Thoughts and Opinions On Today's Important Issues

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Making The Bridge A-FIRA-d, Again

We really should be grateful for Gord Henderson's column on Saturday with respect to the temporary and intermittent closing by the Bridge Co. of its private bridge access to Huron Church Road. The Sheriff did it again. He showed the Mayor to be about as incompetent as one can be as far as the border is concerned in a way I could never have thought possible. Moreover, he gave us great insight into what the border file is really about. I'll tell you what that is later in this BLOG.

We also should be grateful that A-Channel News has decided now to have its reporters specialize in certain areas and take a more "investigative" approach to telling us the news. Daryl Newcombe is their municipal affairs reporter and he did a devastating interview of the Mayor on the Friday night news respecting the ad blitz over Greenlink as I wrote about yesterday.

We should also be grateful that Melanie Deveau had an interview with the President of the Bridge Company, Dan Stamper, on Friday afternoon so we would know what the real story is and that CKLW news broadcast his position on Monday. Perhaps there is a mainstream alternative developing in this City to the Star, not just Bloggers.

To me, the real issue will be whether Councillors finally have the nerve to take over the running of the City from a Mayor who is so out of touch with the people that he would be recalled in an instant if we had such a right under the Municipal Act. Will they do it when is is too late, after the Senior Levels walk out with their billions of dollars in infrastructure funds which could have been used to create thousands of needed jobs leaving us with an economic disaster or now, before that happens!

All of this is very similar to the Council of 2003 where the ex-Mayor lost the support of the majority of Council. Just look at the Star forums to see how angry people are. Too bad that anger rarely seems to hit the Letters to the Editor Page of the published Star. Odd don't you think. That Council revolution allowed Eddie to become the Mayor. Will any Councillor today follow that precedent and get an advantage over his/her possible competitors or are they still all afraid of the Star? Remember, that Dave Cooke is in the wings, untainted by the Council dysfunction.

Let's deal first with the Bridge Co. private access closing and the misinformation created.

Here is a Google Map shot of the Bridge plaza. Those little red boxes are cars and the yellow ones are trucks. Cars have to pass in front of trucks to get to the exit and that is a danger. Wouldn't it make more sense to have the trucks go WEST of Huron Church where the new booths are built so they will be away from cars? Common sense would say YES but it may or may not prevail after Tuesday depending on the whim of Council. If the way Burger King was dealt with by Council is any indication, the Bridge Co. may be in for a tough night.

Of course, the notion that the major road to the downtown has been closed is not true. As the Casino demonstrated, a few signs would guide Americans to make to left turns to get right to the Casino and downtown. I wonder if Gord has ever heard of Mapquest and GPS devices in cars. Here is how it could be done easily and inexpensively. [Please note I am not an artist and these renderings are awful but you get the point I hope]:

But let's assume that it is true that there is a best way to get to the downtown of Windsor. Which road is it? Nope, Gord got it wrong..."the main access route to downtown Windsor for motorists entering Canada" is NOT the road from the Bridge along Huron Church. It is supposed to be the Cities-owned Detroit/Windsor Tunnel.

You remember the Tunnel don't you, the crossing owned by the City that has lost market share to the Bridge for years now, the crossing whose dividend has gone into the toilet while Eddie has been Chair of the Windsor Tunnel Commission. He is the one who still cannot complete the Tunnel deal with Detroit and whose Tunnel improvment project is on hold even with $20M of Senior Level support available.

You remember how Gord lamented when it appeared that the Bridge Co. might take over the running of the Tunnel

  • "No more tunnel bus. No more direct commutes to jobs in downtown Detroit. No more fast and convenient access to Tiger Stadium, Comerica Park, Cobo Hall, the Fox Theater and Greektown...

    What's the point of using the tunnel...If you can't go directly to either city's downtown...

    What's being proposed is a divorce that would end the close historic relationship between our two downtowns."

Not a word about some other, better road to the downtown. In other words, it is the Tunnel route that is the main connector, not the Bridge exit. I think that Gord too may be suffering from the City Hall amnesia disease.

Let's even concede that the Bridge route is key. What could have been done to allow cars to go downtown using it? Here is a picture that says it all:

All that is needed is to close down the Southbound lanes for the period of construction and allow traffic to use the Southbound lanes for going northbound right to the downtown. Now that's not so hard is it.

If Gord is right about this being the "the main access route to downtown" what that tells me is that we have an incompetent City Administration that is so stupid that they did not recognize that the City Centre could be destroyed if there ever was a problem with this one-lane road. They should have considered alternative ways to get downtown.

Now really, can that be right? Of course not. That stretch of road is hardly that significant with respect to the downtown. But it makes a nice column to stir people up and to deal with another aspect of the border that has nothing to do with roads.

The reality is that the debate on Tuesday night at Council will show us two people. First there is the Mayor of Windsor who has people begging him to accept $2 billion or more in infrastructure money so that we can create 15,000 jobs in the City. What does our Mayor do, after returning from Germany where he was looking to create 50 jobs...he does nothing but tries to stall.

As I said before, if you look at the Council Recommendation from Administration it does not say yes, nor does it say no; it just says study, review, and report with no timetable set out. Perhaps that is how business operates at City Hall under this Mayor, but that is not how business operates in the real world

Contrast that with Dan Stamper of the Bridge Company. His owner has committed already half a billion dollars of his money to buy properties and to do work needed for his Enhancement Project and has commenced construction of the Ambassador Gateway project on the other side. That project was always is designed to accommodate another bridge in the best crossing location of all. Just look at Sarnia to see what they decided to do and where . He is also prepared to spend another half billion dollars in order to build his Enhancement Project.

That is what the debate on Tuesday night is all about. It is a contrast between a man who is afraid to make a decision for fear it may be wrong and who therefore will stall as long as he can and a man who is prepared to put his own money on the line to do what he thinks is best not just for his private interest but for the well-being of the region. He is prepared to suffer the consequences if he is wrong.

The Bridge Company proposal is not perfect. The DRIC proposal whatever that will be is not perfect either. Greenlink is far from perfect. What would normal people do: they would sit down and try and find the best from all the proposals in order to come up with a practical solution that would work and at a price that is affordable. Instead what does our Mayor do. You can watch the news broadcast and read the transcript of it by looking at my BLOG yesterday "February 18, 2008, Fisking The Mayor." Advertising blitzes against his "enemies" and threatened lawsuits against everyone.

Is he really serious about spending up to a half a million dollars on an ad blitz to achieve nothing? Of course not and he will deny it because that is not what he said. But it sure sounded like that if you didn't listen carefully. No one, not even the Mayor, would dare say that publicly in a Windsor Star story with their Forums because if he did there would truly be a revolution in this City.

Want to know what the border fight is really all about? It is not about the road at all!

Henderson gives it away and who is behind it, lurking in the shadows. What Gord writes tells me now that the border fight is not about capacity, redundancy or security. It is not about the economic well-being of Canada or the United States. It is all about some people who lost before to Moroun who cannot forgive him, even after all this time, for beating them and keeping control of the bridge:
  • "But we surely understand now why Herb Gray moved heaven and earth, as Liberal minister responsible for FIRA (Foreign Investment Review Agency) in the early 1980s, in a failed effort to prevent Moroun's trucking empire from acquiring the Canadian half of the bridge. That battle was lost in the federal courts and ended with an out-of-court settlement following a marathon legal struggle."

Read the Star Editorial today that says the same thing in much more restrained language but which does not give away the real plot:

  • "The decision by Ambassador Bridge management to reroute traffic away from northbound Huron Church Road has the potential to develop into more than just a headache for commuters and visitors.

    It's likely to fuel the argument against private ownership of international crossings...

    What the road blockage will do is draw attention to the need to build a new international crossing that is publicly controlled, and properly balances various public interests."

Gord tells us that there was a settlement between the parties that determined forever the ownership of the bridge. Unfortunately, he neglects to discuss with his readers what the significance of that is.

Here is how Matthew Moroun discussed the subject in the House of Commons Committee hearing on Bill C-3:

  • "As we maybe stated not so well, what gave rise to the litigation itself was my family's initial ownership of the bridge in 1979. The Minister of Industry, Trade and Commerce at the time felt that a U.S. company's owning the Canadian half of the Ambassador Bridge was in violation of the Foreign Investment Review Act and sought to take the Canadian half of the bridge away through that act.

    That was litigated for over 12 years and was settled in a settlement document. It was settled favourably to both sides, whereby much investment was made by our company and cooperation was given. Litigation both in the United States and in the Federal Court of Canada was dismissed, and both parties went on, until now, very favourably."

In the Senate he said:

  • "When our company acquired the bridge in the late 1970s, Canada had the Foreign Investment Review Act. At the time, we wound up in litigation with regard to whether an American company could own the Canadian half of the Ambassador Bridge. We were in court in the U.S and we were in court in Canada. It was not good for either side. We got together and made a good settlement for both parties in 1991, after having started a fight in 1979. For almost a decade, we did not find a resolution and then we started getting somewhere.

What does that mean... either someone pays Mr. Moroun a big chunk of change for the bridge if they want to get rid of him since he won the fight to own it or he just keeps on running it as he has so successfully. As Dan Stamper said:

  • "We believe the governance of the Ambassador Bridge by Canada was resolved after more than a decade of litigation between the parties with an agreement reached in 1992."

He put it this way in the Commons hearing as if he had a premonition about what some might try to do one day:

  • "We believed the governance of the Ambassador Bridge by Canada was resolved and put to bed with an agreement reached in 1992, after more than a decade of litigation between the parties. It is as if some people cannot forgive us for the way in which a 13-year-old litigation was settled."

But that is not what some people want. They do not seem to care what the facts are. They want to take over the running of the bridge and will use any excuse to work up people to do so, even a temporary and intermittent road closing. If it is such a cash cow as Gord would have us believe, then they want that money. It should not go to some American who bought the bridge fair and square. Jingoism is allowed if it is directed against an American isn't it.

Why don't they just buy it from him? Write a cheque. They clearly do not want to pay a fair price for it. If they did, then this matter would have been finished a long time ago.

Instead, they tried to pressure him to sell out at a reduced price or face potential bankruptcy due to a new DRIC bridge. That bridge is never going to be built. It was nothing more than a pressure tool designed to force the Bridge Company owner to sell out at the cheapest possible price.

Heck, he may not be able to sell it now even if he wanted to with Bill C-3 in force. As for Brian Masse, even Bill C-3 may not enough for him. As he said in the House Of Commons:

  • "Consultation is so important. For example, if the Ambassador Bridge were to be sold in the future, it is important to have that consultation, not only with the municipality, the local government, and the province, but other businesses because they would be affected as the Ambassador Bridge is owned by a private American citizen."

Forget the nonsense about Canadian nationalism and waving the Maple Leaf flag. It's not about confused Americans who can't find their way a mile or two eastward to downtown Windsor or about public or private bridges.

It's all about trying to take away someone's property, someone who's been successful, without paying for. All that Brian Masse or the Government of Canada or anyone else has to do if they really want to take over the bridge is negotiate a price with Mr. Moroun. They had the chance years ago and chose not to do so. It looks like they don't want to do so again. They want it all but not pay a fair price.

Effectively, Masse wants the right to control the Bridge, even to whom it can be sold. What he wants is virtually a right of first refusal as well at no cost and everyone getting into the act until Mr. Masse is satisfied.

It is a joke and a disgrace. We are being played again. The Government will "own" a new DRIC crossing we are told. Of course they will but then they will lease it out to a private entrepreneur for 99 years to operate. In effect, that is why so many people from Transport Canada presented at the P3 conference in Toronto recently. It was to get bids for the future.

It would not suprise me to see a variation of the PEI Confederation Bridge model:

  • "Through a subsidiary, BPC Maritime Corporation, OMERS owns a 65 per cent interest in Strait Crossing Development Inc. (SCDI) the operator of the 12.9-kilometer Confederation Bridge that links Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick. SCDI manages the two-lane bridge under a concession agreement with the Government of Canada until 2032."

You remember who OMERS is don't you and their DRTP role. I wonder if this is why their DRTP office is really still open, not because of a doublestack rail tunnel.

It is now becoming clearer after Gord has revealed all who really wants to defeat Matty Maroun and why. I suspect that it is the FIRA Disciples that have been carrying the torch for years, hidden from view, but still active since they still hold a grudge. And look for "making money" as the real justification behind it all and the driving force, not Canadian nationalism, since Gord says:

  • "the bridge purchase [was] the best deal since the Dutch acquired Manhattan."

The intriguing question that needs asking is how much are the Disciples using the power of the State as their tool to wipe out one man's business. You will note how unhappy the Star is about the Governmental lack of action against the Bridge Company:

  • "Response from federal authorities, such as Transport Canada and the Canada Border Services Agency, has been muted. The border agency would only say it has yet to assess the impact of the road closure, while Transport Canada washed its hands of the matter."

If they can try to do it to Matty Moroun, and he has the ability and resources to try to protect his legal position, are YOU safe?