Thoughts and Opinions On Today's Important Issues

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Investigating DRIC

One day when this is all over, with all of the investigations into the DRIC affair and the waste of $60 million of taxpayer money on both sides of the river have been completed by the proper authorities, we may find out what really has happened over the last five or six years, or perhaps even longer as I suspect, surrounding the border file.

We will find out who the players are, the real decision makers, and what their agenda actually was. It will be demonstrated that it had little to do with the Ambassador Bridge other than the Owner of the Bridge was a stumbling block who had to be eliminated for their goals to be achieved. We will discover the truth, and also the lies and the deliberate misinformation that in my opinion has categorized this file for so long.

What we will find out to our disgust is the loss of time for this region that we will never be able to recover without a great deal of difficulty and the real crime, the hardships and worry caused to so many people. And how we have become the laughing-stock of two countries.

Can you imagine how better off this region would have been, and I mean Windsor/ Essex County and Detroit, if work on the border had started years ago. We would now be near completion, we would have had the benefit of 15,000 jobs to tide us over during our economic diversification period and our region would be proclaiming that we are open for business.

The SPP Joint Statement of the Three Leaders and the NACC Report signify to me almost the end of the unhappy DRIC saga that has cost us so dearly as I Blogged. There is no doubt in my mind that certain elements of the Government of Canada, Transport Canada in particular, must have hoped that the Amigos meeting would culminate into the endorsement of their new, publicly owned, P3 bridge. Instead, Windsor was barely mentioned and lumped in with Tijuana.

Looking back over time, this is the latest of a number of events that have altered the course of this file. These events include:
  • the victory of STOPDRTP and the realization by politicians at all levels that Windsorites cannot be taken for granted (It is a shame that local politicians even now seem to have forgotten that lesson)
  • the 2 1/2 page Globe and Mail spread on the Ambassador Bridge that signified that the assumptions made by the bureaucrats that the Bridge Company Owner would be scared by the DRIC process and would sell out at almost any price was a gross miscalculation
  • Dwight Duncan stating that "THE MAYOR IS WRONG. THE MAYOR IS WRONG" which to me meant that the gloves were off as the Senior Levels finally had had enough
  • the start of the Ambassador Gateway project settled any doubts about whether the Bridge Company was going to build their Enhancement Project while the sheer scope of it made ludicrous any thought that the American Governments would duplicate it less than a mile down the road.

So the future is now rosy, correct. Windsor/Detroit will be getting a new bridge, the one that was being constructed over the last decade as the Bridge Company did what it said it was going to do. We are going to get a new road to the Bridge. And everyone will live happily ever after.

Except I'm not so sure about all that.

We will get the bridge and the Americans will be all right. Sure they still have 18 months of disruption by the Ambassador Gateway project to the Interstate system but when it is done, they will have a superb road system connecting to the border. I believe that the American side has already backed off on the new DRIC bridge because it makes no sense for them to even think about spending more money on the border crossing and disrupting the community of Delray when there is no need to do so. As the Michigan Legislators will make clear, they can spend the money for other more important purposes.

On the Canadian side, I think the situation will be very tense. As was absolutely clear from the SPP meeting, Canada is desperate to protect its position in NAFTA. I wonder if it was Ambassador Wilson who gave Prime Minister Harper the foolish advice to threaten the Americans on oil supplies if they try to renegotiate the Agreement. If it was the Ambassador, not only has he made an enemy of the Democrats by trying to influence the selection of their nominee but he has now antagonized the Republicans who aren't going to be threatened by Canada over oil embargoes.

To me, the very meek statement by Harper about Windsor means that someone made the decision to back off on our border crossing, of course stating the platitudes about it that have been made so many times over the last few years by so many politicians, because the big fight is going to be over NAFTA. The issue has now become Canada's access to the United States markets. It makes little sense for Canada to get into a fight with the US about the Ambassador Bridge, especially when the Bridge Company Owner runs the operation so well.

If the new DRIC Bridge will be tabled and the Enhancement Project put forward as the intermediate solution so that everyone can save face, what happens to the road to the border?


My real fear as I have expressed for some time now is that the Senior Levels will walk away from Windsor and not do anything for the road to the border. That means that thousands of jobs that we could have had in this City will never happen because of the silly games that have been played for the last few years from the Schwartz Report #1 to full tunnelling to Greenlink. They have never had a chance of being adopted and yet we are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars of taxpayer money and wasting years in pretending that they have a chance of success. More than that, we threatened lawsuits and may even foolishly start one.

One stall after another for what reason I still not yet been able to figure out unless it was all to do with preserving the competitive position of the Tunnel so it can be financed.

Why would the Senior Levels help out a small and unimportant town in a forgotten part of Ontario with a Mayor who shows no gratitude and who feels free to snub them publicly when they come to town? How many slaps in the face are they going to tolerate before they say enough? They have the constitutional power to do what they want as the City has already admitted. They will act if they want to.

Why would the Province build a road that is 10 times more expensive than any other road built in Ontario? It makes no sense I am sure to other members of the Government who would rather the money go to their constituencies. To be direct about it, as a Windsorite, I would rather that the Province build the at-grade road and give to the City the difference in cost between that amount and the DRIC road cost. That would total about $1 billion. I am sure that we can spend a billion in Windsor in a much better fashion than wasting it on a DRIC highway. The money given to us could be justified as our fee for being the host Community for an international road.

What about this scenario: if there is no Government bridge to be built, then why build a road at all. Let the trucks keep on going down Huron Church Road because there is no unanimity on what should be done locally. I expect that the Province would still be willing to upgrade EC Row but even that may not happen unless the County put some pressure on the Province.

The speech given by the Premier of New Brunswick put the $400 million to Windsor in the national spotlight. Just watch every other jurisdiction try and take that money away from us now, especially before a Federal Election when Harper will definitely need all the help he can get if he is to be re-elected, even with a minority Government. The comment made by Transport Canada's Mark Butler about a levy for vehicles and truckers to use Nexus/FAST lanes suggests to me that the Federal Government may not have the cash to spend more than $400 million and also suggests to me that the Province may not even have the money to spend on its initial $400 million. The days of big Government surpluses are over for the foreseeable future.

The Bridge Company has always made the border work. If in fact more truckers go on the speedy system to cross the border and the chokepoints as described in the NACC report and in the Brookings Institute report are eliminated then the border becomes virtually invisible as in Europe. No one needs another bridge if that happens and then who needs to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on another road that one can argue is no longer needed?

Do you see what I mean... we may now have in Windsor the worst of all worlds. And it would all be due to the brilliance of people who designed a business model of how the world should be and cannot react to the reality of what the world is, especially when there are changes.

There is only one solution for everyone to save face and to pretend that everybody likes each other and wants to work together. By that, I mean every level of Government on both sides of the river and the Ambassador Bridge Company.

First, everyone needs to acknowledge that traffic volumes have decreased significantly and the likelihood of them increasing dramatically as in the past is very remote. That should be easy to be accomplished because in fact US DRIC has said that in order for the new bridge to survive it must cannibalize all of the other Southwest Ontario/Southeast Michigan crossings. That then means that the Governments have to spend millions of dollars per year to subsidize those other crossings. That makes no sense.

Second, the parties must acknowledge that a new DRIC bridge is not needed at this time but that the Enhancement Project must move forward and replace the old bridge and allow the new one to add a lane of traffic so that the preapproved traffic can move through the border more quickly using the new third lane.

Third, what is being done should be called the intermediate solution so that the DRIC report can be tabled and be pulled out some time in the future when traffic volumes have grown.

Fourth, and this is the difficult part, how will traffic to get to the Enhancement Project. I have my doubts frankly that the DRIC road will be built because it is just too expensive. Assuming that it is NOT going to be built, then the at-grade road should be built and be called the "intermediate" road and be paid for using the Border Infrastructure Fund money. That is a face saving way out for everyone.

However, let's assume that the Senior Levels are still prepared to pay $1.6 billion for a road to the Enhancement Project. Eddie's only way out is on the day of the announcement of the DRIC road to declare a victory and say that DRIC has finally listened to the people of Windsor and has built a road such that he can approve what has been done. He can justify the spending of all the money on lawyers and consultants by saying that he stood strong for Windsor and the Senior Levels folded. If he wants to know how to do that properly, he should ask Jr. to set up a meeting with his father for Eddie so that he can show him how CAW does it all the time.
There is an incentive for everyone to sit down now and resolve this mess on a mutually acceptable basis and while everyone is still relatively friendly before some lose badly, especially the City of Windsor. There are heads on the block and necks on the line.

Windsor is viewed as the armpit of Ontario. Unless the border is fixed up and fixed up soon we will be given a new name. The name is what the Windsor Star photograph as the casino sign was being erected shows on the online Windsor Star. Another Jay Leno moment for this City: