Thoughts and Opinions On Today's Important Issues

Friday, May 12, 2006

Stamp-er-ing Out Misinformation

The Michigan Legislators' hearings continued yesterday. I already posted the important letter that was disclosed that came from the Department of State respecting DRIC not receiving the Department's concurrence about their proposed border crossing solution. The Ambassador Bridge does not require a Presidential Permit so their project would be far ahead of anyone else's. By a process of elimination, only their project is left standing.

I wanted however to talk about the hearings. The tone of the meeting was much different than before. It seemed more "professional" than the other two sessions. Everyone seemed to be more business like and more formal. There was less of the frivolity than before. Obviously that was due to the appearance of the Bridge Co. and its President, Dan Stamper, as a witness. They are after all the party that most seem to like to bash and I am sure that some were expecting some nastiness by the end of the day.

Stamper's answers were short and to the point. Several questions were wrong on the facts set out and he clarified them but in a non-offensive manner. That helped avoid any unpleasantness.

His message was simple:
  • Why is this DRIC process being carried on when the twinned bridge was part of the Gateway project in Detroit right from the start, 10 years ago,
  • Why would Michigan want to spend $1.5 billion of its dollars on a new crossing a mile away from the one in which they and the US feds have already invested $200 million when the Bridge Co. is prepared to invest its money to build a bridge
  • Would it not make better sense for the State to allow private money to be spent so it could receive around $2 billion of Federal matching funds that Michigan could use for other projects
  • The problem is the Canadian connection from Highway 401 to the border.

You can read his full speech below since I was able to get a copy of it.

I am afraid that Windsor and Canada came in for criticism, criticism that became known very publicly at the Joints Councils session in Detroit when the Mayor was forced to admit that we were sitting on $300 million of BIF money and still could not figure out how to get a road to the bridge built. Contrast was made between the US action to fix up their roads and the Canadian inaction with Michigan being asked to suffer again if a new crossing was built elsewhere.

It seemed frankly that the light went on and the Legislators got it! The money side of the equation seemed to resonate well especially because Michigan roads needed fixing!

Next week MDOT comes back to answer questions, Legislators make their statements and then we'll see if DRIC survives.

House & Senate Transportation Committee Hearings
Ambassador Bridge Testimony offered May 11, 2006
Dan Stamper, President

Thank you for this opportunity to speak today on the planning for the future at the hardest working border in the nation. I would like to share the perspective of our private sector enterprise with an awesome responsibility and successful record of accomplishment of supporting trade and tourism for our region and the world. We have a story to tell, with responsibilities to our economic engines and with oversight from numerous agencies on both sides of the border. At the Ambassador Bridge, we know the world is watching – and we are discharging our duty daily.

As a border operator, we certainly have a perspective on the Detroit River International Crossing Study (DRIC), and in our handouts, we have highlighted various sections of DRIC reports – items that do not make sense for Michigan policy makers. While we may disagree with some of the details of traffic projections and urgency embodied in the DRIC study, the matter is moot because the Ambassador Bridge has already begun the process of building a new bridge and in the meantime, expanded Customs inspection capacity, as we have the traveling public to serve.

Now some have characterized DRIC as a multi-million dollar bureaucratic solution in search of a problem, with a plan to spend tax dollars we do not have. Our only commentary on what is wrong with the DRIC is that it is too expensive and it has lost its focus. The story of how this came about is interesting, but the facts are all that really matter here.

The first fact is that the Ambassador Bridge twin span was the highest performing alternative and least expensive span to construct according to the DRIC Study (see DRIC report excerpts attached). The Ambassador Bridge already owns the necessary property for our second span, preventing costly condemnation in another neighborhood. The Ambassador Bridge Gateway Project under both Governor Engler & Governor Granholm anticipated a twin span at this location for more than a decade. The Ambassador Bridge as an existing crossing already has clearance from the US Dept. of State, whereas any other DRIC crossing would require a new Presidential Permit. Despite these FACTS, DRIC has acquiesced to Canadian preferences and is presently pursuing other alternatives – and they are free do so. Likewise, the Ambassador Bridge, while offering many advantages to the DRIC process, has never been constrained by the DRIC decision. As you are aware, we have continued to enhance our present infrastructure and construction of our second span.

Moreover, around the Ambassador Bridge, the fact is that public and private dollars have been—and continue to be—efficiently invested to prevent real problems. As the world changed in September 2001, the border as we all knew it transformed, and the Ambassador Bridge responded, delivering FACILITIES to address the new realities. Border traffic actually began to decline in 1999 – and in fact, total bridge & tunnel traffic remains dramatically down by 30% today. We recognized that the border process is like supermarket checkout lanes - it is not the capacity of the crossings that is paramount, it is the inspection capacity. If you were waiting at the grocery store to “check out” you would open more cashier lanes rather than build a new store. Here is how we responded: Security, Coordination and Customs Booths. Since 2001, ten (10) Customs primary inspection booths were added. Nine (9) more inspection booths are currently under construction and will open in the next 9 months. That means that by the summer of 2007, 19 new Customs inspection booths will be in service. That represents a 160% increase in Detroit and a 90% increase in Windsor in commercial inspection capacity. As trade, tourism and the economic health of our region demand efficiency, more Customs “checkout lanes” ensure security and redundancy. In addition, the Ambassador Bridge has added 24-hour security at our facility. We continue to advocate “Reverse Inspections” to improve security and for International Center – our plan to host 200 booths at our bridge. Perhaps you recall our plans last summer from a series of newspaper ads demonstrating the vision for International Center as the true border solution. In addition to these immediate responses, we will be breaking ground for the Ambassador Bridge twin span to ensure comprehensive border solutions.

The fact is, there are problems at the border, but it is not the urgent need for a remote crossing. The main impediment at the border is the lack of a dedicated thoroughfare from the Ambassador Bridge to Highway 401 on the Canadian side of the border. However, the fact is that Michigan has invested $184 million federal and state tax dollars for the Ambassador Bridge Gateway infrastructure that since 1994 has embraced three goals:
1. Accommodate a new span based next to the Ambassador Bridge
2. Direct highway connections to the Ambassador Bridge
3. Host ‘Welcome Center’ at the foot of the Ambassador Bridge

Michigan has streamlined and maximized border investment with the Gateway, but Windsor roads from the border to the 401 remain deficient and will impede trade in this corridor. DRIC would have you believe that we need another crossing…now, when their own timeframe for crisis is impossible to project. The DRIC is scheduled to spend millions of taxpayer dollars pursuing, reviewing and studying every conceivable site regardless of housing density or traffic logistics.

You have to understand that the Ambassador Bridge has already—without tax dollars—acquired and prepared property for International Center inspection facilities and a new twin span.

And yet, despite all of the public and private dollars invested on the U.S. side of the Bridge…despite the $300 million Canada’s federal government announced in 2001 allocated to improve access to current border facilities…Canada has failed to solve their well known problem: a road from 401 to the border.

Now MDOT, through the DRIC partnership, has acquiesced to Canada’s “preference” and has failed to seize the advantage at North America’s No. 1 crossing the Ambassador Bridge. As a DRIC consultant explained in the December 5, 2005 Local Advisory Council meeting, it is “because the Border Partnership’s position from the outset of the study is that no one country would bear the brunt of impacts for a border crossing system.” With that in mind, where has Windsor, Ontario & Canada been for the last 50 years while Michigan and the Ambassador Bridge have invested in solutions? The problem with acquiescing to Canada’s preference it is not equitable to Michigan taxpayers who have sacrificed for border improvements. It’s not equitable because the Gateway Project anticipated a second span at the Ambassador Bridge. Its not equitable because Michigan would sacrifice twice. Its not necessary because the Ambassador Bridge, the only entity that has fulfilled the requirements of a Presidential Permit, owns the property required, has committed our private after-tax dollars to meet the needs of the border region.

In discharging our responsibility at the border, the Ambassador Bridge is acutely aware of pain inflicted on the community surrounding our border. The question is: Why would MDOT want to inflict this pain unnecessarily on another neighborhood, especially when it will require Detroit and Michigan to duplicate its sacrifice? The bottom line is that the fruit of the DRIC effort carries a price tag of up to $1.5 billion of taxpayer dollars when the Ambassador Bridge already has the industrial property, infrastructure and private funding in place to build a span…and bring $2 billion federal matching dollars home to Michigan. Private investment in toll facilities such as the Ambassador Bridge would allow MDOT to utilize Ambassador Bridge investment as Michigan’s match for federal funds. Instead of obligating and SPENDING $1.5 billion for the government’s DRIC crossing, Ambassador Bridge private investment could free up to $2 billion for investment in other road projects.

I do not have to tell you that these figures represent‘swing’ of over $3 billion dollars in favor of Michigan’s taxpayers, resulting from not encumbering yet-to-be-identified funds for MDOT’s yet-to-be justified crossing. Instead, as you know, our new span is already underway. As a hand out, I have included a letter from the corporate banking firm, Citigroup, summarizing the extensive financial study for our private funding arrangements underway for a twin span. Citigroup analysts discovered another major financial flaw with DRIC study crossing vs. our Ambassador Bridge twin span. They concluded the DRIC plan would necessitate significant governmental subsidies beyond tolls in order to be financially feasible. Also included is a letter from American Consulting Engineers providing a cost estimate of just under $400 million for the twinning of our bridge.

We appreciate MDOT’s proactive work on the Gateway Project to maximize Michigan’s historical infrastructure investments of over $184 million in Detroit. We respect MDOT’s efforts to correct plaza design deficiencies at the Blue Water Bridge in Port Huron to the tune of $340 million or more. However, we question MDOT’s spending any more on a study. At the end of the DRIC process, policy makers will end up with a STUDY. The Ambassador Bridge is moving forward with a NEW BRIDGE, and our private investment will benefit all Michigan taxpayers.

However, we have one final suggestion. What if money spent on DRIC had instead been dedicated to Southwest Detroit for community enhancements for the sacrifices made to accommodate international traffic? Where were MDOT’s creative efforts to mitigate these sacrifices as the Gateway Project began? While we cannot do anything about past DRIC expenditures, perhaps the remaining DRIC study funding could be focused as a down payment for the Southwest Detroit.

I would be happy to answer any questions that you may have.

President Bush's Choice: The Twinned Ambassador Bridge

"Bartender, a double sasparilla please." All of a sudden, there was a hush in the room. President George W. wanted a drink, a non-alcoholic one. No one remembered he was there, he was so quiet up until now.

He had the best poker face of them all. He had the biggest pile of chips, ready to finance his Governor friend if she needed a few dollars. Why he had just given her $100 million for some important bridge work she needed done. He always held all the best cards: the full house, the four aces, the Royal flush. He rarely lost. When he talked, EVERYONE listened! What was he going to do?"

Remember my BLOG explaining how the high-stakes Texas border poker game is played [BLOG October 18, 2005 You Got To Know When to Hold Them, Know When To Fold Them] Well we finally learned at the hearing in Lansing on Thursday what the key player in all of this, the President of the United States, thinks of all of this silliness about the border.

It was revealed in a letter sent November 4, 2005 that the President is not prepared to give his concurrence for DRIC’s “central” location for a new bridge.

The only crossing that makes sense, therefore, is the twinning of the Ambassador Bridge and no Presidential permit is required to do so!

The question that demands being addressed immediately at the Michigan hearings and later in Washington and in front of Parliament and at Queen’s Park in Canada is which bureaucrats knew what the State Department said in November, 2005, when did they know it and what did they do with that information?

Is this Bureaucracy out of control? Are Government officials running amok and spending taxpayer money without any controls? If so, they are saying to hell with what mere politicians and the public think. We know better!

Has there been a massive cover-up? Has this significant and important information from the President been hidden? As you can see from what is discussed below, we may have been involved in a 6 month extravaganza since last November that has cost millions that probably should have been stopped at that time!

Have politicians been embarrassed by their lack of knowledge? OR is it something even worse? Are certain politicians fully aware of what has been said and are acting in a manner to achieve some hidden agenda that they are not prepared to share with the public?


Take a look at the letter that I have copied. It is from the Department of State, the designate of the President of the United States under an Executive Order. The Department is “responsible for the issuance of Presidential permits for cross-border facilities” and the one who “would be responsible for processing a Presidential permit for any new DRIC crossing.”

Let’s take a look at the letter in some detail so that you will understand how egregious what has taken place really is:
  • The Letter is not signed by some flunky but by the Director of the Office of Canadian Affairs.
  • Only several months before, the State Department advised the Bridge Co. that they did NOT require a Presidential permit for a twinned bridge so the Department was well aware of the border issue.

    It is interesting that the expression “closed-door session” was used. That means the utmost of “secrecy” is required. That is a surprising use of language from a Department that knows how to use language. As an example, the US Senate has only held "closed-door" sessions 54 times since 1929 while the House of Representatives has only had 5 such sessions since 1825. Why was such a point made about this meeting? Why was it so secret?

    It involved “co-operating agencies” in Detroit. In a Detroit River International Crossing Study DRAFT Scoping Information document I saw that the Michigan Department of Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration met on May 18, 2005 to engage those federal organizations which will be “cooperating agencies” in the review of the DRIC EIS documents. Those agencies included U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Services, U.S. General Services Administration, U.S. Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Department of State. In other words the whole bunch! It is not clear if MDOT was at the meeting or whether MDOT learned of the results of that session subsequently.

    What did FHWA request: “State Department concurrence in the conclusion that the centrally-located alternatives are the only practical alternatives for a new Detroit River International crossing.” In other words, the President’s designate was being asked to concur in what DRIC was proposing as to the location for the new bridge! Please note the use of the word ONLY!

    Do you see anywhere in that document where such concurrence was given? In bureaucrat-eze, State did not tell FHWA to get lost directly. They did it indirectly. State told FHWA that they would do their job if an application were brought forward but they pointed out a major problem which would NOT allow them to grant the concurrence requested.

    What is the problem: “the proximity of any new crossing to the existing crossings may mean that a problem at any one crossing may affect all the centrally located crossings.” While the language is not the clearest it could be, State was saying that the location that DRIC wanted made no sense since problems could be created.

Nevertheless, what did the four Governments determine on November 14, 2005 as if the meeting was never held and the November 4 letter was never received: “A new crossing in the Central Area accessed via HCR/Talbot Road and the West Windsor Industrial Area will be carried forward for continued analysis.” And what was to happen next: “Presentation of final list of Practical Alternatives – March 2006” when they knew that the centrally-located alternatives were not “practical.”

Can you explain this action? I cannot. It is completely absurd when the President has rejectd what DRIC wanted in writing and they knew it. How could the politicians have said what they did? THE only word I can think of right now is SHAMEFUL!

The border battle really is over now. The Bridge Co. has won. But they were always going to be the winner since they were the operator who knew the most about this crossing and how to make it work. The only issue is on our side…..what will the road to the bridge look like and where will it be located. Will some or all of it be tunnelled and will cost be a consideration?

However, much more is involved. There is a very big scandal that needs uncovering, a scandal of immense proportion that someone needs to investigate. What has been happening over all of these years? Is DRIC nothing more than a sham to arrive at a conclusion that was already pre-determined? How can anyone sit around with this waste of taxpayer money and not demand an investigation? How can anyone accept the disruption in the lives of so many people and not demand that those responsible be held accountable?

The Department of State's letter makes a mockery of the entire DRIC process. The sooner it is wound up and the money used for something useful, like helping the residents of Delray as the Bridge Co. President suggested at the hearing, the better!

Closed-Door Session

I must admit that I have been very surprised that citizens who are directly impacted by the border crossing issue and some of the politicians who represent them have been so trusting of the bureaucrats whose function it is to make the suggestions that are going to be acted upon.

To me the most obvious example of why care should be taken took place last summer. There was the infamous "boat tour" on a nice sunny day when the Bi-National people took citizens from both sides of the river on a tour of the various crossing points. At that time supposedly no decisions had yet been made. Yet almost a week later, the Michigan Governor was able to toss out the Downriver crossings and the one on Belle Isle based on the work of the Bi-national partnership. Boy they must have worked hard after that "boat trip" since a decision was not supposed to have been forthcoming until some time later.

The next Community Consultation Group meeting was not very pleasant as citizen members expresed their outage at what had taken place.

  • Question: Can someone confirm that no final decision has been made on the remaining central alternatives and that there will be an opportunity to review reports on the South and East alternatives?

    Answer: No final decision has been made with respect to the Central alternatives. The team’s analysis of all of the alternatives will be available for review.

  • Comment: I’m concerned that the Governor of Michigan made the announcement about the narrowing of alternatives with only the interests of South and East area residents in mind — that it was more of a political than a technical decision.

    Response: The announcement was based on the technical work of the project teams and has the support of the Partnership.

  • Question: Did both the American and Canadian project teams notify their respective government officials at the same time about the decision to eliminate the South and East alternatives? Is the U.S. side of the Partnership controlling the decisions that are being made?

    Answer: Prior to the announcement, the Partnership met and agreed that the South and East alternatives should not be carried forward for further consideration. The Partnership did not provide advice to the Ontario Government prior to the announcement. The Ministry of Transportation, Michigan Department of Transportation, Transport Canada and the Federal Highway Administration are still working together as equal partners. The Partnership will continue to meet with the respective governments on an ongoing basis.
  • Question: Can the Partnership provide an assurance that politicians on both sides of the border will be notified at precisely the same time about future Partnership decisions?

    Answer: Given the challenges of scheduling and access, no such assurance can be given.

Yet the Lansing hearings, both at the session yesterday and previously, had Community leaders praising DRIC for their openness and transparency. They could not be more effusive in their praise of all of the meetings that had been held, that the DRIC people were always available for a meeting, mailed out information to residents and were "wonderful."

I was surprised that people who condemned the "private" Ambassador Bridge for destroying neighbourhoods somehow believed that a "public" bridge would revitalize their community. Mind you after seeing the boards prepard by the DRIC people showing a revitalized Delray, I probably would have wanted to believe in the dream too. I was surprised that people in Sandwich who could have their community destroyed by the option that the WindsorStar seemed to suggest was going to be built could be so quiet.

Truly, I wonder how they feel today after learning about the "closed-door session" of co-operating agencies to obtain the "concurrence" of the Department of State. The fact that it was not given and that the Department's response was not revealed at all is very troubling to me. I wonder what other relevant information has not been released!

Does "closed-door" equate to "openness?" Does seeking "concurrence" behind the scenes represent "transparency?" Is this the first time that the Department was approached and if so, why now? Are the people who praised DRIC asking why they were not told about that decision at all for 6 months? Does it seem strange that a solution proposed by DRIC and rejected is still on the table and that money is being spent to support it still?

We in Windsor have attacked our elected Mayor and Council for being so secretive on the border and making decisions behind closed-doors. It will be interesting to see what the DRIC supporters and their members have to say now about DRIC.

Thursday, May 11, 2006




Lansing Bound

I'll be in Lansing today for the continuation of the Michigan Legislators' hearing on DRIC and the border.

Star Bloggings

It’s not enough that I have to read the Star every day getting apoplexy over what they print on the border issue and dealing with sensationalist news stories. Now I have to deal with Star writers’ Blogs on the border.

Chris Vander Doelen, the Star’s auto writer, threw in his 2 cents worth into the debate in one of his recent Blogs. After reading it, I got annoyed and just decided to take his latest missive apart paragraph by paragraph.

Bridge Bill A Boost to Border

Autoworkers should muster three loud cheers for the federal government’s proposed border crossings bill. Those companies seeking infrastructure work and those seeking infrastructure jobs via the Bridge Co.’s project might not agree.

The tough-sounding new law the first good news we’ve heard on this crucial issue in years. The border crossings legislation the federal government announced this week is also a very good thing for the future of Ontario’s auto and manufacturing industries. It may sound “tough but it is anti-business as I demonstrated in my blog. If this is “good” news, then is his view of life is a lot different than mine. Actually, if it passes, there will be years of litigation that will block everything at the border

Canadian business and trade groups have been warning with increasing fear since 9/11 that border backups, particularly in Windsor, are a threat to their livlihood and the jobs of their employees. Sheeeeesh, didn’t he read his Editor’s column on the "Huron Church chaos" which recently proved that there was no problems on Huron Church other than truckers going too fast…some back-up! Why do Windsorites of all people perpetuate the myth?

On the U.S. side, security experts have warned that the Windsor-Detroit crossing, the most important between Canada and the U.S. and arguably the most important such crossing in the world, was a prime economic target in dire need of redundancy to protect the economic link from terrorist attack. Then why don’t we easily and cheaply put in reverse customs?

Redundancy roughly translates to “another bridge or tunnel, far away from the existing ones.” How about Port Huron, is that far enough away for redundancy? Is a mile down the road as DRIC proposes "far away?"

Yet the liklihood of a finding a solution to threat is less likely today than it was five years ago. And one of the main impediments to change on the Windsor border was the increasing control over the frontier by one company — the Michigan group that owns the Ambassador Bridge. Huh…..having a smoothly operating border with the best operator in North America is a problem?

Bridge officials are laughing off the legislation today, as though it means nothing. In fact it means the near-monopoly they enjoy, and intended to expand, is over. Actually, the Bi-National engineers proved that they have NO monopoly!

It’s no secret that the Bridge people have been angling to cement their control over the Windsor-Detroit border -— and indeed it is their right and duty as a private company. They’ve argued the existing bridge has enough capacity, even as they plan to build a second span next to their existing Bridge. Oh my, being a private company is now bad

They’ve bought up nearly all the available land on both sides of the border downriver from the Ambassador Bridge, anticipating that if governments order that a second span were to be built, they would either argue to build it or own the land under it and have a say in its operation.

That’s good business on their part. So what is wrong with being a good business person? Chris makes it almost a sin to be smarter than your competition or the Government

They’ve tried to buy control of the U.S. half of the Windsor-Detroit tunnel from the desperate City of Detroit, which is overspending so badly and is so far in debt it will agree to anything, no matter how economically suicidal, if it means a few million it can use to stave off its impending and probably inevitable bankruptcy. Get the facts right about the deal….but then it makes the thesis harder to support

That’s also good business on the bridge’s part. But it’s bad for the public on both sides of the border, and for the auto industry and other exporters, and all the people who work for them. Making a bald statment is hardly an argument. Errrrrrrrrrrrr the logic is???

Windsor-Detroit already has what are believed to be the slowest transit and the highest tolls for any international crossing in the world. Imagine what the delays and the tolls could reach if the tunnel, the Ambassador Bridge and a new span were all controlled by the same private company. Geez, get the facts first and then get them right. Actually the City and Detroit-owned Tunnel tolls are higher and the Bridge times are better, much better than say the "public” Peace Bridge

Monopolies are bad for business, they’re bad for consumers, they’re bad for creating new jobs and protecting existing ones, if they depend on just-in-time delivery, as Ontario’s auto business does. How does this fit in? If you say "bad" 3 times, does that make the non-argument stronger?

Best of all, the new federal law will also neuter the worst actors on the border file — City of Windsor politicians, from its city councillors to its MPPs and MPs. Fearful, dithering, pandering to whichever pressure group sound loudest, we know our local political leaders were no more capable of fixing our border problems than they are of building a hockey arena or fixing health care. Good part of this I can agree to. The citizens’ groups I have been involved in were smart not just loud and that is why we won

Now professionals with no local favorites to play are in charge of making choices. About time. Heavens…let bureaucrats decide……I wonder if they like DRTP...Help!

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Sandwich And Delray Are Saved

Are we any further ahead on the border battle today than we were three years and a half years ago. It does not seem so does it but in fact the end is almost in sight.

If there was a PLAN, a REAL PLAN for the border, shouldn't we grab it? And if it did not cost taxpayers any money, wouldn't that make better sense so we could use the billions required elsewhere (and if one lived in Michigan, one would get matching Federal funds for private money spent too) . I would have thought that it was a no-brainer

Windsorites were fighting over where the crossing and plaza should go---we still are.

Windsorites were fighting over the location of the road to the border----we still are.

Windsorites were fighting for a seat at the table---after the Snub, we still are.

What has changed is that now we know more precisely which neighbourhoods will be destroyed on both sides of the river: Sandwich, Delray or both. (The Star keeps saying this as well so it must be right) They will be the home of the bridge and the plaza if DRIC has its way notwithstanding the opposition of citizens and the Mayors and Councils.

As for the road to the border, Windsor has done it to itself. Our Mayor has identified for everyone to see that we are the problem now notwithstanding that we have been sitting on $300 million for roadway improvements for years and did nothing. So the Mayor after a year of inaction on tunneling now demands a tunnel before the election, Councillor Budget who seemed to forget who got him elected and why threatens a lawsuit over a border crossing route. Council seems to have forgotten what was said in WALTS and Schwartz.

I thought that I would post some information from the Ambassador Bridge Enhancement Project document as was reported in the Star but in much more detail so you, dear reader, can decide for yourself its value. Especially in light of the shocking misinformation that has been spread and is talked about as gospel by MPs in the Bill C-3 debate, it is important for you to read what the Bridge Co. proposes and what its impact on Windsor is. I shall be posting below relevant sections and commenting on some of them to tell you why I think they are significant.

Ambassador Bridge Enhancement Project

The project identified as the “Ambassador Bridge Enhancement Project” … will connect directly to the Canadian and US Plazas owned by DIBC/CTC. The Ambassador Bridge Enhancement Project will be constructed entirely within the limits of the current operations of the DIBC/CTC. [There should be rejoicing in Sandwich and Delray since the bridge will be located where the exisitng bridge is today. No destruction of the Community by a new bridge and plaza being constructed in Sandwich or Delray. Even Councillor Jones should be happy since the answer to his question at the Joint Councils meeting in Detroit should now be obvious. I said there "should be rejoicing" at a solution that works but of course there will not be. Who can ever give the Bridge Co. credit for anything?].

..the Ambassador Bridge Gateway Project originally approved with an Environmental Assessment and a Finding of No Significant Impact [What, no negative environmental impact too?]

Three primary objectives are cited on page 1-1 of the Final Environmental Assessment for the Gateway Project including “Accommodate future border crossing capacity needs and a potential future second span of the Ambassador Bridge located west of and adjacent to the existing bridge”. [In other words, what's the big deal? The project was designed for an enhanced bridge right at the start of the Gateway project years ago. $200 million has been spent by the Americans so far and someone wants them to spend a billion or more to duplicate everything a mile or so down the road when there are other uses for the money?]

The DIBC/CTC Ambassador Bridge Enhancement Project would seamlessly interact with the Gateway Project transportation plan already underway in the Detroit River area. [Obviously so, since the Gateway project anticipated the enhancement]

The Michigan Department of Transportation is currently completing design plans for the reconstruction of the entire Ambassador Bridge Interchange to provide direct access to I-75 and I-96. This project has been approved by the U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration and includes provisions ensuring that the design will accommodate a second span adjacent to the existing bridge. The project is scheduled to be completed and opened to traffic in 2009. [As above. Note the involvement of the State and Federal authorities. The Michigan Legislators should be asking why money is being wasted on DRIC when it is clear that an enhanced project was to be built at a time in the future. The waste of money is incredible to me. Someone needs to explain what is going on!]

Congestion is also being addressed on and around the Ambassador Bridge through the Bridge Plaza Expansion to the east and the west. [Canadian issues are being adressed as well]

The DIBC/CTC has determined that the enhancement of the existing Ambassador Bridge crossing is feasible and desirable. The enhancement would include a new six lane cable stayed bridge located in the same corridor near the existing Ambassador Bridge, consistent with the approved and ongoing Gateway Project. This bridge would simply tie directly into the existing plazas in both Canada and the United States without modification to their currently approved and permitted configuration. The proposed bridge would run roughly parallel to the existing Ambassador Bridge. The width of the proposed bridge is set to allow transition directly into the connection points in both the United States and Canadian Plazas. ["located in the same corridor, simply tie directly into the existing plazas, run roughly parallel,The width of the proposed bridge is set to allow transition directly" Do you get it---it's all going within the existing location with no need for lands to be taken in Sandwich and Delray]

Once the new structure is completed, the existing Ambassador Bridge will be taken out of service for some period of time to effect repairs that are deemed necessary. Once any necessary repairs are completed, the existing structure will be used to provide redundancy and backup support when necessary to ensure the free flow of traffic between Windsor and Detroit at all times. [Just like in Sarnia with the Blue Water bridge. It will provide redundancy ]

All existing roads and streets in both the United States and Canada would remain open and will continue to function as they currently operate. [I'll talk more about this later]

The DIBC/CTC will fully fund the construction of the entire project from the plaza connection in the United States to the plaza connection in Canada, and will be reimbursed by the toll revenues collected in this corridor. The federal, provincial and state governments of both countries will not be expected to contribute funds towards the design or construction of the Ambassador Bridge Enhancement Project. [Imagine that, fully funded upfront by a private company at their own risk. My understanding is that MICHIGAN makes money on the deal since they get matching funds from the Feds that can be used in other projects. ie Michigan spends no money on the bridge but gets federal funds matching what the private company spends.]

The Ambassador Bridge Enhancement Project will be located almost entirely within the right-of-way already owned by the DIBC/CTC. Very minimal additional right of way will be needed where the piers are placed in Canada and the United States. No federal lands are involved. [I could say it a different way, but I have said it above re Sandwich and Delray]

The bridge will connect directly into the existing bridge and plaza in Detroit and into the existing plaza in Windsor. No modifications will be required in the plazas themselves, instead the new bridge will connect directly to the plazas as anticipated by the approved and ongoing Gateway and Windsor Plaza Expansion Projects. [As above]

The design of the Ambassador Bridge Enhancement Project has begun and is expected to be completed within 18 to 24 months. Construction is scheduled to begin after design is complete and consistent with traffic volumes. [We are looking at a very short time frame for completion. DRIC will be in the middle of lawsuits for years IF anyone does anything with their report other than shelve it]

This [DRIC] ..decision does not prevent the owners of the Ambassador Bridge from continuing with its separate environmental studies in accordance with the legislative requirements in both countries for permits/approvals for a new bridge at this location.” [DRIC is a long-term project for a new crossing. The Bridge Co.'s project was called a project for an "existing" crossing so that it was not part of their mandate. The Bridge co. could act on its own, legally and it did!]

The neighboring parks, schools, and neighborhoods, or industries will not be affected by the project. The land use of the area would not change by the proposed action because the location is within the existing corridor of a similar facility, the Ambassador Bridge. Both Mill Road and Indian Road in Windsor would remain as local roads and therefore, the land use would not change. [As Above]

Neighborhoods will not be negatively impacted by the proposed action. [As Above]

The ongoing approved and permitted Ambassador Bridge Gateway Project and the Windsor Bridge Plaza Expansion will improve both traffic and circulation around the Ambassador Bridge and the proposed bridge. They will provide more direct connections to surrounding roadways and improve the border processing. [Didn't the American DRIC effectively say this in relation to the Gateway project and why that site made so much sense?]

No work will be done in the plazas. We are proposing only to add traffic lanes in the form of a bridge which is entirely consistent with the U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration approved Gateway Project. No bridge piers will be in the Detroit River. Little to no environmental, social, or economical impacts are expected [Any rejoicing in Sandwich or Delray yet? Perhaps this can be part of Eddie's May 24 birthday party too]

The proposed bridge is not inconsistent with any state, Indian tribal, or local environmental protection, historic preservation, noise control, visual impact, or social impact control ordinances; EPA; Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) noise standards; Michigan or Windsor plans under the Clean Air Act; floodplain protection; or the Coastal Zone Management Plan. [Those tree-hugging, rattle snake loving pesky environmentalists won't have to picket outside the Cleary any more when the Mayor speaks or deliver speeches that get the biggest applause of the night at Council meetings in Tecumseh]

Locally, the residents of Detroit and Windsor are frustrated with the delays and congestion associated with the current border crossings and connecting roadway systems. The proposed action would not change traffic patterns or increase traffic volumes. The proposed action is consistent with future land use plans in both Detroit and Windsor. New utilities would not be required nor would other infrastructure demands such as sewer water and public transit. The proposed action will not alter wetlands or change the use of parks, farms, or floodplain. The proposed action is consistent with the U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration Finding of No Significant Impact for the Gateway Project which included provisions to ensure that a second span across the river would be accommodated. [Happy Days...a FONSI decision]

Economically, the proposed action would provide many jobs for the area during the construction of the bridge. Additional jobs would be created after construction to operate the additional facilities and for general maintenance on the additional structure. The proposed bridge would also facilitate the free flow of trade between the United States and Canada by providing better and safer driving conditions, providing redundancy in the infrastructure system, and reducing travel time between the two countries. [Imagine, years of work for the 9% unemployed in Windsor and work for local contractors on an infrastructure project. And if Eddie will only fix the road to the border, another $300 million around for Windsor workers!]

The proposed bridge is located in the same corridor as the Ambassador Bridge, which is registered with the National Register of Historic Places, and is located over the Detroit River. However, since the bridge piers are located on land, approximately 25 to 75 feet (7.5 to 23 m) from the Ambassador Bridge, neither the bridge nor the river should be affected. No negative environmental aspects are expected. [As above]

The proposed action consists entirely of a bridge so the only impacts on the land are at the locations of the piers. The DIBC/CTC currently owns nearly all the land needed for the enhancements. No churches, or cultural institutions will be affected. The University of Windsor in Canada is located to the east of the current Ambassador Bridge. The proposed bridge would be located west of the Ambassador Bridge; therefore, the University would be materially unaffected. The Corktown Historical District is also located east of the current Ambassador Bridge in the United States. Construction would not take place in or around Corktown Historic District and access to the District would not change. No known archeological sites exist within the project area. Furthermore, the proposed action would not cause changes in the way members of the surrounding community or neighborhoods live, work and play. [What a disappointment for some, no disruptions to complain about!]

With no negative environmental impacts and the fact that such an action was anticipated under previous studies and an environmental assessment that has been approved and reaffirmed on two occasions, the proposed bridge is not expected to be controversial. [Someone must be overly optimistic. Don't they know Windsor? This is a Bridge Co. project. No matter what the merits, it is BAD and has to be opposed!]

No environmentally sensitive areas are expected to be disturbed or altered. [As above]

That's the important part of what the document is all about, with one exception. Whatever happened to the Ring Road?

Easy, the Bridge Co. simplified their project and eliminated the issue for roads. That was always and is the Government's responsibility. The Bridge Co. made a mistake by getting involved in that in the first place. Sure they proved that the City's WALTS road to the border worked and sure it was the basis of the DRIC and Schwartz roads but all they received was animosity. So let Eddie and the Senior Levels fight that fight since they know so much more.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Brian and Joe on Bill C-3

There they were in the last Parliament, controlling the balance of power. And what did our two NDP members do for us on the border matter. Very little! It was NOT a high priority for their party.

Now our freshly re-elected NDPers, without having control of the balance of power this time, are out there again telling their tales about the border and hurting Windsor in the process.

I have already pointed out some of what Jeff Watson had to say on the border. I thought it best to set out both of our Windsor MPs' speeches on Bill C-3 along with my comments to let you decide on your own, dear reader, how helpful they are to us on this vital issue!

Mr. Brian Masse (Windsor West, NDP):

Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to speak today to Bill C-3, a significant bill relating to bridges and tunnels that connect our country with the United States. Bill C-3 is actually a part of a former bill, Bill C-44, which was a package of three other elements that have been left behind at the moment to deal with this significant and important issue. I give the government credit for doing so. It is important that we recognize that this bill has a high priority.

I would like to note that I will be splitting my time with the member for Windsor—Tecumseh, who is also affected by this issue. Windsor West, Windsor—Tecumseh and Essex County have significant border infrastructure issues that have affected not only our community but the county and even the country.

In fact, 40% of the trade with the United States happens along two kilometres of the Detroit River on a daily basis. There are four border crossings in the Windsor West corridor that are involved in the transport of goods, services and people on a regular basis. They have significant impacts not only on the health and vibrancy of the constituents in my riding but also on this country's ability to trade with the United States.

I am pleased that there are many elements in this bill coming forward. It will be important to add some accountability at the border that is not there at this point in time. In fact, there are 24 international bridges and tunnels that connect the United States and Canada. There is really just organized chaos in terms of the way they are actually run and administered right now. A few have some very good best practices. I would point to Niagara Falls and the Fort Erie-Buffalo region that have border commissions and actually have oversight, operation and public ownership, which is critical to the oversight and governance. [Brian oh Brian, you can keep spreading the myth but saying it does not make it so. Your business model should have been the Ambassador Bridge. "at the Ambassador Bridge, the buffer index for inbound truck traffic was just over 65 percent, reflecting a 95th percentile time of 33.9 minutes during the average travel time of 20.4 minutes. This indicates that, even with its substantial volume of traffic, operators of the Ambassador Bridge sustained movement across the bridge without imposing lengthy increases in delay times. Contrasting markedly with this was the inbound buffer index at the Peace Bridge of 266 percent, where the 95th percentile time (83.4 minutes) far exceeded the calculated average crossing time (23.3 minutes)."]

Members of the public who are watching this debate today and others across Canada may not realize how at risk we are in terms of the corridor in my riding and the influence of 40% plus of trade that is done on a daily basis. In the Windsor-Detroit corridor there are currently four different border crossings and there is no oversight whatsoever. There is a complete void in the aspects of safety, security, best practices, and has actually put the community at risk.

Currently, a fifth border crossing is under examination. The first of the four others is an international tunnel owned by the city of Detroit and the city of Windsor. The city of Detroit has decided on a long term lease on its side of the tunnel. The city of Windsor actually owns and operates the tunnel after it was in the private sector for so many years. It was rundown and the municipality had to fight to get it back. [Actually, the Windsor side is run by DCTC, not the City, under contract.]

Since that time, we have kept fares low, [The combined passenger car fare to cross the border at he Cities-owned tunnel, is higher than at the private Ambassador Bridge.] put investment back into public infrastructure and increased the safety aspect of it [Does Brian know that the "public," Windsor City-owned Tunnel exhausts non-cleaned air from the Tunnel into the City?] which we did not have previous knowledge of because it was once again private infrastructure. Without Bill C-3, there are very little safety regulations, inspections, and empowerment from the federal government to look after those jurisdictional items that are so important to infrastructure.

The Ambassador Bridge is the second crossing. In terms of transport trucks and cars, this is the busiest bridge in North America and processes the most trucks in the world on a regular basis. Almost 40,000 vehicles traverse the corridor. The vast majority, I think 34%, use the Ambassador Bridge. [I wonder why so many use that crossing. Perhaps because of its excellent border operation management?]

In that capacity, a private American citizen actually owns the Ambassador Bridge. [Oh my, foreigners also own the Big Three auto companies in Windsor that have caused so much prosperity as well to the area. He bought it fairly didn't he? It was not illegal for him to do so was it? Didn't the Canadian Government have the opportunity to buy it years ago but did not?] The most important infrastructure, which is 75 years plus, [Bridges around North America are older and carry more traffic and still function well] is owned by a private American, and has the highest fares in the region by far [not true see above] and the least amount of accountability because there are no laws of governance. [If there is NO accountabilty at all, why is the Bridge the worst. And you know that there are inspections that go on!] Lastly, I would argue, it has caused considerable grief in the community because of a lack of planning and oversight, not only in terms of the operation of the site itself but also the previous government not increasing trade corridor expansion. [Geez Brian, they and not the Canadian Government, fought the US to get four new customs booths opened and staffed to clear up the truck back-ups on Huron Church Road and then built them. Remember that they succeeded too to the point that the Windsor Star Editor now complains of trucks moving too quickly on that road now and not about backups! How can they be responsible for the Government not increasing capacity? Many on the US side are questioning the need for a new border crossing now]

The third is a rail tunnel operated by CP Rail. This is a significantly old infrastructure. I believe it is close to 100 years old. It has two rail tubes. There is a proposal for regeneration, which is beneficial for the rail aspect, but at the same time there is a private proponent that is looking to expand border capacity called the DRTP, which is the city is universally opposed to. [And DRIC too.]

The fourth and last is a ferry operator that transports hazardous waste materials. I am going to use that as an example of the lack of oversight we have in terms of the border and more importantly some of the things that have been happening that this legislation is going to address. [I wonder if you should mention that, at one time, an NDP member and others were opposed to the truck ferry and an environmentalist asked why hazardous goods were not being carried across the Ambassadro Bridge. Nawwww don't do that; it hurts your argument]

One of them is in regard to a newspaper article. I have asked for an investigation from the government. I have yet to receive a response from the minister's office. The office called back asking for a second copy of the letter I sent but it has not actually dealt with it yet. It is a very serious issue. It is about chemicals and hazardous materials that are crossing the Ambassador Bridge and that is not supposed to be happening. [The "hazardous" chemical, as you know since you receive my Blog had the pH value (measure of acidity) somewhere between a Pepsi Cola and lemon juice." Nawwwww don't tell anyone that; it hurts your argument. It is not my fault if the Star did not report that too.]

The Ambassador Bridge goes across the Detroit River which is connected to the Great Lakes ecosystem. From the legislation on the United States side, which is different from the Canadian side, certain chemical materials are not supposed to be traversing over the Ambassador Bridge. They are supposed to go to a ferry operator operated by Gregg Ward, which is down river by about two kilometres. His company has received grants and awards from the Homeland Security Department because of the types of operations it has on site to ensure the goods and materials cross safely.

There has been a public spat between the Ambassador Bridge and some of its operators. The headline of a Windsor Star article reads: "Bridge OKs risky cargo: Letter of permission given to chemical company". The article then states:

The Ambassador Bridge is telling its toll collectors to wave through trucks carrying hazardous cargo in violation of a U.S. ban, according to a document obtained by The Star.

It goes on to say:

Bridge spokesman Skip McMahon claimed last week he was unaware of any such shipments.

But a representative of another firm, Harold Marcus Ltd., a Bothwell-based transportation company, said it uses the crossing almost daily to import alum.

The representative said the company did so with the bridge's blessing and said other companies are also granted permission to haul hazardous cargo across the bridge. The Windsor West MP is calling on the federal Public Safety Minister to investigate the reports.

We are yet to hear about that. That is on a daily basis. We know that there is no accountability on this aspect of the file and we have to sit and wait. [You did hear about it Brian from my BLOG. The Star story appears to contain incorrect information but why let that little detail trouble you]

This has significant implications because if there were a spill or accident, there would be very little that could be done. [Of course something could be done...the Lemon Pepsi could be wiped up!] That is why we agree that Bill C-3 must have some regulations and oversight to ensure that federal officials can examine and do best practices. Not only could an accident just happen but we do not have the capacity to respond to it. We know our fire department has very limited operations in terms of going onto the Ambassador Bridge and the hazardous material would then go into the Detroit River and contaminate it. [What does this mean---"limited operations?" And what would happen if the ferry had a major accident resulting in a spill ]

It is also not reducing some of the chemical exposures that we have through our corridor. This is why Bill C-3 is very important. It is one of the elements that we believe should go forward.

I would also like to note some of the failings in Bill C-3. We are concerned right now that the ministerial powers on connecting infrastructure seem to be very dominant in the bill. That is one of the things that we would like to examine, ways that we can actually have some type of involvement from a municipal aspect, so the infrastructure relationship in the corridor can be softened. [We had that Brian until your friend, Eddie, caused Windsorites major problems. Tell your colleagues about the Snub as an example!]

I know that in my municipality of Windsor West there may be an imposed solution in terms of connecting the Ambassador Bridge to the 401 because ironically it was a provincial Conservative government and a Liberal federal government that ended construction of the 401 in a farmer's field because they were fighting. It is about eight miles short of the Ambassador Bridge crossing, so we actually have the 401 in the busiest part of this corridor stop in a farmer's field and then it connects to a city linking road because those two governments could not get along. As a result of that we still have backups. [Oh Brian, the back-ups are OVER. YOUR misinformation is killing our economy] There are a number of different problems related to schools, churches, businesses and institutions that have built up along there. They will need compensation if there is going to be any type of shift in the type of landscape. [That will be required for any corridor, be fair]

In summary, we support the bill as an important step forward. There are many aspects that I would like to get into but I cannot. I wanted to highlight the need of this to the general public of Canada. There is such a significant degree of infrastructure problems in Windsor West. There are risks associated as well with having a private infrastructure connecting Canada and the United States as a business conduit as opposed to what it should be, and that is a social, economic conduit between our two countries. [You have not yet identified any especially since the private operator seems to be the leading border crossing operator along our border!]

Instead of raking in profits between these two transportation link elements, we should have a high degree of accountability, security and scrutiny with the lowest cost possible for the free flow of goods, services and people. [This is laughable when we read the stories from other members about their bridges lacking maintenance because of lack of money from artificially low tolls. Now we have major infrastucture issues across Canada costing huge amounts because of political interference in the past!] That can only be done with public infrastructure oversight. The government is tabling a piece of legislation that will have some benefits. We are cautious on a few elements and we are looking forward to working on those in committee. [Perhaps there, the Bridge Co. can clear up the misinformation and disinformation spread by others]

Mr. Joe Comartin (Windsor—Tecumseh, NDP):

Mr. Speaker, this is the first opportunity I have had to give a speech since the 39th Parliament started, although I have been up on my feet on a few other occasions. I want to acknowledge and thank the constituents of Windsor--Tecumseh for their support. It is extremely humbling. I pledge to them, as I have each time, to do my very best to represent them here in Ottawa.

The bill is one that is way overdue. It is interesting to hear the Liberal side taking credit for this, but the reality is that we did not get the bill from them. We did not get the provisions of the bill that have been badly needed in my community, in the city of Windsor and the county of Essex, for a very long period of time. This became extremely accentuated after 9/11. When 9/11 occurred, we sat for the first 24 to 36 hours with literally kilometres of delays at our borders. Part of this was that we did not have a legislative infrastructure. The federal government could have moved much more effectively had it had that legislative infrastructure to control the problems that we were confronted with on that occasion. [Be real...there were problems at all of the border points, including the public ones, because this kind of event had never happened before!]

That has now been repeated over the last four to four and a half years, repeatedly, [Oh you are spreading the same misinformation about truck back-ups in Windsor too?] and it is a problem that our city and our province of Ontario are suffering from, but so is the federal government in terms of tax revenue, efficient administration of our border crossings and our relationship at the international level with the United States.

The provisions in the bill are fairly general. It will be attempting to provide a legislative framework and then follow that with what I hope and expect, for my riding and my constituents, will be a very detailed regulatory body of rules that will in effect allow for an efficient, proper administration at our border crossings.

We in our city and county have the distinction of having more trade and more passengers, both vehicular and rail, than any other place in the country. We are the key crossing, as the House heard earlier from the member for Windsor West. Almost 40% of all the trade between Canada and the United States occurs in one of those four crossings in the Windsor area, through rail, ferry, the tunnel for passenger cars and some trucks, and the bridge.

As most members of the House know, at least the members who were here in the last Parliament, we have been struggling for a good number of years to reach a final consensus on a new crossing, on where it should be located, how it will be funded and how it will be owned and managed. This bill would have helped significantly had it been law, with the regulations along with it, to expedite that process. [Frankly, I believe that the process would have been very similar to DRIC!]

It is actually interesting to watch on the U.S. side how on several occasions their authorities, both at the state level and the federal level, were able to intervene and speed up the process. We did not have the ability to do that. [They did that NOT because of any legislation but because of political will, a commodity that seems to be lacking in Caanda.] At the federal level well over 10 years ago, if not closer to 20, the U.S. changed its legislative framework to make it possible to effectively and efficiently deal with border crossing issues. This legislation would accomplish that assuming the regulatory framework is put in place.

It will deal, as the encompassing legislation allows for, with the regulation with regard to the management and operation of crossings and the roads and streets running up to those crossings, which is a fairly important feature in the bill because it is not a provision within our existing law at all. [Eddie and David Estrin will not like you saying that. You just showed how their threatened lawsuit against the Senior Levels will be of no effect!] What is also very important is that it will, for the first time, significantly control the ownership and change in ownership of border crossings.

We have a major problem in our area in that the Ambassador Bridge, which is by far the single busiest crossing in this country, is owned by an American business person who runs it obviously in his interest and not in the interest of the communities on either side of the border. That is a major problem. [Again the anti-Americanism. It is so easy isn't it? Frankly, if the Bridge Co. is the best operator in North America, then let us have more of private enterprise running the borders! I wonder if the Bridge Co. can act as consultant to the Government on this to help improve the poor operations at public crossings. I repeat again--who fought for, opened and paid for the booths that solved the truck back-up problem in windsor. A hint---it was NOT the Government.] . The ownership issue is going to be very crucial as we reach the final decisions on how this new crossing is owned and managed.

I have had a fair amount of involvement on the whole issue of public security, which is one of my critic responsibilities for my party, and I just want to point out a number of incidents we have had happen that, again, a proper regulatory function would assist us with.

We have a major air quality problem, particularly at the Ambassador Bridge but also at the tunnel, because of the number of vehicles that are crossing in a confined space, oftentimes with significant delays. We know that the health of the people who work at those structures is being imperilled, as is the health of the people who live in the immediate areas.

There is a major problem at our border crossings with illegal trafficking in weapons, drugs and humans. I know, from having had extensive discussions with police forces on both sides of the border, that we need to significantly augment our coordination and cooperation. They attempt to do it and I want to give them credit for that, but an overall streamlined framework on the Canadian side would significantly improve our ability to deal with those problems.

Quite frankly, we have problems with protocols. We have had two really quite significant incidents of police forces on the U.S. side crossing over without permission. On one occasion it was a chase through the tunnel that occurred in the downtown core of both Detroit and Windsor. They were coming across with guns in hand and apprehending alleged drug dealers on the Canadian side. It was done in the presence of a large number of regular passengers moving through that tunnel, and staff were present with no protection. This is a clear breach of the protocol. We think we have now cleared up the problem, but we cannot help but think that if we had had the proper regulatory framework it would not have happened in the first place.

There was another incident with a police officer who realized at the last minute that he was carrying his gun. He attempted to take it out as he was coming across the bridge and, I suppose, hide it somewhere in the vehicle, and he shot himself in the foot. That occurred as he was in the line approaching customs. His gun very easily could have discharged and injured other people. Again, the ability to regulate and to some degree publicize in the United States the need for them to keep their guns on that side of the border could be, I believe, much more efficiently handled with the type of regulatory framework that I envision coming out of this legislation.

The House has already heard of the problem that we are having with hazardous materials. We know, and I say this with some degree of confidence, that hazardous materials are being taken across the bridge. That is illegal. Hazardous materials are supposed to cross on the barge ferry. It is not happening and we do not have the ability to enforce this. Again, it is because of the lack of coordination and the streamlining that is required, which should come out of this legislation.

All of this is a major concern for us in the Windsor-Essex County area.

The NDP is in support of this legislation. We do have some concerns, some of which will be fine-tuning of the legislation. The one major concern we do have is the ministerial discretion that is encompassed in part of the legislation. I can advise the government that our members at committee will be pressing hard to tighten up how that discretion can be exercised, so that the concerns of the local community will continue to be protected. We are hearing quite clearly from the local community members that it is a concern on their part.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Where's Mick Jagger

Don’t you just “Love This Place!”

The Mayor brags about a licensing deal for Roots clothing. It only took about 2 years to achieve and even then we missed a huge sales event for the clothing, the Super Bowl. We worry about greenspace for trails that will take years to complete. And instead of Citistat which got the Mayor elected and which was supposed to save us millions, we get SimpliCITY.

(Speaking of logos and slogans, didn’t we spend thousands of dollars a few years ago for one, have citizens vote for their favourite and then we threw it out?)

We worry about such foolishness while the City is falling apart around us. We are losing thousands of auto and related jobs, our prime industry, and what is replacing them? We keep talking about the back-ups at the border, which chases away tourists and businesses, even though we have not had any since the Bridge Co. opened their new booths. We glorify the Keg as our salvation downtown while the office vacancy rate is around 30-50% and we see many empty storefronts. Our unemployment rate is the highest in Canada (while the Mayor speaks out of both sides of his mouth by blaming it on “immigrants” living here and then praising them for moving here) and our house price increases are the lowest.

Our tourism industry was going to help us diversify our economy. We were going to make Windsor a destination with our “billion-dollar” Casino with its new convention centre/arena the focus and the “slots” at the Raceway. We have the restaurants and ambience of Erie Street and the shops on Ottawa. We have historical sites all around us, the terminus of the Underground Railroad and the Sandwich area being just two that have received high profile recently. We have the ability to create new tourist interests such as winery tours with all of the new wineries opening up around us. Thousands of jobs were being created in the hospitality industry.

Then we were hit: 9/11, SARS, the increase in the dollar, scare of passport requirements. Then the big one: The Smoke Free Ontario Act (“Bill 164”) comes into effect on May 31, 2006 effectively banning smoking in all publicly accessible indoor areas, including all restaurants, bars and entertainment facilities such as casinos and racetracks.”

We will hear Monday night about this at Council. A 100 plus page report was prepared by outside consultants. Their conclusion: “without some form of mitigation, Windsor’s tourism industry will suffer further significant declines, as a result of the unequal playing field that would be a consequence of the Smoke Free Ontario Act.”

. This will show you how much trouble we are in with another of our major industries in town!

Let me give you some of the lowlights for us:
  • The high-water mark for tourists was in 1999, when 9 million tourists visited the City, Windsor… Since 1999, annual visitation has dropped by approximately 4 million visitors.
  • Overnight visits have dropped by about 21% since their peak in 1999, and same day visits are down by 55% since their peak.
  • Casino Windsor and the Slots at Windsor Raceway would experience an attendance decline of between 10% and 30% from their 2005 volumes. This would result in reduced tourist spending in Windsor and Essex County ranging from $70 to $225 million.
  • Bingo revenues are expected to decline by an estimated 10% to 20% as a result of the smoking ban, further impacting the 650 organizations that depend on bingo for revenue.
  • A reduction in Windsor and Essex County’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) ranging from $60 to $195 million.
  • The loss of between 800 and 2,700 local jobs, with a corresponding decline in labour income of $31 and $101 million.
  • Gaming, bars/restaurants, nightclubs and similar entertainment facilities would be negatively impacted as would the accommodations sector
  • The retail and transportation would be impacted due to the reduced volume of tourists.
  • A reduction in total government revenues ranging from $32 to $103 million.
  • Additional impacts would be experienced outside of the region, elsewhere in Ontario, as a result of this decline in visitation.

While this is very bleak, the Report does set out a number of ways to mitigate the adverse consequences:

  • Frankly, we can capitalize on being “Sin City.” Three permanent casinos in Detroit, combined with Casino Windsor, the Slots at Windsor Raceway and eight bingo centres in Windsor can make our Region a major central North American gaming destination if we work together rather than merely compete.
  • Exemptions under the Act for businesses that will suffer [Strange though, the Report says "We have, however, been specifically directed by the City of Windsor not to consider exemptions to the Smoke Free Ontario Act, but to explore other possible mitigation measures."]
  • Compensation for businesses that can demonstrate a significant loss of business.
  • Compensation to cover the cost of marketing and public relations campaigns required to attract new markets to the City’s facilities.
  • Investment into tourism products that will broaden the tourism base, like a Science Centre as an example.

I am not going to get into the debate about whether smoking should or should not be allowed. That is not my purpose in writing this BLOG. Rather here is just another case of the Mayor and Council failing us. Check the timeline:

  • When is the smoking ban coming into place? May 31, 2006

    When is the Report to be presented to Council? May 8, 2006

    When was the Consultant's Report presented to the Mayor's Office? April 3, 2006

    When was the Consultant hired to do the Report? August, 2005

    When was the Smoke-Free Ontario Act passed? June 13, 2005

    When did Council know that the Province might be introducing a No Smoking Act? At least by March 1, 2004.

The no smoking issue must be important or we would not have retained a consultant at a cost of $30,000.

Without needing to state the obvious as can be seen from the timeline, IF smoking is an important issue for Windsor then why did it take so long for us to get a report that will allow us to make a case to the Government for support for our local businesses? The Report states:

  • "It is important to recognize that the losses identified are primarily due to Windsor’s situation as a border community, of which the tourism industry is very heavily dependent on cross border visitation from a major US metropolitan area. Furthermore, the existence of directly competitive gaming facilities in Detroit have a significant influence on Windsor’s tourism industry. While some Ontario municipalities, such as Sault Ste. Marie and Ottawa, exist in close proximity to casinos in neighbouring jurisdictions, none relies on cross border traffic to the extent of Casino Windsor, the Slots at Windsor Raceway and local bingo facilities. Furthermore, no other jurisdiction in Ontario, including Niagara Falls, is as dependent on US visitation as Windsor. As a result, Windsor is unique in terms of its potential exposure to economic damage from the legislation."

We get to see the Report only a few weeks before the Act comes into effect. (Mind you, the Star saw it earlier, allowing the Star to write a news story on April 22 and an Editorial on April 25 about the Act and the Report. Who leaked it to them? And why?)

The pace of this matter again seems rather leisurely given the consequences to our City! Like the 2 year Roots deal that missed Super Bowl. Doesn't anyone give a damn at City Hall? This information should have been presented a long time ago, not just a few weeks before the Act is put into force!

What actions did the Mayor and Council take to get the Government to change its mind between March 1, 2004 and today? I know that we had "hearings" in Windsor about the impact of the ban on our businesses after the Government refused to hold hearings here. And it appears that "The Windsor Hearing Report" was submitted to the Ontario Government on September 21, 2005. " Honestly, what impact would that Report have being organized by "an internet based lobby and information site funded by the Canadian Tobacco Manufacturer’s Council."

The Recommendation of the Report to Windsor Council is to "share" the results of this study with provincial Cabinet Ministers (Sandra and Dwight perhaps?) and to "advocate" for measures to mitigate the negative economic impact the Act will have on us because of our unique border position.

Does anyone really think the Province will take our concerns seriously if we have waited so long? We could not even get hearings to take place in Windsor so that we could present our concerns to the Government.

Remember the Snub! Does this Mayor and Council think that anyone will listen to us! Don't they remember the famous question of Councillor Valentinis--why doesn't anyone listen to Windsor?

By the way, that question makes a mockery of Eddie's campaign Kick-Off speech language:

  • "As Mayor, Council and I will line the halls of Queens Park and Parliament Hill. We will stand shoulder to shoulder with our MPs and MPPs and remind them all everyday that they can not afford to ignore our city, our region, our importance...And we will impress upon decision makers that we are far too important to be shunned. Our concerns are legitimate and will be addressed."

But can it be that the City really wants to have a No Smoking ban in effect and believes instead that a few dollars from the Province will tide us over until the industry "rebounds?" Is that why there has been little action? Remember the consultants were told NOT to consider exemptions in their study. If so, the Mayor and Council should tell us that.

Want some proof? In an advertisement in the April-May edition of the City Times newspaper started by Councillor Lewenza, there is the smiling face of the Mayor telling us that "Being smoke free makes Windsor a healthier place...We put people first in Windsor...that we're a progressive city...we support healthier environments for our workers, for our visitors, for ourselves."

I wish I understood what was going on.

It is again up to the Blogmesiter to save this City. I had a really wild idea which the Report authors did not consider. We need to hold a Rolling Stones benefit concert like the one in Toronto after the SARS epidemic to put Windsor back on the map after all of the disasters we have lived through. Do you think it is ridiculous? Remember who headlined the Half-time show at Super Bowl XL in Detroit!

And who do you think was seen with Paris Hilton, John Travolta and Hugh Hefner dining at a very famous restaurant in downtown Windsor? If that does not get the gossip columnists talking about Sin City again, nothing will!