Thoughts and Opinions On Today's Important Issues

Friday, August 25, 2006

Still Working On My Next MFOIA move

I'll post here what I am going to do shortly.

It's Only Taxpayer Money

I just do not understand it. In Michigan, the State funds for DRIC for the new fiscal year have essentially been cut off when the Legislators passed a budget amendment and the Governor did not veto it.

You might think then that on our side there might be a slight pause to consider what the impact of this might mean for the DRIC project and, more importantly, for the spending of taxpayer money.

If there was a consideration, the answer is: just keep on spending.

Councillor Jones at the last Council meeting discussed that there would be drilling in Sandwich. The Star reported that
  • "Two private firms contracted by the Detroit River International Crossing (DRIC) team will drill 12 holes to a depth of about 400 metres to determine how the bedrock in the area has been affected by mining operations over the years."
What the Star did not report is that the cost of each of these holes, based on the reported costs of drilling on the other side, run to up to $1 million per hole.

Now it is NOT clear to me whether there is going to be drilling on the other side or not based on the State actions. I do know that there is a drilling schedule for the US side that has been announced. If the drilling goes ahead (since I believe MDOT may have the funds in its budget for this fiscal year) but the actions are viewed as being contrary to what the State has just passed, would MDOT and its bureaucrats be breaking the law and liable to prosecution?

Let us assume that MDOT decides NOT to do drilling. Then what is the point of us spending up to $12 million on drilling on our side alone and achieving a result. The results are of no value because we do not know what would be the result on the other side! What may work here may not work there.

I am sure that the rationale used for this illogical action is to let us do the testing on the Canadian side first to narrow down the location on the US side so that when they are allowed to do so, they can drill in the corresponding area only. So Canadians, you waste your money to preserve DRIC! And we will outwait those foolish Legislators who hopefully will not be re-elected so we can continue spending on our side!

We also learn again in the Star story that:
  • "The area where the DRIC drilling and soil testing will take place stretches roughly from Sterling Fuels near Watkins and south to Prospect. It will occur between Sandwich Street and the riverfront...

    Another hurdle in the same industrial corridor for DRIC is that the best location in Delray for a bridge and plaza lines up roughly across from Watkins and the most heavily populated parts of Sandwich. The preferred choice on this side of the river -- Brighton Beach -- lines up across from the most valued section of Delray.

    It could mean a diagonal crossing or a more lengthy and costly S-type bridge may be required to satisfy residents on both sides."

In other words, we either spend a lot more money for an illogical bridge or destroy Sandwich or Delray.

Of course there is a way to avoid the spending up of to $12 million on our side and the equivalent on the US side and not have to destroy a Community:

Build a bridge right at the Ambassador Bridge site

In this case, we do not have to worry about salt mines, underwater pipelines and brine wells. The bridge would be located within the existing plazas on both sides of the river so no Community would be impacted. Moreoever, the Americans should be pleased because it works well for them and they have already spent hundreds of millions of dollars on the Ambassador Gateway project that was designed for a twinned bridge as in Sarnia.

But that would be too simple wouldn't it?

There is a reason why this simple solution will never work. What it means is that a Canadian politician would actually have to make a decision on where the road to the bridge would have to go. Do you truly believe that any of our politicians at any level have the guts to do that? So instead of deciding anything, keep on spending taxpayer money and talk about quality of life for years and years to come.

Some Questions To Ask

Several interesting items were reported in the Star recently. I thought I should ask a few questions about them.


News stories about Jane Boyd and City Hall intrigue me. They have interesting aspects to them that are not directly related to her.

As an example, on July 14, 2004, we learned that Norma Coleman, wife of the Windsor Star's Editorial Page Editor, John Coleman, took a position similar to that of Jane in the office of Mayor Eddie Francis. Jane was described as the "right-hand woman" to two mayors so Norma's job must be quite important too. Her title is Chief of Staff.

Norma had been appointed in May and that appointment had never been reported by the Star until several months later. What was odd to me was that the appointment was set out in the last paragraph of a story in which it was disclosed that Jane was suing the City for wrongful termination.

I would have thought something as important as the appointment of a new Chief of Staff would have been set out in a separate story or, if it was not important, would not have been reported at all.

I could never figure out why her appointment was reported months after it happened and in such a manner.

To deal with the most recent story, Jane sued the City for $23,750. (The last story said the amount was $40,000) It appears that the matter has been settled, but taxpayers only found out in August that the deal was done in April. In December I had asked
  • "Did Council offer Jane Boyd a settlement? Where is that matter now and if in litigation still, how much has it cost us so far?"
Two years of litigation does run up some considerable litigation fees. I wonder if it went to Examination for Discovery? If so, then it would be interesting to see how the Mayor acts when being examined by another lawyer. We know the "Perry Mason" traits of the Mayor when he cross-examines others---as he tried with Alan McKinnon in Tecumseh--but is he the same way when the shoe is on the other foot?

I wish we could find out the results but "The settlement won't be disclosed because both sides are bound by a confidentiality agreement." At the least the City should tell us what its legal costs were or do I have to file another MFOIA application?

Now Jane worked in Eddie's Office for a month or so after he was elected. The news stories were not clear who made the decision to terminate her services although the Star Editorial on the subject said "Mayor Eddie Francis decided to let her go."

I raise this because the settlement occurred because "The vote to settle was a tie broken by Mayor Eddie Francis" and we were told that Francis' "office oversaw the file." If the Mayor had NOT voted, a tie vote would have meant the Motion was defeated. In other words, if the Motion was to settle the case, a tied vote would have meant no settlement and the case would have gone on.

Who knows, if it had proceeded further, Eddie might have been forced to testify publicly at trial. Now that would have filled the Courtroom. By Eddie voting to break the tie, we now have a settlement and have been deprived of that.

In a case such as this where the Mayor may have taken the action that caused the City to be sued, is it the protocol that his office is allowed to run the lawsuit and that he can vote on settling it?

Oh well, it appears that all of the facts will never be known.


What a surprise. Another public project not meeting schedule and potentially going over-budget.

Huron Lodge was to be completed last November apparently but now, after a 9-month delay in completion, it is still not done. It was supposed to have been finished around this time. Accordingly, the city hired a lawyer from Toronto to "move (the project) along" whatever that means.

Here's what's interesting. More inaction by the City and failure to act promptly.

Back in June when the City negotiated the Cleary deal with St. Clair college, part of the deal included Huron Lodge:

  • "the city can remain rent-free in the Huron Lodge nursing home -- which will be owned by the college as of July 1 -- while construction of the new nursing home is delayed for six months. Strasser said the rent would have cost the city about $1 million."

If the City knew there were problems in June, why did it wait until almost the end of August to hire a lawyer. If it did not know, then why not? According to Councillor Gignac "There's substantial work" to be done."

Presumably, if the new Huron Lodge is not completed during this 6 month "delay" period, the City may have to pay the College rent. I know what Councillor Zuk said "She said St. Clair College is "completely fine" with having its plans to take over the property pushed back." Does that mean no rent will be charged or, based on Pres. Strasser's numbers, the City would owe St. Clair about $170,000 a month?

It could be a nice way for the College to make a few extra dollars to help them in their move isn't it?

Is There Finally An Alternative Media Outlet

It is very clear that the mainstream media have to deal with Blogging as another competitor to them. In fact, if you go to the Windsor Star online, several of their writers have Blogs as well.

To be direct, I know from what you tell me that many of you read this BLOG with your morning coffee because you want to read a different point of view than that which you get in the Star or to get a different slant on an event that takes place in town.

There are a number of bloggers in the area who express their points of view online for the world to read. It has been difficult finding them ....until now.

  • "Windsor Essex Speak is ready to launch.

    We Speak has been started with the goal of giving people in Windsor and Essex County an alternative voice - yours. We Speak is a blog aggregator featuring blogs from across Essex County. I have spent the last several months preparing the website and searching for local blogs to include on the blogroll.

    Stop in and see what your fellow local bloggers are talking about. There is a diverse group included on the roll, and hopefully with time this will continue to grow.

    If you like what you see, take some time today or over the next several days and blog about WE Speak. Let your friends and family know where to find the best blogs in Essex County!"

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Working On My Next Step

You will see the result of my efforts shortly to get access to the MFOIA records.

Will Downtown Windsor Survive

I wrote a BLOG about the downtown a long time ago but never posted it. Circumstances were such that I had other matters to write about and I just kept putting it off. After reading Gord Henderson's column today and the remarks of Windsor businessman Larry Horwitz, it seemed appropriate to post it now.

What Larry has not realized (but what Henderson knows I am sure) is that all of what Larry is complaining about is deliberate but unspoken. It is to move the downtown eastward to our new downtown--the area around the Casino. Let Ouellette be stuck with kiddy bars and holes in the ground as the new Tunnel Plaza pushes tourists eastward and directs people to the new Windsor downtown.

Just wait until the announcement is made after the election about the building of Windsor's new signature City Hall to be built in the Casino neighbourhood. That will signal the official death of the existing downtown. After all, we spent $15,000 on an audit of the Income and Security Building telling us how to run big projects. And Councillor Valentinis told us at Council what a mess the existing City Hall is from an energy management perspective. PLUS all of that money coming in due to Eddie's financial genius year after year after year....

For those who missed it, here is the laundry list of what Horowitz says is wrong. I am sure the pattern should now be obvious:
  1. taxes and draconian parking and smoking enforcement strangle small business and where initiatives drown in endless study.
  2. Windsor is, in many ways, the architect of its own misfortune, and thinks it could do far more to attract the hundreds of thousands of Canadians in its southwestern Ontario backyard
  3. given the foot-dragging over his proposal to block off tiny Maiden Lane in summer for a chess park, just how long it would take to get Windsor's main drag closed
  4. Pelissier Street parking garage. A blight, with windows boarded up since early spring despite repeated pleas from merchants to fix them, it sucks life out of the street while city hall dithers over its future.
  5. the surveillance cameras council approved last December and which some hoped could be in operation for the Super Bowl? Still working their way through the system.
  6. Windsor destroyed two urban villages --the Norwich Block and the Western Super Anchor site -- and now it's offering developers incentives for a new urban village.
  7. a costly riverfront festival plaza but located it so far from the core that it draws people away from downtown instead of pulling them in. Same with Charles Clark Square
  8. the Ouellette Avenue streetscaping is more than two years behind schedule and counting.
  9. government services building was a monumental ego trip, erected in a city which already had a glut of cheap office space and diverted government employees and clients away from Ouellette.
Is the downtown dead or can it be brought back to life? Is Ouellette Avenue still the centre of downtown or has it already moved eastward but we have not recognized it? As I have said before, in my view, facetiously, Mark Boscariol's restaurants are now our Western Super Anchor.

DWBIA will hate me but I rarely patronize the downtown shops or restaurants. As you will readily see, I have not even attended any of the events in the downtown at the Festival Plaza. In fact, I did not even know that site existed until a few days ago.

It was not always like this. When I first came to Windsor about 20 years ago, the downtown was very vibrant and exciting with lots of interesting shops, including fur stores on every corner it seemed. I really was quite pleasantly surprised.

Then the auto industry had a massive downturn, offices relocated away from the central core, the Casino did not bring the business that many owners thought it would and the downtown suffered. We have a central core where prime office space at Canderel is virtually given away and the office vacancy rate is around 30-50% depending on how you do the calculation. It is so bad that two major parking garages are in receivership and many spots are for rent.

I came downtown with my wife on Boxing Day last year to take advantage of the sales. We did not last very long. We were about the only ones on the street as well it seemed.

I finally understood why the crowds on Fireworks night seemed so small to me. When I first came here, the area where I watched the fireworks, around the Hilton, was jam packed with people. I don't like crowds all that much so started to watch it on TV for many years. About 3 or 4 years ago, I was invited to a party on the river and so came back. What surprised me for several years was the size of the crowds around the Hilton, certainly not what I remembered.

This year I found out why! I was early for the party and so wanted to take a look at the Midway to pass the time. It wasn't where I thought it was, but much further east, nearer to the Casino. Not close to the existing downtown as far as I was concerned. I did not understand it at all until I did some research into Festival Plaza.

I tell you all of this because I saw a full-page ad in the Star last Saturday that the DWBIA ran. It's the second time they have run the ad too. I hope at least DWBIA got a big discount on it. Appropriately, it was part of Section D of the Star ie the births and deaths section. I thought that was a fitting location for Windsor's downtown. It was wrapped around the obituary section of the paper if you are pessimistic about the downtown or the celebration section if you are optimistic.

For myself, I looked at the ad as a "political" piece; I thought that the E-machine wrote it! My first thought was that this was Eddie Francis calling in an IOU for bringing St. Clair downtown. That was supposed to be what the DWBIA said it needed and received so pay up.

I know that DWBIA has to bring people back downtown, people like me who have deserted it. I know that DWBIA has to make downtown exciting since Americans are staying away in droves because of the higher dollar and fears of traffic backups. But people false expectations won't accomplish what DWBIA is trying to do.

I am not trying to be critical, honest. We need an excting downtown here if we are to survive. And no one is trying harder and taking more imaginative action than DWBIA. I know that DWBIA has to take a positive spin but this ad made me gag!

I must admit that I was shocked that the Keg did not get a bigger spotlight in the ad since that seemed to be the beacon that is going to attract the investors that are going to re-vitalize the downtown. I guess that pitch has been overplayed (never mind that we still do not know the details of the parking deal in the underground garage!)

So here is what is helping the downtown's rebirth according to the ad:

  1. 16 new businesses opened, but how many closed?
  2. Downtown Farmers' market. There were 7 vendors the first weekend with spots available for up to 22. Crowds totalled over 6,000 for all of June. However, about 2300 of them came the first weekend. How many really came in the hope of seeing Councillor Zuk do her dance?
  3. Streetscaping on Ouellette amd cosmetic enhancements but ask the DWBIA how long it will take the City to complete the job!
  4. The Bus mean the one that is a fraction of the size it first was supposed to be? You mean the one that was supposed to be built for Super Bowl in Detroit? Oh you mean the funky one
  5. St. Clair relocation of an "estimated 1,000 people." I truly hope that whoever is doing the number crunching is not the one who did the Super Bowl figures for the Mayor, you know the $100 million that turned into a small fraction of that. Now they are not coming until September, 2007, a year from now, since it will take several months for the lawyers to do the contract work. Read the comment on my BLOG June 16, 2006 "The Marketing Of The Cleary Deal" for an interesting perspective.
  6. Urban village. That was Bill Marra's idea when he was on Council. He chaired that committee. How many years have we been talking about it and we have not even sent out the RFPs yet
  7. The $400 million Casino complex... the old one sure revitalized the downtown didn't it! I thought that Casino doors only allow people to enter, not to exit! Anyway, with the retail shops moving to the Casino area, who needs to go to the kiddie bar area.
  8. No smoking...sure businesses embraced it, what choice did they have? It will be interesting what happens in 6 months. How much has the City been able to get so far from the Province to help out our businesses? We can use Slush Fund money for unexpected pandemic plans but there is no money for our downtown businesses who are facing disasters.

If I were a business person downtown, I would have been screaming bloody murder about the midway moving away and festivals taking place in front of the Casino as part of a shift. I'd be screaming that we have lost thousands of jobs and have people moving out of town for new ones and our Economic Development Commission has not even appointed a new CEO yet (according to Ken Lewenza on Face-to-Face the other day). I'd be screaming about City Hall undercutting the commercial real estate market with its Canderel deal and competing as a landlord. I'd be screaming that without jobs and people no one will ever live in an urban village. I'd be screaming that we are cozying up too much to the Mayor and Council and not demanding more and in a timely fashion.

You know, I'd just be screaming until real action was taken! Perhaps nothing will happen until we have a Mayor and Council that really believe in our downtown

A Perfect EA Storm

What could have prompted the Mayor, with the active participation of the Province, to decide to announce an Environmental Assessment for the lands west of Huron Church at this time? Why not before, after all of the many comments made about the need for a full environmental assessment by the Mayor?

Frankly, it makes little sense to me except if you look at it in one way. It's all a turf war. A big inter-governmental battle is about to be fought now that Bill C-3 has passed in the House of Commons. That has to be why Brian Masse tried so hard and failed so miserably to get City of Windsor amendments passed when the Bill was in hearings. That's why Brian was so insistent about the right of local Government to be involved in decisions and to be consulted on border matters.

Who will control the Windsor border crossing: the Feds who have constitutional responsibility or the Province and Eddie who want the money that they think the border will bring them and who will control the border as the operator. If in the process the Ambassador Bridge suffers financially, well that is a bonus for them.

The other bitter and obsessed old man would say that it takes Eddie months to do anything, if he ever does, so why be suprised that it has taken almost 16 months after the money was set aside by the Province for him to act.

An Eddie booster would say that Eddie never hurries since he is a legal technocrat and wants to ensure that the proper process has been followed, that everything is thought out clearly and that everything is in place before he acts. He works to his timetable not to that of others.

They are both right but there is more, much more. A variety of forces make this the ideal time to act.

Just a bit more background to help you out. As I said yesterday, the Province back on April 20, 2005 announced that the province was willing to fund the municipal environmental assessment study and detailed work for a Huron Church Road truck bypass in Windsor. In case you forgot, the next day, on the 21st, the Mayor and Council "snubbed" the Senior Levels. They had offered Windsor environmental assessments and detailed designs for improvements to Highway 3/Talbot Road from Highway 401 to Todd Lane, to upgrade and extend Lauzon Parkway, from Highway 401 to E.C. Row; and to upgrade Manning Road from Highway 401 to County Road 22, including the interchange at Highway 401, in the County of Essex."

Here is what Eddie said on April 26, 2005
  • " Last week, the mayor and city council snubbed a federal- provincial border announcement made by Premier Dalton McGuinty and Deputy Prime Minister Anne McLellan, dismissing it as $21 million in studies for a $1-billion problem.

    Francis lashed out at Ottawa for refusing to OK its share of a $300-million truck bypass that the province had approved the day before.

    On Monday, he defended council's boycott of the announcement.

    "if that announcement had included a commitment to fund construction, we would have been there," he said.

    "But a commitment to fund some studies that might result in 500 trucks an hour entering the E.C. Row Expressway is not a commitment to fund construction and we could not be a party to that."
Don't you find it strange that no EA was announced right then and there? Don't you find it strange about the praise given to the Province, the attack on the $21M for an EA but not a word about the Takhar EA money. Don't you find it strange the night before the big Senior Levels meeting in Windsor, the Ontario government said it would provide up to $150 million for the construction of the Schwartz truck bypass, the one which the Federal Government consultant later would shoot down in flames. This was just after the 500 Million dollar man Dwight Duncan had said that "more money will soon be made available from the province to fix Windsor's border-crossing problems" at a speech in Windsor about a week before. [The Takhar offer was "good politics" but as Henderson put it "that commitment remains empty with Ottawa refusing to fund the other half."]

I noticed that the Mayor has talked about environmental assessments many times after April, 2005. Why didn't he act then but instead wait until now. He had the opportunities. Let me give a few examples

On May 14, he said
  • "Mayor Eddie Francis insists city council is committed to an environmental assessment process that ensures no project proceeds unless it can be demonstrated it won't have a negative impact. People think we're going to plow a road through environmental lands. That's not what Sam's report talks about," says Francis. Council favours a full EA that meets requirements of both provincial and federal regulations -- the most stringent possible."
On July 19,
  • "The mayor suggested having the feds review the city's border blueprint is redundant, since "all elements of the Schwartz plan will be subject to a full and comprehensive environmental assessment."
On January 18, 2006
  • "We want to see every option explored, including tunneling or anything that would basically see the trucks buried," Francis said. "It would improve the environment, quality of life and allow trucks to move more freely toward the border."
On February 17,
  • "Mayor Eddie Francis is calling attention to the environmental impact of a potential border traffic feeder route leading to the new plaza and crossing. City council is concerned the DRIC team is on the verge of calling for a major at-grade expansion of the Talbot Road-Huron Church corridor as its solution to the local border traffic problems, he said."

On March 23
  • "City council will demand at a special meeting tonight that provincial authorities conduct an environmental assessment on a three-kilometre zone west of Huron Church Road to find a new route that takes international trucks away from South Windsor subdivisions.
On March 28
  • Francis said "the city is continuing its call for a full environmental assessment which might help identify alternative routes."
Sources have told me that the Mayor was deeply involved with the Province in secret discussions about the EA back in March but that the talks seemed to end with nothing resolved. The Province offered in the range of $4-5M for an EA but that was viewed by some as inadequate for the full EA desired.

With all of these statements and with money already allocated, why didn't the Mayor act before? Why now?

It is a perfect storm. All the forces are there and have come together so well now. Let me give you a number of reasons. The EA realistically could only be set up now to accomplish the objectives of Eddie and the Province:

1) It's Election time

How do you defend 3 years of inaction and total failure on the Schwartz Report while pretending you are doing something. Simple, set up an EA (You did what the Council resolution said you must do, check mark granted). Because lawyers are now involved, you cannot speak about it because of solicitor-client privilege. No one can dare question you about it and if they do, you have a non-answer answer and who could can argue with that!

2) Block the Ambassador Bridge's enhancement program

Everyone knows that the Bridge Co. is going to move forward and have their enhancement project completed before a shovel is put into the ground for the bureaucrat favoured public bridge. The only way to try and stop them is to delay them. So throw another several years long "full and comprehensive" EA project their way after having them involved in DRIC for years just to throw them out! This time it is for by-pass roads to the border that will tie onto where the bureaucrats want the new bridge to go. Of course EVERY alternative will have to be examined fully including those in LaSalle to drive them nuts. Who knows, LaSalle might choose to litigate to tie this up in the courts forever!

3) Hope that the Bridge Co. sues

Keep on egging them on to sue since that will confirm in everyone's minds that they are the "bad guys" preventing a border solution. Make them the ones who are the border problem rather than what they are: the border solution. After all, Eddie must be tired of everyone pointing at him saying that he is the one stalling new infrastructure work in Windsor and the spending of $300M BIF monies. [Imagine, Coco Paving doing the Sarnia job instead of doing one in Windsor!]. And "bad guys" should not be allowed to build enhancement projects should they!

How many more anti-Bridge Co. actions will it take before they say enough and litigate so that the bureaucrats can get their bridge started.

4) Divert attention away from Eddie's Main Interest

Eddie wants to do a deal on the Tunnel although the front page Star story about the drop in revenues may be the straw that broke the camel's back for anyone interested in doing so. What investor would want to take a chance when ther are so many other bettr deals around? Trying to do a deal is what he has been doing for the past few months in secret. Work together with the Province on this too to pressure the Feds to put money in. After all the $30 million for Tunnel Plaza improvements should only be viewed as a down-payment.

Talk about quality of life, tunnels, get DRTP mad, send out scare letters, flog the Schwartz Report (who cares what it says), get neighbourhoods fighting neighbourhoods, attack DRIC----it does not matter. Just make sure no one follows what is going on at the Tunnel.

5) Allow Eddie and the Province to own and control the crossings

This is what the EAing is really all about. I will be discussing this subject in more detail in another BLOG, but if you read the paper on Ontario's position on infrastructure, it is clear that the Province wants to "own" the Bridge. That ties in with Eddie's ambitions about the Tunnel and, in my opinion, his long-term new bridge ambitions. [Watch their uneasy alliance collapse if their goals are accomplished]. For both of them, the common enemy is the Government that controls anything to do with international crossings and the Government that has money to spend that they want for infrastructure: the Feds. Their method is to create animosity directed against the Ambassador Bridge Co.

Each of the two lower level governments has their own objective. The object is to isolate the Feds and force them into doing what the 2 parties want. Therefore, they are working together, not necessarily as friends, but together as against a common enemy. There is no other way to explain the total breach of protocol in the Province putting forward their $150M Schwartz solution funding the day before the "snub" meeting. There is no other way to explain Eddie's praise of the Province. There is no other way to explain what is going on in municipal politics either.

They are both gambling that Bill C-3 will stop the Bridge Co. and that the Feds can still be pushed around on "Government Oversight." So far, the Fed's bark is worse than their bite. They must have known for years about the Tunnel's unique security problem but have done nothing to force Eddie to correct it. They have not dealt effectively with the City's overruns on projects. They are sitting by as millions will be wasted on theTunnel Plaza Improvements. They are being pushed around and reacting to the Tunnelleers.

6) Wreck the DRIC
I am NOT going to explain this one but obviously a good legal mind is behind it. No wonder the City is the proponent and not the Province. The Province would not dare. Why make it so obvious? In this way, the Province who is footing the EA bill has plausible deniability as Eddie is front and centre. His tough talk will help his career ambitions as well so he does not mind.

With their common border éminence grise advising both of them, it will be fascinating to watch if the Feds wake up or continue to drift as another election might take place. If you do not think that election politics will have an important role to play in this--on both sides of the border---by the time it is done, then you do not understand how border battles are won and lost. Been there. Done that!

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Too Many Tasks, Too Few Hours

Working on my next move with the City amongst tracking down exclusive BLOG information for your enjoyment and eddiefication!

Today--$44 Million For Sarnia, $0 For Windsor

Canada And Ontario Improving Highway 402 Leading To Sarnia
402 Improvements Mean Reduced Congestion For Ontarians

LONDON, ON, Aug. 23 /CNW/ - Federal Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities, the Honourable Lawrence Cannon and Ontario Transportation Minister Donna Cansfield today announced the start of a project to rebuild Highway 402 east of Sarnia to improve traffic flow and safety.

"Highway 402 is an important international trade corridor for Canada," said Minister Cannon. "The reconstruction of this segment of highway will improve the overall operation of the corridor and the safety of both commercial drivers and travellers."

"The future of our province depends on the success of the Ontario economy," said Minister Cansfield. "Highway 402 leads to one of Canada's top three busiest border crossings with 4,900 trucks and $127 million worth of goods crossing the Sarnia border each day. That adds up to about $46 billion in imports and exports every year. We want to safely move people and goods
faster, create jobs and build a stronger economy."

Coco Paving Group was awarded the project and has recently commenced construction. Work is expected to be complete by late 2008. This investment of more than $44 million is being cost-shared by the governments of Canada and Ontario.

Improvements to Highway 402, east of Sarnia, from west of Mandaumin Road (Interchange 15) easterly to east of Oil Heritage Road (Interchange 25) will improve traffic flow and safety in the area. Improvements on this 12-kilometre stretch of Highway 402 include:

<< - Rebuilding eastbound and westbound lanes on Highway 402; - Repairing two bridges on Highway 402; - Repairing three bridges over Highway 402; - New lighting and upgraded highway signs; and - Upgrading Sarnia South Truck Inspection Station to a new Commercial Vehicle Inspection Facility configuration that provides a safer and more efficient facility for inspectors and the trucking industry. >>

The governments of Canada and Ontario are investing $323 million to improve highways and border crossings in Sarnia, Niagara and London.

The Government of Canada's funding for this project comes from the $600 million Border Infrastructure Fund. The fund is designed to contribute to projects that reduce border congestion, improve the flow of goods and services, and expand infrastructure over the medium-term.

This year, the Government of Ontario is investing over $1.4 billion in highway improvements through its five-year ReNew Ontario infrastructure investment plan. This investment will strengthen Ontario's economic advantage and create opportunities for Ontario businesses and people.

People Based Budget--By Phone

I saw this story in the Star recently and while I found it odd, I did not think much of it. However, as usual, a reader wrote to me about it and asked my views of it. So I started to think about it.

  • Satisfaction survey
    Published: Tuesday, August 01, 2006

    In preparation for the 2007 city operating and capital budgets, the University of Windsor is conducting a telephone survey on behalf of the city beginning today and continuing for the next two weeks.

    The survey, conducted by university students, will be statistically valid and find out from Windsor residents what their priorities are and how satisfied they are with municipal programs and services.

    "This information can be used by city council to make funding decisions during the upcoming budget process," said Onorio Colucci, city treasurer."

I thought it odd that Council all of a sudden cared what citizens had to say about the budget for next year. I must admit I did not recall this type of action being done before.

Remember what I wrote about the People based budget before:

  • "Whatever happened to the People Based Budget process that seemed to work so well last year? Whatever happened to the "web site and an interactive online survey that not only provided citizens with relevant budget information but enabled them to give their opinions and rank their priorities."

Remember what the Mayor said in his State of the City speech:

  • "And the People-Based Budget will not be a one-year wonder!

    It will be back next year, when it will feed into our zero-based budget. Having public input into our zero-based budget process will truly yield more effective – and efficient – city government."

Here is what Councillor Postma said in December 2005:

  • "What ever happened to People Based budgeting? How are citizens going to learn what the cuts really mean? We did not even advertise our meetings....

    I am greatly disappointed that some of my esteemed colleagues have labelled this Council as being at war with spenders vs. savers, good vs. evil, guardians of good vs. guardians of the public purse etc. There are many ways to stretch the truth to make yourself sound better than others, however all actions or mis-actions have an impact, some that you may not notice today but you certainly will in the future. Smoke and mirrors - I truly look forward to educating the public on the budget in an open truly people based process."

Councillor Lewenza gave the justification for killing the process:

  • "Looking back on the people based budget, I witnessed minimal value in allowing the exercise aside from allowing citizens to express themselves and for allotting city councillors the privilege to mingle with their constituents."

I thought it even stranger that the work would be done now and not say, in November, since several of the Council members won't be around next year after the November election. Perhaps next year's Council would have a different opinion as to the budget process so why waste money doing a "telephone survey" on "what their priorities are and how satisfied they are with municipal programs and services."

Then it hit me---this had nothing to do with the budget but everything to do with getting the pulse of the public for the election and at taxpayer expense. Don't go out and hire your own polling firm when the City will do the work for the Mayor and Council. What wonderful information that the Mayor and Council will have in advance so that they can do their electioneering and give the people what they want.

Clearly, they are in panic mode at City Hall knowing what trouble most of them are in since the focus of the election will be in the wards if no one challenges Eddie.

Just try and get the results too. And some people think they can beat incumbents.

Eddie And The Province Challenge The Feds

The denials are everywhere it seems. No one knows anything apparently. No wonder given the potential fall-out.

The Blogmeister has learned exclusively that a big border announcement is only days away from being made by the City and the Province. Word is that a two-party, joint announcement will be made about an Environmental Assessment for the lands west of Huron Church Road. Interestingly, the Federal Government will not be a participant of what is being told to the public. Luckily it is being made now, just in time for the municipal election.

For face saving purposes, the three parties may tie it into the DRIC drilling program which Councillor Jones revealed at Council on Monday. This is a multi-million drilling project that is only being done it appears on the Canadian side of the river due to the Michigan Legislators' actions on the other side cutting off DRIC funding.

Obviously, I do not have the exact details since no official words have been put to paper yet for a press release. It all goes back to a secret meeting held with the Mayor and several provincial officials back in March, 2006.

What is bizarre about all of this is that there has been an EA going on for years already. It's called DRIC! The announcement will say that this new EA is non-DRIC related, again as a tactical measure. I suspect that it will be put this way:
  • "The City and Provincial Governments have decided to proceed with other additional, faster solutions recommended by Schwartz in his $1-billion plan, said Mayor Eddie Francis, such as improvements to rail and ferry transportation and a Huron Church Road bypass.

    "Regardless of what the binational may come up with, you still need to improve the situation on Huron Church," he said. "You need to get trucks off city streets, and you need to provide better connections to the existing crossings, and a bypass road does that."

Taking you back in time, the Provincial monies come from this program announced by the then Transport Minister:
  • "TORONTO, April 20, 2005 /CNW/ - The Honourable Harinder Takhar, Ontario Minister of Transportation, today announced that the province is willing to fund the municipal environmental assessment study and detailed work for a Huron Church Road truck bypass in Windsor, as proposed in the Schwartz Report...Pending the approval of the Municipal Class Environmental Assessment study, the Ontario government will also provide up to $150 million for the construction of the truck bypass."
Of course you remember how Cansult demolished the Schwartz Horseshoe Road by-pass in September, 2005. But never fear, our Council in the Tecumseh Council meeting passed a resolution on March 23, 2006 stating:
  • "That City Council, in response to the DRICP Area of Continued Analysis,

    ENDORSES the Schwartz/Estrin Proposal, which includes
    -tunneling under Talbot Road from Highway 401 to Todd Lane, with a full environmental assessment in terms of all alternatives west of Huron Church Road,
    -removal of international truck traffic off of city streets, including Huron Church Road and E.C. Row Expressway,"
So now it comes to fruition. I'll tell you what this really all means in another BLOG. Right now, let me say to you that this is a direct challenge by the City and the Province to the authority of the Federal Government, especially their powers under Bill C-3.

For purely political reasons, the City will be the proponent. The Province wants to pretend that it is just going along for the ride. Because of the Provincial commitment to fund, technically, the City can proceed at anytime, but they would not dare do so without the backing of the Province. Eddie is not that brave, nor that foolish for his next career move, to take on both levels of Government.

How will the Feds react? They made a big show of taking back the powers over international bridges and tunnels during the Bill C-3 Commons hearings. Let them walk the talk now when Ontario challenges them over Windsor. I wonder if they have the guts to take on a fight. Or will they cave as they have so far to let the Windsor Mayor hold hostage the most important border crossing in Canada.

I am so thrilled that Windsorites' futures are a mere pawn in the Inter-provincial battle between Ontario and Canada for supremacy. Eddie Francis, of course, is playing both sides against each other in the hope that someone will salvage his Tunnel! Unfortunately, that cannot happen after the last Council meeting revealed its disastrous financial shape after three years of his Chairmanship.

At the least, he has won the admiration of his colleagues on Council. When they are attacked on their failure on the border they can point to the EA, the phony talk about tunnels and quality of life and then close the discussion by saying it is under the legal process--solicitor-client privilege and all that stuff.

Tree-hugger 101

Eddie and the other levels of Government should learn to make nice with tree-huggers! While being friendly is the right thing to do , politicians should understand that environmentalists have vast resources and people they can draw upon across North America to make politicians'lives hell. And they do NOT go away. They can get out their numbers in short order and have the facility to inundate with letters, emails and phone calls.

There is no doubt that if my City EA BLOG is correct, then Ojibway is at risk. Everyone knows it and knows that there will be a war. I hope the Mayor and Council understand the consequences in an election year of holding an EA where the target is Ojibway even if it is an underground tunnel.

The whole debate is becoming absurd when pollution control devices on trucks and new fuels are being developed.

Politically, there will be games played to try and split the ranks of the the Green Party endorsing Schwartz. I would be shocked if anyone in the Green Movement would fall for that this time around.

Here is a letter sent to the Carolinian Canada Newsletter that proves my point. Note the tunnel reference.

  • Lorraine Johnson
    Editor, Carolinian Canada newsletter

    Dear Ms. Johnson:

    I read your fine article in the Spring edition of Carolinian Canada about the impact of a truck bypass in Ojibway Complex in west Windsor. One particular statement leaped off the page. The mayor of Windsor "does not rule out a tunnel underneath a portion of Ojibway." This has been his mantra since the release of the Schwartz Report in January 2005.

    Notwithstanding the fact that the federally financed Cansult Report released in 2005 declared tunneling too expensive ($300 million), any truck route incursion would damage important ecosystems found in the Ojibway Prairie Remnants Area of Natural and
    Scientific Interest (ANSI). It consists of Ojibway Prairie Provincial Nature Reserve, Ojibway Park Tallgrass Prairie Heritage Park, Black Oak Heritage Park and Spring Garden Natural Area.

    As Carolinian Canada is aware, these lands are special because they contain the last and largest remnants of the original landscape of this region. What is found
    here is found nowhere else. It has richer biodiversity than Walpole Island, Point Pelee or Pelee Island.

    Rare animals and birds take refuge in this ecosystem. Over 117 plants considered species at risk thrive in this remarkable ecosystem. Governments at all levels
    and private conservation organizations have cooperated to identify, purchase and protect the Ojibway Complex.

    Some fear the tunneling suggestion will result in a "compromise"---a road at grade level. This too would be devastating to the Complex ecosystem. Any route whether above or below these areas would impact them by changing the water table and damaging root systems, setting aside all the devastation of the construction process itself.

    Finally, substantial expenditures of public money have been made in order to protect these environmentally sensitive areas from development by their former owners. For the public sector to implement the Schwartz proposal would be a gross violation of public trust.

    Best wishes to you and the staff at Carolinian Canada.

    Yours for a better environment,

    Public Advisory Council of the Detroit River Canadian Cleanup

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

My Next Step

In case you did not see the comment yesterday, here is what one reader suggested I do about my MFOIA application. It was an interesting response that I wanted to post for your amusement:

  • "Tell you for Mayor and I am certain YOU will win... and then you can access to the records and not pay a penny...that's what I would do."

Any other suggestions?

Is The Tunnel Headed To Financial Disaster

It's a good thing for taxpayers that Councillor Gignac was Acting Mayor last night at Council. A lot more was revealed than would have been permitted if Eddie was in the Chair. He may regret being in France so long.

We are starting to learn slowly but surely the mess that the Tunnel is in. You remember, what Councillor Brister has known about for over a year and mentioned to Gord Henderson but refused to tell his constituents about.

We are now getting an inkling why Councillor Lewenza said that next year's budget may see an increase in taxes or a reduction in services compared with this year's "election budget." We know that over $6 million more will have to come out of the pockets of taxpayers because of the Tunnel mess!

I truly could not believe what I was hearing last night at Council. The shocking news was NOT reported in the Windsor Star so far. The City's "cash cow" has become a "cash drain" on City finances. The consequences are a serious financial problem for taxpayers since taxes may have to be increased next year and a blow to the grand ambitions of the Mayor

I never picked up a hint of the problem before, especially not at the Joint Councils meeting where everything was pictured in such a glowing fashion. It was definitely not mentioned in the mid-summer discussions between the cities about a Windsor-Detroit deal.

In a very brief exchange between Councillor Halberstadt and the City's Treasurer, Onorio Colucci, that I watched last night on TV during the discussion on approving the City's Accounts, I learned in horror that:
  1. the City will NOT get the $3.4M capital dividend that it received in the past from the Tunnel's revenues PLUS
  2. the $3.2M operating dividend that the City received in the past from the Tunnel's revenues is at risk (I learned subsequently that it appears the operating dividend may disappear in 2007) PLUS
  3. due to the "pay-as-you-go" financial approach the Windsor Tunnel Commission may have to borrow money from the City's capital reserve fund to pay the $12-14M for the ongoing costs for the Tunnel Ventilation building that have sky-rocketed! That sum will not be paid back for years. (Of course the City will be so thrilled that it generates interest income from its non-arm's length subsidiary)

Pooooooof...almost $6.6 million dollars gone that taxpayers will have to make up PLUS interest on a City loan AND a depletion of the reserve fund that is not strong in the first place for a City our size! Is this the financial strength of Windsor that the Mayor and Council have been bragging about? This was their pride and joy. If so, we are in more trouble than I thought.

It would have been interesting if the Mayor was there as Chair of the Council meeting to see if he would have tried to cut off the Councillor as this financial disaster was being disclosed for the first time. After all, to whom can the "Teflon"Mayor pass the blame now since he is the Chair of WTC. It sticks to him this time around! He made the financial decisions that failed in attracting revenues and volumes.

Over the past few weeks I have posted on the increasing problems at the Tunnel: its "unique" security risk, its failure to meet US Customs requirements, its sharply decreasing volume numbers, its failure to raise tolls in a timely manner, its waste of $30 million for a Tunnel Plaza parking lot. Never in my wildest imagination did I conceive that the Tunnel may be heading for financial disaster, or worse!

I have no idea how the Tunnel finances got this way. Oh we will hear the excuses about SARS, the Canadian dollar, terrorists, passports and all of that. Why then has the Bridge survived and successsfully competed against the Tunnel even though the Tunnel's fare into Detroit was substantially lower. And after the toll was increased by Eddie in July, the Tunnel took a huge hit in numbers.

It's not my job to figure why the Tunnel is a mess either. Just look at what happened with my MFOIA when I asked Tunnel questions. That's the job of the WTC Board especially its Councillor members Brister, Cassivi and Valentinis. They should be demanding answers immediately. They should be demanding an audit immediately to explain how the Tunnel finances deteriorated so quickly. If Council can get so upset and spend $65,000 for KPMG to do an operational audit at the Windsor Library Board where there were few problems, then Councillors better get off their collective rear ends and do something at the Tunnel.

In the end, only one person must take responsibility for the Tunnel fiasco. The Mayor. His head ought to be on the chopping block. Instead of keeping his eye on the ball and watching the day-to-day operations of theTunnel, he dreamed BIG. He had visions of being a big border operator and pulling off the financial coup of the season in Windsor. It was not for him to look after mere details such as pricing and profits and losses. Nope, it was much more exciting being an entrepreneur with no risk since he was playing with Taxpayers' money.

The WTC Board now has the responsibility to determine if Eddie should keep his job or be asked to resign immediately or be fired!

Eddie's grand ambition, his Tunnel PLAN. Who would want to finance the Tunnel now? Financially it is a disaster, it faces huge capital expenses, it has security problems. Do you really think that Detroit would want Eddie as a partner now? A month ago, there were discussions of a $6.6M dividend. A mere month later, it is almost all gone.

Transportation is not good for the Mayor. The Border was first. Imagine if the $300 Million goes because of lack of City action. Then we had the bus terminal fiasco with a deal that makes no sense. Now the Tunnel. Hmmm I wonder if the City-owned airport is next!

We are just scratching the surface of this and other financial problems in Windsor. When will a Councillor have the guts to spill the beans on Enwin!

There is more to come at the Tunnel I am sure.

Life is peculiar. The more the saga of the Tunnel continues, the more that Detroit's Deputy Mayor, Anthony Adams, is looking like the smartest man around respecting the Tunnel. Too bad no one wanted to listen to him!

Dennis Vs. Buzz

Here is some more ammunition for you to help you understand the state of the automobile business in Canada. Certainly, it is crucial for us in Windsor. Do our local politicians have to start making some tough decisions about going after the business of the "non-union" Imports the way the Michigan Governor is doing or do they fear the wrath of the CAW voters? Is there some other solution that can help us?

Want to bet whether this subject will be an issue in the municipal election campaign?

In a CTV news story the other day about the Ford layoffs, Buzz Hargrove said,
  • "Buzz Hargrove, president of the Canadian Auto Workers Union, told CTV Newsnet the union is working to avoid more job loss.

    "We're worried that there is more to come," Hargrove said.

    "We're working with Ford, trying to find a commitment for the St. Thomas assembly plant. We're working to ensure the commitment they made to us in bargaining last fall for a new engine project in Windsor is going to continue on. But there's so much uncertainty as Ford continues to lose market share to the imports, we just have to keep working with them."

    Hargrove blamed unfair trade rules that bar North American producers from selling vehicles in Japan or Korea, but allow those countries to ship "literally millions" of vehicles to be sold in Canada.

    He said General Motors and Chrysler are also losing market share to foreign imports.

    "So until our government comes to grips with this unfair one-way trade situation, you're going to see a continuation of this loss of market share."
Dennis DesRosiers differed with that comment and wrote to me providing to me the data above and stating:
  • "And I say, thank goodness most of those import nameplate products are built in North America. Buzz doesn't understand that the problem is not that Japanese or Korean consumers are unfairly being prevented from purchasing GM, Ford and DCX product. The problem is that Canadians and Americans aren't buying GM, Ford or DCX product.


    See attached table that documents sales by source. import nameplates sell more vehicles in Canada made in North America than they sell that are imported. They certainly don't sell "literally millions"

When Is...NOT

  • Remember all of those "When Is...NOT" jokes I made up back on March 9, 2006? Here is another one that is a really funny that should be added to the list.

    When is going through the Ojibway Nature Preserve for a truck highway NOT going through the Ojibway Nature Preserve for a truck highway...when it is going underneath the Ojibway Nature Preserve for a truck highway!

    I won't take credit though for this line. It was one that the Mayor used in the spring newsletter of the Carolinian Canada Coalition. Here is part of the article:


    "Alan McKinnon, founder of the group Citizens Protecting Ojibway Wilderness (CPOW), is fighting to stop the proposed bypass route in its tracks. “Every mayor since 1958 has enhanced and furthered the protection of Ojibway,” says McKinnon. “Our goal is to stop the City from putting a road through Ojibway and to instead continue to protect this legacy for our grandchildren.” Phil Roberts, president of the Essex County Field Naturalists' Club, agrees: “Any plans to put a road through Ojibway will be adamantly opposed by the community .”

    Windsor Mayor Eddie Francis rejects the characterization of the bypass as “through” Ojibway. “Anybody that's characterizing it as 'through' Ojibway is doing that for their own reasons,” says Mayor Francis. “'Going through' Ojibway seems to try to create the impression that we're in favour of destroying Ojibway, and that's completely inaccurate.”

    However, Mayor Francis does not rule out a tunnel underneath a portion of Ojibway: “Our engineers tell us that you can tunnel underneath without affecting anything in the area. But we realize that that's one engineer's perspective. What we're saying is that the proposal has to be subjected to the most comprehensive environmental assessment there is. If it can be tunneled so there's no impact, then obviously we'll consider that, but it's a full and comprehensive environmental assessment that will determine this.”

Monday, August 21, 2006

"Kiss-Off" Letter

I guess that the City has gone about as far as they wanted to go on being co-operative on my MFOIA application.

Read the letter to me from Mr. Scarpelli. I would be interested in your reaction to it and your advice as to what I should do next.

  • "Further to your email received by this office on August 14, 2006, I am advising you that under the Municipal Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act, Section 39, a person may appeal a decision of a head under this Act to the Information and Privacy Commissioner. I have attached a copy of the pertinent section of the Act for your convenience.

  • If you have any questions concerning this appeal process, do not hesitate to contact me.

    Yours very truly,

    Chuck Scarpelli

A Day In The Life Of...

Say what you will, whether it is Windsor or some other city, it has to be exciting being the Mayor. Sure, you have to do all of the drudge work but you may get the chance to meet dignitaries that we ordinary mortals can only see from afar.

You know the secrets. You know what great new developments are coming and can help bring them to fruition. You get to meet all kinds of people and attend all kinds of events helping to build community spirit. You get the opportunity to create a vision for the future of your community. And one day, you may even get something named after you so that you can point to it as you take your grandkids for a walk.

So how must Mike Hurst feel these days being CEO of a project that seems to be going nowhere after leading Windsor for so many years as mayor? It has to be a letdown.

After all, community groups panned DRTP as did Windsor Council, our Windsor MPs and MPPs, Schwartz and DRIC. The project has changed so many times that frankly I am not sure what the project is any more. Is it still a crossing to the US, and if so what is it in detail so it can be discussed, or is it an attempt to do something, anything, with the corridor to salvage the investment of OMERS and CP Rail?

I do know one thing, Mike is still spending his time creating and presenting Powerpoints and holding information sessions. At his latest South Windsor one, he made some interesting comments that you might find of interest:

  1. Somehow an area near Tiger stadium is where trucks will exit on the US side. If they go over Detroit City streets to get to I-75, it will be a non-starter. If it is a direct I-75 connection, has FHWA agreed to the location?
  2. The 110 acre golf-course sized Customs area in the centre of the City is no longer the preferred location for the US/Canadian Customs truck plaza but it is now to be located at Highway 401. Does that mean that all the money spent for the funeral lands, and re-locating the funeral home, and the printing press site is money down the drain? The location makes little logistical sense for the million or so trucks, about one third of the total number of trucks that cross the border, that serve the "local" international market. It means, if they have to pick up or deliver loads, that they have to go all the way out to Highway 401 just to come back down again. It just increases local manufacturers' costs to their detriment.
  3. If the expressway can now be 3 lanes in each direction, then what's the point to do so and spend the big money for a tunnel when it all has to come together to go into the one-lane "cattle chute" to get to the other side.
  4. Mike needs to get together with Marge Byington, his DRTP colleague on the other side, on costs. He claimed that the cost to tunnel would be $500 million while I thought she had said at the Lansing hearings that the cost would be $2 billion.
  5. Mike said that public monies are needed for the tunnel but did not say how much. When it was above-ground it needed $150M. If below ground, it must need much more
  6. When asked about plans, it seems that Mike does not have any detailed ones since they were not going to put in more money unless they were going to move forward.

The most interesting part to me though was his advice to elect a Council that will listen to the people. I assume that means those who want to support the DRTP "Green Solution." He then went on to promote the candidacies of Al Teshuba, who spoke at the session to promote his up-coming rally, and Bill Marra.

I wonder if a DRTP promotion will help candidates or could be the kiss of death since no local candidate who supported DRTP has been elected so far.

I would not be surprised if Hurst and Matt Marchand, his assistant, contact candidates who decide to run locally to promote the DRTP vision to get them onside. I would think then that a good part of Mike's days is spent trying to organize politically to get people elected who support a tunnel under the DRTP corridor. Get a pro-DRTP slate together to pressure the Senior Levels and, more importantly, to change the Rail Lands By-law that kills anything he wants to do.

If the DRTP situation is so bad, why wouldn't the real owners of DRTP write it off or write it down as a business normally does with loser projects. You may recall the $600 million OMERS write-down of assets a few years ago. A CUPE lawsuit and a two-year investigation into OMERS by FSCO may be the answer. One hardly takes drastic steps with ongoing litigation. I was reminded of this by a recent CUPE press release which I am copying below. Those two items may help explain why Mike still has a day in the DRTP office.

  • CUPE Ontario wins crucial battle against OMERS money managers

    TORONTO, Aug. 17 /CNW Telbec/ - When CUPE Ontario launched a lawsuit against the Ontario Municipal Employees Retirement System (OMERS) two years ago, OMERS vilified CUPE Ontario maintaining the CUPE claims were "simply not reflective of the truth."

    However, in his decision released yesterday (Wednesday, August 16), Justice Ground of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice agrees with CUPE Ontario. Members have a right to know how their pension monies are invested, and further, he agreed that OMERS members have a right to know if pension fund managers are unjustly enriching themselves through charging exorbitant fees.

    "CUPE Ontario has lifted the veil of secrecy on OMERS investments and may well set a precedent for all pension plan members in the province," said Sid Ryan, president of CUPE Ontario. "With Justice Ground's decision, it is clearly obvious that our decision to launch our lawsuit was the correct one."

    OMERS also claimed that the lawsuit was a waste of pension resources because of the large legal fees OMERS would have to pay to defend a suit that they claimed had no merit. However, with yesterday's decision, Justice Ground found that the case is strong enough to proceed to trial. CUPE Ontario is considering appealing some aspects of Justice Ground's decision and requires clarification of others. Some of the allegations against individual defendants and Borealis were dismissed.

    The action was triggered by OMERS dealings with Borealis that allegedly saw more than $100 million paid out in annual and termination fees over a 19-month period, including alleged payments to three senior managers totaling about $10.5 million, for outsourcing and then repatriating management of OMERS real estate assets.

    The Borealis transactions of principal concern to CUPE Ontario are a number of decisions culminating in the sale by the OMERS board of the asset management business of OMERS Realty Corporation to Borealis for $11 million in June 2002.

    The Financial Services Commission of Ontario (FSCO) has also taken the Borealis affair seriously. FSCO began its investigation in 2004 and established a temporary office in the OMERS building to gain direct access to the mountains of paperwork they must examine to complete their investigation of the Borealis affair. The FSCO report is due in December.

    CUPE Ontario is seeking repayment of any improper gains made by OMERS fiduciaries and the restoration of OMERS losses to the greatest extent possible. The case has still to go to court and all allegations must be proven at trial."

South Windsor Art Gallery Theft

Here is an exclusive story that only the Blogmeister has been able to uncover. The recent border backups were not due to increases in traffic or breakdowns in US Customs computer systems.

In a daring robbery, thieves broke into the South Windsor Art Gallery, the gallery at the underpass at EC Row and Dougall Avenue, and stole the only piece in its collection: the giant mural or work of art. This was the "painting" that the Mayor called "a vast improvement over what had been "an ugly" bit of infrastructure." You remember, the artwork disguised as a billboard pointing people to the Windsor Tunnel owned by the City.

A spokesperson for the Windsor Police Dept. confirmed the robbery. The Police believe that the robbery was planned by a Mastermind criminal who knew when the Mayor would be leaving town. "It is not a mere co-incidence that this happened while the Mayor was away!"

Mayor Francis was severely criticized by the other bitter and obsessive old man identified by the Windsor Star's famous columnist, "If he had stayed in town and not gone to France for an overseas vacation, then this would never have happened. Why didn't he set an example and vacation right here in Essex County to promote the local tourist industry that is suffering so much! If Eddie was at his desk micromanaging everything as he usually does and working 18 hours a day, no thief would have dared take the chance to steal the piece of art."

Border officials were warned of the theft and decided to search closely every vehicle that was leaving Canada. It was believed that some multi-millionaire in the US may have decided to have the work stolen for the person's private collection. As a result, there was traffic chaos at the border.

Given the importance of the work of art, its patron who sponsored its creation, the Windsor Tunnel Commission, has offered 2 paper tokens to use the Tunnel to cross the border as a reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the thieves and the return of the work of art. NOTE, the paper tickets expire on September 30. No substitutions allowed.

The gallery curator has refused to confirm the rumour that another similar work of art is being created to replace the one stolen and to be hung shortly.

We know that, before the theft, families in the Superior Park area had planned a major neighbourhood picnic on the median on Dougall near the art gallery. That is the spot where Eddie had a few trees planted to get a checkmark on his Report Card. They were going to have an outing to view the piece of art and to prepare themselves for the possible sale of Superior Park. The median, it had been rumoured, was to be re-named Superior Gardens to try to placate the angry neighbourhood.

Stay tuned for further information.