Act III: Shakespearean Border Tragedy (Part I)
- “Blogmeister. We have not spoken for quite some time. Would you be free for lunch perhaps today?”
Of course I was busy. This was the time when I am sending out my e-mail for the afternoon BLOG to my readers and doing my research for other work that I’m doing. However, no one ever says no to Deep Throat.
In exactly 30 minutes, there was a knock on my door. When I opened it, I immediately recognized the three Canadian Military men in dress uniform who were my escorts previously. I remembered the big black limousine that I knew was going to take me out to the County estate of the Commander in Chief of the joint task force set up by Windsor police, OPP, RCMP and Canadian Forces. As you may recall, dear reader, the Commander also claimed to be Deep Throat’s Cousin.
When we arrived, there was my friend waiting at the front door. He immediately ushered me into the house and into the Great Hall where the Commander and his team were waiting for us.
- “Blogmeister,” said the Commander. “I’m so glad that you were able to join us for our Elizabethan theme luncheon. Once a month, our chef does something special and for October, she decided to make us a lunch similar to one that William Shakespeare would eat. Enjoy!
Gentleman, a toast to the Queen!”
Notwithstanding that I was completely bewildered by all this and had no idea whatsoever why I had been invited, I certainly enjoyed the meal and the several glasses of English beer. But I was getting impatient, I knew that there is a reason for all this but I had no idea what it was.
As the meal ended, Deep Throat invited me to join him in the Library for coffee and dessert.
- “From the look on your face, I can tell that you’re wondering what this is all about,” he chuckled. “I thought I might have a little bit of fun with you.
A horrible tragedy is taking place in Windsor over the border file. I truly cannot believe what is going on and how the people in the region are being treated. People are desperate for work, businesses are closing down and the retail market is going to suffer tremendously for the next few months. Yet no one in authority seems to care. Just the usual platitudes about the importance of this crossing to trade.
Thousands of high-paying jobs can be created to replace those lost in the manufacturing sector and still the politicians are playing these bizarre games. It is difficult for me to stomach it much longer.”
I had never heard him speak like this before. He was almost emotional, completely out of character. He went on,
- “As you know Shakespearean tragedies were written in a set form with 5 distinct elements: exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution. The climax always came in Act III. Well my dear friend, we are now in Act III. I can only hope, as I read in one study, that ‘The climax represents the turning point of the play. From this point on, the Shakespearean hero moves to his inevitable end.’”
It was almost typical of the man. All of this theatre… the phone call, the trip to the County, the luncheon… just to make the point that we were approaching the Climax of the border file. He could have told me all of this very simply but obviously something was troubling him tremendously for him to take all this extra trouble. He wanted me to remember what he had to say.
- “It is what is going to happen next, after the climactic moment, that is so concerning.”
It must have been the extra beer or two that I had that made me so bold, “Surely you are over-dramatizing.” A nice punning comeback I thought until I saw Deep Throat’s hand slam the table as he stood up.
- “No,” he said in a voice that he was trying to calm down as I could see the anger leave him, “I am not overreacting. We could see this part of the region become destitute unless cooler heads finally prevail and stop this completely absurd behaviour. We can no longer tolerate nor afford this foolishness.”
I heard a noise behind me. It was a screen coming down from the ceiling. I was about to be shown a PowerPoint presentation.
- “I don’t understand why you feel the way you do. Clearly, the Ambassador Bridge Company is moving forward to start their Enhancement Project. After all didn’t Dan Stamper say:
“The Ambassador Bridge company claimed Friday it has all the approvals it needs to start building a six-lane twin span beginning next year.
Legislation from the 1920s when the bridge was constructed provides the company all it needs to push forward with construction, said president Dan Stamper.
"There are agreements and legislation out there," he said. "I think we have the necessary approvals. We are going to build a bridge because we have a right…"
He is not someone to make an idle threat. His Company would not have spent $500 million to buy land on both sides of the river and to build the Ambassador Gateway project which was designed to accommodate a second bridge unless they had the right to do so.”
- “That is exactly the point now isn’t it.” Deep Throat was not chuckling. “We are approaching the climax of this entire file. It is all coming down to one point as I shall show you. After that, there is the falling action and resolution. Those are the last two stages of a Shakespearean tragedy that could befall region unless decisive action is taken.”
While I was given a copy of the PowerPoint presentation, I will try and remember everything that I was told. The one sentence however that is absolutely etched in my memory was Deep Throat saying,
- “It is precisely due to the fact that the Bridge Company has the right to build its Enhancement Project that this file is now totally out of control.”
I knew he was right. I could never figure out why the Bridge Company was having so many problems with their Environmental Assessment process. I had been told years ago by one of the senior Bureaucrats involved in the process that there was no way that the Bridge Company could be stopped and that they would get their permit. Now, in 2008, the process was still ongoing. In fact, the City of Windsor intervened in the US EA process as well. I still remember that Stamper served David Estrin with legal papers right before one of the Coast Guard hearings in Cleveland.
Someone or several someones in very high positions of authority must have made the decision that the Bridge Company had to be stopped at all costs, no matter what. Legal position be damned!
Deep Throat started
- “This all started in the early 1990s. It did not matter that there was a resolution of the lawsuit between the Canadian Government and the Bridge Company. Certain people could never forgive the fact that the Bridge was owned by a non-Canadian. Remember, at the time of the purchase, there was no Free Trade Agreement nor NAFTA. Once those agreements were signed, traffic increased dramatically and so did revenues. People became jealous. Money does that!
Of course, these people cannot give credit to the Bridge Company for running a good operation. They believe that the Owner of the Company is not entitled to the fruits of his labour but that everything has been handed to him on a silver platter. They also forget that the Government had the opportunity to buy him out early on but did not do so.
As time went on, this economic nationalism morphed into something more understandable: money. The idea of public-private partnerships was born and the concept of investing in infrastructure for the long-term became very sexy. It provided an outlet for private and pension plan monies and an innovative way supposedly for governments to fund their projects. It also provided huge fees for the people who could put the deals together.
One good example that was mentioned in the Detroit/Windsor Tunnel discussions is the toll road in Chicago that was leased for almost $2 billion, an unbelievable amount at the time. Politicians drool when those kind of amounts of money are dangled in front of them. Candy to a baby or rather a substance to an addict. They had to have it no matter what.
Which assets in our area would be prime candidates for P3’s? None other than the Ambassador Bridge and the Detroit/Windsor Tunnel. Isn’t that really what your Mayor’s idea was all about at the beginning when he tried to do the deal with Detroit?
Money and Canadian economic nationalism. What a great combination to use against the Owner of the Bridge Company.
He was right. I remembered the Henderson column about Herb Gray and FIRA. I also knew that the Feds' Building Canada program requires a P3 review for any project receiving more than $50 million in federal funds.
- You, Blogmeister, were the one who found the document that should have revealed everything to everyone about why this file is a phony and should have stopped the DRIC cold.
Someone needs to explain why DRTP was ever considered by anyone as a viable option for the border crossing. It was the 300 plus page “"Michigan-Ontario Railroad Border Crossing Infrastructure" Report. As you so correctly pointed out, it effectively destroyed in 1991 the concept of a DRTP- type project. That report pointed out all the problems with the idea of trucks using the old rail tunnels:
it would require careful driving because of its narrowness,
it was highly unlikely that he could capture 50% of the border crossing traffic especially since its tolls would be much higher
it provided marginal truck only capacity at best
it would not allow for auto use and the money might be better spent on a new bridge
Its conclusion was very direct. As you Blogged back in February, 2006
“It is not recommended that the tunnel conversion be considered at this time.”
In passing, I also found it very amusing about their traffic projections in 1991:
Ambassador Bridge system could reach capacity in some of its elements such as inspection booth numbers by 1996
Ambassador Bridge's roadbed capacity will be adequate until 2005.
Here we are in 2008 with virtually no traffic backups on Huron Church since the Bridge Company opened up for talk booths and what the bridge at between 50 to 60% of capacity and volumes decreasing.
Then you found on the Michigan website “"Construction History of the Blue Water Bridges" with this quote that sounds exactly to me what should be taking place in Windsor/Detroit:
“After holding public meetings and studying several alternative locations for a second bridge, the team members recommended that a second bridge be constructed just to the south of the existing bridge...
A new bridge to the south of the existing one would require less displacement of property and homes than one to the north. The southern location would also accommodate the expansion of the bridge plazas on both the U.S. and Canadian sides of the bridge...
Both countries completed major freeways leading to the bridge. I-69 in Michigan and Highway 402 in Canada.”
As I listened to Deep Throat speak, my mind was racing. Why would smart organizations like CP Rail and Borealis want to spend $6-700 million on a rail tunnel conversion that did not make sense a decade before? Why would they spend so much time and money trying to convince everyone that it was such a wonderful transaction? Why did they spend the hundreds of thousands of dollars on advertising blitzes and glossy brochures?
Clearly, from what was being said, the ideal location for a new bridge was right beside the existing bridge, especially since the Ambassador Gateway project was already being built to accommodate a second bridge. What about DRTP? Was its purpose not to be built but to be used as a tool to convince the Bridge Company Owner to sell out? Obviously, the bridge had value and its value would be decreased if DRTP was built or so the theory went, so it made sense for the Owner to sell out while the selling was good.
Who would buy the bridge? Obviously the Government. However, the Government would not put up the money but rather a P3 operator would. I remembered that DRTP had claimed that they had a number of pension funds already lined up to help pay for itse project. It was not going to be just OMERS money paying for it. Why, Michael Nobrega has now just set up an office in London England looking for money:
- “We want access to large-scale opportunities and co-investment capital around the world. Locating in London expedites the process…
One key prize in the expansion for OMERS would be major deals with sovereign wealth funds, the powerful government capital pools that will control an estimated $12.5-trillion (U.S.) by 2015…
"Our pivotal point is to be able to find some way of collaborating with them, so we can get pieces of these large, strategic assets, and have some influence over their management.”
Given their need to justify DRTP, helping to finance a P3 would be a natural for Borealis. Is there a competition with them and the MDOT Australians to see who will front the deal or are they working together already? Is that why Alinda now operates the Tunnel? If the Canadian Government opposed the Bridge Company operating the Tunnel how could they allow an Australian company to operate the Tunnel and a bridge? Obviously, the bridge deal is the bigger one and it always could include the Tunnel as part of it eventually.
- “I see that you are caught up in your own thoughts Blogmeister. I am sure that you are way ahead of me but bear with me please. I will catch up,” as he smiled.
“Back in 2002, the Joint Management Committee people were absolutely shocked by the negative reaction they received from the City when they finished their report because they thought that they had reflected reasonably accurately what the City wanted.
Here is where it gets interesting. Councillor Francis as he then was introduced this Motion that talks about upgrading EC Row and building a Lauzon extension to Highway 401.In 2003, he also was on the side that approved
“That City Council ENDORSE upgrades and improvements of #3 Highway/Huron Church from the 401 to the entrance of the Ambassador Bridge.”
I am sure that most people have forgotten all this. The question that does need asking however is why he changed. Why was he so strongly opposed to trucks on EC Row and fixing up Huron Church? Why has he fought the battle against that for so many years when he was in favour of it before?
Lets jump ahead a little bit to the Bi–National’s Planning and Feasibility Study in 2004. What is fascinating to me about it when one compares the various alternatives set out in the report is how poorly DRTP does and that the central crossing and the Twin bridge location are virtually identical as far as the site for a new bridge is concerned.
You have said many times Blogmeister that the purpose of DRIC as far as you were concerned was to force the Ambassador Bridge Company to sell out as cheaply as possible. If DRTP was there to try to make the Bridge Company Owner sell out and the 2004 Study said that the Twinned Bridge location was satisfactory, wouldn’t one logically be able to conclude that this is where a new bridge should be built. One should consider that especially given the $250 million to be spent on the Ambassador Gateway project in Michigan that was to accommodate a second bridge. It was right beside the existing bridge just like in Sarnia.
Of course, that did not happen and the Bi-national group morphed into DRIC. You have written enough about the DRIC failures and how they have changed their position so many times that I don’t have to repeat it. What is interesting to me however is that the underlying assumption that the Bridge Company owner would sellout was dashed in the Globe and Mail newspaper article about him.
I had to interrupt him here. I just felt that he was coming to the reason why we were meeting, to explain the Shakespearean “Climax” about the border file. I needed to ask him some questions to see what his response would be.
- “Before you continue, let me ask you this. Do you understand the relationship between the three levels of Government on our side of the River? I have always assumed that they are working together against their common enemy, the Bridge Company, but the stalling, the animosity, the snubbing by our City Government has always troubled me.”
That question seemed to relieve some of the tension. Deep Throat must have had some kind of secret button that he pushed since just at that moment one of the military men came in with a fresh pot of coffee and some biscuits that I assumed were from an Elizabethan recipe to keep the mood.
“Let’s take a break for a few minutes. We have been going at it for quite a long time.”
[TO BE CONTINUED]