Weekend reading: Windsor's Future
It started with a small hole in the dam. A few Bloggers in Windsor started digging and writing to try to explain to their fellow citizens what was really going on in town.
The hole started getting bigger. More people started writing BLOGs and more importantly, more people started reading them looking for an alternative viewpoint. Smears, innuendo and name-calling were used to try to close up the outpourings but the patches did not work.
Rather, it backfired giving Bloggers increased credibility. Renegade media types, Editorials, the people speaking out in Windsor Star Forums and finally Dwight Duncan’s saying publicly “THE MAYOR IS WRONG. THE MAYOR IS WRONG.” That made it official when the second most powerful person in the Ontario Government said what we suspected but many were afraid to say.
The dam burst and all hell broke out.
It has all happened so quickly. The question that should be on your mind now is what happens next. It is easy to tear down something but it is so difficult to build it up. That’s what we’ve been hearing for so long. City Hall was supposed to have the Vision and the Plan and was supposed to be our salvation.
Instead, the simplest of matters have become complicated. Lawyers, consultants and outsiders are doing our thinking for us. Does it need to take almost a year in the Capitol Theatre matter to get agreement on which Court should hear it? Is it really that hard to find a solution to the border crossing? Do we really need to threaten the Senior Levels and the County with litigation? Is it really that difficult and takes so long and costs so much to try to diversify our economy. Is it that hard for the Mayor and Council to be open with us on mattes like WUC or the Tunnel deals?I don’t think so. These problems have become overblown for political reasons.
Let me show you what I think the future can bring for us. Sit back, relax, and enjoy your coffee. Over the next three days let me try and help bring a resolution to some of these issues and to show us what our future can be. I’ll try to demonstrate that it really is not as difficult as some people would lead us to believe.
HOW IT ALL BEGAN
Who would have thought that the Blogmeister would be hired by the Windsor Star to replace their main columnist when he retired. But then again, the Star started transforming itself into an online newspaper due to the popularity of the Star Forums that gave its subscribers an easy way to react to matters that were taking place within the City. It became the unofficial Town Hall of Windsor and helped bring change, positive change in this City.
Today was a momentous occasion in Windsor and the Mayor deserved to feel proud of what he had been able to accomplish in such a short time. It was another ribbon-cutting ceremony, the latest of many but the biggest so far. He had learned early on not to just talk and deliver speeches but to execute on his ideas. He learned that he had to complete the deal and be ready to face the consequences of his decisions! He knew that if he were open with his electorate, they would understand and be supportive. No one would dare stand in his way then. Today was the culmination of his efforts.
Looking back, no one would have believed that what he achieved was possible just by working hard and actually accomplishing something. From stagnation to exhilaration in only three years. What a remarkable success. He never let on though that it was a lot easier to achieve than most people thought. It became especially easy when he admitted to himself that he did not know all of the answers. He brought around him a bright group of individuals whom he could trust to give him sound advice in their areas of expertise. He had no ego in drawing on their talent whenever he needed help.
Windsor is a small town after all and in small towns things happen very quickly.
He had seen it happen before, three times in fact. But this time he became front and centre as the new Head of Council, the beneficiary of citizen disgust. The first time it was Council’s supposed DRTP reversal. The next time was when Project Ice Track pulled out of Windsor and moved to the Town of Tecumseh. And then there was the WUC fiasco and the 86% increase followed by the whitewash audit.
Within a day in those matters, Windsorites reacted immediately. The Mayor and Council were forced to retreat. This time it was an innocuous trip to Germany that just drove everybody crazy. The former Mayor decided to hop on a jet and take a jaunt to Germany to capture perhaps 50 jobs, or maybe a few more, just as London announced up to 1,000 jobs with new Korean plants.
It was too much for a City that had the highest unemployment rate in Canada, with house prices crashing and mortgage foreclosures increasing and people being forced to move out of town away from family in order to get a job to survive. The former Mayor flies to Germany and does not report back the results of his meeting as people leave the City in droves. Instead, he declared war and threatened lawsuits for the umpteenth time virtually guaranteeing that the City economy would lose thousdands of jobs.
We all know the story. How the new Mayor raised a ruckus, said enough is enough and talked to the movers and shakers whom he knew were ready to save the City that they all loved and where they had all prospered. He didn’t have much convincing to do. They had just attended the Toldo Luncheon and were eager to get together and to follow someone who was not afraid to lead.
He had ideas. Oh boy did he have ideas. But because he was not part of the Establishment of the time it was fair game in the past to mock him and to discredit him and to ignore what he had to say.
In hindsight, it is not a surprise. The trade-off was 50 jobs or 15,000! That was an easy message to deliver, it very easy for people to grasp. The Minister of Finance legitimized the question that the Bloggers had been asking for a very long time. Why didn’t the Mayor just drive across the Bridge to the Bridge Company headquarters or fly to Toronto or to Ottawa and talk to his “enemies.” He could have negotiated an agreement that would have resulted in all of those jobs.
Within six months, WeACT pressured the Premier into passing an amendment to the Municipal Act allowing for the right of recall. It did not hurt that the two local Cabinet Ministers had had enough of being brutalized and used by a bunch of ungrateful local politicians.
It didn’t take much effort to get the petitions signed and the recall vote started. Several of the Council members saw the handwriting on the wall and decided to gracefully retire before they were kicked out of office anyway. The Three Blind Mice had no worries and they were supportive of their new leader. The new Mayor and Council promised action and they delivered.
The message was clear and it did not need PR flacks and expensive branding exercises to trumpet it:
Success on the DRIC road was the icebreaker. Homeland Security and CSIS along with the Customs services of both countries explained the security facts of life and why Schwunnels made no sense. They were the obvious target and not the bridge if someone wanted to paralyze the border crossing and ruin trade.
The meltdown of the economy didn’t help either. And yet it was the impetus for the resolution of differences. On the one hand there wasn’t enough money around to pretend that some grandiose vision of a road would be built. Yet on the other hand, the creation of so many infrastructure and spinoff jobs helped ease the transition into the new economy and created badly needed jobs in the region.
The Bridge Company people learned to hold their tongue and did not rub it into the faces of the politicians and bureaucrats that what was being done now had been proposed almost a decade before by them. Everyone was learning how to save face for the other parties to achieve the deal.
There was almost an audible sign of relief in town when the ink dried on the Agreement amongst the Governments on the border road. The signatures meant that Windsor was finally open for business and that not only was new investment wanted, it was welcomed with open arms.
OPEN FOR BUSINESS
Windsor was finally open for business and not only was new investment wanted, it was welcomed with open arms. And how welcome it was.
Windsor’s prime border location meant that not only was it a key spot for trucks and rail traffic to cross the border, but also it became the terminal of the H2O highway. The ports of Windsor and Detroit played a key role in the expansion of trade from overseas. The region became the distribution and logistical centre for the distribution of goods from around the world into the US Midwest and to and from Canada to the southern US ports and Mexico. A whole new industry was created since Windsor learned how to present itself as a transportation hub.
It was just like what happened in northern New Jersey. New Jersey for heaven’s sake, becoming an economic powerhouse! That was happening to the Windsor/Detroit Region now:
- “the solid if dull warehouse sector [was the] driver of the area's commercial real estate… Its central location on the eastern seaboard along with its excellent highway, air, rail and seaport access make it a hub of choice."
It was not too long before the region's median income shot higher, home prices increased and the area's shopping malls were busy again.”
We were building on the feeling of excitement in the air that occurred a year ago when the Chair of the Board of the University of Windsor, Dennis DesRosiers, cut the ribbon for the start of construction of the final phase of the University’s Engineering Complex. In addition, the bulldozers were there to start clearing the land for the University/Industry/Government auxilliary 300 acre Research and Development site on the airport lands in a complex designed for both the automotive and medical industries. Companies were virtually banging on the doors demanding space at the facility. It helps when your Chair is a recognized expert in the automotive business and can call in a few IOUs to help out his hometown.
The City, the University and the three levels of government had stopped feuding and were partnering with a number of the major worldwide industrial leaders in bringing new R&D jobs to the region. Retraining of employees who had been laid off in the automotive sector was part of the innovative approach taken by the new partners. It really was remarkable how easily people who were skilled in one area of an industry could adapt to meet the changing needs of another. Who would have thought that automotive tool and die makers, with a bit of assistance mind you, could create some of the most exciting medical devices around.
Enough of the past. It was a celebration of the present and the future of this City. All the dignitaries were there at the opening ceremony. US Senator Kwame Kilpatrick represented the President of the United States. He was very gracious and forgiving. He didn’t hold a grudge against Windsor for not completing the Detroit/Windsor Tunnel deal even though it did cause of a bit of embarrassment for his Budget since he had counted on the money from Windsor. Oh there were a few rude people who shouted out about text messages but they were ignored. As the saying goes, it was all water under the bridge.
Federal Transport Minister Dwight Duncan came down from Ottawa to his hometown to be there. His decision to leave Queen’s Park and his position there of Minister of Finance to support the Liberal Leader seemed to energize the Federal Liberal Party and give credibility to their Leader. Lo and behold, in next federal election the Liberals formed a minority Government. Dwight was offered any position that he wanted by the Prime Minister and he chose Transport so that he could be involved in concluding the border issue. Being part of one of the biggest capital projects in Canadian history that was vital to the economic future of Canada wouldn’t hurt either if he ever chose to run for Leadership of the Federal party. Saying the former Mayor was wrong had not hurt his career locally either. He was smart enough as a politician to understand that he was given on a silver platter an issue that would galvanize the Community in his favour.
His departure opened up the job for Premier in Ontario. He was the frontrunner to take over from the outgoing Premier but when he decided to go to Ottawa the race became wide open. It took five ballots but finally Premier Sandra Pupatello won out! She had a leg up you might say once Dwight decided that the greener pastures of Ottawa made more sense to him. After all, Dwight did learn how to speak French.
Sandra was at the ceremony too. There was no way that she was going to allow the border file to be concluded without her being front and centre either. It was a bit of payback for her as well given all the shots that she had taken from certain people in Windsor over the years who attacked her on her border position and her supposed do-nothing approach. What choice did she have when she was told that she had to “respect the DRIC process.”
She had more than made up for it with all of the money that she arranged to place in Windsor for some of the other projects that she saw around as her plane was circling YQG for a landing. Its status as a major feeder airport especially for private jets and cargo planes was a great positive for the area except when Air Traffic Control kept her plane in the air because of congestion on the ground.
It really was remarkable what happened. Fifty jobs compared with fifteen thousand made it a no-brainer. The brilliance though was to figure out a face-saving way for everybody to pretend to get everything that they wanted with no losers.
It was never clear exactly who came up with the idea but someone mentioned something about a BLOG about kangaroos and what happened in Australia to use as a precedent.
JOBS, JOBS, JOBS
He had to bang a few heads together but it really wasn't all that difficult. He pointed out that either the parties worked out a deal or there would be litigation for the next 10 to 15 years that would harm the economies of Canada, the US, Ontario and Michigan, never mind the cities of Windsor and Detroit. He just had to be forceful and threaten to lock them in the meeting room at the refurbished Capitol Theatre until an agreement was reached. Now that was great drama.
To meet the “intermediate” needs of the region, and note the use of the word intermediate, under the existing Border Infrastructure Fund, the Governments agreed to fund the building of the road to the Ambassador Bridge. That was a genius move since existing program monies already allocated could be used. Interestingly, Schwunnels immediately disappeared from the City’s vocabulary as did the need to spend millions on maintenance and security of parklands. Everyone agreed that the DRIC road would be built along the DRIC corridor and it would be designed to permit it to serve both the existing bridge and the new bridge if ever one was going to be built.
The justification for the Enhancement Project was that it was not a capacity increase but rather an upgrading of the existing crossing to permit the freer flow of trucks and cars using the FAST and the NEXUS systems. The old bridge would provide redundancy backup in the event of a problem with the crossing. Again, that project fit under the criteria for BIF.
Naturally, with the strong support of his colleagues behind him and with the endorsement of the County, the Mayor was able to say that the entire region was behind this transaction.
In the blink of an eye, the border crossing issue disappeared. From the fall of 2008, when the EA was completed until today, thousands of high-paying jobs were created to build that bridge. Even more thousands of jobs were created as spinoff jobs as out-of-town workers moved to the City and needed places to stay, to eat and drink, to shop and to spend their money. Three or four times as many jobs were expected to be created once the road project cleared all of its hurdles.
A minor industry was created in Windsor… providing red ribbons for plant openings. All the dignitaries had just attended the ceremony at the Chinese auto plant located near the airport. The announcement that the border crossing had been fixed finally permitted industry to see what a gem Windsor was! Its location and skilled and experienced work-force were the positive inducements to the Chinese to look seriously at putting up a new plant in the Windsor area rather than in the Southern US. With the new engineering complex nearby and with many automotive suppliers opening up research facilities there, it was a natural for the decision to be made to build in Windsor.
Interestingly enough, the head of the CAW was in attendance as well and he was part of the opening ceremonies. Their deal with Magna was used as proof to demonstrate that the unions were more than capable of adapting to the times.
This plant obviously spawned a whole boom of new plants opening up around it by parts suppliers to support the building of the automobiles. It wasn’t hard to get incentives as well from the Senior Levels of Government to help induce the building of the plant in Ontario. After all, the fight about the reopening of the Ford plant made the careers of a number of local politicians. They were not shy in the using that precedent to encourage the Senior Levels to keep on spending.
There was little need for the Gazelle Feeders to go out and sell the region. Their problem became coping with the influx of requests for information about where new plants could be built. Fortunately, the Mayor and the County had built on the suggestion made by Tecumseh’s Mayor some years back to create a huge industrial Park of 5000 acres. It was readily available for all who wished to build a plant bringing prosperity to the region.
I could go on and on talking about economic diversification, the sale of homes, the creation of a new retail in downtown and all of the tourists who are enjoying the facilities of the Casino and the Capitol Theatre. There was a little hiccup when the WFCU arena almost went into bankruptcy. Fortunately, the Mayor was able to twist the arms of the former Project Ice Track people and they came in to take over the running of the project and even kicked in some money as well.
You saw the video on the Star website online and on TV about the opening ceremony at the Ambassador Bridge today. Exactly 30 months after the EA was completed and precisely as promised, the new bridge was finished. “Ahead of time and below budget” as Dan Stamper the President of the Bridge Co. kept on saying! The joy on the faces of the owner and his family members and those who worked for him was matched by the expression of delight on the faces of the members of the public who came there to share that moment in history of the bridge opening. It had been a long time coming.
There was one sad moment and one of nostalgia. While I was standing there watching the ceremony, off in the distance I saw a lonely figure whom I thought I recognized. As I went over there to try to talk to the man, he must have seen me, and started walking away. I thought I heard him say under his breath “It was all my PLAN. They just would not share in my Vision. I should have been there opening the bridge where I wanted it to go.”
Immediately I knew who it was then and just let him go. My attention was brought back to the platform when the Mayor was introducing the Bridge owner, the Premier, the Transport Minister and Senator Kilpatrick, asking them to cut the red ribbon to signify the opening of the bridge!
His Worship, the Bacon Man had brought home the bacon for his hometown. It wasn’t so hard after all. And you could see the big smile on his face.
There it is. What Windsor can become if only we have the right people there to make it happen. It really is not all that far-fetched now is it. It builds on what is going on today. All it requires is that decisions be made and actions be taken now.
Mayor Francis and his Councillor colleagues have the opportunity to do so. It will require a drastic change of thinking on the part of our Council. It will require Councillors to take a more active role in what is going on in the City just as the Council in 2003 did.
Decisions are not that hard either. We have enough facts. We don’t need more studies and more consultants and more THINK BIG dreams. We have had years of those already and nothing has happened.
I hardly think that we need litigation to move us forward. As we can see, threats don’t work against the Senior Levels who hold all the cards anyway. All that hiring lawyers will do is delay our future for years and years so that cities like London can keep on getting the plants that should be coming here.
The key to the solution however is YOU, dear reader. YOU must keep on reading the BLOGs. YOU must start demanding action from our Council, whether contacting the Mayor and your Ward Councillors directly or by commenting on the BLOGs or writing on the Star Forums. We must keep the pressure up, you and I together.
After all, is only our City’s future that is at stake.
As a litigator for most of my professional career, it was my job to try and figure out what the "truth" was in a fact situation that obviously was different depending on which side that the client was on. I understood that it was my job not to take my client to court to fight a lawsuit but rather to look at the fact situation and try to assist my client in obtaining a resolution with the other side. I found that once I was able to assist my client to get away from the rhetoric, my client was much more capable than I in figuring out ways to solve the business issue with the opposition. After all, my client was a business person who understood the business better than I ever could. My job was to try to help my client achieve that result in a situation where the two sides were at odds.
I always believed that a lawyer who saw his/her function as merely going to court was doing a disservice to his/her client. Lawsuits take years and cost thousands and the result when one appears in front of a human judge is never predictable.
A good resolution was always better than a bad court judgment in my opinion.
I give you this background because I trust that you enjoyed reading my Series on Windsor's problems and how they can be solved. In effect, using my professional skills, I'm suggesting to you, dear reader, that our problems are not as big as some would want us to believe nor are they all that difficult to solve. I believe that the resolution set out in my Series is workable, practical and easily achievable if people are prepared to put their egos aside and to try to resolve outstanding issues in good faith.
The statement I set out above is a variation of the remark that former Councillor Joyce Zuk made to ex-Mayor Mike Hurst at a Council meeting when she was exasperated at how he could not control the meeting.
I thought about this line when I read the Editorial in the Star the other day. In it, the Star blames the entire world for the problems that Windsor has, our perfect storm remember, and effectively throws up its hands and says that nothing can be done here without Federal assistance.
"Windsor is in the midst of a crisis it didn't create and it can't solve."
Who would not want money regardless of the source but is it likely that Windsor is going to get any. What do you think? After declaring war on everyone why would anyone want to help us out! Now Councillor Valentinis has the answer to his question about why no one listens to Windsor and why we don't get grants as do other communities.
The Editorial is interesting as well because it effectively says there is nothing that our Mayor can do other than whine and cry and stamp his feet to get money from the Federal Government. In other words, make excuses for a Mayor who has failed us on everything.
I won't give myself any credit but it is very interesting that this Editorial came out right after I completed my Three-part Series on how to solve Windsor's problems and create jobs and prosperity for the region without much difficulty. If my proposition is correct, then there is an important role that Windsor's Mayor can play to achieve success for the region now. He does not have to sit on his ass doing nothing but hold out his hand asking for money.
This brings me to the Saturday closed door meeting on the border. You remember, the Mayor has just said he wants another costly advertising blitz to support the City's position, whatever that is, but in order to do so he has to hold a closed-door meeting keeping everything away from his citizens. Only a few people in this entire City will understand what the strategy is but unfortunately those people will not be taxpayers just Councillors.
Instead of holding a closed-door meeting in which the City and its lawyers are plotting against everyone and preparing for litigation to stall things off, the City should be holding open door meetings in which they talk to everyone in order to resolve issues.
You are well aware, dear reader, that there are differences between the City and the Ambassador Bridge Company with respect to its Enhancement Project. Would it not make more sense to have the Bridge Company sit down with the Mayor and Council and resolve differences now!
You are well aware that there are differences between the City, the Bridge Company and the Senior Levels with respect to the border road and other matters. Would it not make more sense to have the Bridge Company and Senior Levels sit down with the Mayor and Council and resolve differences now!
If one wants to talk a war analogy, it is time for the peace talks to be held already in order to start the reconstruction of the area that has been devastated by this ridiculous battle.
It is time for the City to stop having an entitlement mentality. It is time for the Mayor and Council to stop blaming everyone else for the City's woes. The Bridge Company and Senior Levels are here to create thousands of jobs in Windsor now and yet the Mayor and Council are stalling and opposing them. Why?
It is a shame that we do not have a person like Councillor Zuk on Council now. If we did, that person would say to the Mayor if he cannot do the job, then is time for him to get out of the Chair and let someone else do it! And do it now!!