Thoughts and Opinions On Today's Important Issues

Friday, July 07, 2006

Even More MFOIA Principles


The right of citizens to access government-held information is essential in order to hold elected and appointed officials accountable to the people they serve. This is particularly true for details of government expenditures and the right of the public to scrutinize how tax money is being spent.When government organizations use individuals or companies in the private sector to help develop, produce or provide government programs or services, the public should not lose its right to access this information.

Any government office planning on hiring a consultant, contractor, etc., should make it clear to that future agent that the default position is that the financial and all other pertinent information related to the contract will be made available to the public, except in rare cases where there are very unusual reasons not to do so.

The need for public accountability in the expenditure of public funds is a very important reason why information about such contracts needs to be kept in the public view. All government organizations should make this clear – up front – when seeking outside help.

Eddie's Political Advisor

Mayor Francis said "I don't know where our federal government is on this issue [legislation requiring Canadian travellers to carry a passport or other secure travel documents when entering the U.S] They need to take a more active role on this."

Who the heck is Mayor Francis using as his political advisor? I wonder if it was the political genius who scheduled Eddie's "binational summit involving mayors from both sides of the border" right before a US holiday. If so, no wonder Windsor has problems with the Senior Levels.

I am sure you read the story about that summit in the Star. The Star failed to talk about the holiday mix-up but said the meeting was postponed because "The session was originally planned for early June but was cancelled because of scheduling conflicts with national municipal conventions in both Canada and the U.S. around the same time."

Duh, I guess the political advisor not only failed to look at the calendar but failed to look at meetings involving mayors.

Poor Eddie must be feeling foolish this morning when he reads the Star headline: "PM seeks travel plan delay. Border ID lone hot issue during Bush meeting." I guess Eddie knows what the PM is doing now.

All Eddie had to do before opening his mouth was do an internet search and he could have read the transcript of the session involving the President and Prime Minister to see what Canada's position was. I am sure that Canadian Ambassador to the US, Michael Wilson, will not be too happy with Eddie either after all of the work that he has done.

Insulting comments like the one Eddie made and his snubs of the Senior Levels really don't help Windsor much. Perhaps his political advisor should do his /her job to prevent the Mayor from putting his foot in his mouth again.

Oh and if you want to know what the PM and President said about Eddie's major issue, the Windsor/Detroit border crossing, here it is. This should demonstrate how little influence our Mayor has:
  • President Bush

    We talked about trade. We have a lot of trade with Canada. It's in this nation's interest to trade with Canada. It's in, I think, the Canadian interest to trade with the United States. I'll let the Prime Minister speak to that. But it's important when you have trade to have goods and services and people flow as smoothly as possible between our two countries.

    PM Harper

    The United States and Canada have a strong relationship, strong and firm relationship based on the largest commerce and social interaction in the history of any two countries of the world, and we were able to discuss a wide range of bilateral and international matters where we, more often than not, share common values and common objectives.
You'd have to ask, who is doing more for Canada and the people of Windsor in raising crucial matters with the US. It should be obvious that this Mayor has no say whatsover!

My CBC Eddie-torial

CBC wants to run a series of commentaries on topics of local and community interest, commentaries with a point of view too. I was very pleased to be asked to prepare one.

I congratulate CBC for their initiative since citizens need more opportunities to be able to express their point of view for others to hear.

Here's the one I did about Bill Marra announcing that he is running for office and giving my reasons about which office he should seek.

  • I see that Bill Marra has decided to run for office in the Municipal elections in November. However, he has not announced yet whether he is going to run for Mayor or for Council in Ward 4.

    Well Bill, the only way you are getting my vote is if you run for Mayor! We need a serious debate about the future of this City because, frankly, we are in a worse position now than when you ran three years ago.

    We all had high hopes when we elected Eddie Francis as Mayor and voted for change with the new Council. While we liked you a lot, Eddie had the Plan, the real Plan, that was going to transform our City.

    Instead, we got an Administration that holds secret, in camera meetings on important issues. They have to hire the husband of the Michigan Governor to help our dysfunctional Council function again.

    Let’s look at the key issues we expected the Mayor to handle.

    1) The Border.

    It was not solved. We know that the Mayor’s Schwartz Plan is dead. Not just dead but buried since Schwartz’s key guy in Windsor has just left Sam’s employment .

    We had the Premier and Prime Minister eating out of our hands at one time and now we snub them. Not just once, mind you, but recently again, over the Huron Church/Industrial road intersection when the Mayor did not participate in the press release announcing the start of the project.

    And we wonder why no one listens to Windsor and why our grants from the Senior Levels are so low?

    Thanks to the Mayor and Council, Windsor is now identified as the border problem. We have had $300 million at our disposal and we still cannot figure out how to build a road to the border!

    2) City finances

    We were all pretty happy about a low tax increase this year until Councillor Lewenza spilled the beans. Expect a hike in taxes next year or a cut in services. After all, you do not increase taxes in an election year.

    The Mayor likes telling us that our debt is under control. However, he does not tell us about projects that in a year from now in 2007, will increase the debt by $57 million to $217 million. He seems forgetful of the $206 million debt for employee future benefit obligations that has to be added in.

    Our projected debt will be higher in 2010 than it is now by a very substantial amount. And just so you know, the $15 million we have set aside for an arena...We don’t have the cash for it. We have to borrow that money.

    3) Economic revitalization

    If I hear about the bus terminal being one of the indications of the rebirth of our downtown, I’ll scream. I know it is to be funky but it was supposed to have been built for Super Bowl.

    Do you really think 500-1,000 St Clair students at the Cleary will fill up the 50% of the downtown offices that are vacant or will cause retailers to open up boutiques on Ouellette Avenue? And we learn that they are not coming until September 2007, a year from now

    The new Casino expansion….I don’t see how the Casino helped us in the downtown. In fact, the downtown is slowly moving eastward away from Ouellete to the Festival Plaza area. Hasn’t the Downtown Business Association learned that Casinos never allow their patrons to leave and spend money elsewhere? They make it so attractive to leave their cash there instead!

    We’ve lost 7,000 jobs in Windsor since December and that does not include the loss of highpaying auto jobs and we have still not elected a CEO for our new Economic Development Commission.

    4) There’s more--- the cost of the arena which we all know will sky-rocket if it is ever built, whatever happened to Citistat that was supposed to save us millions, the Urban Village, it’s been three years already and no RFP has been sent out yet to possible developers --- but I only have a few minutes to speak.

    So Bill, take a chance. We need you as a candidate for Mayor. We need the debate. We need the choice. We need someone who might actually do something for Windsor.

    Most of all, we need you to state publicly what we all know but are afraid to say: Emperor Francis is not wearing any clothes!

Chickens Coming Home To Roost

Be careful for what you wish, you may just get what you ask for!

The Federal Government wanted control over International Bridges and Tunnels. They wanted to ensure the safety and security of Canadians. They were in a huge rush to pass Bill C-3. Now they , and Windsor, have a big problem. What will Brian Masse have to say as well. It's a "public' crossing in Windsor that has a big problem now, not the "private" crossing. Now that should be fun to guess about.

Although technically the Act is not proclaimed in law, it appears that the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel has "unique" security risks: US Customs has said that the Tunnel doesn’t meet their requirements according to an article I posted a few days ago. What is Transport Canada going to do about it and when. "If terrorists smuggled a truck loaded with explosives from Windsor, they would have the heart of downtown Detroit within their reach"

Oh you say, it will cost the Tunnel a lot of money. So what! As a number of MPs pointed out, the Federal Government would be granted the power to force operators to undertake changes and improvements but does not have the obligation to provide the financing! And guess who owns half the Tunnel----Windsorites do so it is coming out of our pockets, again. I am sure that Brian will stand up in Parliament and demand that taxpayers in general help us out in footing the bill. Isn't that the NDP way--let Government fix it. He has to make Eddie happy doesn't he?

The Windsor Tunnel Commission better get moving too. As the owner of the Canadian side where the main problem seems to lie according to the article I quoted last week, the WTC and the City may have a huge liability if something goes wrong.

Perhaps it is not so much fun now being a Border Operator when one can see how much money may have to be spent to fix up the facility and to guard against security problems. Why the City's repairs of the Ventilation building went from $13 million to $20 million at least.

How many more millions will have to be spent to fix up the problems at the Tunnel and where will that money come from. I know. The City or WTC will borrow money from the bank for multi-years and call it "bridge financing" as the City did with the WUC charges.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

More MFOIA Principles

Technically today it is FOIA (without the "Municipal") but the concepts are similar:
  • "In my opinion, one of the fundamental purposes of the Act is to facilitate access to government information promptly and at the lowest cost to the public. The Legislature's intention to include a "user pay" principle in the Act is clear from the wording of section 57, but I feel strongly that the government must apply this section in a way that is both reasonable and rational. It is incumbent on an institution to demonstrate that the actual fee ultimately determined meets this reasonable and rational test. "

Bill Marra Is Running

Don't you find it interesting that the announcement that Bill Marra is running came via CKLW and not the Windsor Star? Clearly Bill deliberately chose not to make a pilgrimmage to the most powerful media outlet in town to let them in on the news.

Foolish? Not really. Bill knows the Windsor Star's Editorial Board and its distinguished Columnist will favour Eddie if Bill chooses to run for Mayor. They have given Eddie virtually a free pass for almost 3 years but for the odd negative editorial over matters such as in camera secrecy or the Police Board. Nothing will change.

Will the Star embrace Bill as a strong member of Council if Bill chooses to run in Ward 4 to help the Mayor? You might think so given the vicious attack by the Star on David Cassivi! But everyone concedes that David is unbeatable and Eddie still needs the CAW so we can expect Ken Lewenza Jr. to get great coverage. Kennie (and Bill) better worry too. Ed Sleiman is running again and he only lost out to Ken Jr by about 200 votes. And what about John Fairley. He's around as well with a lot more visibility given the publicity on the Bingo problems that he has to confront. He will become a personal symbol of Eddie's lack of action

Anyway, Eddie does not want someone around whom the other Councillors can rally. He does not need Bill as a potential Leader of the Opposition the way Eddie, Fulvio and Bill were with Mike Hurst in his last term as Mayor.

Oh the Star will be nice to Bill for awhile. After all, a good race promotes sales of newspapers but when push comes to shove, Bill knows what the Star will do.

So why did Bill act as he did? Simple, he just challenged the Star to let them know he is not afraid!

The message is that he's not the nice guy any longer. Running a large organization changed him! Three years away from City Hall taught him that there is a life after politics. He is telling the Star that they smear him at their peril! If the rumours are true about the Star being up for sale, Canwest cannot afford to have the Star become an election issue!

Is Bill being "cute" in not saying what postion he wants. Partially he is...It's payback time for the shots the E-machine has taken against him over the past year or so. Let them worry for awhile about what HE is going to do. Let them react to him. Let them be off-balance as to what he is going to do next and when. How do they like walking on egg-shells, afraid to make a mistake for fear of what may happen.

It is obvious from the radio interview that Bill in his heart wants to run for Mayor but I am told that many of his friends and political "pros" are telling him to take the safe route and run for Council. What Bill is doing is getting a good feel for what people really think about him after he has been out of the public limelight for 3 years. After all, he has not even been on Cogeco for the last year since Council Close-up was cancelled!

It must be that that a number of very influential people have been talking to Bill very seriously to make Bill effectively give up what he has achieved over the last few years and decide to run again.

If I ever get a call from Bill, I would tell him one thing. Run for Mayor. 47% of Windsorites voted against Eddie Francis last time around when he had no record to defend and supposedly, was very popular. Those 47% will not vote for Eddie this time around either.

I will be blunt with Bill. I will tell him straight out that this is an election to get 4% of Eddie's supporters to change their mind and vote for him and that it should be easy to do because he is a credible alternative. I will say that if he cannot convince these people to change their vote because he cannot communicate how Eddie has failed this City then he does not deserve to be Mayor of Windsor.

You know what....I think in the end, Bill's heart will win out. For Windsor's sake, I hope so!

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

MFOIA Principles

Town of Oakville decision (ORDER M-274):

"the Act does not provide that a requester's reasons for making an access request are relevant to the consideration of whether access should be granted. An individual is free to use any record to which he or she has been granted access as he or she chooses."

Canadian Meddlers

Are we so forgetful in this country, and so stupid!

Do you remember the time about 6 months ago when the US Ambassador to Canada made some critical comments about Canada just before our federal election.

Why the Editorial writers in Canada were fuming. The Edmonton Journal wrote an Editorial as an example, "The undiplomatic diplomat." Here is part of what they said :
  • "I understand political expediency, but the last time I looked, the United States was not on the ballot for the Jan. 23 election," David Wilkins, the U.S. Ambassador to Canada, declared this week.

    For precisely that reason, the ambassador should steer clear of this campaign -- no matter how miffed Washington gets when Canadian electioneering insults it.

    Wilkins was wrong to issue a threat disguised as campaign advice to Canada's political leaders in an Ottawa speech referring mainly to Paul Martin's criticism of U.S. policies -- though without naming the prime minister.

    "All of us should hope it does not have a long-term impact on our relationship," he said. "And that's what you have to weigh scoring short-term political points against."

    This diplomatic broadside goes beyond trying to cool down anti-Washington rhetoric. Wilkins appears to want to put a chill in campaign discussions that get critical of his country.

    It is not a foreign diplomat's place, and has never been, to meddle during an election campaign...

    Wilkins could well have waited until after the election and thereby observed diplomatic tradition. Instead he was deliberate in his interference, serving his own country's interests while ignoring Canada's."

But that does not seem to apply to Canadian politicians. We are allowed to try to influence US politics even during the run-up to their elections. We think nothing about asking the Democratic Michigan Governor to use her VETO power and overrule the Republican House and Senate majorities in an election year to help us out.

What's good for the Canada goose should be good for the gander too shouldn't it. You would that think we would have learned our lesson now about the border issue and meddling.

Eddie Francis almost cost Kwame his re-election as Mayor by butting in right before the Mayoral election by telling him that he did not know what he was doing re the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel! Unfortunately for Eddie, Kwame won. The end result, Windsor changed from being more important to Detroit than its suburbs to being a snow plower at Super Bowl.

Our Deputy PM at the time also tried to influence Kwame. She is out and Kwame is Mayor.

Then Eddie and Windsor Council held what was called a Joint Councils meeting in Detroit which was in fact nothing more than a sales pitch to block the Bridge Co. from redoing their Tunnel deal with the Mayor and letting Windsor become the partner of choice. They tried to end-run Kwame for heaven's sake.

Who got the last laugh---The Detroit Mayor. He got back at both Windsor and Canada by writing the Michigan Governor. He stated very clearly that he viewed the DRIC study as a threat to Detroit and that if the Governor could end DRIC for the Downriver towns, she can do it for Detroit. After all, more Detroiters voted for her than in all of the Downriver communities combined! Kwame also made it clear that the DRIC alternatives were not acceptable to Detroit.

Now we read in the Star that "Canada's Minister of Transportation Lawrence Cannon sent a June 7 letter to Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm and Michigan's House leaders urging them to continue with the DRIC study." Can you imagine what the reaction would be if the reverse took place, if the US Ambassador wrote to say, the Prime Minister or Premier, to kill DRIC!

Governor Granholm is NOT going to listen to the Transport Minister when she is fighting for her life. My understanding is that if she vetoes what the Republicans in the House and Senate want, then the entire MDOT budget is in jeopardy. And if she does exercise her veto, she has handed her Republican opponents a $3.5 billion election gift!

Do you think the Republican leaders are going to help out the Minister or the Governor when they can smell blood and think they can elect a new Republican Governor.

Seriously, do you think the Michigan Governor will listen to Transport Minister of Canada or the Mayor of Detroit who holds her future in his hands? Do you think she will listen to her campaign people who will tell her that a veto would be political suicide for her or to some bureuacrats in Canada!

The Transport Minister better learn some manners in international relations. More importantly, his advisors better learn some political sense.

I know they want to bankrupt the Bridge Co. but the manner in which they are trying to do it will not work!

Raceway Arena

Whatever happened to the Raceway Arena? Or the East end one? In fact, what's going on with the arena at all? I read the Star story today and I am more confused than ever.

Remember back at the end of May
  • "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. A new partner has been added to the raceway proposal to help pick up the funding shortfall that caused the deal to fall through a few months ago."
At the time, a report from Administration was to be prepared for a June Council meeting.
  • "Francis said 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."
It is now July and the Report is not on the July 10 agenda which means the earliest it can be presented is now July 24 unless there is a special meeting where not many people will attend and it will not be shown on Cogeco. I guess the excuse is the Mayor saying "A number of things have been going back and forth. There is still information coming -- the latest was yesterday." Sounds like the Cleary negotiations doesn't it?

Remember the comparison between the refurbishment of the Barn and the proposed East side arena that was presented at the Thursday Council meeting on April 27 at a special meeting, again not shown on Cogeco for you and I to see.

Windsor Star, April 28, 2006
  • "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.

    Entitled Greater Windsor Multiplex Arena, the proposal was presented Thursday by senior city administrators in response to a council request to "cost out" two options: renovations to Windsor Arena versus building anew...


    But in doing so, council also opted to scrap the alternative proposal to retrofit Windsor Arena and twin two community ice pads at a cheaper cost of about $39 million."

Will something happen? A smiling Councillor Ken Lewenza Jr. on John Fairley's Face-To-Face seemed to suggest it would and perhaps at the Raceway if Tony Toldo has come up with the cash required. Councillor Zuk was equally as cute on the Melanie Deveau show yesterday. Ken, Joyce and their colleagues know all, just as they know all about the mess at Enwin that they will not tell us about. They will let us know when it is in THEIR interest to let us in on the secret.

Frankly though it seems money is no longer an issue respecting the arena. We have the "wiggle room" supposedly. The normally tight-fisted Councillor Gignac who made such a big deal about the Cleary must be worried that she will lose in November and needs an East-end arena costing $70-80 million. She said:

  • "council is willing to take a look at the raceway proposal, but noted how they have already determined it can do the east-end project alone."

And according to the Mayor

  • "And by 2010, our plan will result in dividends of approximately $40 million dollars. Then another $40 million in each and every one of the following years."

All I know is that according to the head money guy in Windsor, Onorio Colucci, our long term debt is projected to be by 2007--$217 million and by 2010--$191 million. And that does not include the $7 million for the WUC "bridge financing" and the $206 million employee future benefit obligation (as at 2004). Our debt will be higher in 2010 than it is now by a very substantial amount. Just so you know, the $15 million we have set aside for an arena...we have to borrow that money.

I wonder who is going to pay for all of this. A reader sent me some statistics that the number of jobs in Windsor has decreased since December 2005 by 7,000. That does not include all of the highpaying jobs to be lost in the auto industry either.

Oh and as for Councillor Cassivi, once the rest of his colleagues defeat the Raceway arena, then he can be told to come onside for the East end arena so there is unanimity.

Is it just me or have we lost our sense of where we are going in this City and what is important?

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Freedom Now

I wonder if I will get my Municipal Freedom of Information documents now or will I have to wait for months and go through an Appeal process

Who Is Afraid Of The Big Bad Wolf

The E-machine is afraid, very afraid. The re-election house built by the Mayor is nothing more than one of built of hay or sticks. There is nothing solid there, no house made out of bricks.

The E-machine is afraid that by one huff or one puff by the the hair of his chin-ny-chin chin, the big bad wolf will blow down their candidate's house.

You know who the wolf is, why none other than Bill Marra

City Hall is in pandemic mode right now. They know that Bill is out there in the community talking to people but it is July already and no decision or at least nothing public yet. This was not Eddie's game plan. Bill should have announced that he was running for Council in Ward 4 by now so that the E-machine, CAW and NDP (never mind the other Ward 4 candidates like Ed Sleiman) could knock him off. They scared him off running for Mayor didn't they?

The last thing that Eddie needs is a Bill Marra on Council to provide an alternative to him for four years while he is carrying out his next career move. Actually, that is the second last thing. The absolutely last thing is Marra being elected Mayor!

So there is a Star Story again and headline "Labour seeks candidates. 2003 municipal election results cast doubt on impact of unions." If someone got Labour's support against Eddie it has no value. And who was the only 2003 candidate mentioned, Bill Marra who "lost to Eddie Francis by thousands of votes."

I assume that the E-machine understands that Bill is not stupid. He understands that Star attacks will take place whether he runs for Mayor or for Ward 4 Councillor. Instead of scaring him away, it should firm up his resolve that Eddie is afraid of him running for Mayor! Bill I am sure still has huge name recognition and that is the scary part for the little pigs. Bill's name and credibility can cause major problems.

So guess who is afraid of the big Bad Marra....

DRTP US Lobbying Fees

Here is what DRTP paid for US Federal Lobbying fees according to a US website that tracks lobbyist fees. I wonder what they were in Canada.

Given the fact that Windsor taxpayers contribute to OMERS, which is the parent of Borealis/DRTP, and City employees do so as well as part of the pension plan, WE paid a share of those payments.

PANDEMIC Outbreak At City Hall

Another pandemic story in the Star today. I wonder how many more we will get before next Monday's Council meeting praising the Mayor's decisive actions.

Did you see that strange story in the Star the other day too dealing with disaster funding? I must admit I did not recall seeing a story on the Report referred to, just Eddie's comments. There was an interesting quote:
  • "What kind of threat exists in Windsor? A pandemic. Terrorism. Tornados. Natural disasters. While it may seem like hyperbole now, it's possible. If any one of those disasters occurred and the city was not prepared, the finger of blame would first be pointed in the direction of city hall.

    "The last thing any mayor wants is to be in a position that has someone saying, 'You should have thought of that,'" Francis said."

There was a Report issued on June 29, 2006 as a matter of fact by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM). Lo and behold, on the Council agenda a few days later on July 10 is a Corporate Pandemic Plan. Now that is fast action and just pure co-incidence even though Eddie is co-Chair of the FCM committee that deals with public safety, security and emergency preparedness so he would have known when the FCM report would go public. Strange that Eddie did not mention that Windsor Plan in the first news story.

We will be required to spend $500K or so for the Plan. The money will come out of our Municipal Slush Fund for unexpected costs. Given that this is an election year and spending money is a No-No, expect to see a whole bunch of stories in the Star leading up to the Council meeting about floods, bird flu, West Nile, terrorists etc to demonstrate that our Mayor is right on top of things. I guess this is called momentum building.

The approach is similar to the 2 news stories about Brian Masse, Bill C-3 and the border leading up to the huge Guest Column that he wrote in Saturday's Star!

Should we applaud the fast thinking of City Hall on this issue? Not really! We should understand how we are being manipulated for political purposes.

It all started back in December 2005 when a Corporate Pandemic Planning Committee was set up. Actually, if the issue was so important, one could ask why it was not started back in October, 2004 when FCM issued a Report on "MUNICIPAL EMERGENCY PREPAREDNESS AND MANAGEMENT COSTS Issues and Resource Requirements." Why did it take over a year for someone to wake up and do something at City Hall.

When one reads the Agenda Item there is no doubt that the Plan is well-prepared. It seems to be very thorough and can apply to risks other than Pandemics as well. Frankly, in reading the materials there is an air of "emergency" and "severe risk" that demands action that just jumps out of the pages. One shocking example given is that the costs of surgical masks alone for City workers would be almost $400K per month!

So given all of the urgency and the Mayor's statement above, one would have thought that the Committee Plan would be presented to Council immediately after it was prepared. It wasn't!

The Agenda Item was actually dated May 1, 2006 which means that the Report was finished before that date. It was not on Council's agenda until July 10, over 2 months later and not until after the FCM Report was issued publicly.

What we are supposed to see a few months before the election is a concerned Mayor and Council taking steps to ensure that Windsorites are safe and secure. The real Pandemic that they are concerned about is not being re-elected.