A Mystery Story: The Henderson Canal Conundrum
- “Blogmeister, would you have a few minutes to spend with me today,” the voice said.
It was a very pleasant voice but it was one that commanded respect and one that I knew instinctively would not take NO for an answer.
- “Who are you and where and when would you like to meet?”
Normally, when I get an e-mail from a new reader, I will often ask if he/she would like to go out for coffee. So I suspected nothing out of the ordinary but the call did seem odd.
- “Oh, I will explain all of that to you shortly. Would now be convenient?”
Of course, intrigued, I said YES but before I could say another word, the phone clicked off and there was a knock on the door.
To my utter amazement, there was this gigantic limo in my driveway with black tinted windows so that no one could possibly see inside. At my door were two members of the Canadian Forces in full dress uniform with guns at their side and another member at the vehicle holding the door open for me.
I was escorted quickly into the limousine and off we went. I have a poor sense of direction anyway and have no idea where we wound up with all the twists and turns that the vehicle took. Of course I was engaged in conversation with the two officers for most of the trip so that I would not be able to look out and figure out where we were.
We stopped somewhere in the County where there was this huge palatial estate. As we approached the front door, it opened as if by magic. I was taken to a huge room that looked like a library in an English estate, right out of the movies.
My host was already there. In the circumstances, I am certain that you understand that I cannot describe him or even tell you his name
- “Welcome Blogmeister. May we get down to business now? Would you like a drink before we start? It is a little bit too early for the hard stuff but would you like a coffee with cream and sugar and a strawberry Peek Frean's Fruit Creme cookie”
I was taken aback by the directness and by the fact that he knew what my favourite, midmorning snack was.
- “I am the Commander in Chief of the joint task force set up by Windsor police, OPP, RCMP and Canadian Forces that are surrounding the Windsor Star building in downtown Windsor. Are you and Gord Henderson working together along with the posse of Windsor Star whining and naysaying Reporters who have seized control of the Windsor Star Editorial Board?”
I burst out laughing. I had never heard anything more ridiculous in my life!
- “You have got to be kidding. You know I cannot answer that question. First of all, I am a lawyer and would have to protect any information about whom I am acting for or even if I am acting for a particular person. But more importantly, I believe in Freedom of the Blog. It is a variation of Freedom of the Press and I have no intention of revealing any sources or giving out any confidential information.”
There was this look on his face and then he started chuckling in a manner that seemed eerily familiar.
- “Thanks to you, I have just won a big bottle of Canadian Club. I bet with my colleagues that you would say that. Our bet was a bottle of rye whiskey! As you know, one is either a rye man or a Scotch man. As for me, unless I put in some mix to kill the taste, I would never drink Scotch!”
The tense atmosphere in the room immediately melted and we were both more relaxed. I thought I might as well be as direct and so asked what this was all about.
- “Please Blogmeister. We think you are the only one who can help us. We have read your BLOGs. You are the only one in Windsor and Essex County who seems to understands the Windsor Star and its main columnist, Gord Henderson, in particular.
As you know, Henderson is a person of interest in the Windsor Star matter. We just cannot figure out whose side he is on and wondered if you could be of assistance to us.
Take his column on Thursday “Betting on a vision.” We just don’t understand it and can’t figure out whom he is supporting.”
- “Is that all that you want?” I inquired. “You did not need to go to all of this drama for that. You could have just waited a few hours until my next BLOG came out.”
I then “fisked” Henderson’s column for the Commander in Chief. Of course, I cannot reveal everything that was said because of the Official Secrets Act but I am allowed to give you some of the highlights… Freedom of the BLOG and all of that.
Just to show you how thorough these people are, I asked the Commander why he thought we were working together. His answer startled me:
- “We know that you spent five years working on one of the world’s largest private white collar bankruptcies, two years of it in London, England. We know that you managed a hundred or more professionals around the world working under you and that you helped coordinate a worldwide seizure by various police forces of documents on the same day and at the same time. It was unprecedented.
Henderson’s fixation on Scotch whiskey, and malt whiskey specifically, intrigued us because one of the claims to fame of the hotel that you stayed at in London was its world famous Scotch Malt bar! We assumed that he was signalling you since he would have thought that only you two knew that.”
I almost needed a drink then… a double Apple Martini or a nice glass of champagne that I actually drank in that bar as my drink of choice.
Let me take you through the most obvious points in the Henderson column that I talked to the Commander about:
It is absolutely clear that Henderson is against this project. As you know, Windsor has the lowest literacy rate in Canada. That means that few people can read through an entire column of his and understand it. Accordingly, if you want to put something across for the masses, you stick it in at the beginning of a column or a news story.
What did Henderson do? He spent a good part of the beginning of his column talking about the “skepticism” of one reader. What he was really doing was giving reasons why this plan would never work by putting it in the mouth of someone who supposedly made a bet with him. Of course he dared not use the word “naysayer” or else he would have given it away.
- “Arthur, a reader with a dry wit and a nice touch with words, contacted me Wednesday to express deep skepticism about the marina and canal being touted for the near west”
Of course one had to take a look at the news story right beside the column to understand what Henderson was really doing. It was a story by Danielle Wong whose name I was unfamiliar with as a Star reporter. Was she someone new or a pseudonym:
- “But not everyone is as convinced.
Local political observer and blogger Ed Arditti told the Star Tuesday that the plan was just another "pie-in-the-sky" idea and questioned how all the housing units depicted in the concept drawing would be filled.”
There I was, Windsor’s official naysayer, being quoted again in a key part of the story… right near the end, being given credibility.
Of course, I trust that you understand the in-joke about the canals in Venice which I mentioned in my BLOG but was not mentioned in the Star. That tells me that Henderson reads my BLOGs since he also used the word “posse” in another column. A friendly competition?
FRANCIS IS RUNNING FOR A THIRD TERM AND PERHAPS MORE
Henderson tried to warn us before in a column until the Eminence Greasie made Francis back off because he was giving out too soon what his plans were.
Eddie unfortunately has never learned to keep his mouth shut:
- “In a subsequent conversation with Mayor Eddie Francis I confessed to having rashly placed my wallet and a piece of my Scottish heritage at risk.
His advice? "Double the odds. Double down. Raise it to a case. I'd take the bet because it will be done before I leave office," he insisted.”
This project cannot be finished in two years, the end of Eddie’s second term of office. I will be surprised if much of the planning can be completed before that time. Eddie has absolutely signaled that he is running again and perhaps a term after that too because this project will take years to complete.
Why else did Henderson talk about Dave Cooke being our next mayor? He knows that Cooke is being promoted to run to take away votes from Councillor Bill Marra. What Henderson just did is destroy Cooke’s chances, if he was interested, because Cooke’s involvement has now become politicized rather than acting as an impartial observer
- “..Dave Cooke as head of the feasibility task force… is no idle dreamer. He's a hard-nosed pragmatist who wouldn't put his hard-won reputation on the line if he didn't believe this was achievable and would bring real benefits to Windsor.”
The feasibility study is a joke and so will be Cooke’s place in it as I shall describe subsequently.
HENDERSON’S CHOICE FOR MAYOR
Believe it or not, Henderson has become a Marra booster and supporter
- “Another is early evidence of solid council support. I spoke with six of the seven councillors who participated in the rollout at the art gallery and heard enthusiastic support from all of them. In other words, if it's technically and fiscally feasible, a majority is on board.”
Guess which Councillor at the Press Conference Henderson did not speak to. Obviously, he did not want to contaminate him. An inside mole of mine who was at the press conference told me the following:
- “Gord Henderson would not even look at Marra today.”
And yet, in Wong’s story, who received most of the mention and publicity right at the beginning for the literacy challenged: Bill Marra.
HE HAD TO BE THE SEVENTH COUNCILOR AT THE PRESS CONFERENCE.
After all, most people have probably forgotten by now that the urban village was Marra’s idea in the first place and that Eddie has taken it from him as his own since the arena deal for downtown and the Engineering Complex idea failed.
Those were not the aftershocks from the California earthquake. The tremors felt in town were the local land developers jumping up and down for joy because Shmuel Farhi may have been neutralized in about as deft a move as I have ever seen.
They did not need or want competition by a tough and smart out-of-towner.
While Farhi served Eddie’s purposes with the arena lands, Eddie must have started getting nervous about him. Eddie has learned that he cannot push someone like Farhi around as he did with the Windsor Construction Association on the arena deal. While he did dismiss the local guys, Eddie cannot dismiss:
- “Shmuel Fari [sic], a developer with deep pockets who owns a big chunk of downtown London.”
As I told you, Farhi has already received $1,375,000 by cashing in his tax credit for the land downtown if he is the person that was talked about in the KPMG Report. Now that was smart negotiating.
Eddie may have remembered this London Free Press story too:
- “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.”
Poor Mr. Farhi, here he was thinking that he was doing a good deed by contributing $25,000 to the feasibility study. Whether he did it on his own or was asked to do so by someone at City Hall does not matter. He may be completely unable now to be involved at all in the Request for Proposal that will ultimately be issued by the City. How can a land developer help pay for the study that will be the basis of the land development!
Eddie must have known. After all, as our Mayor told us: he is a lawyer who knows the law, procedure and protocols. How can Mr. Farhi possibly be involved in an RFP when he has contributed to the study in the first place. Other developers could easily claim that the process was tainted, biased in his favour or that he had inside information because of his significant contribution.
As the Mayor well knows “apprehension of bias” is a legal concern. Regretfully, that means that Mr. Farhi may probably be disqualified once the matter is raised. It is not of course, the Mayor’s fault and he cannot be blamed. It would be probably a jealous developer who would raise the issue!
As Gord reminded us again:
- “Fari [sic], … is offering both enthusiasm and feasibility study funding.”
The misspelling of his name in the Column not caught by the Star proof-readers was obviously deliberate to draw his attention to this matter. I can just see the lawsuits starting that could delay this project for years if he is disqualified or if this matter is not clarified immediately.
If he asks for his money back, you will know why!
There were numerous other things as well…taking the Port Authority seriously while knowing that the Bridge Company will be going after them. Thinking that the Casino would be involved with the WOW FACTOR when it is known that the Casino does not want anyone ever leaving their premises because it means that they would not be betting.
Right at the end came some big stuff:
- “There are serious technical problems, beginning with a major sanitary sewer running east-west along Riverside Drive.”
But the key issue was set out in Blogger Kdduck’s BLOG:
- “WASHINGTON -- Grand Rapids Mayor George Heartwell told the Senate Wednesday that "water is the lifeblood of our cities" as he urged the Congress to ratify a compact banning diversions from the Great Lakes.
"There are good reasons why the original Native American tribes settled in this area, why the explorers came, why people settled here and built their cities, and why the area continues to provide a very high quality of life and economic well being for millions of people," Heartwell said at the Senate Judiciary Committee. "It's all about the water."
The compact was signed by the eight governors of Great Lakes states -- Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.”
Doesn't part of the water for the canal come from the Detroit River? A diversion in other words.
As Calvin Brook said (and isn't his name interesting for a water project!):
- "The thing that's a bit more challenging is the portion near Caron and the old railway cut because that will require a lot of excavation to bring the river water in.”
Why else do you think some of the canal is to be filled with “municipal water.” That never made any sense to me to use expensive water that has gone through our filtration plant when there is a river nearby. Now it does!
- "Also included in Brook’s concept is conversion of a three-block stretch of either Pitt Street or Chatham Street into a new east-west 20-foot-deep canal filled with municipal — not Detroit River — water that eventually travels north back toward the riverfront on property just west of the art gallery."
Then there was Gord mocking Schwartz’s THINK BIG phrase again with our newest one “GO BIG OR GO HOME." The expression is a joke. Errrrrrr doesn’t “Calvin Brook, the award-winning Toronto urban designer who conceived this plan” understand that we are “at home” already!
But the key to me was this line in Henderson’s column
- “I tend to assume he has his ducks already lined up.”
What does that mean…Wong’s story tells us:
- “MPP Sandra Pupatello (L -- Windsor West), who spoke to Francis about the plan a few months ago…”
In a Battagello story, we learned:
- “Brook said he got involved at the urging of Mayor Eddie Francis, who asked him to look at other cities such as San Antonio (famous for its canal-centred urban village area) and develop a riverwalk area.”
$10,000 only for drawings…..Give me a break. Do you think that Cooke will have the nerve to kill an Eddie dream after Cooke supported Eddie on the Engineering building going downtown.!
You see, it is a done deal. This was discussed months ago. Poor Dave Cooke. Not only now is he in trouble with the University for not helping them out, but he has been invited in to be Eddie’s scapegoat just as Brister is at the arena if Eddie decides to pull the canals plug at any time. (I did NOT explain what that meant dear reader. He will have to read my BLOG just as you do for insight!].
A three-month $65,000 feasibility study is nonsense. Why, on the 400 Building Audit, $25,000 alone is being spent for outside consultants who will be doing virtually nothing other than sanitizing what has been already written. Cooke has been sent out there because Eddie understands that if he put something forward it would be mocked and ridiculed out of existence just like every one of his schemes from Greenlink to sending our best and brightest out West to be commuters. Get someone with a good reputation to support something that Eddie already wants to use for his purposes and it might get somewhere.
Our few minutes with the Commander turned into several hours of intense discussion. At the end of it, the Commander and his team, they had entered the room when I started speaking, looked shaken.
- “You have thoroughly analyzed the situation, Blogmeister, but we are no further ahead than we started. We just cannot figure out what Henderson is doing.”
- “Of course not,” I smiled. “He is not supposed to make life easy for the likes of people like you and me. He is there to keep the Star’s circulation up at a time when people might not want to spend money on a Star subscription. He has to keep you guessing now doesn’t he.”
With that, I asked the Commander if I could be driven home because it was getting late and I was exhausted. As we shook hands and as I departed, the Commander asked me to say hello to his Cousin next time I saw him.
As I looked at him quizzically, he said “Oh, you know him, dear boy. You keep calling him “Deep Throat” in your BLOGs.”
Now I understood why the chuckling sounded familiar. And with that, the door closed with a thud.