Thoughts and Opinions On Today's Important Issues

Friday, March 02, 2007

More On MDOT In Port Huron

Sorry, I could not resist posting this! Another Port Huron Times Herald columnist view of what is going on there. Does this kind of activity go on everywhere and not just Windsor on big international bridge projects?

No, I promise that I did NOT change what is going on in Windsor and change the names so that you would think it was Port Huron.
But look at the words I emphasized in bold as you read the column. I could not believe it.

No wonder the 1999 Port Huron-designed arena fits in so well in Windsor. WE ARE PORT HURON:

  • "Council should clarify what it knew about bridge plaza plan

    The new Blue Water Bridge Plaza and the Thomas Edison Inn Casino projects are just two large local examples of your elected leadership’s inability to perform at any level that should give you comfort.

    The $300 million Thomas Edison Inn Casino is so desperately needed here in River City with the collapse of the local economy and one of the highest unemployment rates in the country. Sadly, the project has languished in Congress for going on five years now while the politicians play games with our future and our ability to support our families.

    And, now there is the infamous new Blue Water Bridge Plaza expansion. The Michigan Department of Transportation pretty much admitted that this very expensive plaza is needed because the agency really screwed up the design when it built the second bridge span.

    Hey, it’s just taxpayers’ money! Now, MDOT officials again want us to trust them with all that money — about half a billion dollars. How does that go again? “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice …” Well, you know.

    Ex-Port Huron City Council member Z. Kris Wisniewski has stepped down as the project’s manager. MDOT, again without the completion of its “Holy Grail,” the Environmental Impact Study, still is moving forward with the Port Huron Alternative. The state agency is buying up property — even outside the project’s footprint. The talk in Washington is MDOT will be taking a lot more land than it’s telling us.

    So who is in charge? Who is the decision- maker? It appears no one is. It’s just a “half-billion-dollar parking lot,” as Times Herald columnist Mike Connell calls it, running amuck. Just keep talking and holding meetings while “super fast tracking” the project so it quickly reaches the point of no return.

    Here’s the real kicker: While the City Council plays at being shocked about the decision to build the plaza in Port Huron, I was told by a Port Huron Township official, weeks before MDOT’s announcement at last month’s televised City Council meeting, that the decision had been made to build the plaza in Port Huron.

    I was told city officials attended those previous meetings with MDOT had to be aware for weeks, if not months, ahead of time that the Port Huron plan would be implemented. I thought the township official was putting me on. Boy, do I wish I’d followed up on that lead.

    Why did the mayor and City Council sit on this information? Why were you not told? Were City Council members really misled and as shocked as they claimed or just misleading you? Makes you wonder who to trust.

    No matter how they try to bury us with their rhetorical garbage there is hope. Under the talented leadership of Citizens First Savings Bank’s Marsh Campbell, Randy Cutler and Co-chairmen Art Smith and Robert Funk, the “Bridge Plaza Business and Community Coalition” has been formed. This is a group less about talk and more about action.

    There is a 10 a.m. meeting today... This is your chance to be part of the solution.

    Here’s one thing your elected officials need to understand: We don’t like being played, and we don’t like being lied to. As Americans, we know how to stand up and fight for our children and our community. If they doubt that, just watch."

Sure sounds very similar to Windsor to me

Tearing Down Heritage Buildings

The Bridge Co. has been vilified for the mere thought of tearing down homes in the West End for its enhancement project.

Clearly, the Bridge Co. is being painted as a terrible citizen when it comes to this kind of activity. Mind you, I am not aware that any of the homes in question have any historical value. They are owned by the Company after a willing vendor sold the home and the vendors have been allowed to live in the homes for up to two years, rent free as was said at Council. How awful!

Things must be really bad with this Company, one of Windsor's top taxpayer. After all, it has spent $500M so far on its project and wants to spend another $500M. We are so successful economically here that we do not need this kind of investment it seems.

It must be so bad that the City by a stealth attack had to pass an Interim Control By-law and Demolition By-law to try stop them. (Oh yes, I know the excuse given by the Mayor to justify it) I know that they promised at Council not to tear buildings down during a 2-6 week period while their lawyer was away on his honeymoon so they could study the matter but that did not count. Not even the one week period that Councillor Marra asked for either.

I wanted to see how other developers dealt with their cities about demolition and especially demolition of heritage buildings. I happened to find one article on the website of Farhi Holdings which I thought you might find interesting. I wonder how our Council would react here.

Perhaps the Bridge Co. should learn a lesson or two from Farhi!

  • Farhi's role in heritage should not be scarred
    Herman Goodden, London Free Press, October 31, 2006

    One of my favourite National Lampoon covers featured a worried looking terrier, of the mongrel persuasion, with a pistl muzzle pressed against its sloping temple. The cutline next to this heart-rending photo reads:"If you don't buy this magazine, we'll shoot this dog."

    I couldn't help remembering that infamous cover when reading accounts of downtown developer and property owner Shmuel Farhi's meeting last week with city politicians and administrative officers regarding what Farhi considers a dearth of downtown parking sites.

    As the owner of more than 70 downtown building (many of them lovingly preserved and adapted heritage properties of real architectural distinction), Farhi weilds a hefty stick in determining the well-being of London's historic core.

    Farhi says he now wants to tear down the former Capitol Theatre on Dundas Street and a smaller adjoining property to free up 20 additional parking spaces for his tenants in other properties. If the city won't help him with the parking crisis, Farhi says he's prepared to go to another city where his entrepreneurial spirit will be appreciated.

    Incredibly, this man who has invested millions into lavishly restoring some of our finest examples of 19th-century commercial architecture says that unless he gets his way by the end of this year, he's prepared to let his entire inventory of heritage buildings rot and eventually be razed.

    "Legally, if I want to tear down 25 buildings downtown, there's nothing you can do about it, "he said to intimidated city offcials, who may have thought that clicking sound they heard were muzzles being pressed against their furry temples.

    It's hard to believe Farhi, who has been so sensitive to what makes our downtown special, who has played such a supportive role as an engine of core revitalization, should now be promoting an act of demolition that works against all that.

    Granted, as currently constituted, the notice-plastered facade and lobby of the Capitol(the old auditorium was demolished earlier this year) is no treasure. It sat vacant for half a dozen years with the lie. "REOPENING SOON," emblazoned in plastic letters on its marquee, only to be replaced this year by "RIP." Time and the elements didn't do the structure any favours over that period and I can well believe Farhi's lament that without some long-term tenant contracted to move into the space, it is hardly feasible to invest the $500,000 required for renovations and redesign.

    But it's the principle of the thing that sticks in one craw. Ripping a fresh new hole in the central block of downtown's main street for another surface parking lot seems a backward way to assist the cause of downtown revitalization.

    It may indeed be the case that more parking is required downtown. At the meeting with Farhi, Controller Gord Hume estimated that there are 14,500 parking spaces available in the core. How many more do we really need? And what proportion of those spaces we already have are in space-wasting, community-destroying surface lots?

    If the need for more parking spaces during business hours is real (and I can't believe a man of Farhi's experience would invent such a need), the best solution would be to build an underground or multi-storey complex that does not waste space. There are plenty of empty sites in the core that could be developed this way without tearing down more building.

    If you stand just outside the train station on York Street and look north you can already see across surface-level parking lots for two blocks-all the way to Dundas Street. Take out the Capitol Theatre and tilt your head just right and that arid vista in our historic business section will be extended for a third block- to Queens Avenue.

    Farhi has been a bleesing to life in London. It is imperative that the city help him come up with a solution that doesn't go against all the good he has done."

Thursday, March 01, 2007

What Sandwich and Delray Can Learn From Port Huron

NO, I am not going to talk about the 1999-style arena that PCR is building here after their Port Huron deal failed nor about the twinning of the Blue Water Bridge in Port Huron and Sarnia nor the building of new expressways to their crossing. Nope, it's more interesting than all of that.

I cannot keep up. There is too much going on. Dealing with important matters like Councillor Budget's absurd remark at Council, watching out to make sure that the gazelles do not eat the grass in the economic gardens and wondering if Eddie will run for the PCs or Liberals is tiring after all.

I try to find various articles of interest as you know to keep you, dear reader, informed of various matters that may have an impact on Windsor. I haven't been able to do that because of some of the matters I referred to above but let me try and make up for it today.

Maybe it's just me but I have been suspicious of the JMC/Bi-national/DRIC process since it has started. I remember doing a presentation early on attacking the JMC Report accusing them of having their "principles" pre-determine the results. If you frame a study a certain way, then you are guaranteed the result you want. It's as if your boss wants to promote you but has to go through a formal selection process. He/she just ensures that the qualifications are designed with you in mind so that only you can be picked.

I did the BLOG the other day about former Minister Rock and his "deal" on the Tenth Point of the Nine Point Plan with ex-Ontario Minister Flaherty. That troubled me a lot.

I know that some "trust" the DRIC process. That is their choice. Having lots of meetings, "listening" to the community, having computer sessions to let people choose the kinds of plants along the road or colours of lights for a bridge is all part of why people say that we have influence on their decision-making.

Here is a good example from the other side of the river quoting John Nagy, head of the Delray Community Council:
  • "MDOT officials have met frequently with residents, promising to sweeten the pot if and when a bridge is built. At 23 public meetings conducted so far in southwest Detroit, agency director Kirk T. Steudle and study director Mohammed Alghurabi have sat with residents in community centers and high school gyms, answering questions and seeking input. They promised the agency would help bring housing and commercial redevelopment to the neighborhood, showing pictures of varying styles of residential buildings, cultural attractions and business projects, asking residents which would be most welcome.

    At first, Nagy says, he had no intention of agreeing to an international crossing running through his neighborhood. But after hearing MDOT's promises, his opinion changed.

    "I think, overall, the bridge is a win-win situation," he says. "It's going to do away with a lot of blight and contaminated properties...

    Nagy says, it's better to work with government officials to address problems instead of trying to kill the project, especially when the alternative would be to have a privately owned business calling the shots."
The reason I pick his quote is that
  • "Activists and politicians from the west-end community of Sandwich are vowing to work hand-in-hand with their southwest Detroit counterparts in Delray following a bus tour of the historic industrial community across the river.

    The two communities are hoping if they have a common voice on a preferred location for the next Windsor-Detroit border crossing, they will influence a binational government team assigned to select the best option.

    "We've said time and again to people over here, we consider this family," said Mary Ann Cuderman, leader of residents' truck watchdog group in Sandwich."
So imagine my surprise when I read this Editorial in the Port Huron newspaper:
  • "MDOT shoves plaza expansion plan down Port Huron's throat
    Jan 26, 2007 _ Port Huron Times Herald

    Were you shocked? You have to believe Port Huron Mayor Alan Cutcher, the City Council and City Manager Karl Tomion were as well.

    Under public pressure, the council invited Michigan Department of Transportation officials to its Monday meeting to inform Port Huron residents as to the status of the now 6-year-old Blue Water Bridge Plaza expansion project. We have learned that MDOT has a bright, talented staff and they are, well, pretty clever.

    Wasn't it about a year ago that St. Clair County Administrator Shaun Groden held a similar show at St. Clair County Community College to corner MDOT about the project's status? Shaun demanded an answer as to which plaza design MDOT was going to build.

    MDOT shocked everyone at that meeting by announcing it had decided to do yet another environmental-impact study, so we will get back to you in a couple of years.

    The anger on Shaun's face that night is what we would see again this week in the faces of Cutcher and Tomion. They were stunned when at the beginning of its presentation MDOT announced it was issuing a press release stating that the Port Huron Township Plan was dead.

    MDOT officials hereby declared the Customs Hybrid Plan, with its footprint in the heart of Port Huron at ground level, was now being fast-tracked, and they were immediately moving ahead with implementing this plan.

    The city manager and the City Council were dumfounded. It was obvious they didn't have a clue. How could MDOT blindside the council? Why would state officials show so much public disrespect to Port Huron leaders? Why didn't the council fight back? How far down on the food chain are we, anyway?

    Was this MDOT's plan to shut down the questioning voices gaining momentum in our community against this hybrid plan? It's done; it's over; and if you behave yourselves, we may throw the city some bones, but understand we don't have to, but we feel your pain.

    It's unbelievable that without the completion of required studies, especially MDOT's Holy Grail, the environmental- impact study, it was issuing the edict that the heart of Port Huron was to be turned into a giant truck stop handling 14,000 to 20,000 vehicles a day, growing to 30,000 a day over the next 40 years.

    As Councilman B. Mark Neal pointed out, Port Huron is where they send trucks that are so dangerous they will not let them cross the border at the Ambassador Bridge or go through the Windsor Tunnel in Detroit. Apparently, Port Huron is expendable.

    Didn't we just have an eye-opening lesson with the Canada trash trucks and how vulnerable we are to a terrorist or a toxic chemical cloud floating over Port Huron?

    As Dick Reynolds, business agent for the local carpenters union, declared, this is going to happen, so you should just "suck it up" and move on.

    Your leadership appears to have little stomach for a fight. While MDOT and Gov. Jennifer Granholm will continue to feel your pain, you have the choice of "sucking it up" or grabbing your children and running to the townships that are going to catch a windfall from Port Huron's suffering."
Pretty strong should hear other stuff being said:
  • Port Huron officials were misled
  • Expressed outrage over a state and federal plan to begin buying property for the expansion before an environmental impact study is finished.
  • Appalled by this abuse of power
  • Three days after a federal administrator told the Times Herald he would deny a state-requested special exemption to accelerate the Blue Water Bridge Plaza project, James Steele was speaking with far less confidence. ""I am sorry to report that he was considerably less certain of his agency's position on this matter,"
  • Steele's inconsistent statements are typical of what Tomion said he has been hearing lately from state and federal transportation officials. "They tell you one thing at one meeting and another thing at another meeting," Tomion said.
  • He called their actions and statements "illogical" and "obtuse
  • Irrevocable harm will be done to the City
  • The Mayor described a feeling of betrayal
  • We've been involved for three years in the process. MDOT cut off our legs at the knees by changing the process
  • Illogical, Orwellian
  • Decisions are being made supposedly on security concerns but nothing at all has been received from Homeland Security
  • Promises of mitigation appear hollow
  • Mitigation does not include financial assistance
  • There is no substantive assistance
  • We cannot spend transportation money to buy new housing or rehab existing

To Mr. Nagy and the West End activists and polticos, with friends like these.... well, you can finish it off.

Just like the Port Huron people are being finished off nicely in the name of expansion of the plaza "to improve the safety and movement of goods across the bridge and increase efficiency of inspections"

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

The $60,000 Question

Nooooo. I am not talking about the $60,000 to save the Capitol Theatre. That's just artsy stuff for those high falutin' people who like music, art and theatre. You know whose kids were at Council telling the Mayor and Councillors a few weeks ago for several hours how important the Capitol was in their lives.

After all, do we really want those snobby, young professionals like doctors and engineers in IT that the Mayor wanted to attract to Windsor who might like to know that we have an active theatre company. Nawwwwwwwww let them stay in Toronto if they want that.

What the heck, let Mr. Farhi look after our Capitol theatre as he did the Capitol in London. That's how he can become a good neighbour.

No I am talking about the $60,000 that we are giving the WWE for their one-time sports night, not money for some silly continuing program for the arts in Windsor.

Why I am sure that the Mayor will soon come out and tell us how many millions that will attract and how it built on his Super Bowl success.

I like how it was done too...check out my BLOG Friday, February 09, 2007 "Super Bowl XL And WWE Rasslin'" to see how the money was dished out. Council did not even have to bother doing it in public. So messy you know. I told you that the CAO runs the City but you still will not believe me

I can hardly wait for all of the excitement that is coming to town. No, not Wrestlemania....the sale of the Capitol assets by the bankruptcy trustee by auction. Some good bargains I bet. You'll have to wrestle your way in through the crowds to be able to bid.

Windsor Sidewalks Not Streets Are Paved In Gold

In Windsor, it is the sidewalks not the streets that are paved in gold.

I read an interesting report that was presented to Council recently. I suggest that every Litigator in Windsor read it also. If this does not get you increased settlements and punitive damages awards for your clients then something is wrong with the legal system.

Oh and make sure that you subpoena the Mayor as the only full-time member of Council to explain what is happening here and why better action was not taken.

Here is what I wrote before:
  • "Read what Councillor Lewenza said in a Star story recently ["Trip, fall claims soar as sidewalks crumble] about all of the litigation because of cracks in the sidewalks:

    "But it's difficult to strike a balance between spending money on such projects and holding the line on taxes. Coun. Ken Lewenza said it's easy to come up with a tax freeze when infrastructure projects like sidewalk repairs are ignored. "We can always come in at zero -- it'll come at the expense of sidewalks."

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

    "About $650,000 has been set aside this year to repair some of the worst sidewalks in Windsor. But it's not enough.

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

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

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

    They're cracked. They're crumbling. They've become a menace, especially to senior citizens."
In the report we learn that:
  • 23% of sidewalks are deficient
  • $5M is needed for sidewalks in need of immediate replacement
  • in past years "drive-by" inspections were taken but in 2005 a more comprehensive inspection was undertaken
  • a minimum anual investment of $1.65m was needed in sidewalk rehabilitation
  • sidewalk maintenance and rehabilitation ranged from $715K to $1.1M
  • traditionally the sidewalk rehabilitation program has been underfunded

It is pretty clear that there has been neglect of sidewalks and of proper inspection of them. Such a systemic failure over a considerable number of years can lead to major claims against the City and more costs for taxpayers since my understanding is that there is a big deductible.

Now I have a vested interest in this because of my fall at City Hall almost 18 months ago... yes I am still in physio and still in pain. I even had to go to London, twice, for an opinion about the extent of my injuries and recovery. However, I feel better now thinking of what questions I can ask the Mayor on the stand.

Putting The Fun In Border Politics

I never knew how powerful this BLOG was until last Saturday's Star story. Read on as I demonstrate to you how much fun border politics is.

I got to thinking about the two Provincial Minister comedians we had in town the other day. I wanted to get a copy of the Infrastructure Minister's remarks. Not on his Ministry site or that of Infrastructure Ontario.

I wanted to see how newspapers other than the Star covered the story--nothing. That was so bizarre. A Minister comes all the way here and no coverage on such a big deal.

Then I got it. It was all a phony, designed by Dwight and Sandra to impress the home folks. Do you really think the Liberals want to scare investors by sounding like the NDP on public ownership. Nope the Star coverage was nothing more than to appeal to the local market, to pretend to be doing something when they have no authority to do anything since it is a Federal matter.

It smelled so similar to the phony Gong Show announcement of money to support Schwartz that was never really there. Do they think we are all that stupid not to see through their charade!

Oh and as for what we were told at the DRIC CCG meeting about a decision in June. Are they crazy....there is an election in October. Do you think Sandra and Dwight want to take a position that can get someone angry at them and cost them a vote in what may be a tough campaign. Forget that. Nope it's better to be able to say that they are respecting the DRIC process and would prefer not to make any comments until DRIC's report comes out, after the election.

And my good buddy, NDP Brian Masse. Well, talk about my BLOG beig powerful. I never really knew until he opened his mouth. Here I was thinking that a few local folks came here every so often to have a few chuckles.

Wow was I ever wrong. Here is part of what Brian said:

  • "outside of here it [my BLOG] can confuse people and damage the city's reputation."

Don't you see, I have a huge readership outside of Windsor that reads my stuff and is influenced by it! Amazing. And my BLOG is so well-thought of that what I say confuses people and gives people the wrong impression about , yes there really are some people here who can think and who want to solve the border issue. That's something that even Brian can't do and he's an MP! At least until the next election.

Now I can say he must read my BLOG and learned something from it so he is accurate that way. He does not talk about the Ambassador Bridge tolls being higher than public tolls because the Cities-owned Tunnel's charges are higher than those of the privately owned bridge. Brian goes out of town now to make the comparison. I wonder too how Brian explains how the "public" Tunnel's volumes have dropped so much in so short a time in comparison with that of the private bridge.

Poor Brian likes talking about Fort Erie....Here is a recent story. It sounds like something a private operator would do to pay for improvements.

  • "Peace Bridge tolls are likely to increase starting in April to help pay for the cost of building a second bridge and new U.S. plaza, bridge officials said Monday."

Their car tolls go up to $3 from $2.50 while truck tolls go up from $1 to $11, depending on the number of axles on a truck.

Brian had some comments in the House of Commons again in the House the other day. My comments are in bold. I truly hope that I do not mix up my vast out-of-town readership another time:

  • Mr. Brian Masse (Windsor West, NDP):

    Mr. Speaker, it is a privilege to ask a question in the House of Commons. On December 7 I asked a question of the Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities. I wanted to find out from the minister the position of the government on public versus private ownership of the Windsor-Detroit border. For those who are not aware, this is the busiest international trade corridor in North America. It is one that has a significant impact on the economy.

    Recently Citigroup, a financial institution and one that anyone could hardly suggest is a left leaning think tank, did a study on public versus private ownership of international bridges and tunnels. From that, it measured several different factors. It looked at interest rates, equity, corporate income tax and sales tax. The result of all those analyses was that private ownership would have a 35% to 40% increase in toll rates versus those of under public ownership. [Oh Brian, was this the one done for the "public" Peace Bridge. Check out on the Internet other reports Citigroup have done. Release it so we can see what else it says. So now when the Peace Bridge needs money, they can "borrow" it and raise tolls]

    Windsor and the surrounding area have four border crossings right now, with a mixture of ownership. One that is privately held has significantly higher tolls than even its competitors, for example, in Sault Ste. Marie, Sarnia, Fort Erie, Buffalo and also in the region. [The Cities-owned Detroit/Windsor Tunnel is higher Brian...don't forget!]

    As we move forward with a brand new border crossing in my region, our concern is that it be publicly owned and operated and that we ensure the lowest fares possible to add increased competition, but not tax the users too much. We all know about the manufacturing issues in Ontario right now. Being able to compete fairly with the international trade agreements coming into force is very concerning to manufacturers. We do not want to add an additional tax burden on the businesses currently there. [Brian, if the Ambassador Bridge is so expensive, why do so many trucks go there rather than cross at the public bridge in Sarnia? Could it be because they cross quicker at the Ambassador Bridge saving the truckers time and money?]

    I ask for a commitment from the parliamentary secretary's government that the next bridge crossing between Windsor and Detroit will be one publicly owned and operated, similar to others being built across the country.

    Mr. Brian Jean (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities, CPC):

    Mr. Speaker, I can assure the member that we will do what is in the best interest of Canadians and Canadian taxpayers, as well as residents in the Windsor area.

    The gateway is essential to Canada, and we know that it is very important. As the member mentioned, it is the busiest border crossing. It is absolutely essential to not only our trade but to our continued economic success and security. [SNORE....Are you as tired as I about these platitudes!]

    The government is working right now with bilateral and binational partners, such as the United States federal government, the state of Michigan and the province of Ontario where it is situated, to develop a solution that ensures sufficient capacity across the Detroit River to facilitate cross-border trade and traffic, and in fact to enhance it.

    As part of this work, we are conducting a comprehensive and harmonized environmental assessment, and I am sure the member would encourage that environmental assessment, to identify the locations of the bridge crossing, the inspection plazas and the access roads.

    As well, we are also assessing possible models for delivery of the new crossing because we want to do what is in the best interest of Canadian taxpayers, who are ultimately our boss. Private sector participation, such as the public-private partnership, is one of the models that is being considered.

    In November the Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities stated at the public-private partnership conference in Toronto that the government was exploring the opportunities for using a private-public partnership for financing, building, operating and maintaining the new crossing between Windsor and Detroit. This is just one of several options, and I want to be clear with the member. We on this side of the House act in the best interest of Canadian taxpayers. No decision has been made as of it. This can deliver new infrastructure more efficiently and more expeditiously.

    Although the government can borrow at a lower rate than the private sector, which is one of the considerations the member has brought forward, financing is only one of the many possible considerations that we have to look at before making this decision.

    The cost of private sector borrowing would be offset by the risk that the private sector would take and by increased innovation and efficiency. I suggest the member would have to agree with what the private sector can bring to occasional projects from time to time.

    We still have appropriate and effective public oversight by the federal government. More specific, Bill C-3, which was one of the initial pieces of legislation the Conservative government put forward, received royal asset on February 1. No matter what model the government picks, it will be the model for governance over our international bridges and tunnels for the best interest of Canadians. The Conservative government will also ensure that the operator puts in place mechanisms to address community concerns.

    Let me assure members that the government is absolutely committed to selecting the delivery option that provides the greatest value for taxpayers while maintaining appropriate public oversight of the new crossing. It is quite frankly a balance for the best interest of Canadians.

    The government will continue to work with the binational partnership, all of our partners and listen to stakeholders to explore models for delivering the new crossing that is in the best interest of Canadians. If such a model cannot meet the objectives of the Government of Canada or its United States partner, alternative delivery mechanisms will be pursued.

    The Windsor-Detroit gateway is a matter of national priority and the government remains committed to ensuring that a new crossing will be in place by 2013, but we will do so in the best interest of Canadian taxpayers, the residents and all stakeholders.

    Mr. Brian Masse:
    Mr. Speaker, given the importance of this infrastructure and the future of our country, it is a slam dunk in terms of moving toward public accountability and ownership.

    I have done parliamentary research in the past. What has been concluded when examining public versus private ownership is that under public ownership we have direct control over access, safety, quality and pricing. It is very important for national security issues. [Oh Brian, Bill C-3 has passed. That fight is over already. And you know what the Bridge Co. said about that anyway]

    Second to that, I point out that I am concerned about the way the government is operating and moving toward an American style privatization of highway systems, which means increased tolls. What ends up happening is we get investment bankers. For example, Australian and Spanish builders in the United States have taken advantage of the public assets and have make huge profits at the expense of ordinary citizens. However, now there is a backlash because they have gone too far down that road. [Careful Brian, that was what Eddie may have wanted to do with the Tunnel. Are you going to attack him now?]

    What I want to hear from the government is whether it will support the call for public ownership.

    Now the province of Ontario has joined the cause. In the parliamentary secretary's response to me he mentioned the provincial government. Last Friday in the Windsor Star, David Caplan, the province's public infrastructure minister, said:
    The Ontario government is urging Ottawa to steer clear of private ownership of the next Windsor-Detroit border crossing... [Ontario Cabinet Ministers can say what they want since they have no authority. Like the NDP]

    Once again, I stress the importance of public ownership. Get on with the next crossing and avoid lawsuits. It will happen if we have public-private partnerships. [Huh, how is a lawsuit going to be avoided if you take away the Bridge Co.'s business]

    Mr. Brian Jean:
    Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for his interest and his research. I would suggest that instead of holding it close to his chest, as so many other members from other parties in the House do, he should provide that information to me. I would be more than happy to look at it, review it and provide it to the minister if it be appropriate. We are a government that is listening to stakeholders and listening to all parties because that is what Canadians want us to do, to work together. I would suggest that the member and all members do that. [How can Brian do that. What else does the Report say?]

    I just hope it is not similar to the situation with respect to Bill C-6 which is in the transport committee, and Bill C-11. Bill C-11 was on the projected order for today but I understand the NDP put forward some speakers to try to hold up legislation again. I am hoping that we can count on the member to provide us with the cooperation that is necessary to move legislation through the House and to move in a way that acts in the best interest of Canadians.

    I assure the member that is what this government will do. We will act in the best interest of Canadians overall, but we have a balance to strike and we will strike that balance for the Canadian public.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

More Letters To The BLOGMeister

Here are some more emails from readers but the first two are exchanges between me and the City Clerk:

Further to Councillor Hatfield's comments about lack of notice re the strategic session, I too did not receive anything

As an accredited member of the media reporting on City Hall matters, please advise how I get a mail slot at City Hall


2) Trying to get border elusive letters that the Mayor promised to release

----- Original Message -----
From: Ed Arditti
To: Brenda Andreatta
Sent: Wednesday, February 07, 2007 5:04 PM
Subject: Border letters

The City recently sent letters to Transport Minister Cannon and to Premier Dalton McGuinty and other provincial government leaders requesting their support to dismiss the Ambassador Bridge's application to twin its span.

I believe that the Mayor at Council said that he would make them available to Councillor Halberstadt and that they were to be placed on the public agenda.

Since I have not yet seen them produced, please provide me with a copy.

-----Original Message-----
From: Ed Arditti Sent: February 12, 2007 6:38 PM
To: Brenda Andreatta
Subject: Re: Border letters
Importance: High

Are these letters available yet?

Ed Arditti

----- Original Message -----
From: Andreatta, Brenda
To: 'Ed Arditti'
Sent: Monday, February 12, 2007 8:31 PM
Subject: RE: Border letters

Mr. Arditti: this matter was subject of a council question which has been referred to the General Manager of Public Works for a response. I do not have these letters.

[Andreatta, Brenda]

I am sorry but I do not understand your email. The Mayor has the letters and he said publicly he would produce them. Why is this an issue for the General Manager of Public Works

Ed Arditti


3) Pictures of Bambi and friends enjoying their last winter at Inferior Park

4) Come on down potential investors to Windsor... that is if you can get through the thousands of protestors the CAW are hoping will be in town to demonstrate the unemployment situation in Windsor.

(a)Here in Windsor we have had a "dead meat" campaign promoted by the CAW wherein if you didn't buy a Big Three car you would be "dead-meat" in town.
(b)Remember us.... we were the city that made national headlines when the local CAW approached Tim Horton's and voiced their strong disapproval of having a Toyoto RAV 4 for first prize and stated how disgusing it was to have an "import" as a prize. (I'm still trying to locate Cambridge, Japan in my atlas)
(c) Oh yea... come invest in Windsor where we have union leaders from the CAW throwing rocks and breaking windows at a bus at a picket line. The coverage we got on all national news networks was superb.
(d) and oh yea, come to Windsor where we have cab drivers that get beat up by their
own union leaders because they refuse to stop working so they at least can pay for food on their tables"
(e) Yep, this is the town where the CAW are planning on having thousands of protesters on the streets sometime in the future.

There is rumour that we have a bad union image in this town but don't believe it.. we are strong supporters of this community. The CAW workers are making $34 an hour and we are the highest paid workers in Canada and won't accept a penny less.. we will hold firm. Yep... our problems in Windsor are because of the government... not us... that is for sure!

If we can help you with your investment... just call one of our local CAW leadership spokesmen... that is... as long as they aren't applying make-up for another 15 minutes of fame for themselves before the cameras.

Bring your investments to Windsor... we want you! Oh, almost forgot... if you do come to town, bring a watering can because based on the recent IQ taken of these union spokesmen... they will need watering twice a day. "

5) (Re the Star story about the increased arena costs) Why stop at $65M?

...a creative blogmeister should have a competition to see what the final cost will be and then 18-24 months from now, you can buy the winner a Tim Horton's coffee and a donut.

Just so you know, my final tally for Eddie's Ice Palace (remember back on Caroline Postma No New Taxes Day) was $49M. My estimate........$101.1M

6) Not since the days of FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover has such innuendo & guilt-by-association, observed by anonymous informants been used to convict someone of an act that isn’t a crime!

Let’s face it – Dave Batagello & this lonely blogger have seen the same neutral “facts.” The Windsor Star’s editorial position concludes differently than an independent blogger. Actually SEVERAL bloggers – and a multitude of citizens based on comments received at Windsor City Blogspot.

So what did J. Edgar do when those pesky facts didn’t line up with his view of reality? Ad hominem attack – kill the person rather than refute the argument. Generate casual observations, accept hearsay accusations regardless ulterior motive (credible or delusional sources, it matters not!) and pass it up the pipeline.

The culmination, of course, was the infamous McCarthy list of communists in the government. (Now was it 206 as it was in Wheeling, West Virginia Feb 9 1950… or was it 81 the following Monday in Washington?) Well, history knows that the list was never revealed, if there ever really was a list. The attempt to silence intellectual opponents (the List, the entertainment Black Lists, etc.) with rumor & innuendo unraveled during the Red Scare. Thank God for the Windsor Star, now looking for Bolsheviks under Windsorite’s beds!

In the words of Edward R Murrow, the famed CBS journalist widely credited turning the tide in the midst of the Red Scare, “Now is not the time for those who oppose Senator McCarthy’s methods to be silent.” I suspect if Morrow were alive today, he would be a blogger…

Quote Of The Year

Nope, it's not even a challenge for me. I'll let you figure out what a BLOG about this laughable remark should say. I'll give you a hint to get you started: East End Arena and border legal fees.

"Mayor Eddie Francis said after a closed meeting of council that the city is "not prepared to advance the loan open-ended."

"We're not in the business
cutting blank cheques," he said.

"That's not what taxpayers expect of us. It's not good corporate governance. It's certainly not good practice."

Transport Canada Has No Choice But To Act Now

I have to tell you that I have been traumatized by the Windsor Star smear story.

Oh it is bad enough being smeared by association like in the McCarthy days but I have found over the last few days that I cannot eat properly or get a good night's sleep. I am constantly looking over my shoulder, using *67 when placing phone calls, shredding all of my papers, checking my garbage when I put it out for collection. I am afraid to use the Internet for fear that my PC may have been hacked or my emails intercepted.

Who is really behind this attack on me? Who is the mastermind? It is not as if I have done or said anything new recently. What triggered this outburst at this precise time?

There must be some huge international organization that is behind the border file that is capable of tracking any individual and being able to bring up at any time the smallest of details about that person. It is totally frightening to me. It makes the CIA and CSIS look like kindergartens.

How many of you would know who I am even if I stood beside you. Very few unless you have seen my picture and even then probably not because I also wear glasses. I am a very private person and try to shun publicity. Oh sure, I have had to appear publicly but I am generally a "back-room boy" as I was in the Eddie Francis mayoral electoral campaign the first time around.

Oh sure you are laughing, thinking I have gone off the deep end. Well just read on. And read Chris Schnurr's BLOG "Comrades, bridge backers are enemies" to see what he has to say about this

Now just consider the Star article:
  • How did this become a cause celebre...because of a document "obtained by The Star." Rubbish! How did they know it existed? How did they obtain it and from whom? Was it really "given" to them and if so who did it. Did it come through the mail in a brown paper envelope or dropped off at a secret rendez-vous spot.
  • I have been "seen in recent months attending public meetings." How many, where, when, with whom? Who has "seen" me? How have I been tracked? Is there a device on my car? Is my phone bugged? Who else in Windsor is part of this giant database
  • I was "seen" with Mrs. Moroun...Oh my goodness, we had a cup of coffee together in a Lansing, Michigan restaurant about a year ago. Are their forces that good?
  • I was "spotted" at Ford Field. The stadium has a capacity of 65,000 and I was picked out of the crowd, recognized and identified
  • Clearly the Star is part of this vast empire since they knew enough to photograph me having an apple martini with Mr. Moroun for use at the "right time."
  • The Star must have had a file on me over a long period of time for them to bring up such petty information including photographs. Is this the role of a newspaper in a free society? Imagine if a Government did that to a citizen what the Star would say! Who else has had information on them gathered by the Star to be used one day whenever the Star so chooses.
  • Why was that particular photo used? Simple, only a few weeks before in the Council lobby area when the issue of the Interim Control By-law was being discussed, Dan Stamper joked with me about the "loud" colours of my ski jacket. Who said Council walls do not have ears!

What troubles me and scares me is the brilliance of this international conspiracy. They are so smart that they identified me as a "target" before the Bridge Co. Enhancement Project was even announced. Take a look at the picture the Star published. That was taken a long time ago.

Wham, bam...They were ready for me if I dared step out of line.

I get the message. I surrender. I will be good. I will go along.

Let me try and make up.

Let's concede for this BLOG that Transport Canada now has the total and complete power over the border. Bill C-3 was the weapon of choice and it has now been passed and received Royal Assent. Really it was a nothing bill but just symbolic since international crossings were always constitutionally under the Federal Government. Now though the Feds can point to a piece of paper that they can show gives them the responsibility for the border.

I want to make up now with Sam Schwartz.. I think the message is that I have to treat him as the guru that Eddie says he was. So let me quote from Sam:

  • "Schwartz, New York's former traffic engineer and author of the city's $1-billion border traffic solution, has questioned the [Ambassador] bridge's condition based on his own observations...

    Schwartz is recognized as an expert on suspension bridges based on his tenure as traffic engineer in New York, where he was forced to close both the Williamsburg Bridge and portions of the Manhattan Bridge for various periods because of safety issues...

    Given that New York's numerous suspension bridges were built between 1883 and 1909, Schwartz said he witnessed "first-hand" what happens to the massive steel structures after 80 to 90 years...

    "It's a geriatric bridge," Schwartz said. "There is no reason for alarm. It's not in a state of disaster. But it needs a full checkup."

So do you see where I am coming from now. I want to be on the side of the good guys. I want to stick it to the Ambassador Bridge people now. Seriously, I want to be able to say things as Sam did:

  • "I am very uncomfortable relying on a 76-year-old bridge," Schwartz said. "I know septuagenarian and octogenarian bridges. They are senior citizens. They need a great deal of attention."

I want, no, I demand that Transport Canada use their new-found power under Bill C-3 to force the Bridge Co. to build their enhanced bridge forthwith (that's even quicker than immediately) and then tear down the old bridge leaving only one bridge. And the Bridge Co. must use its own money too!

And I demand that it have the newest features in it too, like new lanes for "approved" shippers and truckers and commuters so they can get across faster so that there is no waiting time. There, I am even helping out NDP MP Masse who is so concerned about our regional economy.

As Sam was suggesting, we cannot have old bridges in Windsor. We deserve the newest and the best! There, Eddie gets something for his "branding" initiative!

What would the result be:

  • I am sure that someone can figure out a way to get around the EA requirements since it is an emergency situation here
  • Sandwichers, West End activists and politicos will be happy since there will be only one bridge
  • The bridge will be generally where the old bridge is located now to minimize disruption on both sides of the border, just 2 lanes wider to accommodate the faster cleared vehicles so Delray and Sandwich will be spared from destruction
  • No new plaza or roads are needed since traffic volumes have not increased as DRIC said they would so the existing roads and the bridge would have capacity for many years.
  • We can use the $300M BIF money now for "interim" road work and even create some badly-needed infrastructure work here
  • No heritage homes will be impacted and the Interim Control By-law can be lifted for the project even though it has no legal effect so Eddie can claim victory
  • DRIC can keep on wasting millions for years and the politicians can continue to respect the process until after the next federal and provincial elections
  • The project should be completed in around 30 months to allow the fight over the new crossing to be litigated forever.
And of course, taxpayers on both sides of the border won't have to pay out billions of dollars for something unnecessary.

I am sure that there are other benefits but that is enough for now.

There I turned over a new leaf. I am on their side now. I showed the Bridge Co. who is boss and that they better do now what Transport Canada and Sam tell them! Or else.

Shhhhhh. Between you and me, and let's keep it a secret, I could say that it is a dumb move to tear down the old bridge but rather it should be upgraded and used as a twinned bridge just like they did at Sarnia with the Blue Water Bridge. (The City's Dev Tyagi could help explain the rationale for that since I believe he was involved there in the twinning if the Mayor allowed him to do so).

I could say use Huron Church and the old bridge for cars and the new bridge with a new road for trucks. In this way tourism and local business are protected and trucks get to move through the border more easily without impacting local traffic.

I could also say that what Transport Canada must tell the Ambassador Bridge Co. to do is what they are already proposing to do with their Enhancement Project.

I could say all of that but I won't. I am terrified I would be followed around again by the mysterious people in the trenchcoats. I dare not take that chance!

Monday, February 26, 2007

Driving City Tax Increases

Where's Councillor Budget? Has he lost his claim to fame? How will he be praised now for all of his cost-cutting? Does it mean that he can now appear on Face-to-Face finally since there is nothing of substance that John Fairley can talk to him about?

How can he make a run for Mayor if he cannot show that he has kept tax increases down (Oh sorry, he said he was never going to do that. He must have been telling us the truth when he said that. Don't worry, I will remind him if he forgets). The Mayor has already said that the target is 3% increase (but it might be less to show how hard they worked. You know, from 7% to 3% to the final number. Applause, applause)

Does it mean that the Seniors get back their Tylenol tablets?

It looks like Admin has taken control of the Budget process again and that Councillor Budget may be out of a job without his marathon line by line budget meetings. I may have to come up with a new moniker for him. I have one but it will be for another time.

Thanks to Alan Halberstadt's BLOG on this one. He states:
  • "Councillors in Big Sister Windsor haven’t even seen the full budget document, and here we are almost in March. We are told that administration, at this point, is facing a budget $27-million higher than the 2006 base, representing a seven-percent tax increase...

    Under the timelines being recommended Monday night, the budget will not be tabled until April 9, and won’t be deliberated by Council until April 16th. In other words, by the time Council sets a rate, one third of the year’s spending will already be done...

    I would suggest Mayor Francis and administration pre-determined long ago that the increase will be three to four percent this year, and Council will be powerless to do anything about it."

Why just last year, we had the Star gushing about the process:

  • "It meant taking back control of the budget process from department heads."

And remember the line-by-line work that almost tore Council apart:

  • "It was an incredibly gruelling process," Coun. Ken Lewenza Jr. said of the months of "incredibly passionate and incredibly emotional" budget talks.

    "It was unprecedented," said Francis, who thanked councillors and city administration for the hundreds of hours put into the budget process on top of their regular duties.

    Both the spending and the chopping advocates on council voted to support the budget...

    Brister said the budget was "acceptable" to those who demanded spending restraint, while one of his fiscal polar opposites, Lewenza, described the budget document as "great news for the community" and something he can justify to his own constituency."

In fact, by this time last year we had a budget completed. In 2005, it was completed in January.

Why not this year...Oh come on, we have an arena to pay for! How can you show a big tax increase at the same time that millions of extras have to be added on to arena costs. Councillor Postma would be in serious trouble if that happened with her "no new taxes because of the arena" boast. Why when Administration talked about challenges that had to be faced, there was not a word about the arena.

By the way, an early start on the budget is now a negative because it is difficult to definitively identify all possible budget impacts that far in advance (ie from fall 2006) . Things may change as more information becomes available. So now we can wait until a quarter of the year is over so that Administration gets what it wants and Council is effectively neutered. Again.

I told you the CAO runs Windsor with Eddie as his figure-head. I certainly hope John does not choose to leave Windsor for another job or else we would be in serious trouble without a leader.

Oh and remember what I told you about last year's election budget and what would happen this year. As Councillor Lewenza said:

  • "We should be concerned since Councillor Lewenza has said about next year's budget "there's very little wiggle room in the [2006] budget and taxpayers should not expect to see the frugality of the last two budgets repeated next year. "This is probably the last go- around," he said, adding that there will be either higher tax hikes next year or a reduction in services."

Oh and there was confimation that the Tunnel dividend was going to be reduced by $2.2M

And you would not think that we were spending millions on an arena and that costs are sky-rocketing. Find the word "arena" in the Admin report or in the Star story. Instead learn that:

  • "The biggest increase will be $8.4 million for previously negotiated wage, salary and benefit increases for city staff."

For my union friends at City Hall...that means you are going to lose staff when you negotiate your next agreement so prepare for a long strike. This is confirmation of what you were expecting so be warned.


Tell me, who uses the word "engage" the most? Who has set world records for using that word the most times in a sentence when answering Councillors' qustions? I'll let you answer that when watching Council meetings

However, I wanted to let you in on the 2007 buzz word. It is "driver."

In fact, Councillor Halberstadt has already been brainwashed by Admin. He said that "Really, administration is driving the boat" when talking about the budget process.

Listen for the word in the budget talks when they talk about "cost drivers." Then listen for it in the Customer Service item when they use the word when discussing "drivers of customer satisfaction."

Then there are CSP pillars/themes, priority statements, developing a "brand," systematic and sustainable infrastructure master plan, increase accountability of exemplary customer service we already provide (that was a mouthful), Solid Foundation option, Corporate Project Management Protocol, Responsible Effective Local Government, the results were triumphant and so on.

Frankly, with their jargon, they are "driving" me crazy!