Thoughts and Opinions On Today's Important Issues

Friday, June 02, 2006

DRTP: Tunnel BBQed

Lots of creative people in Windsor it seems. Perhaps they should have been used to come up with a new slogan for Windsor rather than "Love this place."

In reading the Star this morning, I see that TBQ's owner, Thom Racovitis speaking at a Tunnel forum last night wanted to call the truck Tunnel to the border "The Trunnel." Also, someone proposed to call the Detroit/Windsor Tunnel "The Dunnel" rather than use the proposed name that Detroit Council wanted to name it. These are take-offs on the Chunnel.

Another new name for a Tunnel too. Mike Hurst and his band of groupies should feel mighty angry this morning. After all he gave a speech too last night at the forum but the Star did not cover it. Had the Star reported it, you would have known that the DRTP has morphed again from the Tradeway to the Jobs Tunnel to the Green Solution.

Whatever you want, there DRTP is.

It can be "at grade" as it originally was described that needs no hugely expensive costs to build at all (Mike really does need to read his lawyer's submission to the OMB Rail lands hearing before giving another public presentation in order to know that there may be no "sensitive lands" along the DRTP corridor that require a tunnel. So why is he promoting a tunnel costing billions).

It can be tunnelled at a cost of at least $2 billion according to DRTP's Marge Byington at the Lansing hearings. I am not sure how many lanes that price covers since Hurst said yesterday the DRTP Tunnel can be 2 lanes or 3 lanes or 4 lanes or 5 lanes or 6 lanes or probably however many lanes anyone can dream up. If only 2 lanes cost $2 billion, what would the cost be for the DRIC desired 6 lane truck expressway?

Of course I did not hear Mike offer to pay for a new tunnel as part of his pitch. In fact, I did not hear him tell us that taxpayers would have to pay for it because that could be the killer for that project. I know DRTP needed $150 million of taxpayer money for the old project. Does that mean he wants $2.15 billion now from taxpayers at least?

It can be a "truck toll road" now too, as his lawyer said at the OMB hearings, to pay the cost. Mike might have turned ashen if he heard that. Let's see now, how many truckers would pay a toll to DRTP to use a very long underground tunnel from Highway 401 to the border when the alternative is to use the above-ground route to the Ambassador Bridge at no cost. Given that, who would finance the project when it would have little revenue? [Hmmm Maybe DRTP has been pushing for BillC-3 to force trucks to use their corridor and pay extra. Oh well, that will just chase industry to use the Blue Water Bridge instead to completely ruin our local economy and cost us more jobs!]

Now I felt sorry for the OMERS Pensioners and contributors and CP shareholders who had to pay for DRTP to be at the session last night. I do not know if DRTP paid for the room beside the main meeting hall at the Holiday Inn where they had the promotional materials set up giving out their newest story. It must have cost more than a few dollars to make up the new display boards with the newest DRTP border talk. Then there were all the handouts and the big poster in the main room. And their presentation, slick as it could be. It must have taken some time and effort to produce and to rehearse (Before you throw stones at me, "slick" means "Deftly executed" not just "Superficially attractive or plausible but lacking depth or soundness" according to the Dictionary)

In reality, DRTP really only needed 2 slides last night so that people would understand what their purpose is now, in my opinion, respecting their corridor.

The first slide was their traffic volumes one. They admitted that traffic volumes were down significantly and that it was unlikely that they were going to grow significantly (as DRIC has claimed). Of course, one could then argue then that DRTP was not needed at all since the bridge is only at around 50% capacity but why should I be the one to dampen Mike's enthusiasm.

At the least though, they were agreeing with their mortal enemy the Bridge Co. and thereby suggesting a new crossing need not be built. Does that make sense for a border crossing proponet you might well ask?

Then the second slide showed a big yellow line to the border (But Mike knows that this old DRTP project is really dead) but there was now a new line that I did not remember seeing before from them: down the DRTP corridor from Highway 401 to a cutoff at College and then westward leading to a road to the Ambassador Bridge.

What's that you say, DRTP being the new access road to the Ambassador Bridge!

What a shocker! I wondered about that but then I recalled the Chair of the meeting gushing over a statement from the Bridge Co. prepared for the meeting. It was a nice letter stating what they had already said publicly but nothing dramatic. Perhaps it was new to him. He also asked for the slide with the new route to be brought back up for the crowd to see it again.

I had asked myself: why didn't DRTP just go quietly to visit PM Harper and the new Tranpsort Minister, his Lieutenant from Quebec, Lawrence Cannon, to try and negotiate this deal. DRTP have great political connections. I suspect that DRTP probably knew they could not get anywhere since if billions are to be spent, then the Conservatives could spend it either in Windsor on a tunnel and maybe get 2 seats or spend it in Quebec and get dozens and get a majority Government! And which would you choose if you were Harper and Cannon?

It all fell into place then for me. DRTP project was dead. DRTP corridor is on its last gasp. What choice did DRTP have then but to try to pressure the Bridge Co. to try and get them to help them either by partnering with them or buying out their corridor. They need to get their money back somehow.

Imagine. Can you picture Mike Hurst begging his biggest foe, both when he was Mayor and their competitor as Chair of the Windsor Tunnel Commission and now as ex-Mayor and CEO of DTRP their opponent for a new crossing, for help. Isn't that DRTP's only answer now?

Interestingly, if one reads the Ambasador Bridge Co.'s Enhancement Project submission, they leave it for Government to figure out how to get trucks to their crossing. They got burned before when they offered a solution and obviously learned from that experience.

So here we go again... potentially more conflicts in Windsor, potentially more fights between neighbourhoods.

Isn't it time that Eddie and Council stop the BS about "quality of life" that they are trying to use to salvage their three year failure on the border and do something to fix the road to the bridge already! Or else I can think of a new slogan using the word "change" in it!

Meeting Our Waterloo

In his Chamber of Commerce Mayor’s Luncheon Address, the Mayor made reference to the City of Waterloo and Research in Motion – makers of the Blackberry as an example of what can be done in a small town that can create a world-class business.

The Globe and Mail recently ran a series of articles about Waterloo that I thought you might find of interest. I'll run one today and another next week. In passing, just note that their jobless rate is 5.2% while ours is about double that.

Compare our relationship with the University and Community College with that of Waterloo and tell me that you really believe that we can achieve what they did. If co-operation is the key to success, we are in big trouble here. Sad isn't it

Blueprint for Canada's economic survival

Waterloo, Ont. — Shoemaker Street traverses an industrial park in Kitchener, where there's no one left making shoes. The once-vital textile industry is a shadow of its former self. The last tire making factory in the onetime rubber capital of Canada will soon shut its doors.

Welcome to Waterloo Region, smack in the eye of the Category 5 hurricane battering the country's manufacturing sector.

The soaring dollar, surging commodity prices, globalization and crises at the two largest U.S. auto makers have exterminated more than 117,000 manufacturing jobs in Canada in just 12 months. Eight plants have shut or are doomed in Kitchener-Waterloo-Cambridge. Massive layoffs have walloped other large industrial employers. About 3,400 jobs have evaporated in furniture making, textiles and auto parts — industries whose high-paying jobs created a solid, middle-class existence for generations.

This kick in the stomach would have staggered other, less resilient communities.

Kitchener-Waterloo, however, bounds ahead, leading the country in economic activity and demonstrating the get-on-with-it fortitude displayed by legions of entrepreneurs going back more than a century. The jobless rate actually fell last month to 5.2 per cent, among the lowest rates in the country.

Call it the Waterloo Way. It's a cultural and economic model that provides a beacon as Canada enters a new age of embattled manufacturing accompanied by massive investments in energy. It's the blueprint for how other communities can become economic warriors in the global battle for jobs and growth. It holds the key for Canada's economic survival and perhaps dominance.

"What happens in Kitchener-Waterloo in knowledge creation and dissemination and creation of high-value innovation is a metaphor for the 21st-century Canadian economy," says David Johnston, president of the University of Waterloo, an institution that is a fairly recent, but critical contributor to the region's success.

It's vital that other parts of the country pay attention to the successes in this community of about half a million people, adds Tom Jenkins, chairman and chief strategy officer of Open Text Corp., one of the leading high-tech companies in the region.

"If you're a community in Canada, the reason you're interested in this is the same reason you're interested in your children's education — it's because this is the future," Mr. Jenkins says.

One essential ingredient lies beneath Waterloo Region's historic ability to shrug off economic shocks and advance to new and leading-edge activities: Culture. The building blocks were laid by hard-working Mennonites who flooded into this part of Southwestern Ontario in the 1800s and were followed by successive waves of immigrants from Germany and elsewhere who embraced change.

Generations of entrepreneurs have adopted an attitude of: "If something new comes along, why aren't we involved in it?" notes Larry Smith, an adjunct associate professor at the University of Waterloo who is an expert on the subject.

The area has been at various times the furniture capital of Canada, the button capital, the shoe making capital and the rubber capital. It's an automotive capital with the expanding presence of Toyota Motor Manufacturing Canada Inc. on the northern edge of Cambridge. Food processing has been a mainstay for more than 100 years. There's diversification beyond manufacturing with a large financial services component through Manulife Financial Corp. and other insurance companies.

Luck helps, too. It's just an hour from Toronto and the key financial backers of new ventures. The U.S. border and the big market for products that have been made here for more than 150 years is not much farther.

The industrial history of the area — and central Canada — is written in yellow brick on a drive up King Street. The Bauer mattress factory is being demolished and the old Kaufman shoe plant is being transformed into the Kaufman lofts. Krug Furniture, Rumpel Felt and Huck Glove — stalwarts of the community for a century or more — still survive.

While they march on as foot soldiers of the old economy, Waterloo's remarkable ability to thrive during seismic economic change is being tested as never before.

It's passing the test, leaving behind shirts, boots and steel-belted radials and rolling into the new economy — world-leading BlackBerry wireless communications devices at Research In Motion Ltd., solar panels at ATS Automation Tooling Systems Inc., digital imaging systems at DALSA Corp.

In the northern part of Waterloo, within the shadow of the University of Waterloo, sits one of the keys to that transition. There, a 15-minute drive from where descendants of Mennonite settlers still cruise the countryside in horse and buggy, Open Text, RIM and others in the burgeoning high-tech sector form the base that is turning the area into the knowledge capital of Canada.

For the moment, RIM, ATS and DALSA are also manufacturing in Waterloo Region, adjusting to the soaring Canadian dollar and resisting the siren call of China, where hourly wages are measured in pennies, and India, where engineers are a dime a dozen.

To explain why those companies grew up there and why they're thriving, Mr. Jenkins points to "the alchemy" of Waterloo, a co-operation between business, governments and educational institutions. "There is an environment here where if you're an entrepreneur in this town, you're treated with great respect, and I mean from everybody," he says.

That's a lesson learned hard and painfully in other Canadian cities, where economic development has often been stymied by cultural, social or political divisions. Kitchener-Waterloo operates on a consensus that growth need not run roughshod over environmental or community goals and that successful business people are not pariahs, but can be heroes. The community is also action-oriented — it actually does things, rather than engage in endless debates about change.

The roots of Open Text and its growth to a $414-million (U.S.)-a-year company exemplify the tripartite co-operation between entrepreneurs, government and the University of Waterloo that serves as a model for other Canadian cities.

The software developer grew out of a 1984 contract professors Frank Tompa and Gaston Gonnet won to help Oxford University develop search engines and software to put the Oxford English Dictionary on-line. Ottawa chipped in with a $1.7-million (Canadian) grant, the university provided the equivalent of another $1-million or so and the first two employees were co-op students.

That's another area where Waterloo led the country — pioneering the co-op program where students spend four-month terms working at companies.

The university was founded by entrepreneurs who feared a looming shortage of technical graduates.

They created an institution that reflected a pragmatic and unique structure. While other centres of higher learning developed around arts programs, the University of Waterloo was born with an engineering, computer science and mathematics focus, and the co-op program, which has generated practical experience and jobs for thousands of graduates.

The co-op program is world renowned. Just ask Komex H20 Science Inc., an environmental firm in Los Angeles that hires University of Waterloo students for work terms. The company has purchased a condo to house the students and provides them with two essentials for beachside Southern California living — a bicycle and a surfboard.

Another crucial decision by the university founders helped incubate hundreds of spin-off companies — allowing researchers to retain the intellectual property rights for anything they developed.

"The key is to give people incentives to think about what might be put to use," says Doug Wright, the first dean of the engineering school and later president of the university in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

The relatively small size of the region also means business leaders are constantly rubbing shoulders so they can toss around ideas and learn from their peers.

"If you happen to be in an industry that's more challenged, then it's a way of really getting access to ideas that you may not otherwise have ..... whether it's on the tobogganing hill or whether it's the mayor's art night," says Jan Chaplin, president of Cambridge-based Canadian General-Tower Ltd., a member of the fifth generation of the Chaplin family to run the company, which began life in the 1860s as a wagon wheel maker. Today, it's a leading producer of swimming pool liners, a major Canadian-based presence in plastic auto parts and a testament to the agility of manufacturers in Kitchener-Waterloo-Cambridge.

Such transitions have not been seamless, but they occur because the community accepts that this is the way of business. People just get on with it, Mr. Wright says. In Waterloo Region, wagon wheel makers morph into auto parts producers, shoe makers become telecom operators and television manufacturers invest in digital projection systems for the 21st century. A wireless e-mail pioneer explores the frontiers of science itself.

Until now, the process of change and adaptation has been pushed along by the casual sharing and incubation of ideas and best practices. But that is about to become more formal with the opening of the Accelerator Centre, a stone's throw from Open Text in the University of Waterloo Research + Technology Park.

It's another example of the three-way co-operation. The federal and Ontario governments donated $13.4-million each to the research park, while Waterloo Region and the City of Waterloo each kicked in $6.7-million. The university supplied 400 acres of land.

The $4-million Accelerator Centre will be an incubator for high-tech startups from the university or even private research labs to help them make the jump to commercial success. It offers startups help to obtain financing, suites in the building and mentoring through a council of entrepreneurs that includes RIM founder Mike Lazaridis, who studied at the University of Waterloo.

The support from government goes well beyond money, Mr. Jenkins points out. "I have situations where I have 20 people who want to move to the city and the mayor has come and given them a talk about Waterloo. He's driven to Toronto to do that."

There are many threats to Waterloo maintaining its skill at riding the waves of economic change —complacency, failure by governments to maintain the infrastructure and the tendency of companies that flourish in Canada's small economy to get swallowed up by global players.

The end of Dofasco Inc., Ballard Power Systems Inc. and wine maker Vincor International Inc. as Canadian companies points to one issue for policy makers trying to determine where the economy is headed.

But focusing on making sure thriving companies stay in Waterloo or even remain Canadian is the wrong argument, in the eyes of Mr. Jenkins.

"What we need to do is not get focused on keeping that steel mill, or keeping that RIM, or keeping that Open Text, but creating the environment from which more will spawn," he says.

"The single best way to keep a RIM in Canada is to educate and reward and encourage Canadian-born entrepreneurs or immigrants that have chosen Canada as their home."

Thursday, June 01, 2006

This and That

Lots of little things to talk about in the media today

Mayor: Make crossing an engineering marvel

"Mayor Eddie Francis said a new border crossing could instead be a design and engineering feat of global impact used to draw tourists and improve the local quality of life. Do we not deserve a better quality of life?"

I guess Schwartz is gone now officially. From the short-term billion dollar dream to quality of life arguments, that is the best that Windsor can show for the millions spent on legal and consulting fees.

At least the "Signature "Bridge" idea can be dredged up.

There is one big problem with all of this: Eddie needs to deal with the road to the border and get that $300M spent already. But that takes making a decision, something he does not like to do unless "Council" is there to take the blame if something goes wrong.

John Conyers Jr. Tunnel.

"The Detroit City Council passed a resolution in an 8-0 vote Wednesday, urging the renaming of the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel in honor of the 77-year-old congressman."

Apparently, the calls to Eddie's office by the Detroit News were not returned. Either they were placed when Eddie was given his rah-rah-rah speech at the 11th annual mayor's luncheon or Eddie was home packing for his trip to Mackinac Island for the Mackinac Policy Conference General Session. As part of the BIG FIVE, he will be speaking on "Leading the Region Forward."

I am sure that Eddie did not want to reveal all in Windsor by telling his constituents and voters how he will fix the road to the Brorder but I am almost certain he will tell the BIG SHOTS in the US how he will do it so that traffic can still come to our area! How else will we move the region forward, right?

OR, will he talk to them about "quality of life" too?

I expect that Eddie will be hard-pressed NOT to support what Detroit Council has said. Is there not a movement to name a Bridge after Eddie Francis on this side? You know, that multi-million dollar overpass on Huron Church Road that the school kids do not use except to have a smoke!


Boy , were the radio and TV media types played like fools yesterday. Did you hear St. Clair President Strasser on CKLW---things re the Cleary were worse today than last Friday he said. On TV, they were still talking and the Mayor was not going to do anything just to do a deal.

Well in today's Star we saw "nothing should stand in the way of St. Clair College's takeover of the city-owned Cleary International Centre, both Mayor Eddie Francis and college president John Strasser said Wednesday."
So which story is true? The Councillors have something in their package from City Hall also. Perhaps the media can ask them what they have been told so we poor taxpayers can know the truth.

Very, Very "Good news is coming"

If you are as old as I am...what song lyrics comes to mind when you see that phrase? Well they did to me anyway:

Shrimp boats is a-comin'
Their sails are in sight
Shrimp boats is a-comin'
There's dancin' tonight
Why don't 'cha hurry hurry hurry home
Why don't 'cha hurry hurry hurry home
Look here! The shrimp boats is a-comin'
There's dancin' tonight

You have to admit it fits perfectly.

Never mind that the Mayor should have been doing taking action a year ago rather than days before the smoking ban came into effect, there are talks going on to see if money can be spent in Windsor to salvage our tourist industry. [NOTE: I just hope the Ontario Government does not ask why we do not use some of our huge slush fund for the arean to do so. Don't we also have a $15 million Rate Stabilization fund for extraordinary events that was used, as an example, to pay some Estrin legal bills that were not in the budget?]

"The mayor told reporters he was "very, very happy" about how discussions have gone so far and that he expects to meet with Tourism Minister Jim Bradley "very, very soon."

I am sure that everyone in Windsor will be so very, very happy if the Mayor can pull this off so very, very quickly even though he started so very, very late on a matter so very, very important. Otherwise so many, many businesses may have to shut down making downtown Windsor very, very empty.

I am so happy that the Mayor and and city officials are "well-engaged" with provincial bureaucrats and the Ontario tourism minister. Now if only they could get "married" and consummate a deal, then I am sure we would be very, very satisfied!

LaSalle arena: The case for taxpayers

Wow, pretty strong language for the Star Editorial today

"The town of LaSalle has pulled what amounts to a bait and switch on unsuspecting taxpayers. The town grossly underestimated -- or misrepresented -- the actual costs of a new recreation complex, which are now pegged to be 44 per cent above initially announced projections...

The town knew, or ought to have known, about these expenditures -- down to the dollar -- when it embarked on the project. If administrators and councillors didn't know these costs were coming, they are irresponsible planners. If they did know they were looming but persisted in perpetrating the myth of a $20-million complex, then they can charitably be described as poor communicators."

I remembered the Star story in April with the headline "City's goal: $55M arena: Councillors rule out retrofit of Old Barn."

In the story it said "In an unusual show of solidarity, city council voted unanimously to forge ahead with plans for a $55-million, four-pad arena, featuring a 7,200-seat rink somewhere in the east side of the city."

The other day the Star reported "Last month city council voted to further study building a 6,500-seat arena on the city's east side, with three additional community pads that would replace the older arenas in the area and a community centre to replace the Edward Street centre...That concept comes at a price tag of about $55 million."

In the second last paragraph in the first story, we learned "The $55-million pricetag includes basic "fit-up costs," such as a basic scoreboard versus a Jumbotron. The construction cost also does not include land costs, architectural and project management costs or cost overruns, which could be as high as 10 per cent."

In the second story in the last sentence we read "An arena on the east end would likely require the city to purchase the land."

See, our Windsor Council is so much better....We have "true, full and plain disclosure" That is provided you read to the end of the Star stories!

Was David Cassivi Right

As always!

The Senator kept saying that it was wrong to walk away from the Raceway when they still were at the table.

His colleagues though were so much smarter. They would not listen, supporting an East End money drain that was going to cost us around $75-80 million or more because we now had "wiggle room!"

Or did they? Was this all a sham to fool the voters?

I had heard that the Raceway people were talking about building an arena even though the rumours were hot and heavy that the arena was being shifted to the East End.

Back in April, the Star reported:

  • "Coun. David Cassivi, the longest serving councillor, left the meeting before the vote, but suggested it was premature to make decisions before knowing whether Windsor Raceway is still interested in a partnership.

    "There's been an impression created in this community that the mayor and city council do not care about the success of Windsor Raceway," Cassivi said.

    Mayor Eddie Francis said he will be meeting with Tony Toldo Sr. soon to discuss the city's role in helping the raceway succeed.

    But several councillors confirmed the east-end location is a done deal. It's now a matter of finding the land. At least 30 acres will be required for the proposed complex."
The Star reported that "Mayor Eddie Francis confirmed Tuesday the city received a new offer from the raceway, renewing its interest in building an arena on land next to its track...Francis would not release details of the raceway offer."

My readers are so cynical. I received this the other day, before the Star story came out, from a source who told me what he claims the Raceway deal is all about. I thought he was fooling me until I read the Star story. The story came out earlier than even my source expected I am sure:
  • "There was never any intention to build a 55 Million Dollar Arena in the East end. Politicians don't price tag things unless they have a reason! So, what's the reason to price tag an Arena at 55 Million?

    ...the $55 Million "price tag" was not correct because it did not include the value of the land that this new Arena would go on. So $55 Million really turns into $70 Million (or more). Anybody in Windsor that is already against the Arena deal goes "ballistic...

    Keeping in mind that we are now moving into the Valley of Election Day in November, Mayor Francis at the opportune time announces that he has negotiated an Arena deal that will save the City MILLIONS of Dollars and that the new proposed Arena site will be at the Windsor Race Way. The land will be donated by the Race Way.

    Yes Sir, we will have an Arena that will cost the City $45 Million instead of $70 Million and it will be at the Race Way. And even the people against the Arena will think that it's not a bad deal."
It sounded so funny that I thought it made sense! We will be told that we are "saving" $25-35 million. (Wasn't that how MFP was sold to us...we were not paying $60 million more than we thought we should have but we are saving money instead of being on the hook for $300 million plus).

Tony Toldo will be pleased and would contribute the land since he will get all of that extra income from the slots players as his Raceway now becomes the "entertainment destination." The Raceway had offered the land before anyway

Administration, who already has said the much cheaper Barn renovation would not work, was being asked to review the deal. Apparently, Don Sandler has already said that "a 6,500-seat arena alone can cost roughly $30 million." [Hmmm $45M minus the City's $15M = $30M].

I must admit, but for this being an election year, I cannot understand why we are going through the exercise. I was interested in the financials set out in the Star article however:
  • "The city will have an extra $15 million in 2008 after other projects are paid off. In 2009, $23.5 million will become available and in 2010, $36.4 million will be free to use on arena infrastructure."

The Mayor said that "council will likely be presented with the two options: build a four-pad arena complex under one roof somewhere in the east end or partner with Windsor Raceway for a two-pad arena on land owned by the track." Too bad that there was not a third option: stop this insanity and lower taxes!

Let's see now if I can remember this correctly: Councillors Brister, Zuk and Gignac I thought were opposed to spending money on an arena at such a huge cost, Councillors Jones and Postma were only going to support a downtown arena and Councillor Halberstadt was in favour of the less expensive Barn renovation. That makes 6 NAY votes already without even talking about the other Councillors (Oh, Councillor Lewenza would tell us that it costs only "X" cents per household per year anyway).

If they vote otherwise, then they will have a lot of explaining to do in this election year won't they!

Have a Danish

A Danish Professor's book on Megaprojects that is.

Thanks to the Town of LaSalle for showing us how the arena costs in Windsor will soar upwards out of control. The Town proved the thesis of the Professor's book perfectly.

  • "The Town of LaSalle is dipping into its reserve funds and redirecting budget allocations to help pay for a 44 per cent hike in the cost of its proposed Vollmer Recreation Centre, Coun. Gary Baxter said Monday.

    Council's recent approval of a financial plan to pay for an $8.8 million increase in the cost of the recreation complex is a "knee-jerk reaction" that robs Peter to pay Paul, Baxter said.

    "There just seems to be this need to rush to get something done before an election is held," Baxter said.

    "Things are being done more racing against the clock than maybe a more prudent method...

    Although the price of building the centre remains $20 million, the town announced three weeks before the June 6 groundbreaking date that it will take another $8.8 million for the recreation complex to be operational, accessible and furnished.

    "Council has maintained and kept their word on that the complex 'building' would only cost $20 million," the town's director of culture and recreation Terry Fink said. "To bring services and bring the roadways that are not part of the recreation site -- that are not part of the building -- that's where some additional costs are in."

    In a report to council titled "Vollmer Recreation Centre: Outstanding Financial Challenges," the town's director of finance Joe Milicia outlined the costs not accounted for in the $20 million guaranteed maximum price the town's politicians have been trumpeting for the last year"

Can you believe it, the costs of the building are $20 miillion but to make it function millions more need to be spent. In other words, the costs were under-quoted to make it easier for the electorate to swallow.

Gee, doesn't that sound like Windsor? Costs of $50-55 million for the arena. I was told by City Hall insiders that the real costs will be in the $75-80 million range when one adds in land acquisition and engineering and design costs plus who knows how much for access roads etc.

And naturally there will be huge cost over-runs

And the number of tournaments will not be as high as expected so revenues will be less

And this is an election year so that the Mayor feels he has to fulfill his promise or else

And Councillor Gignac needs something to show for her three year efforts for Ward 5

And, And, And....

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Still Number One

I am going to be rude. Are our City's politicians, at all political levels, some of the most foolish politicians in Canada?

I got this story from Today's Trucking magazine (See I read it too!) The article stated:
  • "A recent Transport Canada annual report reinforces that Canada’s trucking sector is dominated cross-border trade with the U.S. ...

    The study shows that five commodity groups accounted for 80 percent of total exports and 88 percent of total imports in 2004 and 2005: Automobiles and transportation equipment, machinery and electrical equipment, other manufacturing products, plastics and chemical products, and base metals/articles of base metal.

    Not surprisingly, the busiest transborder trucking routes were in the autoparts and manufacturing rich Ontario-U.S. central region (accounting for $171.5 billion or 31 percent of total US/Canada trade in 2004); Ontario-US south region ($69.3 billion), and Ontario-US northeast region ($51.5 billion), accounting together for almost 80 percent of shipments...

    "This just goes to show how important trucking is to Canada’s economy," said Canadian Trucking Alliance CEO David Bradley. "Sixty-three percent of Canada’s trade with the U.S. moves by truck. Border and highway infrastructure should be a major priority for federal and provincial governments."

Of course, when one looks at the stats from Transport Canada, (see above) we learn again that the Ambassador Bridge is the number one crossing in Canada.

What do our politicians do? Rejoice in the fact that we are a major border crossing. Congratulate the Bridge Co. management for their superior achievement. Figure out how we can form an alliance with them as they offered to do a year ago. Seize the opportunity to expand our economic base by becoming a major distribution centre [See what Northern New Jersey accomplished October 27, 2005 "Deep Throat"].

Naaaaaaawwww that would be too easy. That would make sense. Nope our politicians .....well you fill in the rest because I am too disgusted to do so!

Eddie's Tunnel Toll Increase And Bill C-3

CKLW reports this morning:


Windsor's Tunnel Commission is considering a toll increase. Right now, the rate is $3.50 CDN to travel from Windsor to Detroit. The return trip - from Detroit to Windsor - is $4.75 CDN. Tunnel Commission Chair, Eddie Francis, says travellers are confused by the discrepancy. A decision on an increase is expected soon."

I was confused too...To avoid the discrepancy, why not REDUCE the US toll so that the combined Tunnel toll at the Cities owned Tunnel would be less than the private sector Ambassador Bridge. Shouldn't that drive more traffic TO the Tunnel rather than a price increase which should drive traffic AWAY from the Tunnel

Anyway, back to the main point of this BLOG. What would happen under Bill C-3 if this happened?

Let us assume that the Tunnel's tolls increased by 50 cents so that the combined Tunnel toll was now $8.75. Let us also assume that since the Bridge is so well-managed, there is no need for them to increase their tolls and they remained at $8. What would we expect to happen assuming that border crossers are price sensitive.

Almost immediately, vehicles would move from the Tunnel and over to the bridge to cross the border since the costs were lower there. There now could be huge back-ups at the border at the bridge and to get vehicles back, the Tunnel would have to reduce its price back to what it was before to re-establish equilibrium.

The end result---Consumers win because competition in the market kept prices low.

Let's look at what could happen with the same facts under Bill C-3.

The Act states:

15. The Governor in Council may, on the recommendation of the Minister, make regulations respecting the operation and use of international bridges and tunnels, including regulations
(b) respecting the tolls, fees and other charges that may be imposed by owners or operators of international bridges or tunnels for their use, to ensure the efficient flow of traffic

Obviously the backups at the bridge means that there is not an "efficient flow of traffic." That allows the Government to intervene in the market economy and "regulate the price." Do you really think one Government is going to cut the money another level of Government may take in? Hey they are Governments after all.

Accordingly, to re-establish the equilibrium between the bridge and Tunnel again, the Government could "regulate" the Bridge Co. to increase their tolls, yes increase. The bridge's price would be viewed in Transport Canada's terms as "predatory" and have to be increased by at least the extra 50 cents.

The end result---Consumers lose because Government regulation and not the competitive marketplace forced prices up. In other words, the Consumer is forced to pay the price of a market participant's inefficiency!

I know, I know...Transport Canada's business model did not take into account Eddie needing more money at the Tunnel so this eventuality was never factored into their plans. But then again, Bureaucrats' business models do not often work in practice do they since they have no sense of business reality!

So much for Bill C-3.

Plugging Up The Bill C-3 Leakor

How scared was someone knowing that Evidence was to be given by the Ambassador Bridge Co. executives in front of the Parliamentary Committee on Bill C-3?


It was unbelievable. At the conclusion of the hearings yesterday, it was announced that the Minister of Transport was going to hold a reception for Committee Members later in the day, right after Question Period I think. Of course that was not designed to influence the judgment of Members was it? Especially after the Bridge Co. was expected to slam Transport Canada and when it was also said that the Minister would be speaking at the hearings on Thursday.

Can you imagine the outcry if the Bridge Co. held a reception for MPs the night before the hearings in order to soften them up! I assume that the Transport Canada minions were expected to go around at the reception with drinks and trays of hot appetizers telling the MPs how nasty the session was and that those big, bad Bridge Co. people had to be taught a lesson!

But that is not all. The LEAKOR struck again!

On Monday the 29th, the day before the Bridge Co. Evidence was given, Today’s Trucking Magazine, the LEAKOR’s favourite media outlet it seems, reported that a “U.S. Senator has tabled a bill similar to proposed Canadian legislation which would attempt to give the government more control of international border crossings…Last week Senator Buzz Thomas introduced SB 1278 -- the Michigan Border Development and Protection Authority Act -- which would establish public port authorities to oversee and manage border crossings, including private spans like the Ambassador Bridge. “

I have not seen that story reported anywhere yet, not even in the Michigan media, but there it was in a Canadian publication for truckers. The world exclusive!

A key fact was wrong. Buzz Thomas was not a US Senator but a Michigan Senator. It was NOT reported that he is a member of the minority Democrats in the Michigan Senate and what he did is similar to introducing a Private Member’s Bill in Canada.

Of course all of the negatives supposedly being perpetrated by the Bridge Co. were trotted out as justification for the Bill. Comparisons with Bill C-3 were made too just in case the reader did not understand the real reason for the story.

Why Today’s Trucking? Check out what I said before [April 26, 2006 Anatomy Of A Leak: Bill C-3]
  • “Huh, what, Today's Trucking--who ever heard of that before? How could that be? Why did this journal get the story and not some major media outlet like CBC or CTV news or the Toronto Star or Globe and Mail or National Post or even the Windsor Star?

    With the online world these days, if one wants key people to read something, one does not have to ensure that it goes on the frontpage of the Toronto Star but that it gets reported somewhere and online so that a search tool or a media service picks it up for distribution to clients. The leakor suspected that he/she would never get caught since no one would care.”

Obviously, the story would be picked up by the clippings service or media or PR people for the various political parties, for the various Ministries involved and other stakeholders. Clearly, the expectation was that MPs who were members of the Committee would receive it, read it and be prejudiced against the Bridge Co. in advance of the hearing so that questions would be awkward and difficult.

And then the Minister’s reception would help stroke their bruised egos after the expected Bridge Co. attacks and make it easy for the Minister on Thursday!

It did not work out as planned I am afraid. I listened to the WEBCAST of the hearings and all I can say was that it was a replay of the Lansing hearings when Dan Stamper spoke. It was a hearing that was respectful, orderly, informative and serious.

It was pretty clear to me that Members had read in advance the Presentation from the Bridge Co. distributed by the Committee Clerk. Just as in Lansing, they “got it” and very quickly too! Just as in Lansing, my belief is that the Canadian Legislators—perhaps even the new Conservative Transport Minister and the Prime Minister’s Office--may now understand that they were sold a bill of goods by their own Bureaucrats. Why I’ll wager that the Minister and perhaps even the PM were told, as a justification, that if Canada passes Bill C-3, then Canada can demonstrate to the US President at the Harper/Bush meeting in July how serious Canada is about border issues. Why we don’t want those National Guardsmen patrolling our border---let them patrol Mexico instead.

Transport Canada’s claim that they talked with stakeholders was shot down in flames. Several MPs dealt with that issue and were rather shocked about what they heard. In fact, the Bridge Co. offered to take the MPs on a tour of their facilities on both sides of the border.

The MPs finally realized what the issue with the Bridge Co. was in a personal sense, especially, since it was made clear that they really are the only private bridge operator and the real target of this legislation. Matthew Moroun explained that under the Act he and his children might not get approval to become owners one day! I think that one statement on its own gave Members pause and there were several comments made, the gist of which was that it was not the intention of the Legislation to punish the Company.

The Bridge Co. made it clear that their objections were not “health, safety and security” issues but “ownership” issues and “micro-management” issues of a bureaucrats telling them how to operate their business on a day-to-day basis. It was also galling to them to have to deal with bureaucrats who were not only their regulator but their competitor as well.

The actions by the Michigan Legislators in passing Budget amendments to take away funding from DRIC was discussed. Again, to me it meant that someone did their homework since that never came out in other hearings.

There was a lot more but one other matter that intrigued the Members (and probably they did not know about it before) was that the Government and the Bridge Co. had fought for about a dozen years over ownership of the bridge during the Foreign Investment Review Act days and that the parties had reached a settlement to end the litigation. The view put forward was that the Government, in effect, was trying to set aside this settlement and bringing back the FIRA issue but in a new guise.

Finally, Brian Masse was there although he was not a Member of the Committee (I think he took someone’s place for the session) but did ask several questions. I was intrigued by what I heard over the WEBCAST when Matthew Moroun introduced himself to Masse while the hearing was in progress. Masse apparently said that they had met once at the Cleary but Moroun said he did not remember that.

And here, silly me, I thought that Brian knew everything and everyone involved in the border! I wonder if the other Members were just as surprised as I to find that this did not appear to be true.

If MPs stand firm in what they were saying, then the Transport Canada bureaucrats, like those at MDOT, have been stopped in their tracks. It was easy for them when they had no opposition but when confronted in a professional manner by the “demonized” Bridge Co., and as the real facts emerged, their tales fell apart.

It really is not the end for Bill C-3. There is a solution that meets the needs of everyone if only people will start talking to each other finally. Certain provisions are non-controversial and can be dealt with as the Bridge Co. pointed out several times. The others need conversation to accommodate the needs of both parties. Perhaps if the parties try, then there might even be an Agreement for Bush and Harper to sign.

Now if only those darn roads in Windsor could be fixed up!

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Is The Bridge Co. Serious

You better believe it. When the son of the Bridge Co. owner, Matthew Moroun, the Vice-Chair of CenTra Inc., makes a public appearance in front of a Canadian Parliamentary Committee, you know that they have something important to say.

Not only did Dan Stamper speak on behalf of the Bridge Co. but so did Matthew. And unlike the Mayor of Windsor, who is a stickler for the Time Limits under the Procedural By-law, the Chair of the Commons Committee had the good sense to "waive" their 10 minute limit by allowing them to both speak for about 25 minutes in total. Obviously, the Chair recognized that it was important for MPs to hear what they had to say. Moreover their noon time limit for answering questions stretched over until about 12:30 PM as well!

Here are Matthew Moroun's remarks:

Thanks for the opportunity to meet with this distinguished Committee to discuss the proposed legislation, Bill C-3.

The Ambassador Bridge has a distinguished record of serving the travelling public for over 77 years. The Ambassador Bridge has weathered much over its history, including the Great Depression, World War, the Autopact, ownership litigation under FIRA, NAFTA, 9-11, and power blackouts. For the last 18 years it has become the most popular and preferred border crossing in North America by measure of traffic count. For all of those years the Ambassador Bridge has been an example of the success of the private sector having financed its construction, maintenance and operation entirely without Government funding of any kind.

Since 1979, the Bridge has been owned by my family. We have operated the Bridge successfully, not only financially for our interests and its long term future as shareholders, but more importantly, as stewards of a great

Permit me to suggest--- there is no meritorious catalyst for additional and burdensome regulation of the Ambassador Bridge at this time. The state of the bridge is strong, its finances are sound, its management sharp and successful, and its track record the best in the industry. Additionally, there exists no national or international event, occurring recently or expected that would encourage or attract the invasive fettering of Government.

However, do not confuse my words as introversion or egocentrism. We are neither. Instead we relish the opportunity to discuss the issues and challenges of the border and specifically the Ambassador Bridge with this Committee and, if we were able to, Transport Canada. We not only favor outside input but look upon the Federal Government of Canada as a primary stakeholder in our long term future and importantly our day-to-day business.

It may seem incongruous that our operation has thrived over 77 years without invasive Federal regulation even though the Bridge itself would be incapable of functioning without the hundreds of distinguished Canada Customs and Immigration Officers on our plaza and inspection areas. To that end, let it not be lost that we are not
suggesting that the Ambassador Bridge "go it alone." That would be a ridiculous statement, and an ignorant one.

We are asking this Committee and Transport Canada to please put down their sword. Set this Legislation aside. Instead, engage in meaningful dialogue not just at a very formal hearing to discuss the legalese of this Legislation but rather to discuss and brainstorm and cooperate with one another toward an even more successful Ambassador Bridge for the advantage of the operation, the Government, and the public.

Bridge Co. President Speech To Parliament

Hot off the presses, the speech the President of the Bridge Co. to the Parliamentary Committee on Bill C-3

House of Commons Committee Hearings
Ambassador Bridge Testimony offered May, 2006
Dan Stamper, President

Thank you Mr. Chairman and thank you to all the members of the Committee for this much desired opportunity to speak today on the proposed legislation governing international border crossings between Canada and the United States. My name is Dan Stamper, and I am the President of the Ambassador Bridge, the number one border crossing in North America connecting Windsor, Ontario and Detroit, Michigan. With me today is Mr. Matthew Moroun, Vice-Chairman and Principal of Centra, Inc., our parent company and Mr. Skip McMahon, Executive Director of External Affairs, The Canadian Transit Company.

First, let me say, we are concerned with the intent and the spirit of Bill C-3 as it relates to our company. I would like to share our perspective of the effect of this Bill as it relates to our private sector enterprise and whether it would improve our accountability and add to our 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 and our customers on both sides of the border. At the Ambassador Bridge, we know the world is watching – and we continue to earnestly perform our duties on a daily basis while preparing for the future.

Let me provide some background so you may clearly understand our concerns. In the early 1920’s a private entrepreneur developed a plan to finance, construct and operate a privately owned international bridge which became known as the Ambassador Bridge. This effort included the private investors taking the full risk of this investment and the responsibility to garner all property needed, necessary legislation in both countries along with local, state and provincial approvals. After accomplishing all of the above and constructing the bridge, the economies of both countries were affected by the Great Depression in the U.S. With no help from the government, the private investors reorganized and survived this horrific economic crisis.

From the mid 60’s the United States constructed interstate highways including I-75 to the Ambassador Bridge (no improvements to the Canadian roads to the bridge). In the late 80’s the United States and the Ambassador Bridge improved roadway connections on the U.S. side to the freeways (no improvements to the Canadian roads to the bridge). In the 90’s the United States and the Ambassador Bridge improved surface roads around the Ambassador Bridge and created additional access to and from the bridge (no improvements to the Canadian roads to the bridge). In the mid 90’s the city of Windsor developed a long-term transportation study (WALTS) at great expense to the city of Windsor and with participation and great expense to the Ambassador Bridge which identified how to finish 401 to the bridge (no improvements to the Canadian roads to the bridge). The report was shelved and never used. In the late 90’s the United States and the Ambassador Bridge started the Gateway Project, creating direct connections to and from the Ambassador Bridge to three (3) interstate highways, I-75, I-96 and I-94 while ensuring the addition of a twin span next to and west of the current Ambassador Bridge (no improvements to the Canadian roads to the bridge). In 2001 Ontario and Canada announced $300 million dollars to finish 401 to the current border crossing (In 2006, no improvements to the Canadian roads to the bridge). However, Canada has successfully built a $6 million dollar pedestrian crossing over Huron Church Road as their only improvement to the border crossing.
Our company has a reputation of speaking clearly on matters that involve our industry and I intend to do so today. Our effort today is to clarify and offer meaningful facts and direction for improving and strengthening the relationship between Canada and the Ambassador Bridge while acknowledging the differences between public and private border crossings, as well as to articulate our concerns about Bill-C3.

We believed the governance of the Ambassador Bridge by Canada was resolved and put to bed after more than a decade of litigation between the parties with an agreement reached in 1992. It is as if some people cannot forgive us for the way in which a 13 year litigation was settled in 1992. As the basis of this settlement, we agreed to invest millions of dollars in Canada on behalf of Canada Customs for new facilities solely at our expense. Since that date we have invested tens of millions of dollars more than what was required or agreed to under the terms of the settlement which created continuous and significant benefit to Canada.

Having gone above and beyond the terms of our 1992 agreement, we are troubled and question the true intent of Bill C-3. Comments made by a member of this government during a recent question and answer period only heightened our concern. The following comments were made by the Conservative MP for Essex:

“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.”

It troubled me, quite frankly, when I read the Members’ speeches regarding Bill C-3 since they contained so much misinformation that was being discussed as if it were the truth. Whoever is perpetuating these myths is not doing a favor to the economies of the region nor to the economies of Canada, the United States, Michigan and Ontario. Those who believe that they are “helping” the region are hurting its citizens on both sides of the border as tourists and business investment are chased away.

I am really here to tell you about our positive actions for the border and how we want to work with the Canadian Government, but let me deal with a few of the more outrageous statements.

1) “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 truth is that traffic at our crossing and at the Detroit/Windsor Tunnel is down about 30% from 1999 levels. The optimistic traffic numbers projected by DRIC have been revised downward several times already. With the Ontario Government “No Smoking ban” coming into effect on May 31, Windsor tourist business is projected to fall even more dramatically. In fact, our Bridge is only at 50% of its capacity now!

Yes, there were truck back-ups at our Bridge immediately after 9/11 as there were at every crossing. But why haven’t you been told that our Company, not the Canadian Government, fought and even sued the US Government successfully to build customs booths and to ensure they were fully staffed. When they opened, the truck back-ups disappeared. In fact, the Deputy Police Chief of Windsor wrote to me and complained that his biggest problem now is speeders on Huron Church Road (We will get back to this problem later.)

Here is what Windsor’s Deputy Police Chief wrote:

“In closing, where a year ago commercial truck vehicles on Huron Church Road and Wyandotte Street were often stagnant for extended periods of time requiring our resources to direct traffic to keep intersections clear, we now deploy our traffic personnel to this major artery for proactive traffic enforcement aimed at speeders. Whereas, a year ago, we couldn’t get commercial truck traffic to move anywhere we now have to work to ensure that all vehicle traffic abides by the speed limits on these same roadways. In addition, whereas a year ago, I was inundated with citizen calls almost daily regarding traffic flow issues in the Bridge area, I have not received any of these calls in the recallable past year.”

A second statement requires correction. In your Chambers it was stated that,

2) “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… the clock is ticking with respect to this private interest moving forward.”

The facts are as follows:

A. After agreeing in 1992 to settle all outstanding litigation and investing tens of millions of dollars, we announced in 1993 that we were preparing to build additional lanes between Windsor, Ontario and Detroit, Michigan consistent with that agreement.

B. The Canadian Transit Company publicly began its effort to enhance its facilities in 1993 and has continued to acquire the necessary property and engage consultants and engineers to prepare all necessary documents and approvals to allow the construction of additional lanes over the water.

C. It is DRIC that began in 2001 and has been rushed in an effort to catch up with and replace the Ambassador Bridge’s commitment for additional lanes.

D. The same bureaucrats in charge of the DRIC process are the people responsible for approvals of the Ambassador Bridge project. This creates a group of bureaucrats as a competitor of the Ambassador Bridge, at the government owned Sarnia / Port Huron bridge, and creates a direct conflict since they are judge, jury and executioner when it comes to the Ambassador Bridge projects.

E. Thirty percent (30%) of all international commercial crossings are destined for or emanate from industrial businesses in Windsor. This number is so large that if a separate crossing were built just for Windsor shippers it would be the fourth largest crossing at the border. The reality is Windsor is an industrial town and any new truck tunnel or dedicated road will not change things; this is a pipe dream for the naive.

It is NOT my desire to be offensive but the truth does need to be told. As mentioned earlier with regard to Huron Church Road, the fact is, there are problems at the border. The main impediment at the border is the lack of any adequate surface roads and a thoroughfare from the Ambassador Bridge to Highway 401 on the Canadian side of the border for use by not only international traffic but Windsorites as well. The fact is that Michigan has invested $184 million federal and state tax dollars for the Ambassador Bridge Gateway infrastructure. Michigan has streamlined and maximized border investment with the Gateway and the Ambassador Bridge has invested nearly $500 million private dollars preparing for additional lanes between Windsor and Detroit. Windsor roads from the border to the 401 remain deficient and will impede trade in this corridor. Despite all of the public and private dollars invested on the U.S. side of the Bridge…despite the $300 million Canada’s federal and provincial governments 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. Also, there is a serious under developed road system surrounding the border crossing. We will stand in line first to support improvements to the Canadian connections to the Ambassador Bridge and urge you to focus efforts in this direction. In our view, public monies that would be devoted to a new crossing, which will disrupt communities not now impacted by a bridge, would be better spent on improvements to the existing corridor.

Now, specifically regarding Bill C-3 and the “health, safety and security” aspects of the Bill, I am certain that mutual agreement can be worked out on the technical terms as has been achieved in the past. We have little difficulty with security matters either because immediately after 9/11 we engaged, managed and are paying for 24 hour a day armed security at the Ambassador Bridge, unlike other border crossings. Most of the latest security technology innovations are put into service first at the Ambassador Bridge.

We are aware that the Bridge and Tunnel Operators Association has given testimony regarding the sections of Bill C-3 dealing with toll collection and financing. We respectfully request the right to submit additional information regarding more appropriate language dealing with the Ambassador Bridge as a private owner and long-term operator of the most efficient international border crossing in North America and consistent with all earlier legislation both in Canada and the U.S. and agreements between the parties.

To the extent that the sponsors of Bill C-3 are trying to emulate the Presidential Permit process in the United States, they have not done so in Bill C-3. The Presidential Permit process is designed to focus on the single issue of whether new border infrastructure is in the public interest. Thus, the U.S. agency which decides whether to issue such permits, the Department of State, focuses only on that public interest issue and does not involve itself in approval of changes of ownership of bridges or operation of bridges. Ownership and operation are matters left to the bridge owner, both by the U.S. and by Canada. This is wise policy since there is no reason to believe that the private sector will not do a good job in self-regulation, as it has for decades without any problem.

By contrast, Bill C-3 would involve the Canadian Government in such matters. However, Bill C-3 is much too invasive in injecting Government into the regulation of bridges. For example, the Bill unnecessarily puts the Governor-in-Council into a micro-management position by authorizing it to adopt regulations on the operation and use of each bridge.

Simply stated, there is no problem with the status quo that would warrant this proposed new level of government involvement. Bill C-3 is a solution in search of a problem.

Further, in the case of the plans to add another span to the Ambassador Bridge, the State Department has determined that no Presidential Permit is needed since the Ambassador Bridge has previously been approved by statute. So too in Canada, existing bridges should be grandfathered as against any requirements relative to obtaining approval for new construction or alteration. Any other approach will cause private investors to think long and hard before making significant infrastructure investments.

On the other hand, to the extent that Canada wishes to take reasonable steps to insure that persons with criminal backgrounds or persons who pose security risks, do not control, or come into control of, new or existing international crossings, we have no objection to that type of limited and reasonable regulation to protect the public interest. At the same time, any new measure should make clear that foreign ownership in and of itself is not unlawful or impermissible, or grounds for disapproval. Government regulation in this area that goes beyond reasonable security considerations might stifle private investment and involve the government in private sector affairs best left unregulated.

Further, Bill C-3 carries with it the risk of inappropriate extraterritorial impact. At a minimum, the bill should be amended to provide that the Government be advised of a change of control in ownership, not that it be given a right to approve or disapprove control, other than for security concerns and then only after consultation with the U.S. This will ensure against unilateral action on a matter as fundamentally bi-national as a bridge across the border.

The scope of the regulatory making authority must be focused exclusively on the purpose of Bill-C3 (ie. Safety and security).

Further, I note that there has been a trend in recent months in our nations and elsewhere to enhancing the growth and benefits of privately owned infrastructure projects. The Ambassador Bridge and several new or planned privately sponsored toll roads offer examples. The growth of private investment in infrastructure should be promoted by the Canadian Government as a means of achieving the benefits of private funding and efficient operation, saving taxpayer dollars for use on other projects. As noted above, public funds could be well spent in Canada in improving the approaches to the Ambassador Bridge.

We have a long term relationship with the Government of Canada and the Government of The United States built on 78 years of history and respect. Now the Government of Canada unilaterally attempts to wipe away what we have achieved with the stroke of a pen. Moreover, the Bill as drafted seems to allow the Government to act retroactively as well.

As you are aware, there are numerous pieces of legislation governing the Ambassador Bridge not only in Canada but the U.S. as well. This legislation in both countries has been created and together they govern the Ambassador Bridge as an international border crossing. Any unilateral change may disrupt the meaning and application of these international agreements. If changes are needed, we are ready to work closely with the government to develop meaningful legislation that continues to protect the public and creates an environment that not only allows for but motivates the border crossing owner / operators, whether public or private, to invest in and manage efficient border crossings for the good of Canada and The United States. We are NOT a new company starting out but a legitimate border operator who has done its best for the good of this Country and its American neighbor for over 75 years.

We are not looking for another drawn out and disruptive legal mêlée. Lawsuits are not productive and are expensive while taking up time and effort that could be used more effectively in accomplishing something positive. We want to work with the Governments of Canada, Ontario and Windsor along with those in the United States, Michigan and Detroit to provide the most effective border crossing experience for business and consumers in North America. We are already the best operator according to a US Government Report and intend to remain #1. We also are fully prepared for the future and believe that meaningful and thoughtful legislation will ensure that all border crossings can fulfill their mandates on behalf of Canada.

We would like to invite any and all members of Parliament to visit the Ambassador Bridge for a tour, either as a group or as individuals. We would be pleased to host such a tour of the entire facility so they are able to see first hand that it is a total international piece of infrastructure, not just two halves being operated separately. A tour would help crystallize and clarify your views with a greater insight to the perception and actual restrictions we face.

If I may leave you with one message, the Ambassador Bridge Company wants to work co-operatively with your Government and those others involved for the good of both citizens and the economy. Irritants such as those in Bill C-3 can be dealt with if the parties are willing to do so. We stand ready to meet with representatives from the Canadian government for the betterment of the border and Canada similar to what we accomplished in 1992.

We invite questions from the Members of the committee and will try our best to answer.

Estrin/Schwartz Bills At Council

A slight blip. A one-day wonder. Open and transparent Government not by having a proper disclosure and discussion but by burying the Legal Department Report on border fees in a Communications Package.

Just as I expected, but for Councillor Halberstadt, not one single Councillor asked a question or made a comment about the fees paid out at the Council meeting last night. Close to $2.5 million paid out by the end of this month after the OMB hearing fees are added in and not a peep. In fact, if it were not for Councillor Halberstadt, and especially his questioning by Joe McParland on Cogeco after the Council meeting, we might not have heard anything about it. Even Patty Handysides on her pre-Council show on CKLW surprisingly did not mention it!

As I thought, the numbers may not be complete. When Councillor Halberstadt asked about other lawyers fees, specifically about Cliff Sutts, he was told there were none. Yet we know that "....Francis said he will discuss the legality of any proposed lease buyout today with Windsor tunnel commission lawyer Cliff Sutts." (Windsor Star 10-21-2005). WTC---I guess that is how they got around it but isn't the Windsor Tunnel Commission a part of the City of Windsor?

Mention was made that the consultant fees disclosed were those paid through Mr. Estrin. Were there others?

The easy way to get meaningful answers is by providing a breakdown. Since a Councillor is in no better position that a citizen to get such information, then it looks like a Council vote is necessary to release it. Want to bet that never happens? When Joe asked Councillor Halberstadt about it, the Councillor pretty much said that no one wanted to do any more.

Where were Councillor Budget and his Budgeteers questioning the amount? Councillor Budget always talks about saving pennies but in an issue involving millions of dollars, he does not say a word, he does not question, he does not ask! He hides. The man elected because he was the Chair of STOPDRTP is invisible.

All those millions for WHAT? Exactly WHAT has been accomplished other than a high price to take the low road of "do nothing, but create frantic activity?"

There were no questions because then the Mayor and Council would have to be accountable for results. And there are none. $1.7 million for nothing. (I have deducted $800,00 for the OMB hearing) $1.7 million wasted on a billion dollar short-term dream that turned into a "starting point" months later after the hard-sell did not work.

The obvious question is are the City's books in that bad a shape that it took so long to obtain this information. Why did Eddie take so many months to release a figure that was already predestined not to have back up?

So many little time.

Monday, May 29, 2006


One of my co-Bloggers (Blue Blogging Soapbox) sent me the following information that he saw in Maclean's magazine:
  • Your tax dollars at work

    Since Radwanski, Ottawa's top 99 bureaucrats have spent $14 million on travel and hospitality expenses. They say spending is under control. It isn't.


    Those who make their living on Parliament Hill have been eager to close the Great Book of Government Excess. The scandal, pundits and politicians assure us, has produced a "cultural shift." No more meaningless junkets. No more boozy dinners. As proof, they point to rules passed by the Paul Martin government requiring all senior bureaucrats, cabinet members, parliamentary secretaries and ministerial staff to post their travel and hospitality expenses on departmental websites. It's called "proactive disclosure," and it gave Canadians their first-ever chance to scrutinize -- at the click of a mouse -- the airline tickets and meal tabs of their top-level federal employees. For this and other reforms, Canadians owe Radwanski a "debt of gratitude," declared Pat Martin, a New Democrat MP who sat on the Commons committee that uncovered his misspending. "People are far more scrupulous with expenses now," he told the Ottawa Citizen. "If anything, the pendulum may have swung too far...

    On Sept. 20, 2005, Anne McLellan, then the minister of public safety and emergency preparedness, Jean Lapierre, then the transport minister, and nine other senior officials rang up $1,842 at Noce, a posh Toronto restaurant, during a four-hour dinner meeting "to discuss the Windsor border file." Leslie Swartman, Lapierre's chief of staff, picked up the tab. When contacted by Maclean's, Swartman described the dinner as a rare opportunity for department heads to "hash out this issue altogether." Wine was served, she said, but it wasn't charged to the public purse. Still, that means each person's dinner cost taxpayers an average of $167 -- not including alcohol. "I recognize that," Swartman said, when told that some Canadians might be offended by such a hefty bill. "Had I known it was going to be as expensive of a restaurant, I probably would have done it somewhere else. But you don't really find that out until you get there."

Geeez, I hope Transport Canada does a better job researching the cost of a road or tunnel for trucks to the Ambassador Bridge than they do for picking restaurants in Toronto!

Don't you think it would be interesting to know who attended? Were they all out of Ottawa? If so, why did they all have to have dinner in Toronto? How did they all happen to be in Toronto at the same time too? Should travel expenses to fly to Toronto for dinner be added into the costs?

I wondered what they talked about too? Perhaps that should be revealed as well. After all, it took 4 hours.

Leslie also flew to Toronto for a one day trip back on February 18, 2005 to "To discuss Border Crossing Issues." I wonder with whom Leslie met and what was discussed.

For those of you who are cynics, Leslie does know where Windsor is as can be seen from the trip on September 17, 2004 here, at a cost of $1,016.22 to "to discuss border crossing issues." I guess the Toronto dinner meeting was an anniversary meeting or something since it was almost a year later.

PS. I wonder whose expense account picked up the cost for the interesting Mexicantown dinner at Xochimilco Restaurant. Perhaps the Michigan Legislators should ask that question.

BLOG #500

This is it, the 500th BLOG I have written since I have started posting "musings about the state of events in Windsor from the perspective of an interested observer of local politics."

Who would have believed that writing a BLOG has almost turned into a new career for me! I know that I have a solid core of regular readers. When I took a few days off to take a short holiday out of town without telling anyone , I received a number of emails asking me if everything was alright at home. People were worried that something had happened.

I feel a pressure too: I have to post my first BLOG before 7 AM. I am told by a number of readers as well that this BLOG is one of the first items that they read with their coffee every morning. So I feel an obligation to get my posting out to them early!

Do my readers agree with me? I am not sure. Obviously many agree with a lot of what I say or presumably they would not read my postings every day. But the common comment that I have received overall is that it is great to have an alternative to the Windsor Star. Readers appreciate a different perspective on stories that the local media does not give to them. Often I will get an email thanking me for explaining the background of a story so that the reader can put the event in a perspective.

Do I really have "sources of information?" You better believe it! I think that City Hall would be shocked to learn who some of the people who have given me information are. At one time, I heard that a variety of people at City Hall were being accused of giving me inside information. What was funny to me as I heard about it was how wrong they were. I am not that stupid so as to use the obvious people. Anonymity does work and once I have some facts, then the rest of the story is easy to find out.

I also have received a number of good BLOG ideas from readers as well. In fact on several occasions, readers have actually written the BLOG for me.

I have found that "border" BLOGS still seem to interest readers the most. My numbers always show an increase when I do a story on this subject. And I like being able to break a story first, before the local media; the competitive instinct I guess.

Who are my readers? It seems that it spans the whole community from students to politicans and bureaucrats at all levels (and in both countries), to business people and retirees. And the numbers----who knows. I started slowly and without any advertising. The page hits have grown significantly since that time, primarily through word of mouth. But even those numbers are understated as I have learned since the BLOG gets circulated within organizations via the group's media person and is posted on bulletin boards at Plant locations in town I am told

I never intended to make this BLOG what it has become. It started out as a way to "publish" a Guest Column that I wrote on the border issue that the Star would not run. How long will I keep Blogging. Probably until at least the border issue is resolved. And that might be a long, long time from now.

Estrin/Schwartz Fees And Solicitor-Client Privilege

It is oh so typical of Mayor Francis. The man who was elected Mayor on a platform of open and transparent government is doing it again.

As you know, since August, 2005, Councillor Halberstadt has requested an itemization of David Estrin's billing for fees after receiving a brief summary of payments to him since he was retained in September 2003. He stated "We will be asking ourselves... 'where is the bill going and do we need to spend this money?'... It's getting to be a lot of money and council has to be held accountable." Councillor Ron Jones wanted a public meeting "to ask Windsor's ratepayers if further use of Estrin or his experts is merited."

Clearly it is an important matter especially because it is concerned with the border file.

In March, it was reported that "The city will disclose what it has spent on Toronto lawyer David Estrin and his consultants to fight its border battles." Naturally, as I have blogged, nothing came out for a long time so I started running a calendar showing the time it has taken for the City NOT to respond to what was promised way back then.

Well now we know the answer, sort of, but you have to know where to look to get it.

  • Did we get the information in a press conference held by the Mayor? NO
  • Was a press release issued from the Mayor's Office? NO
  • Was it disclosed as an Item on the COUNCIL AGENDA INDEX so that people would be aware of it so that they could appear as a delegation? NO

Then how was it disclosed---as part of the Council Communications package for the May 29 Council meeting. There it is, buried in the middle, number 11 out of 17 items, ....a Report from the Legal Department starting on Page 27 of a 34 page Communications package. Interestingly though, it was already completed on May 4 but not disclosed until now!

If no Councillor asked a question about it at Council or if the media did not pick it up, then very few would even know that the answer was given!

As at May 4, 2006, the total amount spent on the border file and Interim Control By-law/OMB hearing is: $2,322,043.05 of which $609,148.82 was spent after August 9, 2005. (That amount will be higher since all the OMB hearing costs involving Estrin and an associate along with consultants testifying have probably NOT been included)

That $609K number is broken down as is the split between border file and OMB.

If you want more information than that, then you are not going to get it! SOLICITOR-CLIENT PRIVILEGE! We are scared off since we are told that there is a potential that the City's legal position, arguments and stratgies would be compromised.


The OMB hearing is over and most of the border file has been done (and not more will happen until after the Municipal election since the City has no position and DRIC is on life-support). Moreover, the Privilege can be waived by the City. In fact, one can make the argument that it already has been waived by the detail given, as little as it is.

This is no answer and Eddie knows it. Who knows if the information given is even complete.

Council has to take the lead and demand a better breakdown. No one needs to know exactly what the fees are for (so that the City's legal position will not be compromised) but we should at least know who has been hired and by whom, how much was received and when. Only when this is provided can we then have a better feeling whether monies have been spent wisely or wasted.

In one of my BLOGS, I asked for the following information:

  1. which law firms have been involved, including US law firms, Ottawa, Toronto and Windsor firms, not just the Gowlings firm
  2. which "lobbyist," stratetgic and consulting firms have been used (and let us not play games with words describing their titles either)
  3. which polling and survey firms have been used
  4. which technical and engineering firms have been used and which transportation planners, air, health and noise experts, land use planners, government/media relations expert, social impact analyst and an environmental assessment expert
  5. what costs have they charged us in a way that is meaningful so that we can see if we received value for money on a particular file or part thereof
  6. which firms billed the City directly and which ones billed through our law firms or other parties
  7. what work did they do for the fees incurred
  8. we definitely need to see all disbursements including those paid out by the City for trips for the Mayor, Councillors and staff.
  9. we need assurance that these are ALL fees and expenses to every City Department including the Mayor's office and through his budget through certification by the Mayor and the CAO.
  10. it should cover ALL border work, not just under Francis but under Hurst as well including but not limited to the Tunnel plaza, Tunnel purchase/lease, Walker Road, the Huron Church overpass.

There is no doubt that the Mayor is very concerned about costs. I am sure that he always expected that the Senior Levels would pay all of these fees as part of the $300 million BIF monies. But that was when they listened to him After the Snub, I bet things changed. I am not so sure that the relationship between the City and the Senior Levels is so good that the amounts will be paid. Accordingly, the border fees and disbursements will come directly out of the City's accounts.

Let's see if any Councillor has the nerve to ask that the information I have requested be provided. I can always keep the calendar going on the BLOGSITE or maybe one has to go the Municipal Freedom of Information route.

So much for "Open and Transparent Government" from this Mayor!