America's manufacturing base.

Let's get right to the point here: The Wall Street Journal might have broached the subject of a bailout for Detroit, but none of the Detroit manufacturers are the least bit interested in that notion. Despite the naysayers and the doom prognosticators, Detroit collectively has no intention of folding up its tent or slinking away to become a footnote in the history of a fading industrial America. And anyone who thinks that is not only ill informed, they have a serious lack of understanding of these companies' will to succeed and the role that the entire domestic auto industry plays in the economy of our country.

People who flippantly dismiss the fate of the domestic automobile industry in general are simply missing the point. I continue to be amazed by the media intelligentsia on both coasts and by certain members of congress in Washington (who just happen to have import auto plants in their districts) who dance around this issue, insisting that what's going on in Detroit will not negatively affect the entire country in some way, shape or form.

And they're flat-out wrong.

The core issues facing Detroit - global competitiveness, U.S. trade imbalances, health care costs and pension funding - are issues we as a nation must deal with - right now. This is not some isolated bad tiding that will only affect the Rust Belt in the forlorn "flyover" states as the mid-section of the country is often derisively referred to. No, this situation spells trauma for the entire country.

Between 1 in 7 and 1 in 9 jobs in this country are still either directly or indirectly related to the domestic automobile business. Think about that statistic for a moment and then insist that it somehow "won't affect me."

And you'd be flat-out wrong too.

GM and Ford, by sheer virtue of their size and place as two of America's iconic industrial giants will be the lightning rods that will put all of these issues on the table. Yes, they're responsible for much of the trouble they find themselves in and the reasons are numerous - ingrained bureaucratic complacency, short-term thinking instead of long-term planning, a lack of conviction to do what's right instead of what's politically and financially expedient, woefully underachieving executives who squandered every opportunity to deliver the attractive, high-quality products so desperately needed in the face of challenges from relentlessly-focused import manufacturers - and on and on and on. I've documented Detroit's downward spiral in detail for the last six-and-one-half years of doing this publication.

But Detroit's current predicament isn't all of their doing, either. And without the corresponding serious discussions and actions in Washington, we as a nation will face severe consequences. This country's lawmakers have been cruising along for years while displaying an Alfred E. Neuman-esque, "What, me worry" attitude, and they're just now waking up and realizing that the dire straits facing Detroit are inexorably linked to the overall well being of the country and its manufacturing base. Yes, Detroit has contributed mightily to its problems over the last 25 years, but there's no denying that the playing field is far from level. As a matter of fact, because of this country's dismally naive trade policies, it continues to be luridly skewed in favor of the import competition at almost every turn.

There is an ongoing, calculated campaign to manipulate foreign currency conducted by the governments of Japan and China that is wreaking havoc on our country's manufacturers - auto and otherwise - which is giving Asian-based competitors a ridiculous price advantage in virtually every sector. Combine that with Washington's repeated inability to deal with the burgeoning health care crisis in this country, and this one-two combination of health care costs and currency manipulation results in a disadvantage of $1,500 for every American car right out of the gate - and it grows exponentially with the size and price class of vehicle to well over $10,000.

Again, anyone who thinks the issues facing the domestic automobile industry are isolated and "won't affect me" is simply refusing to acknowledge reality. It's no longer just the future of the U.S. auto industry that's at stake here, folks - it's about how this country wants to configure itself for the future. The U.S. will either continue to be a vital producer of goods and services and a manufacturing force to be reckoned with in the world, or we'll be relegated to becoming one giant consumer nation with little or no control over the vagaries of the global economy - or our economic destiny.

Detroit is building "relevant" products, and more are coming with each passing month. Getting the American public to consider Detroit's products is one huge challenge that the Detroit manufacturers must and will face alone - and without Washington's help, thank you very much.

But it's up to the politicos in Washington, including Mr. Bush, to get off their asses and get to work on dealing with the issues that they can and should be dealing with. That means finally coming up with a rational health care program for this country and it means that the government must stop playing the role of "Uncle Sap" and come up with trade policies that have real teeth in them.

In short, Detroit isn't interested in Washington's "input" on how they go about their business. As a matter of fact, Washington's take on anything to do with the inner workings of the auto business should be kept to themselves, because they're clearly clueless on what it takes to succeed in that arena.

Washington can, however, do everything in their power to level the playing field that Detroit and other American manufacturers have to compete on.

Talking about our "addiction" to foreign oil as Mr. Bush did last night in his State of the Union speech is noble and important and will be an ongoing, long-term issue that this country must deal with. But when it comes right down to it, the President and the politicos in Washington have one important job to do - and that is to provide leadership that's relevant. And they can start by taking immediate action on the domestic policy issues that threaten to consume all of us.

Another contest

Question: Who put up more billboards in Windsor: Budweiser or DRTP?

Answer: I do not know but shouldn't OMERS contributors and pensioners be asking the question too given all the fuss about OMERS these days?

Here is the Budweiser answer by the way set out in the Windsor Star: "Capitalizing on their role as one of the NFL's corporate sponsors, Ditmars said "our intention was to paint the town Budweiser red." As a result, there are 110 billboards around Windsor and 35 bus shelter signs, each displaying one of four distinct messages.Declining to divulge the cost of the campaign, Ditmars said "let's just say we've leveraged just about everything we can out of the Super Bowl with this campaign."

If We Can Make It There...

...Then we better make it everywhere, and quickly!

Two interesting media stories below, one from New York and the other out of Toronto from Bloomberg. To be blunt, we need all of the Sin City reports we can get if you read the Bloomberg story.

First, the New York Post ran a story on Windsor and the Super Bowl the other day. How many tourists will the good part attract:


    January 31, 2006 -- DETROIT — The city is expecting a financial windfall as hundreds of thousands of tourists with money to burn pour into town for Super Bowl XL. Not Detroit, silly. Windsor. As in Canada.

    Alluringly situated just across the Detroit River, Windsor is so close yet so different. From the massive Renaissance Center complex that serves as the Super Bowl hub, the beckoning lights from the Windsor Casino illuminate the night sky.

    Riverboats are waiting on the American side to speed customers across the river. [Hmm I wonder where they are] The Ambassador Bridge or Detroit-Windsor Tunnel is nearby to get to a Canadian city which is actually south of the Motor City. [Watch for this to be a question in the next Trivial Pursuit]

    So what's in Windsor? Restaurants, a Little Italy section, the Art Gallery Museum, the NFL Fan Zone.

    OK, what's really in Windsor?"

How many tourists will the better part attract....I am sure you can guess what our attractions were that the Post described by now!

These stories about Windsor may have come at just the right time however. Perhaps we better thank that Detroit reporter who did the Sin City story in the first place. As far as the Bloomberg story went, read this and be concerned:

  • Ontario May Lose C$500 Mln From Casino Smoking Ban, Study Says
    Jan. 31 (Bloomberg)

    Ontario may lose as much as C$500 million ($438 million) a year by implementing a smoking ban in casinos because it will drive some smokers to U.S. gambling halls, an Ontario government study said.

    The results of the study, commissioned by the Ontario Ministry of Economic Development in 2004, were obtained under a Freedom of Information request by, a lobby group for Canada's smokers.

    Ontario Finance Minister Dwight Duncan had estimated in November that the provincial deficit for the fiscal year ending March 31 would be C$2.4 billion. Adding C$500 million next year would boost the deficit by 21 percent.

    ``There is an understanding the smoking ban will have an impact on the gaming industry,'' said Wilson Lee, spokesman at the Ministry of Public Infrastructure Renewal, which is responsible for the provincial casinos. ``The smoking ban needs to be weighed not just in terms of the health impacts but the fiscal impacts on the health system.''

    The government study said a ban on smoking at a charity casino in Brantford, Ontario resulted in a 20 percent decline in revenue as people spent less time gambling and more time away from the tables. The decline in attendance was only 2 percent.

    ``It is clear that casino patrons have decreased their playing time and/or spending while at the casino,'' the study said...

    Ontario plans to ban smoking in all enclosed public places and workplaces on May 31. That will include the elimination of designated smoking rooms in bars and restaurants as well as the ban on smoking in casinos, bingo halls and private clubs...

    The government has promised to spend more on casino facilities to keep gamblers in the province, including a C$400 million renovation of the Windsor Casino which has already been losing business to casinos in Detroit, across the river.

    People in Detroit are ``ecstatic'' because ``it's good for their casinos...''

Arena Update

Good to see that the Star took up on the story that I disclosed first here about the death of the Arena at the Raceway.

One of my readers sent me a note wondering why Eddie did not tell John Fairley on his year-end Face-to-Face interview that he knew that the Arena deal was dead. The letter said it was faxed on the 15th to Eddie's office and I believe that Eddie was interviewed for his one hour special after the 15th.

Now my recollection is that Eddie said he would like an arena but there had to be a business case for it. If he knew by the time the question was asked that there was no business case or any case for the Raceway arena, why not give John the "exclusive" and say it then! Why did he wait for so long?

I wonder what Councillor Jones' reaction is. He has to be furious about the way that Beztak was treated by his colleagues on Council. Their Inquisition chased them out of town yet not a peep about the Raceway deal.

If I were the Councillor, I would not allow this matter to go to a Council Strategy Session but require that it be discussed out in the open in front of the cameras on Cable 11! Otherwise the whole deal is dead.

And if I were a Councillor, I'd ask Administration why they seemed to have done nothing on this matter until December 16 and also ask the Mayor if he talked to anyone about an arena.

I have an idea for Council...take the $15 million that you are so eager to spend, look at your existing arenas and either fix them up or tear them down and build "ice palaces." Start in Ward 5 where Eddie was nominated for Mayor with Riverside and work westward! In addition, as Councillor Halberstadt has advocated, see if fixing up the old arena makes sense.

Or do something useful with the money!


David Cassive has made a mistake today in the Star, one of the few I have seen him make. I know he wants an arena: "The session, slated for later this month, should include the possibility of increasing the city's contribution as well as identifying other sources of funding that might be available to the municipality, said Cassivi."

With the Budgeteers around, the possibility of increasing the amount above $15 million is zero and with several Councillors opposed to a Racetrack arena, it will not happen unless someone like a Beztak will do it for free! If the Raceway has looked for other sources including neighbouring towns, then who can do it?

Give it up, David! There are at least 6 Councillors opposed now

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Fight Night At Council

We never had this much fun at Council when the STOPDRTPers were there in full force.

I am not going to say much about what happened last night when the taxi drivers were at Council. It was a shameful performance. Either the Mayor should have allowed the Union rep to finish or he should not have allowed him to speak in the first place. Trying to use the Procedural By-law and invoking Democracy while the union gentleman was in full flight made little sense except for the theatrics.

If it was designed to show how tough the Mayor is by having him stare down the drivers, it failed. If it was designed to let the Mayor show how hard he was working to solve the dispute, it also failed.

However, what was interesting to me is that the Mayor said that there was a two-year study by consultants at a cost of $60,000 I believe on the taxi industry. Their report had just been issued and would take 6-8 weeks for Administration to review before it came to Council.

Imagine that, TWO YEARS to do a study. And then two more months at Administration.

I am sure that timetable makes sense to an Administration that takes a month to review a one-page letter from the Raceway on the Arena. However, it probably does not to people who have been on strike for several weeks and have to feed their families!

The New Federal Liberal Leader

There is no doubt that the Liberal Party is in trouble. Imagine, neither John Manley nor Frank McKenna want to be the leader of the Party that has been the Government in Canada except when we have had a foolish, temporary lapse and elected PCs.

The Liberals have always been able to re-vitalize and re-invent themselves and then get re-elected. So if those two won't run, who might. A CTV news story identified former public works minister Scott Brison; recently elected Liberal MP Michael Ignatieff; former cabinet minister Belinda Stronach; and former Newfoundland premier Brian Tobin.

Let's see now a newcomer, 2 former Conservatives and a fellow who hasn't been active in politics, publicly at least, for years (and was a Senior Advisor for Borealis Capital!). Is this the best that the Liberals can do? Shocking!

Well the Party needs help. Had Eddie run federally, he would have been a long-shot choice for leader but his Eminence Grise would have built excitement around him with his Super Bowl reputation and all of the connections he made. He would not have won obviously but a Cabinet position would have been guaranteed. That would have formed his base for the next time around. However, by dithering (ooops a fault of Liberals), Eddie took the conservative way out and did not run.

Another possible choice given Ontario's huge number of seats and his urban connection is Premier Dalton McGuinty. Presumably the thinking goes, he could hold the base of the Party and build on it. BUT, he is Premier of the "Fiberals" isn't he? He has to live down the reputation of breaking promises. He may not even be re-elected provincially the way things are going and with John Tory around. So I think he is out.

I could list some others but in the end, there is only one person. From a "pathetic political meltdown," he re-established his career and was promoted to two of the toughest Cabinet jobs in Ontario: Minister of Energy and Finance. He would continue the Windsor political tradition of Paul Martin Sr. and Jr., Mark McGuigan and Herb Gray. As a friend of his told me, why the heck do you think he learned how to speak French---to be Premier of Ontario!

The man for the leadership of the Liberal Party and the next Prime Minister of Canada---is Windsor's own Spanky, Dwight Duncan!

Monday, January 30, 2006

Arena Is Off The Track

The people of Windsor have been used!

Who is the spin doctor feeding us all of the dreams, the artistic impressions, the "bread and circuses!" Whose job has it been to distract the public from the reality?

Are we not finally fed up with the hypocrisy of the political machinations in this City? Are we not tired of the secrecy? Are we not tired of the inability of our City Government to do anything! If we are not yet disgusted, then the handling of the Arena deal at the Raceway should do that for us.

Here is what the Star reported on December 20, 2005"

  • "Windsor Raceway has submitted an arena proposal to the city that will be made public next month.

    "We have received an official letter and they have outlined their position to us," said chief administrative officer John Skorobohacz.

    Skorobohacz would not reveal details of the submission or whether it was a business proposal.

    "I'd rather not report on the details," said Skorobohacz.

    Administration will present a report on the raceway's proposal to council next month."

Wow, I thought, a letter outlining their position. It must be something to require that much time to review. I wondered what kind of plan we would get. I hoped it would be spectacular given the time period that had passed. It had better be after Beztak I thought! I was a bit confused why it was the Raceway writing and not the Jebb Group since the Raceway was only the "landlord" but...

Oh I knew a Raceway arena would be iffy financially since Gord Henderson had prepared us for the worst a few weeks ago. But I was sure it would be something to build on. I relished watching the fight at Council between those who wanted and those who opposed the arena.

The letter sent by the Raceway is shown above and it along with Administration's Report is posted at the City website at

It is an extremely complex letter given its length as I am sure you can tell that must take a long time to comprehend fully. Its content is so substantial and full of "details" that it clearly needed a month of study by Administration before it could arrive at its conclusion: refer the proposal to a Council strategy session ie keep another failure out of public view!

Isn't it co-incidental that it will be in front of Council right after the Super Bowl, more than a month after it was delivered to the City. That should keep it quiet especially if the matter goes "on consent!" No reason to stir up the sports fans before the Big Game eh!

What did we learn in the Report---That the process started in August 8 but it appears that Client Services took their task so highly that they only met with the Raceway over 4 months later and only after the Raceway had pulled the plug!

Were there not any meetings before with the Mayor or Administration? Didn't anyone at City Hall suspect that there was a problem? Did anyone care or was Super Bowl all-consuming!

And we also learned, surprise, surprise, that the new Casino expansion "complicates" the matter. It does not appears that the Jebb Group was putting any money into the arena project: just the Raceway with its land and the City's $15 million

Come on now. No one really expected this to work out. The votes were never there on Council for a new arena anyway. The interim control by-law, kiddie bars only in the downtown, no competition from the Cleary, arena at the raceway, discussions for months all protected the Casino from any competition.

Remember Beztak? They had the nerve to mess this up. Imagine, building an arena downtown at no cost to the City. We could not have that could we! So we had the Council Inquisition to chase them out of town and the big leak to Gord:

  • "the raceway plan involves an 8,000-seat arena and three other revenue-generating ice pads on a 30-acre site with 3,000 parking spaces adjacent to a refurbished slot palace and raceway grandstand. The proposal, like the one seven years ago, would feature a Wayne Gretzky restaurant and a Gretzky sports hall of fame utilizing the Toronto Dominion bank facade that's been in storage since the Norwich Block demolition.

    There's even a proposal to locate the restored Lancaster in the arena atrium. Other features would include a sports medic training centre, hotel, workout centre and retail outlets. In other words, a sports/entertainment attraction that would pay taxes instead of enjoying tax holidays."

To be direct, Gord, you have the obligation to your readers now to reveal who leaked this BS to you so that you could keep us quiet. Whose idea was it to tell you of these grand plans so that we would wait breathlessly for the big day. Oh when someone knew there were problems, he/she leaked that to you to too so you could prepare us for the worst.

Who, Gord? Who was it? Come on now. It is no longer an issue of a journalist protecting his confidential source but that of a journalist who should be telling us who is trying to sell a "dream" that never had a chance of moving forward.

We need to know who is doing the spinning . Who is using us. Who is trying to sell us another Schwartz-type dream but this time for the arena to hide the real intentions. It is time for the silly and childish games to end!

The Star's Moroun Exclusive

Can you believe it! Dave Battagello of the Windsor Star scooping the world's major media outlets and having an interview with the owner of the Ambassador Bridge Company. And not just an interview, but a four hour interview at that! I cannot recall many reporters interviewing him, just the odd phrase or two buried in a news story. Not even Forbes magazine got to meet him!

I was amused by the word "secretive" in describing Matty Moroun. He did not seem so secretive in what he told Dave. He did not sugar-coat much and just said it the way it was from his perspective!

Obviously, there is more to the story than the story itself so let's look at the interview from a number of different perspectives.


The Editorial Board is not a big fan of the Bridge Co., as can be seen by its editorials over the past years. I am sure that Dave wrote the original story but, given its importance, it must have been reviewed and edited by its senior Editors.

Aren't you surprised by how "fair" the story was? I am. I do not mean to malign anyone by that statement, especially Dave since I believe him to be a terrific and hard-working reporter, but it would have been so easy to put in some innuendo or smart-aleky remarks in the body of the story. Instead, the Star, to its credit, allowed Moroun to put his position forward for people to accept or reject.

The photo selection was interesting as well that went along with the story. It did not show the typical "smear" truck back-up shot but showed how the Bridge generally flows now after the Customs booths were installed, even with some maintenance work underway.

I am surprised that the story made the front page with the big headline. (The "spell-checker" for the headline was off I guess since the editor mis-spelled "Moroun") That is the kind of story that the Star normally runs on a Saturday on page 5, especially given its length.

But the big deal was the FOUR HOUR INTERVIEW! Obviously Moroun and Battagello must have hit it off. I can imagine at the beginning what it must have been like. Each of them treating the other warily, but very politely too. As time went on, something must have happened, some kind of unspoken trust or understanding or mutual respect reached.

It was a good story but the length was not 4 hours worth. There must be more, perhaps some background information given so Dave will understand the border story better or another story to follow. It must have a very good "first date" that allowed for that length of a session. I wonder if there will be a second!

It will be interesting to see if there will be any Editorial follow-up too and what the tone will be there.


The story that has already been picked up is that the Bridge Co. is prepared to sell the bridge "if the price is right." As Moroun the businessman said "It's a business deal."

So Eddie Francis, Brian Masse, the bureaucrats in Ottawa, Toronto and Lansing, there is the opening you desired. You got what you wanted. Open negotiations. Buy him out. Stop with the buzz words of monopoly and redundancy to smear him. Open up your checkbook and fill in the blanks.

The money wasting Governance task force can be closed down now too. We do not need to read any more about the phony issues of public ownership or oversight.

Put your money where your mouths are!

Oh, there is one small problem for them I am certain. The amount of $500 million as the value of the bridge set out in the story. That is just a down-payment on the purchase price of the bridge as I see it. When infrastructure "leases" in the US are going at ridiculous multiples of revenues, the bridge "sale" is worth billions!

Let's see how the Governments react to reality now that Moroun has challenged them. Of course, we all know the answer don't we. Talk is cheap!


It just oozes out--DRIC waste (especially about the technique DRIC used to exclude their project that they were too polite to mention), lack of sense of urgency by Government, lack of money to do what is needed and not focusing on what Windsor needs now.


Moroun does not need the publicity. He is supposedly "secretive." Why give the interview in the first place? Why would he choose a paper like the Star to be honest and risk being slammed again if you want to "come out." CBC TV, The Globe or Toronto Star would have jumped at the chance and the Detroit media are so close by! The Wall St. Journal, New York Times, Washington Post...this could have been played out as a major media event without any difficulty.

To be blunt, Moroun does not need Windsor for what he wants to do. He got his Site Plan approval for the new booths at Canadian Customs that should solve any US road backup problems for the intermediate term. The 200 booth proposal is all on the other side. If he wants to build the Twinned Bridge, he can as DRIC itself has admitted since his project is no longer part of the process. (Ironically, it may now be eligible to receive the balance of the $300 million BIF funding).

There must be a reason why the interview was given. And I think I know why! He is a smart businessman. Even Gord Henderson admitted it, "I’m in awe of Moroun and his hired hands. These folks are the masters. They’re always two or three cunning moves ahead of the other players…" He has recognized that the world has changed from the time he bought the bridge until today.

Look at how he is partnering in the US with the City of Detroit. It is in a manner that would have been unbelievable a few years ago if the stories about him are true. He must want to do the same with the City of Windsor but does not know how to do it. To be sure there is a business reason for him to act as he is doing now but so what if it means that the region may prosper too. He does have the ability to raise money after all, a commodity that seems in short supply these days!

Moroun or his people must have had meetings with the Mayor and/or Council. Or maybe not. It's so hush-hush at City Hall over the border that we will never know. He spent many thousands of dollars to run three ads in the Windsor Star over the summer, effectively a very expensive letter to the Mayor, Council, our MPs and MPPs saying he wanted to partner with the City (and even talked about going to Ojibway!) It looks like nothing worked.

The Star story is fascinating because it points out a situation that can destroy our entire region like nothing else that we have experienced before. And I mean both Windsor and Detroit. He has identified the risk before we even knew it existed. He had to do so, that's his job as Chair of his Company! And he is warning us about it. He is warning the PEOPLE of Windsor to take care.

This article was not for the politicians. I think he has given up on them on our side, at all levels, but especially our Municipal leaders. (Or perhaps, to be fair, he is giving them one last chance to respond). Well maybe I am too harsh. Time will tell with the Federal Conservatives to see if they behave any differently. The Star got their scoop, he got his platform--the major information source in Essex County.

He is appealing to us, the everyday citizen to understand the situation and to demand that action be taken in spite of our leaders. Like a Roosevelt "fireside chat" or a TV address by the PM or the US President, he is talking directly to us and over the heads of the politicians through the Star.

I will let you reread the Star story yourself and determine what the danger to us is. I will do my homework too to see if I can catch up to Moroun's thinking about the problem. If I do, I will share my findings with you.

I may be wrong in what I am saying and, again, I may be reading too much into what Moroun said. But Matty Moroun does not give up four hours of his time merely to help boost the circulation of the Windsor Star!

And who knows what else may happen. The Star may decide that rallying for the short-term, billion dollar "Schwartz, Schwartz, Schwartz" dream does not make sense any longer and that there may be an alternative: a strong alliance between the City of Windsor and Matty Moroun. We can only hope.

Call Me A Cab

I am sure you know the punch-line to that old joke too.

Well the taxi strike may not be a joke to the Mayor any longer. The word is out that we have a cab strike here and it may dampen our tourist business if it is not solved quickly.

Today's Detroit News reported:

"Taxi strike

Super Bowl tourists going across the border to Windsor could have some trouble getting around by taxi in the Canadian city. A week-old strike by 181 taxi drivers there is causing headaches for city residents.

The strike affects only drivers for the Veteran Cab Co., according to a press release on Windsor's Web site. Other taxi and limousine services are not affected.

Still, Mayor Eddie Francis said in a statement that there have been reports of local residents having to wait for up to two hours for a cab during peak periods. He said he is working to get the drivers back to work."

But tourists do not have to worry and we will be environmentally friendly too. The Mayor has his back-up PLAN. "Transit Windsor will be operating a FREE PARK-N-RIDE bus service from Devonshire Mall and Tecumseh Mall to all the downtown Windsor Super Bowl XL festivities. In addition, there will be a FREE DOWNTOWN TRANSIT WINDSOR SHUTTLE." That's right folks, tourists can take the bus instead.

WWJ just reported at 10:05 AM also on the Taxi strike but said waits can be as long as 8 hours.