Thoughts and Opinions On Today's Important Issues

Friday, February 24, 2006

Brighton Beach East Parking Lot

Where was everybody at the Tunnel Plaza Information meeting? I attended at the Cleary at about 6 PM and stayed for about 2 hours, primarily because I was waiting to meet the Project Manager.

I saw the photo in the Star today about the session. One bureaucrat talking to another bureaucrat. Do you want to know why?

Perhaps there were about 10 or 15 people in total there during the period I was at the Cleary. We were outnumbered by people from the various Governments involved. I understood that an ad had been placed in the newspaper over a week ago to advertise about this session. However, I guess the City's letter writers were too tired after drafting all of those targetted letters for people on the DRIC corridor that they forgot to send out letters to people impacted by what was going to happen downtown. Or maybe because it was the City who seemed to be in the lead in this project and so wanted no one to attend. Who knows!

A few interesting things to me. Traffic was projected to grow by 50% from the present 6 million vehicles per year and that is one of the reasons we needed to spend the $30 million for an expanded plaza. For what it is worth, wasn't that the volume through the Tunnel back pre-September 11? Did they manage before with that volume?

I also noted that the Bridge Co's proposal for the Tunnel and how to handle traffic was not presented at all. I know it is not on the table, but do the EA rules require that all reasonable alternatives be examined? Wasn't that what the DRIC people told us? What happens if the Bridge Co. and Detroit re-negotiate their deal? Won't that impact tunnel traffic movements?

Mention was made that we had no control over what happened on the US side. It seemed to me though that the problem is booths and staffing just like at the Bridge. No matter what we did on our side, we could still have massive back-ups because traffic from Canada really only had a few booths to pass through. The obvious question was why not add a few booths and fully staff the booths on the US side similar to what happened at the bridge.

By golly, I remembered why this did not happen. Who was going to be the champion and do it the way the Bridge Co. did it at the bridge? The City of Detroit, the City of Windsor, DCTC? Who? This is a "public" crossing after all and being "public" is so much better than private isn't it? Well, perhaps not in this case.

The interesting question is whether there is room to expand on the US side anyway. They only have a 4.5 acre plaza and the cost to redevelop it is estimated at $US50-70 million.

Their time-table to ram this through is pretty aggressive too. A few months it seems. The less people know I guess, the less the complications for the Mayor and his ambition to own and operate and lease the Tunnel.

It seems to me that we are not building a Tunnel Plaza but just a huge parking lot to keep cars off of city streets. In other words, a Brighton Beach East parking lot for cars like the one proposed on the Horseshoe road. $30 million to pave a parking lot!

Where's the $300 Million Already

How would you like to go and meet an industry group that has been suffering with this economy and tell them that you have had a couple of hundred million dollars in your pocket over the last few years but because of your inability to complete a deal, they cannot have it. That was the task that Mayor Francis and his buddy, Gridlock Sam faced the other night in their presentation to the Heavy Construction Association of Windsor.

A friend of mine attended the session and sent me this summary.

  • "Schwartz's presentation started when the Mayor arrived at close to 8:30pm. For many in the room who were not up on the subject, it was enlightening and a solution. For those of us who have been following this for some time, it was just another story that may or may not happen.

    It seemed to be a well-rehearsed presentation that they tagged teamed together on. Sam's presentation lasted about 25 to 30 minutes, followed by Sam and Eddie taking questions for about 30 minutes.

    Sam spent most of the night pumping up the contractors on how much work they would be getting through this plan and how they need to be creative and innovative in their methods of construction, mitigating traffic confusion and disruption during the construction period and how to be proactive in keeping the flow of international trucks flowing freely across the border until construction is completed. Sam told them that if they did all this in their bid packages it would help keep out the big construction conglomerates from coming here and taking their work.

    It was the perfect lead-in for Eddie to tell the contractors that the city has increased the capital works budget this year and will be for the next few years in order to get the "city needed" projects done now before all this infrastructure work comes to them. He told them he doesn't want them to be tied down with small city projects so that they miss out on all the big money projects.

    Sam was directly asked about the project being turned into a tunnel project instead of on grade. He said that he is aware of no tunnel cost analysis or construction difficulties and no construction cost of a tunnel has been estimated to date. He did say he was rather surprised that no has come forward with a cost projection for a tunnel project. Then he said he really didn't want to offer comment on alternatives suggested by members from the floor.

    Sam spent alot of time convincing everyone that the Bi-National Group's proposal won't work and showed them why. Eddie followed up with a 15 minute bashing of the Bi-National's presentation and how we must fight against it and if we don't press forward with the city's plan we would be doing a dis-service to the community we live and raise our families in.

    I did find it very interesting next when Sam went off on a tangent about how we should be very alarmed that the owners of the Ambassador Bridge will not release their maintenance records to the public. He said because they won't release these records we are vulnerable and we are being held hostage by the Bridge Corp. He went on to say that with his experience in New York he demanded and got to see records of many bridges to ensure public safety and we should be entitled to the same. He said he finds it odd that they won't release the records and because of that what are they hiding? He said if we don't get those records there is a real potential for a disaster in this community."

    Between Sam and Eddie they summarized that their proposal was the real solution to our international truck problem and that we all should be on board as partners in getting the job done and done by Windsor contractors.

Just a few comments:

  1. I would not be too thrilled at the presentation if I were a contractor. What it says is that I won't be getting any major jobs for several more years. The carrot is there but in the interim, all I will be getting is some some small "city-needed" projects. [ I wonder if Eddie talked about "local prefernce" or rather "fair wages" to get these guys onside. Isn't that to come before Council soon?]
  2. I wonder if any of the contractors were the ones who told Councillor Brister last Saturday to "stay strong" and litigate. He "said the city could be forced to sue the government and tie up the border plan in the courts if route concerns are not addressed." Lots of macho talk. I wonder why our lawyer/Mayor did not explain to Councillor Budget that contractors may not be too pleased not to have construction work while the lawyers earn their fees in court for years and years.
  3. I wonder if the Feds and Province are paying for the funds if they will prefer contractors they know or local ones. Since "local perference" is not legal, our guys may not get any of the work or just sub-contract work.
  4. If it is a tunnel project rather than a "road" project, do local contractors have this experience or will they have to act as a sub-trade only
  5. I wish I knew how they explained away the DRIC plan based on what Council endorsed in secret.
  6. I guess that Sam is trying to get the Bridge Co. to sue him. If that happens, he gets to see their "secret" records in the Discovery process. I guess he (or maybe our lawyer/Mayor) thinks he can sucker them. It is not a game I'd like to play with a company that is not afraid to litigate!
  7. I happened to meet a Government person the other day and co-incidentally asked about the Bridge records. He said that they met all legal requirements in what they produced so I am not sure what the issue is.
  8. I guess Eddie really does not want to work with the Bridge Co. if this was part of Sam's message. It must still grate Eddie that the Bridge Co. out-manoeuvered him so completely and ruined his grand ambition!

What bothers me the most about all of this is that we are back where we were three years ago. We have lost sight of what our objective is: a long-term solution to the border, not a road design competition between Schwartz and DRIC. We are reactive again, not pro-active. We have lost our seat at the table and are now a proponent not a decision-maker.

How could we fall so far so fast. From the Prime Minister, Premier and US Ambassador asking us what we want to Councillor Valentinis asking why no one listens to us! I wish someone would tell me how that happened.

I was thinking tonight--why couldn't Eddie have mobilized Windsorites back in mid-2004 when he knew the Senior Levels were going nowhere on this rather than in 2006.

Compare how Eddie and Council acted with that of the Downriver Michigan politicans. Compare their results with ours. What went so wrong for us?

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Prime Directive, the Star's General Order #1,

Congratulations on your promotion to your new job! Jim Venney is the new Publisher of the Windsor Star.

I do not know this as a fact but I doubt that a mere finance director at the Star would have been privy to the world of the Star Editorial Board.

Can you picture the scene: he is surrounded by his new colleagues on the Editorial Board, the lights in the Board room are low, the curtains drawn, the secret chants are sung, he is taught the secret handshake, given the key to the Editorial Board's washroom and then is given the envelope with what every Star Publisher must know: "The Prime Directive forbids any effort to improve or change in any way the natural course of a primitive society."

What a huge responsibility to put on the shoulders of any person and according to the Star, it is "effective immediately." It is now up to Venney to ensure that the Prime Directive is carried out. I can imagine the pressure Jim is under so being a Star gazer I wanted to help him out.

The natural course in our Windsor primitive society is for Eddie Francis to remain Mayor for three more years. Let us take today's issue as an example to see how the Directive is being carried out:

Slain nurse's family to sue
Under this headline that will grab our attention, we learn more today "Meanwhile, Windsor police, who recently launched a criminal negligence investigation into the workplace killing, say they have hit a roadblock in obtaining information from the hospital. Insp. Greg Renaud said "certain people" at Hotel-Dieu have "decided not to answer those questions" police would like answered."

Just watch who will be shouldered with that "obstructionism" down the road.

Angry cabbies feel 'betrayed'
Now the Star did not report who voted for or against letting the cabbies speak at Council on Monday during their in camera session. If I know who did, then the Star knows too. It was a 5-4 vote by the way in favour no matter what it looked like in public.

When we get the report on the Licensing Commission we read: "Although commission member Coun. Ron Jones moved that the strikers be heard anyway, he was not supported by other commissioners including Coun. Jo-Anne Gignac.

CAW Local 444 president Ken Lewenza, who also attended on behalf of strikers, angrily accused Gignac of having "distaste" for workers in the city because she did not support Jones's motion to hear the delegation."

Wham, Slam, Bang.... workers of Windsor, you cannot vote for Jo-anne if she foolishly decided to run for Mayor since she is anti-worker and obviously pro-scab! And Joyce, we let you off the hook this time so keep being nice and be part of the team!

Hurst to run for 3rd term
No not THAT one! Just seeing if you are paying attention!

Streetscaping plans to give 'identity'
Well Gord identified it as one of Eddie's big actions for 2006 so we have to do a story on it. You know, Phase 1 just like planting a few trees on the approach to the city was "Phase 1" so Eddie could put a checkmark on his scorecard! That plus the Keg is the start of our downtown re-vitalization remember.

I like him. He's fun to read. I love his flipflopping too. He does it without shame where he would have crucified a politician if he/she did that!

I asked his Councillor buddy after Council on Tueday how it felt to have Gord change on him in less than 2 weeks from support for refurbishing the Barn to supporting a whole new arena. He said he had not talked to Gord yet!

Now it is the Sandwich "brownie" baker who feels Gord's wrath! Poor Mary Ann Cuderman. Here is how Gord praised her last summer in a Henderson column as "David versus Goliath was a congenial meeting of equals compared to the challenge Mary Ann Cuderman and a handful of allies face in tackling the immensely powerful Ambassador Bridge company...Hats off to Truck Watch for putting up a brave fight."

Today "Mary Ann Cuderman, a West Windsor activist, told me the city put on a deceitful dog and pony show... "They put the worst possible scenario out there to get people all excited," said Cuderman, Why don't they work with the DRIC instead of wasting our time and money on something that can't fly? I can see now why we don't get anything done in Windsor," she fumed. I admire her passion. But she's off the mark on this one."

[Note: Did you wonder why Councillors Postma and Jones were not mentioned although they support working with DRIC too and have been attacked in camera by their colleagues for doing so. Why not....Council is no longer dysfunctional after Eddie's genius of the group therapy with the Governor's hubby. We don't want the war starting again internally. Eddie needs to be shown as the leader!]

And those damned pesky environmentalists: "I'm all in favour of grasses, rare or otherwise. But sacrificing entire neighbourhoods on their behalf? There must be a better way."

And Sam Schwartz and Marko his assistant, nice job with Saturday. Next time do not screw it up for the Mayor. Do what you said and no mistakes! "it's now clear the Schwartz plan's one mistake was drawing a specific line through the grasslands. He said if they had produced a yellow fuzzy swath like the DRICP did, as many as 50 potential routes could have been considered."

Finally Jim....there is the ultimate. You have my email address if you want to know privately, but then again everyone at the Star knows what that is, even a bean counter!

So Jim, welcome to the new job. Glad to be able to demonstrate to you how it's all done!

An Open Letter To Each Windsor Councillor

Dear Councillor,

It's all up to you! As you and I both knew it would be in the end.

As Gord Henderson wrote: "[Francis] said it's [the building of an arena] become the community benchmark by which all other council actions are judged" and for YOU to be re-elected.

Didn't I predict recently that the arena would be the key election issue!

All of a sudden, according to Henderson, we have huge capital sums available which we seemingly did not have with Beztak and the Raceway deals that were being worked on. We did not have it a few weeks ago either after the Capital Budget meetings. Do we need a forensic audit to find out how money was not there before and then suddenly appears when it is needed for an election gimmick?

"A city debt that was projected to reach $274 million by the end of this year will instead come in around $160 million, freeing up huge sums for capital investments."
Wow, not just sums but HUGE sums, probably enough to cover any deficiency to build an arena.

I can count the votes for and against an arena as can you. Will it be 5-5 allowing Eddie to cast the tie-braking vote for an arena or 6-4 against?

You know I speak my mind and I will again. It is up to you to save the City. In the same way he would have done a Tunnel deal to own and operate it (and which would be bankrupted by what the Ambassador Bridge proposed with Kwame), he will cause financial hardship to taxpayers with the Arena deal.

We do not need to put in any additional capital funds into an arena that private enterprise will not touch. What we are being asked to swallow is to get Eddie re-elected since he has failed on everything. To get elected in the first place, he said he was the only one who could build an arena and unless he pays for it, his career is over! That is what this is all about.

The gratuitous attack on Bill Marra was shameful and uncalled for. For a guy who is supposedly invincible and unbeatable, Eddie's E-machine is running scared. The Henderson column ought to be encouraging Marra to announce he is running for mayor not make him hide.

It is not enough to refurbish the old Barn at a reasonable cost and to keep people downtown. It is not enough to make the changes proposed for Riverside arena. Nope we have to spend, spend, spend to build a monument for re-election.

You, Councillor, are the key and we both know it. It is up to you to save Windsor. Eddie on John Fairley's show and in Gord's column said there had to be a business case for the arena. Where is that business case without MORE City money that could be used for public works that would actually help people. As Gord said: the City "might have the means to move well beyond the $15 million already budgeted for a new arena, without increasing the load on city taxpayers."

I will remind you of what was said almost exactly 4 years ago to the day about the arena. Henderson's column is reprinted below. Is it any different today?

You and I both know why no "private" money is available for an arena. Just remember what Dave Batten said about submitting a proposal for an arena during the previous election campaign! Is it any different today?

I beg you to continue to act responsibly as I know you will! It is not up to you to save Eddie Francis' career but it is up to you to save taxpayers from his ambition.

Blindsided -- again;
Windsor Star 02-23-2002
By: Gord Henderson Star Columnist

Dave Cassivi has been the arena guy for most of his 21 years on city council. Through thick and thin he's kept alive the belief that Windsor needs a new downtown ice palace and entertainment centre.

And yet when immense heat was placed on him this week to bail out the Windsor Spitfires with what amounts to $400,000 in taxpayer money or see the team leave and possibly the $41-million arena dream snuffed out, Cassivi dug in his heels and said no damn way.

Five councillors, Fulvio Valentinis, Eddie Francis, Joyce Zuk, Al Halberstadt and Cassivi, had the gumption to stand firm against the kind of bulldozer pressure tactics and deadline fear-mongering from our civic "leadership" that have helped bring debt-ridden and grossly mismanaged Windsor to its current state.

The Spitfire subsidy went through anyway, thanks to Mayor Mike Hurst's tie-breaking vote and those of his five council lackeys. But it took bigtime intestinal fortitude on Cassivi's part to place his principles and his duty to taxpayers ahead of his burning desire to see the arena, the holy grail of his political career, become a near-term reality.

What made him do it? How could Mr. Arena, a guy who has spent thousands of hours pursuing a new home for the Spitfires, choose not to bail out the Junior A franchise to keep it from skating off to that hotbed of hockey interest (more like a Junior A graveyard if you recall the late and much lamented Flyers and Thunder) that is Niagara Falls?

There were a number of reasons. Not least among them were memories of countless kitchen-table meetings with distraught residents of flood-prone Ward 4.

Again and again Cassivi has been called out after rainstorms to view the turds floating in sewage-filled basements. Again and again he's heard heartfelt pleas from taxpayers to end the misery and make this a city where people don't have to dread a heavy rainfall.

'Feeling helpless'

"It's not a pretty picture. People are out there feeling helpless and hopeless. People are cancelling vacations because they fear that while they're away their belongings will be destroyed," said Cassivi.

When they beg for help, for the kind of services any civilized community should be able to take for granted, Cassivi has always assured them the problem will be dealt with as soon as money is available. But he always cautioned that money is tight. Too many pressing demands. Not enough cash.

And what does he tell them now? Sure. We would like to keep your rec room from being ankle-deep in sewage. But you have to understand. Your needs come a distant second to helping a private sector firm, the local Junior A franchise, that says it's ankle-deep in red ink.

Cassivi is an arena crusader. But he's also a firm believer that Windsor needs to sort its priorities into two categories: needs and wants. The needs, like effective sewer systems, must come first. The wants, like bailing out a hockey club and building a spiffy new arena, come later. Perhaps much later.

"Circumstances have significantly changed in the last little while and we have to pause and evaluate. We have to take a serious, dispassionate and composed look at where we are. I'm for an arena. But not at any cost."

Cassivi is acutely aware of many businesses whose frazzled owners are hanging on by their fingertips during this economic slide. People who poured their hearts and souls into fulfilling a life ambition are now cashing in RRSPs to stave off the bailiff.

These folks and there are hundreds of them who go bankrupt in the Windsor area annually, don't enjoy the luxury of meeting behind closed doors with city councillors and emerging with a bailout. "All they can do is plead with us to hold down the expenditures," said Cassivi. "They're struggling very hard and taxes are a significant part of that struggle."

But instead of tax relief, they see a city staggering under the weight of the MFP and Canderel debacles and still unable or unwilling to turn off the tap. To add insult to injury, said Cassivi, council voted to prop up the Spitfires without having all the relevant financial information.

At least they're consistent. It seems only natural that a city which was blindsided on MFP and totally in the dark about the Canderel cost over-runs should take another leap of faith with our money. No worries, mate. There's plenty more where that came from.

Needed: One more councillor with a fiscal backbone and some respect for the taxpayers. And five fewer limp noodles. '

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Eddie Francis Square

Have you ever been to Toronto and visited Nathan Phillips Square? It is a magnificent area with a City Hall building that is Toronto's signature to the world. The Square was named after Nathan Phillips, who was the Mayor of Toronto from 1955 to 1962. He was Toronto's "Mayor of All The People" and a truly beloved man whose sole job was to sell Toronto to itself and to the world!

I thought about that Square when I read the story in the Star that "The City of Windsor will spend about $200,000 to hire a private firm to study what renovations and upgrades are needed at 350 City Hall Square West and at a west side fire station....We have an aging building portfolio," said Sergio Grando, the city's executive director of hospitality and corporate facility planning"

It really is like playing a chess game when you deal with a matter at City Hall these days. A move today could have an impact tomorrow. Just like the signing of the Phase 1 agreement on the border with the Governments of Canada and Ontario which had nothing to do with the truck issue on the border but resulted in $30 million being set aside to upgrade the Tunnel Plaza.

It seemed absurd at the time. Now we know the real reason for that deal. About eighteen months later we learned that Eddie's Plan was to have the Senior Levels pay for upgrading the Tunnel Plaza so he could own/operate/lease out the new and improved Detroit/Windsor Tunnel with or without the City of Detroit! He would be a big-time Border Operator if that happened, not just a passive Chair of the Windsor Tunnel Commission. And then think of the great financial deals he could swing with that asset at his fingertips. (Fortunately for us, the Bridge Co. was a few steps ahead of him or Eddie might have added a huge debt load to the City when the Tunnel got into financial difficulties)

You may remember what I said about the $15,000 spent on the Report on the Income and Security Building. I was shocked when it was first announced. I could not believe that the City was auditing itself. If you recall my conclusion:

  • "In thinking about it, it is geared towards what should be done if we are going to do another project like this again. Oh my goodness, does this mean that the City is in the land development business now too? Land development, running a border operation, setting up a CFL franchise with a new stadium--everything except running a city. Can you blame the Mayor and Council is such dull work. It is much more fun being an entrepreneur with taxpayer money."

I think Councillor Halberstadt may be right. Spending $200,000 to do an investigation into a $4.2M repair job seems excessive. I wonder if the Report will come back saying that City Hall cannot be saved, that there is no point pouring all of that money into a building that should be re-built. A perfect example is yesterday's Heritage Day-award winning Tunnel Ventilation building. Isn't it an old building that shot up in cost during renovations because of unknown building deficiencies. It's a good precedent isn't it?

So here is how it will work:

  • the study will be undertaken
  • the report will be finished in early summer but not released by Administration at that time because they have to spend the time studying it so that they can give a thorough report to Council
  • it will be released when Eddie wants it released
  • the study will come back and be very negative about the building and suggest that the renovation costs will be substantially more than the $4.2 million
  • it will also tell us how to move Departments around for better use of space to save outside leasing costs
  • Eddie Francis will have another interview with Gord Henderson talking about the need for a new City Hall a few days before the Report is introduced at Council
  • Gord Henderson will demand that, with the great financial situation that the City is now in after the Mayor's hard work on the Budget, we build a new "signature" City Hall for Windsor to make us the envy of the world
  • Gord will remember that we spent $15,000 to develop a system for handling big projects internally and that this should be a City run project
  • Gord will demand that we follow the example of Toronto and have an international competition to design this building that will build on our Super Bowl success.
  • Gord will tell us to "Think Big" and get over Windsor's all-pervasive "inferiority complex," especially since we had just killed Eddie's new arena deal at Tecumseh and Lauzon and we have $15 million (or more) set aside anyway
  • A Council resolution will be introduced and passed in early fall getting this whole process "in motion."
  • No one will listen to the cries that this is another "Canderel."
  • The Star will run a series of articles just before the election about the history of Nathan Phillips Square and how it made Toronto an international city
  • A letter writing campaign just before the election will demand that the new City Hall Square be named after the Mayor that started all of this, "Eddie Francis Square!"
  • The new Mayor, Bill Marra, will say that a few cans of paint are all that is needed to 'fix up" the building and will get down to the real work of rebuilding Windsor

That's how chess is played at City Hall.


Impossible: Agreeing With A Star Editorial

Let us agree with the Star Editorial today: "Border security: Start at the perimeter"

The gist of that Editorial is

  • "Instead of looking inward and expending energy and precious resources policing a North American border separating allies, they must begin looking outward toward a continental security perimeter...

    A North American security perimeter would encourage freeflowing trade and passage between Canada, the U.S. and Mexico."

If one draws the Editorial to its logical conclusion, it is advocating for a European-type Common Market where border controls within the perimeter are virtually non-existent.

With the introduction of border cards or whatever will be created for individuals, with all of the pre-clearance techniques for commercial cargo ie all of the initials like FAST , NEXUS etc, the border is becoming virtually free-flowing in practice if not officially.

What does this mean for Windsor and the border? It seems to me that our border crossings, both the Tunnel and Bridge, are becoming mere roads rather than customs clearance locations. As time passes on, fewer and fewer vehicles will be stopped. There will be no backups since there will be no checking by Customs on both sides of the border.

Again, "traffic numbers" will be irrelevant. Who cares how many vehicles are moving back and forth if the road network can handle the volume. But for the Customs, when have you ever seen a car and truck back-up on Highway 401 coming into Windsor?

It will be just like the countries in Europe or when one leaves or enters a Province or State or even when one enters or leaves a City limit: a nice sign on the highway saying "Welcome" or "Come Back Soon."

Who needs to spend billions on a new border crossing in Windsor. We just need to fix up Windsor's roads with the $300 million BIF funds! And do it now!

A Waste Of Three Years

I wrote last week in this Blog that there was "some really good stuff that I uncovered that should make some bureaucrats run for the hills if my preliminary reading is correct!" Well not only should the MDOT staffers run, but they better hide as well.

I and my former colleagues on STOPDRTP, my friends with OJIBWAY NOW! and thousands of Windsorites have wasted three years of our lives and seen millions of taxpayer dollars wasted on our fight against DRTP.

Remember my Blog on October 19 "Predicting the Future" about the 1971 article about a second tunnel joining Detroit and Windsor perhaps being needed within 10 years to handle an anticipated increase in traffic between the two cities. I found another one, this time a 300 + page Report.

A Report on the "Michigan-Ontario Railroad Border Crossing Infrastructure" was completed in December 1991. Unless this Report was mentioned somewhere in the tons of Bi-national Reports papers (and if it was, then so much the worse) I am shocked that MDOT has been sitting on a document that effectively killed a DRTP-type project in 1991! If this kind of a project made no sense, then why was this not brought forward right away. Why did DRTP have to be examined and only now eliminated? Is this all part of the stall so that the border will never get fixed and Sarnia/Port Huron becomes the crossing of choice to our region's detriment?

Frankly, if I were the Mayor and Council of Detroit, I would demand to see a copy of it and then go and visit the Governor and State Legislators in Lansing. I would want the answer from MDOT why my City was being discriminated against!

The Canadian Governments should be outraged that MDOT did not give them this Report or did they have it also hidden away somewhere?

The Governor and Prime Minister need to reconsider immediately the value of DRIC while the Michigan legislators need to start their hearings immediately and ask what else is there that has not been revealed.

On top of all of that, the border crossing traffic projections in the Report are of considerable interest. Actual facts prove that they are absolutely wrong!

How then can one justify spending several billion dollars on each side of the river for a new crossing based on traffic projections by the Bi-National engineers that have already once been revised downward. How much confidence should we have in their estimates. If their numbers are wrong, as I have said, the new bridge goes broke and takes the other crossings down with it!

Some background: Back in the mid-1980's Beztac (yup the arena Beztak) in partnership with the Detroit/Wayne County Port Authority and the Windsor Harbour Commission and then separately MDOT a few years later proposed to construct a new double stack tunnel for trains and convert the existing twin tube railroad tunnel to truck use.

A Report was prepared examining this and other projects. Here are their conclusions about the Tunnel project:
  • conversion would be very expensive for the value received
  • Ambassador Bridge truck roadbed capacity will be adequate until 2005 at the very least (more on 2005 later)
  • "no benefit" is assumed for a conversion or rather minimal benefits obtained for truck conversion expenditure
  • conversion is predicated on drawing truck traffic away from the Ambassador Bridge
  • Beztak assumed capturing 50% of the existing Bridge and Tunnel traffic for its financials
  • it could be a premature expenditure of funds on a project that would provide marginal truck only capacity at best
  • relatively long payback
  • most important problem is the issue of access roads
  • it is unlikely that US Customs would provide separate staffing at a facility so close to the Ambassador Bridge Plaza
  • truck traffic would encounter significant neighbourhood resistance in Detroit
  • because of the width of the rail tunnels, an American Association of Highway and Transportation officials waiver would be required
  • single one-way lane would not provide much margin for errors by drivers
  • removal of burning or incapacitated vehicles could pose serious difficulties
  • the financial analysis of the Beztak deal asked how realistic it would be to assume that 50 % of the business could be captured and said it was "highly unlikely" given the Bridge's competitive response
  • inadequate staffing of inspection booths caused the great majority of recorded delays
  • the converted tunnel would provide a poor level of service given the single narrow lane and would require very careful driving
  • to recover the full cost of the conversion a toll of $20.60 per truck would be required compared with current competitive average truck toll of $13.60
  • it is not possible to estimate any actual benefits of the project
  • it is likely that truckers would prefer to use other crossings
  • costs of the conversion are excessive when compared to what the money would buy in alternative projects
  • the cost buys a truck only, extremely restricted century old facility and would be a signiifcant part of the price of totally new bridge
  • roadbed capacity provided is substandard and will not accommodate automobiles
  • based on tunnel construction and access costs, and on the narrow single lane, the project is not thought to offer a good value
  • it would not allow for auto use and the money might be better spent on a new bridge
  • for the truck conversion project, the conclusion is that the benefits would be zero
  • it is not recommended that the tunnel conversion be considered at this time

Here are their comments on traffic projections:

  • Ambassador Bridge system could reach capacity in some of its elements such as inspection booth numbers by 1996
  • Detroit-Windsor Tunnel will reach capacity by 1994 and there will be a need for additional capacity by 2000.
  • Ambassador Bridge's roadbed capacity will be adequate until 2005

The whole episode troubles me. I cannot figure on what is going on other than an effort to move traffic away from this region. If the traffic numbers can be that wrong based on real facts, , then we need to stop and rethink the undelying assumptions of DRIC. Rather than being plugged up, the Bridge is operating at around 50% + capacity. With those numbers, who needs a new crossing?

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Politics Windsor-style

When I was with STOPDRTP, I was pretty good at predicting what would happen on the border file. When my predictions kept coming true, colleagues on the executive would keep asking me "Who are you?" and "Where did you come from?" All I could do was smile since I had no intention of giving up my secrets.

Politics is a tough game, in Windsor and everywhere. I used to be involved deeply in it when I was younger... I stuffed envelopes, pounded in lawn signs and knocked on doors. I was a canvasser, scrutineer and poli-marketer. I became President of this group, executive member of that one, helped get Presidents of national and local associations elected. Over the years, I was an aide to an MPP, rubbed shoulders with the Premier, and premiers and PMs to be, cabinet ministers, back-room boys, bag men, strategists, ad men and party apparatchik. I attended sessions with some of Canada's most powerful bureaucrats in Ottawa and was awed by the power and scope of their thinking. I "lobbied" across Canada. I even helped set up and was one of the initial shareholders of one of Canada's largest political polling companies. I saw it all, played it all and then left it all. Until STOPDRTP brought me back into it.

Windsor is no different than any other place, big or small. Politics brings out a certain kind of person as does any profession. You get good ones, bad ones but most are in between. Politicians work hard, have some fame and must stay up some nights wondering why they wanted to do the job in the first place when they are forced to listen to abuse or take the criticism that people like I give them! And then every few years they have to humble themselves to keep on with their job, knowing they could lose to some flash-in-the-pan.

I am not going to make this a political science dissertation about politics. I just wanted to give you some background so you'll understand why I take the views I do.

So let's use the arena as our case study to demonstrate how our Mayor operates politically. My guess is that Eddie may have a strategist that he talks to about local politics. "May" is the key word since he may not either given his nature. If he does, there would be three people that I can think of, all very experienced, all Liberals whom he could use. Of course, being so "experienced," they are all predictable. One of the joys of STOPDRTP is that we were successful because we were totally unpredictable. We were steps ahead of everyone all the time.

Eddie has figured out that the arena is fundamental to his re-election. It's not that he really wants one but he said that he could get us one in order to be elected in the first place. It's an easy issue for a voter to decide upon unlike the border which is so complicated. Either the arena is built or it is not. He chased Beztak out of town, used the Raceway and Jebb groups to buy time and now has to do something or at least appear to do so.

So what does he do? He and his strategist must have a roadmap for the last year of his term. Like all good politicians, the goodies come out before the election. How is the key to success. Clearly, the expected success of the Super Bowl was the beginning of the Eddie push. The Star, for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is the fact that it is the greatest source of information in the city, is vital and is to play an important part.

Eddie grants his first re-election interview with Gord Henderson before the budget meeting. Gord can give out the good word on the Saturday before Monday's session about money, money that can be found to build an arena.

Frankly, if this were Queen's Park or Ottawa, Eddie would have to resign for giving out budget information in advance! I would be mad if I were a Councillor since the Mayor has effectively said what we must do with this "found" money without my permission! (Halberstadt should be furious since his buddy Gord flipflopped on refurbishing the Barn within 2 weeks after he first approved it in print) But who on Council dares challenge Eddie on that? Instead, a Councillor calls up colleagues and berates them for supposedly giving the Blogmeister information! Quite a double standard. I guess the other media-types in town know their role is to sit on the side-lines and merely accept crumbs.

On the same Saturday, there is a "fear-mongering" border session to get hundreds of people out so that the Mayor and Councillors are seen as their champions rather than as a group that has failed to get the long-term solution they promised us.

Monday was the charade love-in after the huge budget success (except Councillor Lewenza forgot and told us previously that we would pay big time NEXT year after the election). It was the intense budget deliberations that caused the temporary insanity, all is good now. They are thinking straight and are not certifiable or dysfunctional any more after the Governor's hubby was paid $3,000 to help them out

Now that we have all of this money, Gord can do another column on Tuesday setting out all of the wonderful dreams that will come true (Just like what Schwartz was supposed to do for us when we "Think Big" or what the arena was to be at the Raceway too if you remember). Eddie goes on the radio for his Tuesday "lobs" session so he can tell us of all of the plans "in motion."

Who knows what else will happen in Henderson's column before the culmination of all of this effort: Next Saturday's strategic session where Eddie makes the Councillors do what he wants, or else!

On Saturday, there will be discussion on each of the 5 points that Henderson discussed on Tuesday because most are done deals already. That means no surprises:
-Downtown Campus: the College will probably take over the Cleary but wants another building (I bet it is the armouries after the remark that Eddie made after the top secret NFL Canada party)
-Urban village: it will be "in motion" so Marra cannot take credit for HIS idea
-Bus terminal: if it is the deal I heard about, the deal was rejected by Transit Windsor until Eddie threatened to kill the bus terminal on a 5-5 Council vote (it is a "steal" for Greyhound so we will never see the contract!)
-Dieppe Eyesore: almost as important as the Keg I guess (yawn)
-Ouellette Streetscaping: just like the "first phase" of trees on Dougall and our new South Windsor art gallery.

With all of that momentum building how can a Councillor resist on the arena? And if they try, there is arm-twisting. I was going to tell you how each one would be pressured but in the end, I have chosen not to do a "tell all." It is too personal and would not be right. But there are buttons to be pushed and the Mayor and his friends who support him know how to do so and what they are . It's no differnt though in other part so life either so let's not be too holier than thou either. It's what you do to win isn't it? And Eddie is desperate to win.

One need not be completely brutal as a mayor unless one has to be. The game is a more subtle one too. Councillors are generally reliant on the mayor for re-election. If he does well so do they. He is full-time; they are part-time. They need him more than he needs them. And how would you feel today with a do-nothing mayor if you were a Councillor. You need Eddie and his Plans to succeed.

So that is politics Windsor side. Eddie can play this game as long as there is no obvious challenger on Council and as long as the E-machine chases potential opponents away.

It's fun to watch as an observer and as a former player. Who knows, perhaps I just might take out the old skates and pads one day soon and see what it feels like again. Perhaps an old Pro can show the amateurs how to play the game too.

Thinking Outside The Penalty Box

Do I have to do all of the thinking for City Hall? Isn't it enough that I pay my property taxes? I solved the border issue for the Mayor and Council if they would only listen, suggested an economic development strategy and now I have to solve the arena issue for them.

I'll explain in another BLOG how the Councillors are being pressured to support Eddie's new re-election hope so you will learn how City politics are played in Windsor. For this Blog, I'll show you what creative thinking can do.

Supposedly, we need a big time arena for Windsor. As Gord says today, we need it for "Windsor's self-esteem," so we can be a "self-assured Windsor," and to get rid of "Windsor's inferiority complex" which is so pervasive. Frankly, I thought we needed an arena so we can watch the games in more comfort but what do I know. This "group therapy" babble by the Governor's hubby is everywhere!

But I digress. Why, we are known world wide for our Cuban cigars, lapdancers, booze and now our dysfunctional Council. We have to keep the momentum going. We need a billion dollar solution for a City with a billion dollar Casino that makes us a billion dollar destination with a billion dollar short-term dream for a border crossing but we must not build up a billion dollar debt.

Part of what I am going to suggest will help us with our desire for regional co-operation with our neighbour across the river. We need to capitalize on our relationship with Kwame....Oh OK, we have to grovel and beg his forgiveness for Eddie almost costing him the election. We know Kwame is going to do the deal about the Tunnel and that we cannot stop him so we have to figure out a way to capitalize on it and yet make him a hero!

I have it on good authority that:
  • "Talk is beginning to surface for a new arena for the Red Wings. Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick would like to expand Cobo Hall, Detroit's Convention Center, to continue to attract more and bigger conventions. One of the options for the expansion is to tear down neighboring Joe Louis Arena and build a new arena elsewhere when the Red Wings' lease expires in 2008."
Ahhhhh I bet you now see where I am going with this. I am going to solve every problem that Windsor has in one fell swoop. Now we need to work with Ilitch too, especially the new owners of the Spits have to do so, to learn how to make the Spits profitable. "Ilitch took the Red Wings team which was having trouble getting the fans into the arena and turned it completely around by doing what it took to do so."

Now I am doing some non-linear thinking here so I may not have it all down pat yet but here goes.

Windsor needs to become a partner with Detroit and make Joe Louis Arena the new Windsor arena! It needs to be renamed as the Joe Louis Detroit/Windsor International Center/Centre (DWICC). If Joe Louis were alive I bet he would agree. This is the absolute truth too. I ran this idea past a fellow who co-incidentally used to caddy for Joe when he golfed in Windsor many years ago. He said that Joe would have loved the concept!

Preposterous you say. Absurd you say. He has been following the border issue too long you say. Nothing can be further from the truth. Let me explain.


I am sure that Ilitch and Kwame would be thrilled if we took part of DWICC off their hands and shared it with them. We could probably buy an interest in DWICC for some nominal amount, say $2, since it has no value anyway other than the cost to tear it down. Then they could go off and build a new arena elsewhere (and WHERE is another part of my plan!) We just saved $15 million or more in construction costs that we can use in an ingenius manner. (and HOW is another part of my plan!)

We could help fill it up with Spits games, university tournaments, kids hockey, CFL arena football, concerts, meetings, etc etc. It can serve thousands of seat holders or as few as we want. It has suites for the movers and shakers to entertain. It is relatively new and probably in good shape. It could be ready in the fall for the new owners of the Spits.

And as the Mayor said, we would have 6 million people to draw upon who would not necessarily have to cross the border. If the arena made money, look at all of the profits we would get! Imagine the junior players who would want to come here to play. Wouldn't you want to be a Spits player playing in a sold-out DWICC! What a thrill that would be. Or maybe an AHL franchise could be in our future.


What better way to show our appreciation of our neighbour and to recognize that they would be the Senior partner in a partnership of equals but to co-own and operate DWICC. Kwame would be happy and might forgive us and forget that the only value we now have to him is as a snow cleaner. It would be a great way for Eddie to apologize for his gaff without actually apologizing so both leaders save face.

And then just imagine....The next international event that both cities can go after: the Winter Olympics. I can just picture Eddie running over the Ambassador Bridge and handing off the Olympic torch to Kwame at the Canada/US border point on the bridge. If that does not bring a tear to your eye and a lump in your throat, then nothing will!

We can build on the successes of all of the sports events we have had in the region. If the Super Bowl was to bring in millions to the region, the Olympics will bring in billions or at least we can say it will since who would know the difference anyway.

And since this area would be so exciting and popular, guess where new investments will go...not to the sunny south where land is cheap and labour is non-union but right to the rust belt, to the most dynamic area in North America, Windsor/Detroit.

And before you think that is silly, we ARE the main transportation hub on the continent and new economic development does not have to be all high tech. We can build a huge warehousing/distribution/intermodal network throughout the region as is being done in New Jersey, one of the fastest growing areas in the USA, to give us jobs, new housing and increased wealth


We have to help out Ilitch and Kwame and here is the genius of my idea as you shall see. The new arena and Cobo Hall would be built in South West Detroit, the fastest growing area of Detroit, to help re-vitalize that area. Just like the new Stadiums did in the downtown as we saw during Super Bowl. The Governor would want to be involved because of its importance to Michigan. She and Kwame can now work together and bury any differences so she can be re-elected.


Now that we helped out the Americans, they owe us and can help us out. They can use their influence with our Governments (since we snubbed the Senior Levels) to get us a road to the bridge that will cause minimum impact on Windsorites. Kwame would ensure mutual co-operation between the Bridge Co. and the City-owned Tunnel to increase revenues at the Tunnel.

As Eddie has said when he talked about the 25,000 seat stadium, the border is not a problem for us so that cannot be an excuse to pooh-pooh this idea

How will they do that you wonder....The final piece.


Now comes the cold water on the concept. It may kill our downtown. WRONG. It enhances it.

If you have ever been to a Leafs game in Toronto, as an example, you know that the restaurants are packed around the arena before the game for dinner and after for coffee and dessert, drinks or a night out. During the game, it's all dead. The arena could be in Timbuktu as far as the fan is concerned during the game. That is exactly what I want here.

Anyone who wanted to go to DWICC would come downtown and park (That fills up the 2 bankrupt garages downtown) and would then be transported over by Transit Windsor buses and transported back. Of course, we would have deals with local establishments for reduced bus fees for their patrons so that people would use our local spots to dine before the game and to have fun afterwards, just like in Toronto.

With all of this new excitement downtown, our Detroit friends would come over in increased numbers too to make our downtown very lively.

The Bridge Co. would work with the Tunnel and the deal would be that the Tunnel would be the exclusive crossing for the buses. With 200 booths and a huge bus parking area in the Ambassador Gateway plaza, there would never be a back-up for buses. Look at the increased revenues for Transit Windsor, the Tunnel and the Duty Free shop which all translates into revenues for the City!

Is this workable---we used 3-1-1 for the Super bowl buses didn't we so we have a reservation system already in place to ease Customs clearance. And remember the Mayor wanted to subsidize a NEXUS card system. Now we have a real reason for doing so.

How do we pay for all of easy. We invest the $15 million set aside for the new arena and the returns pay for it and any excess is used to pay for roads and sewers!

I admit the concept seems "off-the-wall" at first but you can see it gives us everything we want and more without costing us much.

Now if you will excuse me, I am off to settle the weeks old taxi strike!

Woodstock At Council

Clearly there was a "Love-In" at Council last night.

No it is not that they hate so and so's guts because of the attitude expressed by that person or the class warfare or the put-downs in camera, no it was all due to the tensions caused by the budget deliberations that this Council temporarily lost their sanity and became dysfunctional.

Now that the savers vs. spenders fight is all over we can get back to normalcy.

Those of us who know what Council is like and the real, personal animosities amongst members had our stomachs turned as we listened to what was said in the Budget wrap-up speches. I am sure that the Administrators who have sent out their resumes already looking for another job must have had difficulty in holding back the laughter.

However, I am not going to make some cynical remark. Let's see how long peace and harmony last.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Hands Across The River

I just could not resist combining the article from Crains Detroit that came out today about the Governor's hubby and his job in Windsor and today's Windsor Star editorial cartoon.

What went on during the session was fascinating. I'd tell you what it was but I cannot. I have to respect the confidentiality between patient and counsellor in a "group therapy" session.

Mulhern must be a true miracle worker. Gord told us on Saturday that Eddie and Council "agreed to try to patch over its differences."

Just in passing, I thought the issue was between the savers and spenders not Eddie and Council..but since Mulhern deals with "leadership" I guess that is what is really lacking in Windsor.

Beware The Ides Of February

You, dear readers, and I make up the most powerful and potent political force in the City of Windsor since the days of STOPDRTP "controlling" City Council.

We are so dangerous because we are prepared to write about and read about alternatives respecting some of the serious issues impacting our City. We are prepared to question and do not accept unhesitatingly the orthodoxy being spread about how wonderful things are in Windsor and who is our salvation. We are prepared to use our brains. Let me explain exactly what I mean.

I know the "Ides" is the 13th of February, so please do not scold me for the headline. I also know Saturday was not the 22nd of February. However, Saturday was almost 3 years to the day of the Saturday Special Strategy session of Windsor Council under Mike Hurst when supposedly, the majority of Council reversed themselves and advocated the building of DRTP North. That session shocked the City. That day's meeting resulted in the transformation of Windsor and lead to the end of the political career of Hurst. It also helped cause certain Councillors and the Mayor to be elected.

Isn't it ironic considering the day! In a bizarre twist of Fate, Saturday's Gord Henderson column and Eddie's "public" border meeting will mark the beginning of the end of the one-hit wonder term of Mayor Francis. It will also be the end of the careers of several Councillors. Someone should insert in the City's Procedural By-law that the Mayor must hide in bed under his covers on this Saturday every February. It is too dangerous otherwise.

Let me dismiss Saturday's border meeting quickly. I did not see the "Big City" Mayor so I assume that he did not get his 11 PM flight out of Ottawa. He was lucky!

I talked to a number of people there as did others I asked to help me "work" the room. General reaction---When people found out that this was Eddie's guess as to what DRIC wanted to do rather than what DRIC actually proposed, they were furious. It seems A-Channel's viewership is a lot larger than I thought since people talked to me about "scare-mongering."

If I hear an obviously phony number about attendance, I just may file a Municipal Freedom of Information Act application to get the list of attendees and shall count them, one by one, and might even call up a few at random to confirm that they really were there. You noticed that the Mayor has not talked about border traffic and bus numbers for Super Bowl since they are so bad notwithstanding what he said to expect before the big game. He knows if someone dares to give out incorrect information, I can call their bluff!

There was vast confusion at the session and about what it was all about. People wanted answers to questions, not boards and maps. People were angry at misinformation being spread. Councillor Budget was said to be out of character in suggesting money be spent on legal fees to fight DRIC. He has been virtually silent on the border for over two years even though he was elected as MR. STOPDRTP. The Ward 2 Councillors were very upset at what was taking place and the DRIC people I talked to thought Eddie was now in serious trouble with their political bosses!

Oh and Al Teshuba must be running for something municipally after failing to win federally for the Conservatives since he was holding forth too. I thought initially he was part of Schwartz's staff! Al's website discussion on the border was certainly underwhelming.

Snubbing results in Windsor only getting $100K out of $10M in amounts for St. Clair College and a certain Councillor asking why no one listens to Windsor but they do to LaSalle! What else will Windsor not get by annoying the people with power, money and control over our destiny?

BUT the big news with people was the Henderson column. No one understood why he attacked Bill "nice guy" Marra (the common view was that Eddie is afraid of him and that Bill would beat him easily if he ran) and the thought of spending MORE money on an arena would mean the end of whichever Councillor or Mayor supported it. If Eddie had not made the 25,000 seat stadium remark, it might not have bothered people as much.

The word of the day for Eddie "desperation!"

Let me deal with Gord's column now. I am not sure how to do it. Remember though Gord's column, "Reality check" when he wrote:
  • "He's your boy. That's why you won't lay a hand on him," sneered one of a handful of blog and bacon peddlers who insist Windsor Mayor Eddie Francis has been a disaster in his rookie term and will be easy pickings in the 2006 election."
Can you believe the vicious attack on Bill Marra. I am pretty sure I know the person that Gord talked to, "one of his closest supporters." How his identity became known to me is a real fluke that I will not bore you with! However, I was assured that he was hardly an "insider" as suggested; an acquaintance absolutely and for a long time, but not much more. And just so no one thinks I am bluffing, spies tell me his/her name begins with "J." Only Gord can confirm if I am right or not.

Did anyone hear Bill announce that he was running for Mayor to provoke such an attack? What did the first part of the column have to do with anything that the rest of the column discussed? The attack just came out of the blue.

You know why it was done don't you? It was really written to answer the Blog I wrote the other day about "DesRosiers for Mayor." Remember what I said there: "that one of the tactics of the E-machine (Eddie's electoral juggernaut) is to "scare away opponents in advance." Does anyone want a better example of this?

Remember what I said in the conclusion:
  • "Wait a minute. I just figured something out. The E-machine knows that Dennis is not going to run. Why does he need the heartache? He has a successful business. Why does he need a reduction in income?

    Nope, this is directed at those who might dare challenge the Mayor. It is telling them what they are up against. It is telling Bill Marra NOT to run!"
Does anyone want a better example of this?

And to further diminish the credibility of Marra, Gord says he won't even run in his old Ward, Ward 4 (the local joke in that Ward is that residents know now that they are voting for Junior not the senior Lewenza this time around so there is no confusion), but has to run as a "carpet-bagger" in Ward 5!

As an aside, there was the $1000 amount that I keep mentioning too ie the cost of Tylenol pills for seniors at Huron Lodge that the Budgeteers cut!

But then there was the real meat, the arena. I wrote to a Councillor this morning asking to "explain to me why it is wrong for you and your Councillor colleagues to give me information for my Blog while it is not wrong for the Mayor to give information to Gord Henderson for the Star." There has been a controversy about that within City Hall trying to guess who my sources of information are.

As I have been saying for weeks now and Eddie said it in Gord's column:
"[Building the arena] it's become the community benchmark by which all other council actions are judged."

In other words, Eddie, if you cannot build an arena, you cannot do anything. It's black or white. It's easy to judge him on this issue.


Eddie will do anything and everything to get re-elected. His Plan depends on it.

Remember in his Kick-off speech for mayor when he said " I SAID TO YOU EARLIER THAT I AM NOT A POLITICIAN." Well he is one. He is a desperate one now and no one has yet announced that he/she might run against him.
  • chase Beztak out of town even though they were not going to ask for money for an arena as the focus of the downtown urban village,
  • then the Henderson dream column about the Raceway arena,
  • then Raceway negotiations resulting in nothing but not discussed for a month,
  • then a Councillor before the Raceway is even buried lobbying for a Riverside arena,
  • then the 25,000 seat stadium,
  • now the talk of an arena near Tecumseh and Lauzon.

Seriously, it's like Old Macdonald's farm;
  • "Eddie Francis wants to be re-elected E-I-E-I-O
    So he pulls out some cash to build an arena E-I-E-I-O
    With an arena here,
    And an arena there,
    Here an arena, there an arena,
    Everywhere an arena, an arena.
    Eddie Francis wants to be re-elected E-I-E-I-OOOOOOOOOO."

And then the piece de resistance. The sheer desperation of Eddie to be a politician like the others and to bribe us with our own money to remain as Mayor:
  • "...through zero-based budgeting, hard work and relentless belt-tightening, [we are] freeing up huge sums for capital investments..

    And now that the city has financial wiggle room, Francis appears set to invest some of that freed-up capital, not to mention his accumulated political capital, in fulfilling a city dream. At a strategic planning session tentatively set for next Saturday at Willistead Manor, Francis will make a pitch for the city to get behind building a new ice rink for the Spitfires.

    ...he'll be seeking council backing for one final push to replace the 80-year-old Barn...

    He said the city is in "a different position than we've ever been in terms of getting our financial house in order" but will not get into projects that don't make financial sense and are not supported by a business case.

    He wouldn't put it in those words. But the message I took from his comments is that the city, building on the momentum of dynamic new Spitfire ownership and the Junior Pan Am Games and Super Bowl successes, might have the means to move well beyond the $15 million already budgeted for a new arena, without increasing the load on city taxpayers.

    "It's time to really focus on building the city and having in our city what other cities have."

Poor Alan Halberstadt, learning in his good buddy's column a few days after his friend pushed to refurbish the Barn that his idea is dead because Eddie said so! We didn't even need a pesky Council meeting to dismiss Alan's idea. Alan must be getting a media-rejection complex already.... Eddie dismissed his request about Estrin's legal bills on Face-To-Face and now Eddie rejects him in Gord's column.

My Goodness. Gord Henderson is the biggest flipflopper in town: On February 9 he wrote:
  • "There's a craving for a new arena and it's become larger than life. There's a psychological stigma attached to it," said Halberstadt. "But we just hosted the greatest show on earth and we seemed to survive without a new arena."

    Indeed we did. And if anyone thinks Windsor still needs more than a functional hockey rink, they should stroll over to Pitt and McDougall and check out this city's answer to the Grand Canyon.

    You have to eyeball this cavernous expanse of concrete and rebar to comprehend the massive scale of the $400-million hotel, convention and entertainment centre being added to Casino Windsor. This is our long-awaited multi-use facility, writ large, and it's going up as we speak.

    Now all we need is an improved home for the Spits. The barn reno/ expansion would serve that limited purpose admirably without becoming a drain on taxpayers.

    But it's never that simple in Windsor. I'm told fallback plans are being cobbled together for a twinned Riverside Arena at a new location that could service minor hockey as well as the Spits."


Is someone smoking something about our fiscal position and the room in the capital budget? There is no wiggle room! I spoke to a number of Councillors and they are unaware of this "wiggle room" to waste money. Here is what they said in the Star only a few short weeks ago after the Capital Budget meetings:

  • "City Council will soon choose its poison -- pass a small tax hike or be prepared to accept a greater number of bone-rattling potholes and sewage-filled basements after a storm...

    The committee -- consisting of councillors Fulvio Valentinis, Tom Wilson, Ron Jones, David Cassivi and Joyce Zuk -- passed a second recommendation that more than $4 million in funds removed from the city's reserves by the operating budget committee be replaced. The city's reserve funds were at $22 million before recent payments surrounding the MFP settlement and $7.2 million for pay equity, dropping the balance to about $10 million.

    "That gets very dangerous," said Valentinis, chairman of council's capital budget committee. "We have a downturn in the economy coming. There are all kinds of surprises that crop up so it's important to have reserves in place."

    There is little wiggle room for council to reach a zero tax increase, said Valentinis, who cited the annual three per cent employee pay hikes plus rising utility and gas costs.

    The only option for councillors to consider is reductions to the city's sewer and road rehabilitation budget, he said, noting the combined proposed spending total of more than $15 million for 2006.

    "Council can achieve zero, but it will have to come out of roads and sewers," Valentinis said...

    John Tofflemire, the city's general manager for Infrastructure Services, emphasized to council how there was "no value" in cutting back roads and sewer repairs after so many year of neglect in the annual budget.

    The city has close to 1,000 kilometres of roads, excluding E.C. Row Expressway, with 20 per cent rated as "deficient," meaning they need immediate work. In order to prevent further deterioration, an average of $13.8 million needs to be spent annually.

    This year $8.4 million for road rehab is budgeted, although that is up substantially from last year's $4.55 million.

    "We have an overwhelming infrastructure deficit," Tofflemire said. "Even before a nickel gets cut out of this year's budget, it's going to be inadequate. What councillors have to decide is how much can be deferred."

    Each of the five councillors on the capital budget committee seemed to favour a small tax hike over cuts to the road and sewer repair funds.

    We can't let the city fall down around us," Jones said. "We have to maintain infrastructure because in 2009 or 2010 (repairs) are going to cost a lot more than now. It's pay now or a lot more later.

    "People will understand a tax increase when they see us doing improvements in roads and sewers."

    Coun. Tom Wilson agreed.

    "It's not an option for me," he said. "What's the top call we get? Sewage in the basement from collapsed sewer lines.

    "We keep looking at zero zero, zero (tax increases). All of a sudden, we need to catch up. (Taxpayers) can appreciate a one or two per cent increase when they see the full amount going into roads and sewers."

I have written too much already. I hope you had an extra large coffee while reading all of this. Let me again quote Gord about what this is all about:

"Now or never. And if it's now, what a coup that would be for city politicians in an election year."

This column will have ramifications much more significant than the mere election of a mayor. I suggest you refer back to my BLOG "Twenty Fearless Predictions For 2006" dated January 3. What is scary to me is that many of them are really coming true and it is only February!