Thoughts and Opinions On Today's Important Issues

Friday, May 05, 2006

Take My Corridor, Please!

Remember Mike Hurst's proposal back in early 2003 when he was Mayor, the so-called "Made in Windsor" solution that was sprung on citizens one morning after another secret Council meeting. [Those in camera meetings really should be banned except for the most restricted purposes!] That solution was rejected by Council and was the beginning of the end of Mike's career as Mayor of Windsor.

In case you forgot, that solution included:
  • "The city's latest border plan, endorsed behind closed doors by council, supports truck traffic and an inspection plaza on a portion of the DRTP rail corridor north of the expressway...

    In exchange the city has asked ...that the DRTP rail corridor south of the expressway be converted to green space..."

To its credit STOPDRTP turned down the offer of "green space" even though its supporters had the most to gain it seemed at first blush. We rejected that solution because we knew it was nothing more than a precursor to DRTP South being used eventually as a truck route resulting in an intrusive truck expressway through the heart of Windsor. Back then, that truck expressway seemed to be a 2-lane one. Now, to meet DRIC requirements, it would have to be 6-lanes.

DRTP has a big problem and it must be Mike Hurst's job as CEO to figure out a solution. The problem--they have spent mega-millions of CP Rail shareholders and OMERS pensioners money on a project that failed and has been rejected by DRIC as a solution to our border woes. What do they do now?

One alternative is to write-down the assets or write-off the project. But that would cause OMERS/Borealis problems with the FSCO in its marathon, almost 2 year-old investigation of OMERS.

A better alternative is to use some of the DRTP assets to recoup some cash. Check out my previous BLOG September 27, 2005 "Mike Hurst'll Turn Off The Light For You!"

You can see DRTP failing right before our eyes. It has been:

  • The long-term solution
  • The short-term solution
  • The DRTP North solution
  • The "enhanced" DRTP solution
  • The "use our corridor" solution

I can almost hear the old Henny Youngman one-liner...."Take my corridor, Please!"

So up popped Mike again in the Star:

  • "Backers of a border traffic proposal are willing to discuss tunnelling and greenway options for its rail corridor, former mayor Mike Hurst told city councillors Thursday...

    Timing for renewed consideration of DRTP fits in with the city's latest push to have border truck traffic sent through a tunnel, plus its vision to consolidate the city's railway lines and convert the property into green space, Hurst said.

    "We want to bring our thinking out to the public and engage in some discussion," he said."

Mike has not capitulated totally yet on using DRTP. There are still possible lawsuits to fight over DRIC's rejection of DRTP as a border solution. Marge Byington made a very impassioned case when appearing in front of the Michigan Legislators in Lansing [BLOG March 31, 2006 "More From Lansing"]

If DRTP loses on its challenge in front of the OMB hearing respecting the City's rail by-law that has started this week or if you read Mike Hurst saying "Windsor should buy our rails for a new Trail," then you will know DRTP is done!

Even More On Snubs and Megaproject Over-runs

Here are 2 news stories I found of interest.

Niagara gets a tunnel. Windsor again gets the shaft again.

I found the story on the rail tunnel far about a 25% cost overrun. I wonder what that means for our Arena megaproject.

A gigantic bore
ZOE CORMIER, Saturday's Globe and Mail

The city that boasts North America's most powerful waterfall will soon be sitting on top of a massive hole created by the world's most powerful hard-rock boring machine.

Using a drill with a diameter of 14.4 metres, Austrian construction contractor Strabag will begin digging a tunnel this summer to divert water from the Niagara River to the Sir Adam Beck Complex. The tunnel will run 10.4 kilometres, about 100 metres beneath the city of Niagara Falls...

The TBM will drill through the rock seven days a week (excluding routine maintenance checks) for up to three years. Its final destination is the banks of the Niagara River, where a temporary dam will prevent the tunnel from being flooded prematurely.

The diameter of the tunnel, once beams and concrete are put in place to support the walls, will be about 12.7 metres.

The largest tunnels in the world made with boring machines are only slightly bigger -- a pair of 15.2-metre drills were used to complete two tunnels for roads in Madrid last year -- but the city of Niagara Falls sits on top of tough Queenston shale, while the Spanish tunnels were gouged through gravel and sand. The harder the rock, the more difficult it is to drill a wide tunnel...

The tunnel, which will deliver about 500 cubic metres of water per second, is expected to boost the amount of "clean, renewable, low-cost energy you can get from the Beck station by 14 per cent, about 1.6 terawatt-hours" a year, OPG spokesman John Earl says. That's enough energy for about 160,000 homes.

"To put it in context," Mr. Earl says, "the province of Ontario last year used about 150 terawatt-hours. So 1.6 terawatt-hours is a small percentage over all, but for just one plant, it is a considerable addition."

The construction of the tunnel is expected to cost close to $1-billion. The TBM alone will be about $30-million...

The drill will be able to go as fast as five metres an hour, but engineers expect it to move no more than 15 metres a day on average; although it will be operational 24 hours a day, only about 12 hours will be spent actively drilling. It will have to stop while construction workers stabilize the sides of the tunnel to prevent a cave-in."

Additional Investments for the Gotthard Base Tunnel

AlpTransit Gotthard is the construction project of the century. The total time for planning and building the 57-kilometres-long Gotthard Base Tunnel will be about 25 years. The construction project is also extremely demanding, both technically and financially. The long implementation time means that new developments in standards and technology must be included in the construction process.

During construction of the Gotthard Base Tunnel (excluding the Ceneri Base Tunnel) additional investment costs arise mainly in relation to safety and the technical state of the art as well due to politically caused delays and phasing under the law for financing public transportation. Relative to the cost estimate of CHF 6,323 million based on the scope of construction of the Gotthard Basis Tunnel originally assumed by the Swiss Federal Government, according to present knowledge additional costs of CHF 1,712 million will arise. The estimated project costs are expected to amount to CHF 8,035 million.

These additional costs of CHF 1,712 million consist of additional investments for various project improvements. They include improvements for people and the environment (CHF 101 million or 1.3 % of the estimated project costs), for example for construction of an underground branch-off between Erstfeld and Amsteg to allow for a later routing variant «underground long». However, they also include costs due to politically determined delays (CHF 506 million or 6.3 %) and for phasing. Additional costs for safety and state-of-the-art technology amount to CHF 683 million or 8.5 %. They result mainly from investments to keep pace with technological developments in railway systems. Geology causes additional costs of CHF 363 million or 4.5 %. These relate, for example, to unforeseeable fault zones which were encountered in the Bodio and Faido sections. Additional costs for contract award and construction amount to CHF 59 million or 0.7 %.

Prospering From A Snub

What more can I say other than remember New Brunswick too! [March 27, 2006 Don't We Ever Learn? Senior Levels Snubbed Again"]

  • "Cash for Pacific Gateway plan in Tuesday's budget
    Star News Services, Saturday, April 29, 2006

    OTTAWA - More than a half-billion dollars is expected in the Conservative government's maiden budget next Tuesday to help British Columbia's overwhelmed ports system and expand trade with booming China.

    Conservative sources say the Tories will make good on a pledge to give the province funds for the Pacific Gateway Initiative, a major coup for beleaguered Trade Minister David Emerson.

    The former Liberal government had planned similar investments, pledging $590 million to open Canada's Pacific region to greater trade and investment, but were voted out of office before much was accomplished. "

Hey I just got a brilliant idea. If David Emerson can switch sides, if Bob Rae can switch sides, if Buzz Hargrove can switch sides, then why shouldn't Brian Masse or Joe Comartin or both join the Conservative Party! It would not be a big jump. Bill C-3 is the most "socialist" piece of legislation I have seen a Canadian Government introduce in a long time!

They would both bargain to get a cabinet position and it would be "a major coup" for the Conservatives bringing them closer to a majority Government. More importantly, at $590 million per switcheroo, we could build a nice tunnel along Talbot Road.

Guys you owe it to us to do it! We won't say bad things. Take the plunge and make an even bigger salary and pension for yourself as Cabinet members. Go out there and get a billion dollars or so for the good of Windsor. Pretty please!

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Paving Paradise To Put Up A Tunnel Parking Lot

I just finished completing my income tax return a few days ago. It got me angry seeing how much money I had to pay in taxes and comparing it with what I was getting back in return.

When I add in together my income taxes, property taxes, education taxes, GST, PST, gas taxes and who knows what other taxes I am paying, it is quite a chunk of money out of my pocket annually.

How can I get Government to start saving money? Well the obvious topic for this Blogger is not to spend so much on the border. I have ranted about the billions for a new bridge but how about saving a few dollars, say 30 million of them, at the Detroit/Windsor Tunnel.

If I can convince the powers-that-be that what I am saying makes sense, then we can take that $30 million, add it to Eddie's "wiggle room" money and build a super-duper Arena!

I have written before about the Tunnel and its grand vision for a Tunnel Plaza "March 06, 2006 "The Tunnel Plaza Is Mickey Mouse." Everyone I talk to about the Plan admits that it does not move one single vehicle through the Tunnel more quickly. It is really money for a gigantic parking lot. (Of course, we all know that it is only Phase 1 of Eddie's Master Plan for the Tunnel which only he knows and which he is not prepared to reveal to taxpayers! He thinks he is fooling the Senior Levels too but they are on to him). I wonder then why we are moving forward on something that makes no sense.

I heard about a Presentation given by the Tunnel about what they can do to move vehicles through more quickly and at a very low cost. The key word is LOW!

One obvious step in the Presentation I was told was to increase the number of booths. Gee, what an earth-shattering idea! Isn't that what the Bridge Co. did. Four new booths eliminated the truck backups and the cost was pennies on the dollar compared with what others wanted to spend. (NO, I am NOT going to talk about the Schwartz short-term solution costs)

I heard the Tunnel could open up at least one more booth at a cost of around $500,000 and thereby increase flow-through dramatically.

Hmmmmmm $500K to get traffic moving compared with $30M for a parking lot....I know which one I would choose!

Then I heard that for a few dollars more, the truck volumes at the Tunnel could be increased by some knocking down of walls in the Detroit Plaza to make it easier for trucks to make turns. I guess revenues could be increased too by increased truck volumes. What a novel idea: making more money.

Finally, I heard that there were some discussions with the Bridge Co. about taking some novel steps for moving traffic such as collecting one-way tolls, as is done in several other border crossings. When combined with the use of the latest electronic tolling equipment throughput could be improved dramatically.

My understanding is that the Bridge Co. agreed to the concept but nothing has happened on this initiative so far. I can guess why not. It is not convenient right now for certain people.

The reason why this concept is so exciting is that the Tunnel could tear down the toll collection booths on the Detroit side and put in new Customs booths just like at the Bridge. Think of the volumes that could be handled. We would not need to spend $30 million on a parking lot if traffic was never backed up would we?

Of course, nothing has been done about that idea either.

You have to ask the obvious question. Why isn't the Mayor/Chair of the Windsor Tunnel Commission taking immediate action to bring about these steps which would be much less expensive than building the Disney parking lot at the Tunnel and which would help solve the Tunnel and City roads back-up problems.

Oh well, the concepts are not proprietary. It would not surprise me that the pressure would mount once people realized cheaper solutions are possible. The plans would be used in a few years time. In a few years...isn't that when the DCTC contract is over.

I wish I knew but then again, our Mayor has not chosen to let us mere mortals in on his Plans.

Priceless: Is MasterCard Now Killing Us

To those who called and left a message or who sent me a note, do not worry. I am fine. I did not BLOG for the last day and a half since I took a brief mini-holiday trip out of town.

Interestingly, when I was listening to the news in the car from WWJ Detroit, there was a story in which the reporter suggested to Americans to stay home because of the stronger Canadian dollar. In particular, she mentioned that the exchange rate at the Casino was no longer 40% so money would go more quickly than before (I guess that means why cross the border too when you can lose at home!) She did tell Canadians to come over to shop at least.

Sounds like the "PACE" days may be coming back. You remember that store on 14 mile with many of the cars in the lot being from Canada on the week-ends.

Both ways across the border, around 8:40 AM going over and 3:30 PM coming back, there was hardly any traffic or line-ups. If that is due to terrific traffic management, great but if it is due to reduced traffic then we have serious problems in a border city like Windsor.

And to top it off, I saw this story out of WGRZ TV Buffalo. If the higher dollar, no smoking bylaw, supposed border chaos, SARS, terrorism and whatever won't hurt our economy, now MasterCard will.

Higher Cross-Border Costs

Posted by: Mike Igoe, Reporter

When she's not working Tammy Boehm of Lackawanna frequently makes trips across the border to Canada. The Fort Erie slots is one of her favorite stops.

Tammy says she keeps careful track of her transactions. So she was surprised to find some charges on her MasterCard statement she couldn't account for.

Tammy Boehm, Lackawanna Resident:"There were extra fees being taken out of any kind of withdrawal I did. Found out through the bank that MasterCard effective April 7 started charging assessments on cross border transactions.

MasterCard confirms it to 2 On Your Side with this information: Effective April 7 there will be an assessment on all cross-border transactions on all MasterCard credit or debit cards.MasterCard will calculate the assessment by multiplying the transaction amount for each cross-border transaction by a specified rate announced in each region's Finance Bulletin.

For Western New Yorkers the chrarge will be less than 1% per transaction. Still Tammy is troubled.

Tammy Boehm: "Over time that adds up. And that's extra money out of our pocket just for using our bank card in a different country."

Peace Bridge Duty Free in Fort Erie is already getting negative feedback on the new charges from its customers.

Steve Richardson, Peace Bridge Duty Free:"They tack this onto the other fees. And they create this environment that it's gonna cost more to go to Canada. And it's not a good thing for us."

Some of those shoppers have a plan:

Sherman Wilkes, Shopper From U.S.: "I won't use it in Canada. I'm not gonna pay the extra money."

Jody Wolfanger, Shopper from the U.S.: "I'll definitely use cash more."

Four other MasterCard customers we spoke with tell us they'll probably cut back on their card use in Canada to limit those fees.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Pomp But No Circumstance

I went to the Cleary to hear the Mayor's State of the City speech. You can read it for yourself when it is placed on the City's website so I do not need to set it out here.

It was a typical Eddie speech---very well crafted, ably delivered and designed to inspire. The trouble is, we've heard it all before. There was not a lot new. We had the talk of dreams, Vision and Action, doing big and PLANS. If I had a dollar for every time he used that word, I would be a rich man today.

I was interested more in getting the "feel" of the auditorium as Eddie spoke than to transcribe content. It was a good thing that there were so many City staff present or the lower level might have been half full. [I could have said half empty but I am being an optimist today!]

I do not know if the balcony was opened or how many people were there if it was. The attendance was less than in other appearances there even with the very heavy advertising and free refreshments. (A Councillor told me that staff were told to attend). That is NOT a good sign for a politician months before an election.

We had the Chicago Bulls-type introduction of the Councillors, ward by ward, with them walking down both sides of the aisles in the auditorium. You had to look quickly though or you would have missed them. That was it for the night for them except for a few mentions by the Mayor during his talk. Then we had the school kids from many countries waving Canadian flags and singing our national anthem to get everyone in the mood.

As I said, Eddie gave a very good speech. The speech was well-rehearsed as it should have been with Eddie speaking more slowly than normal and smiling a lot more. BUT, in my opinion, the room was flat. There were no big bursts of applause except once on the border and when Ken Cockrell Jr., the President of the Detroit Council, was introduced. When there was the obvious "pause for applause gap," the applause did not always come and when it did, it was more polite than enthusiastic. Even at the end, there was the perfunctory standing ovation but the applause did not last long. I did not feel any excitement.

What was new:

  • A City birthday party on May 24
  • Roots will offer some clothes designed for Windsor
  • SIMPLICITY--I think--a new name to replace the hope-to-be-forgotten Citistat
  • RAILS TO TRAILS for abandoned rail lines that will be turned into pathways (Too bad the Mayor did not mention that the DRTP corridor was the first one)
  • Our new logo: LOVE THIS PLACE (Didn't we just spend money trying to develop one)

The funniest, and most insulting, line of the night...on the one hand the Mayor praised the fact that so many immigrants came to Windsor then claimed that our unemployment rate is so high because of them! I guess losing so many auto jobs, with their ripple effect, is something that he has not yet heard about.

Eddie's campaign will clearly be built around the theme that we are better off today than yesterday and that we will be better off tomorrow since that that concept came up several times.

After tonight, the E-Machine has to be worried. If I am right about the crowd reaction, then if this is the best that Eddie has going for him, then he had better hope that Bill Marra is not going to run.

PS. Read Gord Henderson's column today. I don't get it...the day after the Mayor's speech when one would expect Henderson to be supportive, a column showing all the flaws in this City that the Mayor tried to hide. I guess it is meant to say it is not Eddie's fault for the mess but the bureaucrats. Presumably we are supposed to forget that Eddie is in charge of Administration. Just to give you a flavour:

  • "Returning to Windsor after two weeks with his family in Miami's trendy South Beach neighbourhood, Larry Horwitz felt like he'd gone back in time and landed in Sleepy Hollow.

    The deceleration was so rapid it left the downtown businessman and landlord with a case of psychological whiplash whose chief symptom is an overwhelming urge to grab Windsor by its pyjama collar and shake it out of its slumber...

    But he wishes some of the can-do attitude and boundless energy he witnessed in Miami could rub off on Windsor"

Slip And Fall On The Budgetary Crack

I wish Councillors Lewenza and Brister would sit down and get their stories straight! If there is a problem about both of them being in a room together, then perhaps the Governor's hubby could be invited back to talk them through it!

I had made some suggestions about what I thought the recently adopted budget was: an election budget to keep down taxes in an election year to help get the incumbents re-elected. I didn't make it up. I based my comments on what Councillors were saying. Just check out my BLOGS and read it for yourself.

Well Councillor Budget did not agree with my assessment of the budget when Joe McParland interviewed him on Cogeco a few weeks ago.

I thought perhaps I was wrong in what I said. I do not think I am.

Read what Councillor Lewenza said in a Star story recently ["Trip, fall claims soar as sidewalks crumble] about all of the litigation because of cracks in the sidewalks:
  • "But it's difficult to strike a balance between spending money on such projects and holding the line on taxes. Coun. Ken Lewenza said it's easy to come up with a tax freeze when infrastructure projects like sidewalk repairs are ignored. "We can always come in at zero -- it'll come at the expense of sidewalks."

Given that "The claims filed against the city over the last several years have increased dramatically....203 trip and fall claims over the last five years," it seems like a false economy.

As for me personally, I liked the story....remember I had a bad fall at City Hall about 6 months ago for which I am still taking therapy 4 times a week. I could not believe when I read:
  • "About $650,000 has been set aside this year to repair some of the worst sidewalks in Windsor. But it's not enough.

    "We should be spending in the order of $1.25 million," Palanacki said...

    Windsor has about 850 kilometres of sidewalks, and "funding in this program needs to be increased ... from a risk management point of view," the capital works report says...

    Palanacki said the average lifespan of sidewalks is 40 years "and a lot of our sidewalks are beyond the 40 years."

    They're cracked. They're crumbling. They've become a menace, especially to senior citizens."

Now my case is much different than the usual slip and fall...but I think I can base my claim now on "gross negligence" without too much difficulty. Who knows, with Councillor Lewnenza's remarks and Councillor Budget's actions, I better talk to my lawyer about punitive damages too.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Does Stephen Harper Want DRTP?

Stephen Harper must take immediate action to clarify the comments of Essex Conservative MP Jeff Watson or no Conservative will ever be elected in Windsor for another generation!

What did Watson mean by the vicious attack on the Ambassador Bridge Company? Are his words in Parliament as a spokesperson speaking on behalf of the Government in the Debate on Bill C-3 nothing more than the last gasp of someone who favoured DRTP in the past? Or is he expressing the Conservative Government's desire to build DRTP without coming out and saying it? Or is he merely supporting the DRIC process but using the most unfortunate language?

The Conservative Party must have a death wish. They must not want to stay in power but would prefer an Opposition role. It seems that they want to give the PM job back so badly to the about to be anointed failed Ontario NDP leader, Bob Rae (unless Dwight Duncan chooses to run in which case he will be a shoo-in after his impressive Ontario budget) that they are adopting and pushing forward Liberal legislation so totally out of character to the Party's Founding Principles:

  • "A balance between fiscal accountability, progressive social policy and individual rights and responsibilities

    A belief that the best guarantors of the prosperity and well-being of the people of Canada are:
    --- The freedom of individual Canadians to pursue their enlightened and legitimate self-interest within a competitive economy;
    --- The freedom of individual Canadians to enjoy the fruits of their labour to the greatest possible extent; and,
    ---The right to own property;

    A belief that a responsible government must be fiscally prudent and should be limited to those responsibilities which cannot be discharged reasonably by the individual or others.

    A belief that ...prosperity is guaranteed by a free competitive market economy;"
If you think I am exaggerating, here is a disturbing story in a BC newspaper. Check out the language used. How does this tie into the Conservative beliefs:
  • "Conservative MP Russ Hiebert has thrown support behind a plan to nationalize security, maintenance and use of border infrastructure. Bill C-3, known as the Bridges and Tunnels Act, will give the federal government exclusive authority over 29 bridges and tunnels to the U.S....This bill will allow us to fully manage trade and security at all border points, and is especially timely as the Detroit-Windsor trade corridor is growing desperate for additional border transit capacity,” the MP said"

How else can one explain Bill C-3? I told you that the Conservatives adopted the Liberal agenda with it. As an example, Hon. John McCallum (Markham—Unionville, Lib.) said:
  • "Mr. Speaker, it is difficult for me to disagree with the bill because it is, so far as I can tell, the same as the Liberal bill that was before Parliament before the election. It sounds extraordinarily familiar...The government will not have opposition from the official opposition on this bill. How can we oppose our own bill?"
And this comment showing the Conservatives knew what they were doing:

  • Hon. Rob Nicholson (Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister for Democratic Reform, CPC): I am pleased that this is the first piece of legislation introduced into this Parliament after Bill C-2, the federal accountability act.

The Bill is being debated now in Second Reading and I found what was said fascinating

Our Mayor and Council, local media, NDP MPs, Senator Kenny and Perrin Beatty should take great pride in what some of the members have said about Windsor. They have certainly spread misinformation far and wide. We do not need terrorists; we can destroy ourselves successfully thank you and chase away business and investment in our Community on our own:

  • the NDP members from Windsor had been appealing to the former Liberal government to do something about the Ambassador Bridge and the billions of dollars of lost trade and opportunity that stems from the inadequacy of that vital crossing.
  • yet to this day, there is a backup of semi-trailers waiting to take our exports to the United States.
  • Those semi-trailers sit there with their engines idling, poisoning the good citizens of Windsor West
  • The member from Windsor West, in particular, who was not able to be here, has been very passionate and knowledgeable on this and has worked very hard in his community of Windsor to try to not only resolve the bottleneck on the bridge but also its inadequacy because it affects his whole community and the economy of the area surrounding Windsor, not to mention of the economy of the province.
  • When we look at the level of traffic and the impact of the backup of that traffic into communities such as Windsor, there obviously is a need for new bridges.
  • the environmental impact of traffic if there are backups, as there are now, and the spewing of exhaust that goes into the community
  • The bridge in Windsor is owned by a private U.S. company, and the bridge and the surrounding areas are plagued by a traffic and congestion nightmare
  • Any regular bottleneck has the ability to put pressure on the entire transportation system. Bottlenecks that originate at freight transfer points and at the border can affect overall freight movements within trade corridors. As I mentioned before, the manufacturers in Simcoe--Grey using the Windsor corridor know this all too well.
  • Clearly there is a need to add additional capacity to that corridor

We learned a lot about public bridges and why we should not have one in Windsor. Imagine that many of the public ones do not have enough money to do the repairs and upkeep. Yet having more public bridges is the proposed solution. I think I may have missed the logic class in school where that kind of reasoning was taught:

  • there is only one international bridge in Quebec, the one in Sutton. ..An old, metal bridge, it is approximately 50 metres long and was built around 1929... It is used by many trucks and appears in need of repair. It is owned by both Vermont, primarily, and the municipality of Sutton. It is inspected by Quebec's Department of Transport and in conjunction with Vermont as well.
  • The government also gives itself legislative powers, but someone else has to shoulder the financial responsibility
  • How can the Canadian government make maintenance decisions when the American government is paying 70% of the costs? Really now. The federal government has nothing to do with it. Quebec pays 30% and the Americans pay the other 70%. And yet the federal government wants to decide when repairs should be made? I think it will find itself alone on that bridge.
  • We have a bridge that needs upgrading, maintenance and more authority to ensure we have the security that is required
  • Two remarks by Mr. Tony Martin (Sault Ste. Marie, NDP). Let me know if you understand why he would favour a public bruidge given his reality:

    The bridge in my riding is run now by an authority. At one time there was a combination of funding from the Michigan department of transportation and the Ontario government. Now a local authority runs that bridge and it is forever trying to figure out how to get the money it needs to just maintain the bridge and ensure it continues to be safe and secure. That does not even include the personnel required at either end of the bridge to ensure the flow of traffic continues at a pace that is convenient and helpful to those going back and forth and wanting to access both countries.

    We would need significant help from the federal government in terms of investment in that infrastructure. Our bridge plaza needs to be expanded so that more services can be offered there. We need more personnel working at the border. We need border guards and people checking identification, and we need more facilities so that people have more readily available access.
  • My last point deals with Vancouver and the Lions Gate Bridge which needs significant infrastructure moneys. It is a major artery for Vancouver and for people moving in a north-south direction

A few MPs recognized that an international bridge impacts the US but who seemed to care that this Act declares war on the US. Interestingly, the softwood lumber deal was discussed and a new dispute with the US may just be starting up! Here is just one comment: "In the case of the Sutton bridge, Vermont pays 70% of the cost of repairs or maintenance. How will the government be able to order repairs to a bridge in Quebec, such as the Sutton bridge, when we know that the Americans are going to pay 70% of the bill?"

And then there was the MP for Essex, our own Jeff Watson.

You might not know that MPs have assigned seats in the House of Commons. The closer you are to the PM, obviously the more powerful you are. The further you are away, the less important you are.

Still someone has to sit in the worst seat in the house, whether that seat is the middle seat in an airplane, an obstructed view seat in a stadium or near the washroom in a restaurant. This honour went to Jeff! He was placed in seat 122 as shown above, about as far away as one can get! He must have complained and was moved up a row to seat 115, right beside the NDP. He had better be sent back to 122 and quickly.

Now why should this happen to Jeff? Here is a question he was asked and the answer given:

  • Mrs. Claude DeBellefeuille (Beauharnois—Salaberry, BQ): Mr. Speaker, I would like to know my colleague's position on a specific issue.

    What does the member think about the fact that Bill C-3 has removed the measures relating to the powers of the Canadian Transportation Agency to receive complaints concerning noise resulting from railway activities? The clause in question, which was part of Bill C-44, has been removed in Bill C-3.

  • Mr. Jeff Watson: Mr. Speaker, this is obviously a very important issue to the member.

    With respect to Bill C-3 and its differences with the previous incomplete Bill C-44 put forward by the Liberal government in the last Parliament, we have made two very substantial improvements. We have included some provisions with respect to the St. Lawrence Seaway and crossings there and the ability to have oversight over transactions with respect to new assets.

    This is clearly something that the Liberals forgot, but it was important for us to put in this bill, particularly when we look at the asset in Fort Frances and its pending sale to a private interest. It is important that the government have the necessary oversight over such types of transactions. In my corridor, a private bridge operator is threatening the binational process for moving forward. This private interest is moving very quickly to twin the span there which really threatens to undermine a process that we are a partner in.

    It is important that we get this bill through in a very timely fashion without holding up too many add-ons because the clock is ticking with respect to this private interest moving forward. It is a project that, in my humble opinion, is not in the national interest, certainly not in the community interest.

    It is important that all members in the House support this legislation and get it through quickly, so that we can avert this type of situation or at least have some oversight over what is happening. This is a necessary piece of legislation.
    I am pleased that we have beefed up what the Liberals failed to do with their legislation.

Huh...What....Pardon me....Did I miss something here.

It was an important topic for the questioner, Jeff admitted, but clearly, with the answer, not for him. I guess I am slow but please explain to me what the question dealing with "complaints concerning noise resulting from railway activities" has to do with the Ambassador Bridge? Last time I saw the bridge, there were no trains using it.

Why did Jeff stray off-message? He is not stupid. Why did he attack the Ambassador Bridge so viciously? Is this part of the Conservative agenda or is it something personal for Jeff? I recall that the first time he ran and won, he was a DRTP supporter.

I wish I knew what was going on behind the scenes. Does DRTP have a strategy now to attack the Bridge Co. to try to salvage their investment? Or is this part of a strategy to force the Ambassador Bridge to work with them since DRTP is so well-connected politically? Who knows.

What it has done in my opinion is put a black mark on the bona fides of the Conservative Bill. The Bill is no longer something for 24 bridges (22 of which are already public) but it is directed specifically at the Ambassador Bridge Company to force them out of business if they will not sell their bridge to the Government! Watson specifically noted that "It is our second piece of legislation after the federal accountability act. This clearly demonstrates that the government is seized with the priority of that crossing in the Windsor-Essex region."

He accuses the Bridge Co. of "threatening the binational process for moving forward. This private interest is moving very quickly to twin the span there which really threatens to undermine a process that we are a partner in. " Jeff must not have read the DRIC report that said it is an existing crossing rather than a new one so it is not subject to DRIC at all. In fact DRIC said that the Bridge Co. was free to pursue their own plans, exactly what they are doing.

For someone who respects process so much, as with the DRIC process, I am shocked at his comment that the Bridge Co.'s project "in my humble opinion, is not in the national interest, certainly not in the community interest." Nothing like prejudicing in advance its application that it has made! How is that respecting the process that the Bridge Co. has already started?

Finally Jeff wants to "avert this type of situation." Yup, Jeff is against private enterprise doing what it was told that it could do.

I would expect that a good Administrative Law lawyer would have a lot of fun with this one as would one skilled in Competition Law since the Bridge Co.'s competitor may be the Government itself. Is Watson a key player on the border issue speaking for the Government? After all, he was one of the first speakers and that is all decided behind closed doors.

Since the comments against the Bridge Co. are easily proven false, and their chief witness would be Marty Beneteau, Editor of the Star, fairness would require that Transport Canada Minister Cannon pull the Bill for the time being and re-examine everything from the start again to get the correct facts out. Alternatively, the Minister should heed the call for committee hearings so the reality can be set out in light of the misinformation being spread.

Now that softwood lumber dispute is off of the table, the Americans have nothing to do. What can be better than going after the Conservative Government on another issue that is a winner for them. Isn't half of an international bridge in US territory?

As for Susan Whelan, she must have a big grin on her face this morning! I wonder if she is filling out her nomination papers now.

The Arena Shell Game

Which structure will be Eddie's equivalent to Mike Hurst's Canderel monument: the $5 million overpass on Huron Church Road that the school kids do not use or the $55 million East End arena?

If ever I get too conceited about the power of my BLOG, fortunately I have Gord Henderson to bring me back to earth.

Here I am, demanding that the Mayor tell us how much we have spent on the fees of Schwartz/ response. Here I am, demanding that the Mayor tell us about the problems at Enwin that resulted in a huge salary increase for Councillors for all the extra meetings they were forced to response. Here I am demanding that we try and recover some of the funds on response. But when Gord Henderson was "concerned that [the $55 million East End arena] could be another half-baked dream chase, I asked Mayor Eddie Francis to walk me through the numbers Friday. He did."

See what I mean. No one listens to me. No one gives me information. Do you think it might be because I am asking for data that might be embarrassing rather than helping get someone re-elected?

This time around we did not get the Henderson leak about what the arena would be like (8,000-seat arena and three other revenue-generating ice pads, Wayne Gretzky restaurant and a Gretzky sports hall of fame utilizing the Toronto Dominion bank facade, sports medic training centre, hotel, workout centre and retail outlets. In other words, a sports/entertainment attraction ) as we did with the Raceway. Nope, this time the selling feature is that "the city will find itself with torrents of money flowing in and no major funding obligations."

Just like a child with money burning a hole in his pockets, the Mayor wants to build a monument. Who needs Beztak's money we are so rich now!

Here is my reaction to the $55 million East End arena story in no particular order:

1. Why is it that the Mayor gives Henderson such "exclusivity" and not the other media. How is it that he gets this "inside" information and explanation and not the public? How does Gord know it is true before he tries to convince us otherwise. What if Gord is wrong on the numbers. (He admitted: "I'm no accountant.") The Mayor says simply that he did not say it, Henderson did. Where is Councillor Lewenza telling us how many cents per family it will cost per year?

Why doesn't the Mayor have the guts to do his own dirty work?

2. I read the comment "The meeting to present the proposals came out of the blue and had a few councillors concerned about the lack of public notice." But they voted anyway in another slam at "open and transparent" government. Just like the secret endorsement of Schwartz that got nowhere.

When was this meeting on the arena scheduled for the public to be able to listen? How and where was it advertised? Was it in camera or a public meeting or did it start as in camera and turn itself into a public one by waiving the Procedure by-law? Where was the right to appear as a delegation? Why couldn't I and several others talk about saving millions on refurbishing the Barn and building an arena similar to the one in Leamington (Ooooops, I forgot, John Tofflemire works there now, with his office actually in the arena).

I also did not see in Gord's column or in the Star news story that Eddie had to leave the Chair because he declared a conflict. That information was conveyed to me after the meeting. What is that all about? What are the details? Why did he not declare a conflict before, only now?

Why didn't the Mayor and Council have the guts to let citizens express their opinion? Does Councillor Zuk understand my "hostility?"

Why didn't the Mayor have the guts to let the public know about his conflict?

3. Can we take up a collection to buy Eddie the book by Professor Bent Flyvbjerg “Megaprojects and Risk: An anatomy of Ambition.” "If $52 million was, in Hurst's words, "simply too expensive to go forward," how could $55.4 million be a reasonable price four years later?" And then the real kicker: "Moving those operations to a four-plex that would turn a small profit annually and turning Windsor Arena into a civic rink could generate savings of as much as $700,000 annually."

Why hasn't Eddie the guts to read that book multi-times and then learn from it?

4. Didn't Eddie read my BLOG on arenas and stadiums--"April 27, 2006
Medical School Or An Arena." Does he forget so quickly about Skydome and the Corel Centre?

Why hasn't Eddie the guts to tell us the numbers so we can have a Spanish Inquisition just like with Beztak.

5. Now let me see. I thought that Councillors Brister, Zuk and Gignac were against the arena because of costs. I thought Councillors Wilson, Jones and Postma wanted an arena downtown. I thought Councillor Cassivi said the whole process was improper since the Raceway deal was still on the table. I thought Councillor Halberstadt wanted the Barn refurbished.

Nice of Council to wait until "Coun. David Cassivi, the longest serving councillor, left the meeting before the vote." This way they can say everyone agreed so they all share the blame equally!

Amazing. How did eight Councillors being in opposition turn into unanimity in favour?

Why didn't the Mayor and Council have the guts to appear in public session on Cogeco to show people how they were voting and say why?

Why didn't they have the guts to stick with their earlier position or were they afraid of a negative story in the Saturday Star column as the election time is fast approaching?

6. Beztak wanted to build and run an arena at no cost to taxpayers and were run out of town. The Mayor and Council want to spend $55 million of taxpayer money and so what should we do with them? Isn't the answer obvious?

Why don't the Mayor and Council have the guts to build the 25,000 CFL stadium too while they are at it since we have money to burn?

It's a game...under which of the three shells is the arena now:
  1. Downtown where the city already bought land which was to be the focus of an urban village.
  2. The Raceway which was to make Mr. Toldo happy. I wonder if he is in that state of mind now. But no worries: "Mayor Eddie Francis said he will be meeting with Tony Toldo Sr. soon to discuss the city's role in helping the raceway succeed.
  3. In the East End where we have to buy the land, possibly from a developer who just bought Lear and would like to make a few dollars if asked to sell now.

It's all phony anyway. The two amigos, Henderson and Halberstadt, and the Mayor himself told us what the reality was. It is no deal. It is merely pretending. It's all for Eddie's Monday Night State of the City speech and for his re-election.

The Mayor "cautioned that this is still early in the process and the numbers are preliminary. "There's a lot of work that needs to be done. And unless there's a solid business case that can be justified, nothing will happen."

The story is not the arena but rather Eddie's fiscal responsibility that could ALLOW an arena to be built! As the Councillor said:

  • "But council's vote doesn't mean there will be a shovel in the ground anytime soon. "We voted for more information, is basically what we voted for," Coun. Alan Halberstadt said."

The columnist was doing nothing more than telling us what a financial genius the Mayor was (never mind those silly Councillor comments about an election year budget that will leave problems for the next Council!). Moreover, he told us what this was all about:

  • "You never know. The price might mushroom out of sight by the time the experts finish crunching the numbers. If so, the project will end up on the shelf and planning for the Barn's centennial bash will move into high gear."

    But I have a feeling that this time it might be for real. A city council that's facing re-election in November would like nothing better, especially given the buzz around the new Spitfires ownership, than to be able to boast that it got the arena monkey off Windsor's back and managed to do it without bashing the taxpayers."

I just cannot believe this.

  • $160 million liability for retiree benefits but money for an arena
  • $65 million extra MFP payments but money for an arena
  • Millions more for the Canderel sub-lease but money for an arena
  • No money for sidewalks but money for an arena
  • No money to help out with the medical school but money for an arena
  • No money to fix all of roads and sewers but money for an arena
  • No $1,000 for the Seniors to buy medication but money for an arena
  • OMERS hits but money for an arena
  • We cry about lack of grants but money for an arena
  • .....oh I have had enough.

This is nothing but a stall for the Casino as well for heaven's sake. They still need time to finish their project so the Mayor and Council is preventing anything coming in to compete.

Before it was done negatively: interim control by-law, restrictions on where activities can take place, chasing Beztak out of town, 6 month exclusivity to the Raceway, no Cleary competiton.

Now the stall is a positive dream which also helps during a re-election campaign.

Windsor is a town of 200,000 people. Can we support a 5,000 seat arena at the Casino and then one of 7,200 seats in the East end. Why we are even told that developers may want to build hotels there so that Windsor becomes a sports-entertainment destination. Geez, they even use the same language as the Raceway dream!

In other words having the "City" arena and the Casino arena competing for the dollars of tourists and getting the Downtown Business owners and the Casino furious. After all, the Casino is sinking in around $400 million for their expansion and now the Mayor is going to compete against them. Having the City run the arena operation? Making running an arena a "core" City function, say like operating a Tunnel to Detroit.

Yea, right. The Mayor would not dare.