Thoughts and Opinions On Today's Important Issues

Friday, March 14, 2008

Right Of Recall--Part 1


You are at the Chrysler Theatre on Monday night listening to Eddie's State of the City speech and you just can't stomach listening to another THINK BIG dream or hearing a vision of Windsor's future after all those that you've heard in the past.

You just can't take the failures anymore when solutions are obvious and all you see is this City withering away. What can you do other than boo or stand up and walk out.

What if you are at home listening to it on the radio or on television, what can you do? Do you throw your slipper at the set and then just have a big repair bill?

To be direct about it, there's not much else you can do. We are stuck with Eddie Francis as Mayor and the 10 people on Council whether we like it or not for almost 3 more years.


Here is another example for you. What do you do if you are a constituent of David Emerson and you had just voted for him and then a few weeks later saw this:

  • Ex-Liberal minister from B.C. joins Harper

    Last Updated: Monday, February 6, 2006 10:18 PM ET
    CBC News

    Former Liberal industry minister David Emerson has jumped ship to become a Conservative cabinet minister.

    The Vancouver-Kingsway MP is the new Conservative minister of international trade, with responsibilities for the Vancouver Olympics and Pacific Gateway.

    The 60-year-old former banker, businessman and economist was elected as a "star" Liberal candidate in the riding of Vancouver-Kingsway in 2004, was appointed to Paul Martin's cabinet and was re-elected as a Liberal last month.

    The fact that he had switched parties first became apparent when he showed up at Rideau Hall in Ottawa on Monday morning to be sworn into the Stephen Harper cabinet."

In Canada, you can moan and groan but you cannot do anything about it until the next election.

There is an alternative and one that I think thoughtful Windsorites should be discussing and perhaps demanding that action be taken by our Provincial Government.

Contrast the situation with with California and how Arnold Schwarzenegger became Governor. Here is what the Secretary of State wrote there when people were unhappy with the Governor's "lack of leadership:"

  • A Message from Secretary of State Kevin Shelley
    Dear Voter:

    On October 7th, California will make history. For the first time, our state will conduct a gubernatorial recall election.

    The world is watching how we face the challenge of this election. As we make this important decision, we must make sure it reflects the will of the largest number of voters possible...

    STATEWIDE SPECIAL ELECTION INFORMATION

    At the October 7, 2003, Statewide Special Election there will be three questions on the ballot. The first is a two-part question regarding the recall of the governor...

    The recall question contains two parts. You may vote on both parts or on just one. Either way, your vote will be counted. The first part will ask, “Shall Gray Davis be recalled (removed) from the office of Governor?”

    The second part will list the names of candidates running to replace the governor if he is recalled. If you choose to vote for a replacement candidate, you may vote for only one of the many candidates.

    If more voters mark “yes” than “no” on the first part of the recall question, the governor will be removed from office. If more voters mark “no” than “yes,” the governor will remain in office.

    If the governor is recalled, the candidate who receives the most votes will be elected as the new governor. That person can be sworn in as the governor once the results of the election are certified."

That is correct. The Governor before his term of office ended became subject to a recall by his electorate. Ultimately he was thrown out of office and a new governor was appointed in his place.

It should be no surprise to anyone who has read this BLOG about what I think about the actions of the Mayor and the Council. I believe that they have failed us badly and I see nothing that they are doing that will get us out of this terrible economic slump that we are in. On the contrary, I see what they are doing that actually makes things worse for this City by their failure to perform.

Right now, all I can do is write a BLOG about it until the next election. I don't think it should be like this. The Premier for whatever political reason chose to extend the term of municipal government by a year to four years. Four long years!

To those of you who say that there is no need for such a remedy because there is no such remedy in Parliament or at Queen's Park, I would ask you to consider the following for a moment. In both places, there is an active Opposition that every day is entitled to ask and to have answered questions from the Government. Especially in a situation where there is a minority Government, the Question Period can result in Ministers resigning or even a Government being brought down.

Compare this in Windsor where some questions asked of Administration have not been answered for years. Councillor Halberstadt on his BLOG mentioned that he asked a question about the Tunnel last June and it has still not been answered. It is a very relevant question to ask to have answered in public if there is to be some kind of a deal on the Tunnel soon:

  • “With regards to the negotiations taking place regarding the municipal ownership and operation of the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel, I request an actuarial study, a detailed financial prospective, a risk assessment, a traffic volume/revenue/expenditure analysis since September 11, 2001 and a projection of the lifespan of the facility.”

In the municipal system of government, it appears that Councillors just have to be tolerated and can be ignored if they ask embarrassing questions. In other words, there is no Opposition to the full-time Mayor and his Administration. And where you have a Council that is afraid to oppose the Mayor, well... you see what I mean.

Again with respect to Provincial and Federal politics there is a press gallery where media from all sides of the political spectrum report on the news. If you live in a city like Toronto as an example you have a variety of newspapers, radio stations and TV stations are from which you can get information. Even if you live in a city like Windsor, with the Internet, you can search out media points of view from different perspectives. You have an active press gallery that keeps the Government honest.

In Windsor, well, you know what I think of how well the media is doing with respect to its coverage. Obviously, that is why you are reading the BLOGs in town and why some are so afraid of us.

As you can see, there really is no remedy for a Mayor and Council that is out of touch with its populace until the election years from now.

It might not be so bad if Council were dealing with stop signs, lane closings, and filling potholes. But where you have a Mayor and Council that like to be entrepreneurs with taxpayer monies, and huge sums of money as well, then there ought to be a major concern.

If a Councillor cannot get information about a US $75 million tunnel deal, then what hope does a mere citizen have. Imagine, if this deal is developed within the private Tunnel Corporation that was to be set up, especially if the only directors of that corporation are the Mayor and his subordinates. $65 million and counting arena deals, sales of Maxess covered by a confidentiality agreement, subleases of real estate and rights given over at our East And arena with confidentiality clauses, possible P3 deals... those give me nightmares.

I will talk more about the right of recall on Monday.

Does Hollywood Favour The Ambassador Bridge




I am certain that you know the important role that celebrity plays in the United States in Presidential and Congressional elections. Did Oprah's endorsement of Obama help him dramatically? Why do you think major candidates want to be seen around movie and music stars?

In Canada, do you remember Prime Minister Paul Martin being appreciative of all the good things said about him by Bono at one time.

It is perfectly clear now to me that the Ambassador Bridge Company has been very successful in creating a positive image about themselves within the local community in the City of Windsor and in Essex County. One only needs to look at the various polls that have been taken recently by the media. Who would have believed that.

However, did you know that Hollywood celebrities may now be an onside to support them.

I suspect that the meeting between Larry Horwitz and Pamela Anderson in Vegas at a magician's show just did not happen as Gord Henderson would have us believe. There is no doubt now that there was more to that so-called meeting than meets the eye. Was it the sealing of a deal (Please excuse the pun as you will see shortly).

Do you remember when Detroit's Kid Rock and Canada's own Pamela Anderson were getting married several times around the world. I begged Eddie in the following language to get one of the ceremonies at the most appropriate place possible, the border crossing line between Canada and the United States on the Ambassador Bridge:
  • "We need the Mayor out there promoting an event that will be a true international spectacle with the world's media beating a path to Detroit. A famous Canadian and American are involved! It's a union between Detroit's Favorite Son, whose father was a Detroit-area car dealer, and one of Canada's biggest star.

    I can think of several Windsor tie-ins to capitalize on the event but I will let the Mayor's Office figure out the best way to do it. I just hope the Mayor and Council do not ask Administration to do a study on this first since that is the process that must be followed before this Mayor will move."

While they could not make it, I am certain that Pamela felt very troubled by that fact and promised certain people that she would help out in Windsor.

Let me take you back a few years when Pamela opposed the seal hunt in Canada so that you will understand exactly where I'm coming from. At the time the news said:

  • "The former Baywatch star asked for a meeting with Prime Minister Stephen Harper to discuss the issue, following her hosting duties at the Juno Awards, Canada's largest music awards."

I'm not certain whether there was a such a meeting because I do not remember anything being said about it publicly but there is no doubt in my mind that there was going to be more discussed at this meeting than just baby seals. I am absolutely certain that one of the items on the agenda was going to be the Windsor border crossing!

It is clear to me that Pamela has had a special interest in our crossing for a very long time and that is one of the reasons she wanted to marry a Detroiter. She wanted as one of her missions to solve the Canada/US border issue where her husband was brought up.

Isn't that really why Larry caught the ball that made him Pamela's assistant out all of the people in the crowd in the Vegas nightclub. It was no fluke. The ball was thrown directly at him. The deal was sealed when he caught the ball.

You again are mocking me, dear reader. How do I know that this is really the case? Fast forward to this weekend and the following notice:

  • Canada's annual commercial seal hunt is the largest commercial hunt of marine mammals on the planet. Everyone has torn feelings about it...
    It's a no-brainer where I stand with this issue.
    I think it's time we hang up the clubbing sticks.
    If you agree - please join me this Saturday, March 15th from 12pm to 2pm in front of the Windsor - Detroit tunnel EXIT (on the Windsor Side).
    This is located downtown on Park street - between Ouellette avenue and Goyeau.
    To avoid confusion - this is where people come OUT - back into Windsor - not where people go in - on route to the U.S.
    This is the tunnel exit.
    Signs will be provided - but feel free to bring your own.
    This demonstration (which is 100% peaceful) will work in conjuction with animal rights group SMART - who will be demonstrating on the U.S. side as well - at their side of the tunnel at the exact same time to help send a stronger message."

That's right, dear reader. The protest is taking place at the Cities of Windsor and Detroit-owned Tunnel and not at the Ambassador Bridge. There is no doubt in my mind and there should be no doubt in yours now that the word came out from Hollywood where this protest was to take place. The orders were given and it is the Tunnel that is to be picketed when normally one would expect it to take place at the Bridge.

It should be obvious now that the privately owned Bridge has won Hollywood's favour. There is no way that Stephen Harper would dare challenge Pamela especially before an election. One negative word from Pamela and Dion is the PM... Stéphane silly, not Céline!

I am certain that right after the Provincial Budget comes down we will see the border file finally resolved in a way that makes good sense.

I'm sure that Pamela will try to keep her role hidden in this matter. She does not want or need the publicity. However, this BLOG will let the world know what she has done for us!

Now you will understand how important her role is in saving Windsor's future. There was never any doubt but that she favoured a twin span.

As for me, I intend to do something about it to show my appreciation for her efforts. I intend to strap a "W" to her chest.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Warnings



This BLOG will be taking a public service approach today to what will be written. I want to warn a number of people in town about certain things that I can see happening that they should know about before it is too late.

WARNING TO MARTY

Obviously, the Marty that I am referring to is Marty Beneteau, the Editor of the Windsor Star.

If it is true from the hint that we received in one of his columns that Gord Henderson is going to retire, then I would respectfully suggest that you ask John Coleman to watch his columns a bit more carefully. I believe that you stated that he and Gord work together on the columns when you were being interviewed by John Fairley on Face-to-Face.

It is bad enough that he calls BLOGGERs names since there are only a few of us but when he starts going at the paying customers that could hit your bottom line, then you may have real problems! I don't think that you should allow him to call your subscribers names or else they might decide to drop their subscriptions:
  • If those perpetually bilious readers who respond to the Sound Off! section on The Star's website had their way

  • I recognize these are the angriest of the angry

  • And there will always be people with axes to grind
Come on Marty, tell him to lighten up. I mean, after all, if the rumour is true that the Star is going to ask me to replace him, I don't want him losing all of the readers by the time I write my first column.

Oh and by the way, I may not take that job even if you offered to me. I saw the comment that Gord made about six figure salaries and then this remark about it "just a fantasy for us peons." Tell you the truth Marty, if your pay is that low to your most important draw in the newspaper, then give the job to say, Dave Hall instead.

WARNING TO COUNCIL

I told you before that you had better start reading the Windsor Star Forums.

When Gord Henderson can devote good part of his column to a letter from a person who wrote on the Forum, then you know that this is a reason why the Star is looking at matters differently these days. It is interesting that the naysaying Bloggers' point of view is being echoed by the vast majority of people who write on the Star Forums.

And if you do not think that the Mayor reads the Forums or at least those in his office do so on his behalf, then you are very foolish.

He may not care about the comments or may choose to "dismiss" them but he's not going to run again. Do not forget that he is lame-duck and you have to be re-elected if you choose to run again. I'm not aware that lame ducks have coattails that you can hang onto.

WARNING TO THE MAYOR

Speaking of lame-ducks, I saw a number of references lately with respect to lame duck presidents.

You know how cruel American politics can be. Do a search and see the number of references to lame ducks and Daffy Ducks.

GREEN WARNING TO DWIGHT AND SANDRA

Did you ever wonder why the Mayor's State of the City speech is taking place so early this year? And on St. Patrick's Day, March 17. It has to do with "green" I am sure. And I do not mean GREENLINK

Last year it was delivered in May, also in May 2004 and 2006 and in late April I believe in 2005.

Have you also wondered why the ad blitz in support of Greenlink and against the DRIC road has not yet taken place?

Can there be a connection to this and the Ontario Budget on March 25? Will Eddie be demanding a lot of green to save Windsor from the Province or to try to put the blame on them?

I have absolutely no information to base this on but I wonder if Eddie will take a tough shot at the Province during his speech? Will he announce the beginning of a major campaign against the Province? After all, it is only about a week before the Budget to be presented by Windsor's own Minister of Finance, Dwight Duncan, where Dwight will talk about green money matters..

And wasn't Eddie embarrassed when he was out of town on a taxpayer green paid trip to Germany to get us the hope of perhaps a few jobs three years from now to send onions to Germany when Dwight was here on his pre-budget meetings. That was shocking that Eddie would be away at such a crucial time.
And does Eddie hold a grudge too since Dwight said: "THE MAYOR IS WRONG. THE MAYOR IS WRONG."

What a nice way to hit back at the Provincial Liberals if Eddie suspects that Greenlink is dead.

If in fact the City has paid taxpayer green for that recent survey poll, I would bet that it says that the City is trusted more than the Province on the border. Since he has nothing else to talk about on the border, what better than to play the martyr role again and spend taxpayer green attacking the Province in an ad blitz. Announce it at the speech so that when the Senior Levels finally impose upon us the "cheap" solution, Eddie would have spent thousands already of taxpayer green proving that it was not his fault.

Since it St. Patrick's Day, if I were Dwight and Sandra I would not want to appear green on a television interview after hearing Eddie speak! Rather, I would start forking over the green to run some ads against the City and actually outspend the City to make the Mayor green with envy. Naturally, the basis of the ads would be how Eddie is preventing jobs, jobs, jobs being created in Windsor by his stalling and delays.

I wonder if Councillors will be allowed this year to sit on the stage a la the few that did so for Kwame or will they again be seated with the rest of the audience so that the spotlight focuses only on our Mayor.

Even more emails


They just keep coming and coming and coming. Thanks for yours!

1) Honestly Ed, rather than get mad over that article, I haven't laughed so hard in a long time.

I'll bet Eddie hired Siegfried and Roy to come help him and his high school buddy Frederica with the dog and pony show - only this pony was set to carry a cart of onions and green beans. Honestly, what type of business wants to remain under the radar to avoid competition, but feels the need to come speak at a public council meeting? It's a comedy.

Siegfried and Roy fits with the whole circus in outerspace opera that is Windsor.

2) Ed.. would you mind running over to Shopper Drug Mart and get my prescription for blood pressure pills renewed and ship them down to me. Maybe Freshlines Airlines fly to Florida.

I'm like you.. climbing the walls over this BS.... think I'll go cool off in the pool.

Hang in there old boy!

P.S. Excellent blog!!

3) I am absolutely dumbfounded with all this media coverage of the German investors in town.. to say the least it is absolutely bizarre!

1. 99% of all potential investors wish to remain confidential and out of the media limelight due to competitive, labour and financial reasons.
2. the majority of potential investors wish to keep dealings out of the eyes of politicians. Why.. because many politicians have a tough time keeping quiet about potential investments prior to having the bottom line signatures on a
deal.

But what have we seen with this German food distributor:
1. the Mayor announce their interest prior to him (the Mayor) visiting the firm in Germany. He tells the media (and the public) of their plans to re-distribute food from overseas to Windsor and thus into the US.
2. we now have the German firm give a presentation to Council of their plans and intentions using only the consultant's first names
3. the German firm grants an interview with the Windsor Star praising the area and telling of their plans
4. the German firm stipulates the investment may take up to 3 years to conclude...why??? If things are so positive of the area what will take so long... wouldn't happen to be infrastructure and services to the airport land would it? If it is such a great concept why not have private money fund it and start construction ASAP.

This whole investment potential goes beyond any "normal" pattern of anything I have seen in the past. What involvement does the Development Commission have in this scenerio? Why are we being fed partial information yet cannot find out what this "deal" entails from a public cost basis? Too many questions to ask.

Good thing this potential investment isn't from a Danish firm or I would be justified in saying "something is rotten in the state of Denmark!!!"

Again, this is totally bizarre!

4) Just read your blog. Aha... a couple of quick talking investors with an idea that is very, very early in the "concept" stage talking to a Mayor and council that don't have enough business sense to know how to sell lemondade on a hot day. Now I see the 3 year "lag". That explains it !!

They are visiting many airports worldwide to source their veggies..yes, it would be an excellent opportunity for the growers in the county to ship worldwide but it would take a pile of peppers to fill an Airbus 310 many times per week.

Hate to be a skeptic but.. after seeing the picture of these two especially with the ball cap on backwards makes me think they may have better luck selling used BMW's from Germany.

5) This city council is just in a death spiral.
A few years ago the Mayor stated boastingly about all the cash that was there.
Now it's cutting the library, crossing guards, workers.
What really gets me is the 700k for the study on how to run the city more efficiently.

6) [Re Leveraging The Tunnel] Me thinks your predictions were very accurate....

7) I just had a meeting with my insurance rep... By the way, my premium did go down 15% for not being in the WIndsor area. Sucks eh?

8) From what you have written and from what I have read, I believe that the DRIC process is almost dead, if not on its last legs, the new PPP Inc. is going to take care of that. The Ambassador Bridge Companies "replacement" span will go ahead...

any tunnel long or short is a potential choke point and target.

9)At the February 25 Council meeting there was much talk about the benefits Sandwich Towne will receive through the highly touted "Community Improvement Plan".

City officials say the library budget must be sliced to the tune of $800,000 or more. Does this mean the Sandwich Town CIP will include shutting the doors of the wonderful Sandwich Library? Community Improvement my dog's hind leg!

10) The conspiracy theory is dead.
No one on council has the brain matter to plan it...........

11) [Re destruction of Delray] It is a screwy development model: to improve, first we must destroy…

12) Traffic projections (how many will there be) and travel modeling (which way would they go) is an art, not a science. The artist is often more like Dali than like Rembrandt.

The art is full of assumptions stacked one atop the other and is always somewhat inaccurate and often wildly innaccurate.

The assumptions can be arranged, accidentally or maliciously, to achieve almost any kind of result.

No one is really sure just what variables drive traffic decisions and for certain no one knows what drives the variables that drive the traffic decisions.

13) I don't think that an economic depression is coming to Windsor. I believe that it is already here. Unemployment is at, near or probably over 10% (once your benefits run out you are no longer included in the count), job losses are continuing to mount, more people are leaving the city than are arriving and with the continued erosion of the manufacturing sector in Ontario I see no reason to believe things will get better any time soon. Watch for more downward trends in household income, personal wealth, disposable income and higher rates of foreclosure, bankruptcy, job losses, mental and physical ailments, social services demands, Ontario Works funding, drug and alcohol abuse, problem gambling, divorce and suicide.

Will new border construction pull Windsor out of this mess?

Given the City's relationship with the CTC all construction and engineering will probably be based on the U.S. side. The Canadian side will have a site office and Canadian workers are going to get some work but certainly not enough to make-up for continuing losses to our manufacturing jobs in the city/county.

Will anyone even build a new bridge?

DRIC will eventually have to close-up shop, we can't keep throwing away tax dollars on that boondoggle much longer. Once they announce their findings it will soon probably be followed by an announcement that the plans will be held until such time as the volume of cross-border trucks has increased to warrant the investment of tax dollars in a public owned bridge. The U.S. government/Homeland Security doesn't want another crossing to guard and Michigan is paying a quarter billion to connect the Ambassador Bridge. There is no incentive on the U.S. side for a public crossing.

If the current bridge is at 60%-70% capacity and there is little likelihood of significant increases in cross-border truck traffic any time soon or even ever, will Matty be interested in building a new span? As the Canadian, U.S. and Mexican government working groups continue to work on reducing the red tape to North American free trade there may be a time in the foreseeable future when trucks will only need to be scanned or sniffed for contraband. Once commercial traffic can move with little hindrance a four lane bridge will do just fine. Also, has Matty secured the financing for his improvements? A number of economists and pundits are expecting worse to come from the U.S. economy and lending requirements are tightening as the financial sector continues to suffer. Matty may have to hold off on a new span until things pick-up.

So, to summarize our depression has begun and bridge or no bridge it will continue to worsen.

Keep smiling:-)


14) Liked your non stories this morning, I think that you can forget about being hired by the Windsor Star :)

15) You may recall from previous discussions the "sewer surcharge" and how this account operates.

Today's paper talks about Councilor Halberstadt and his proposal to cut the fee, basically playing more of the "hide the Oktoberfest sausage" game with the taxpayers. Don't know what is going to happen but this fund is a huge fund, out of sight, out of budget etc. and collected through our friends at Enwin/Windsor Utilities.

Watch for a move down the line to taking all of the sewers/pumping stations/ wastewater treatment plants out of Public Works and moving them to the water supply side. All the debt, bonds etc. would go off the books of the City and onto Utilities. Talk about an opportunity for further manipulation.

Next is a P3 partner to then look after all this while the taxpayers are stuck with a guaranteed stream of increasing payments.

16) The closure of I-75 for many months was planned and accomplished by MDOT, several City of Detroit departments (including Public Utilities and Traffic Engineering) and the Ambassador Bridge.

This was not the temporary closure of one route to downtown. It was an entire interstate highway.

Why is it so hard in Windsor?

17) I have gone from anger to shame with this mayor and council, they just don't get it! It is time to ask the province to step in and please do a coup d'etat or somethin'

18) [Re "Border Hissy Fits"] one of your better ones my friend and once again you are spot on.

19) How stupid does Eddie and friends think the Americans are? They make it sound like they will end up in Puce or somewhere. I guess they don't think Americans can read directional signs.
We do have Search and Rescue Teams available. Maybe that would get people over here knowing there was a guarantee that they wouldn't get lost.

Canadians seem to be getting accross to the states fine with the construction. I've been over several times and yes I followed the signs. I haven't heard of any search and rescue emergencies over there yet. Has anyone on council crossed over to see what construction looks like?

By the way, has the Mayor started legal action against Michigan? They are reconstructing a major highway that feeds into Windsor and without an Environmental Assessment who knows how it will impact Windsor.

Sorry. I digress, again. This is getting to be a familiar place. If the Mayor and Council feels losing one lane of traffic will hurt Windsor's downtown that bad, where does Windsor stand? Seriously?

20) Ed, in response to your request for thoughts regarding the CAW in windsor I submit the following for thought...

It may be a surprise to some reading this but not others. when it comes to economic development in this area.. the road indeed does stop at London.

The media coverage of union leaders threatening that if they don't get their way "all hell will break loose" in Windsor getting nationwide tv coverage
(2) "dead meat" campaigns that threatenthose that don't buy Big Three vehicles will be "dead meat" (again nationwide coverage)
(3) the CAW complaining about the Roll Up the Rim vehicle being a Toyota RAV 4 (again nationwide coverage)
(4) the violent confrontation betweenthe CAW and Veteran Cabs (again nationwide coverage) etc. etc.
is seen by business leaders world wide .

Sitting in their offices or watching tv in their hotel rooms while on business trips and seeing these news clips certainly does not enhance the image of Windsor.

With all due respect to those CAW members reading this and obviously gritting their teeth and thinking I amanti-union. take a deep breath and think. Think again. of the actions I have exemplified above. Think as if you were planning to invest millions of dollars on a new plant and two sites were your last choice Windsor or London. You had to make a decision the next day and while in your hotel room during the late news you see Ken Lewenza shouting and ragingthat "if we don't get our way all hell will break lose in Windsor." Would you invest in Windsor?

Your final thoughts should be how to fix Windsor's problems and the perception of labour to others. Gentlemen, militancy, "goon" tactics and bullying only get great media coverage and little positive comes from it. Maybe if the media (print, radio and tv) were "busy" with other stories when the union wanted coverage of their meetings we at least would prevent the "world" from seeing the negative side of Windsor.

The media in this town is being "used"by the CAW. it is free publicity for them. It is time the media were more supportive of the overall majority of citizens and acted more responsibly. The results would be beneficial for all of us in the region. but most importantly the biggest winners would be the CAW members themselves.

More Quickies


Oh don't be silly this has nothing to do with hotel rooms in Washington, DC. Here are some more quick stories for you to consider

SCHOOL FOR SCANDAL

I was not far off the mark in discussing recently that in Ottawa it is scandal not policy that will make or break a Government. Here are some excerpts from the Conservative House leader in the Commons recently dealing with a Question of Privilege that seemed to me to be right on point.
  • "In Hansard the other day, Hon. Peter Van Loan (Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister for Democratic Reform, CPC): A very unfortunate trend has been coming from the official opposition in the House. It is an official opposition whose members have resorted to an ongoing program of character assassination. I recognize that they consider that to be part of the political game and they can do it in the House with the protection and the privileges of the House, but they must take seriously the responsibilities of every Canadian citizen outside the House...

    That is why laws against libel and slander exist. They are as old as our traditions in this western Parliament. They are laws that come out of our common law tradition to protect the people. While it may not be consistent with the Liberals' strategy, when they have no policies to talk about and no facts on which to base their accusations, they still engage in repeated false accusations that harm the individual reputations of people, harm their families and their loved ones and ruin people's lives. This is what that man is seeking the right to be able to do without consequences."

DID HE READ THE PLAYBOOK

What is wrong with Michael Wilson, Canada's Ambassador to the United States?

The Toronto Star interestingly called him the "by-the-book diplomat." Was that book Transport Canada Deputy Minister Louis Ranger's Ultra Secret playbook? It made it absolutely clear what he was not supposed to do but it seems that the Ambassador did not listen:

  • "In the eternal Washington competition for access and influence, the Canadian ambassador may need to seek publicity for his or her cause. Clearly, this kind of diplomacy must be practiced with considerable finesse or else risk being accused of interfering in US domestic affairs."

In the Obama affair we learned that there was involvement by the Canadian Embassy in Washington:

  • "Canadian Embassy in Washington suggested that the consulate had sought out Professor Goolsbee specifically because of his ties to Mr. Obama’s campaign.

    “The Canadian Embassy and our consulates general,” the statement said, “regularly contact those involved in all of the presidential campaigns and, periodically, report on these contacts to interested officials."

Now that part was alright and was part of playbook. However now we are learning more about the role that may have been played by the Ambassador himself. How he could make such a mistake boggles my mind because he is a sophisticated player in the political game. Can you imagine what would happen if the US Ambassador to Canada interfered in a Canadian election:

  • "Michael Wilson should step down as Canada's ambassador to Washington while the leaks that damaged Senator Barack Obama's presidential campaign are investigated, opposition parties said yesterday, as scrutiny moved from one of Stephen Harper's top aides to one of his high-profile political appointees.

    Mr. Wilson has now publicly acknowledged that he spoke to the CTV reporter who first reported the leaks before the story aired, but refused to discuss what was said.

    The Liberals say it now appears that Mr. Wilson, who was finance minister under former Conservative prime minister Brian Mulroney, took part in political leaks that damaged a Democratic presidential contender.

    Mr. Wilson is perhaps Mr. Harper's most high-profile Tory political appointee.

    In the Commons, NDP justice critic Joe Comartin called for the RCMP to be asked to investigate Mr. Wilson and others."

I want you to know that this is the same Joe Comartin who is the MP from Windsor. I am sure that Joe is well aware of the many roles that the Ambassador has played in the border file. It is obvious to me that he wants the Ambassador changed before the Americans wake up and figure out what Canada is doing with respect to the border at Windsor/Detroit.

Blame the brouhaha on Michael, force him to resign or be fired and then move on has to be the hope of those who want to see a public bridge in Windsor and their strategy.

At least the Bureaucrats in Transport Canada will be happy to see Michael go as well. After all, they want to maintain their control over the border file.

SHAKING HANDS

If by chance at the next Council meeting you see me on Cogeco shaking hands with a number of the Councillors, then don't think that I have made up with them and am going to let them off the hook from criticism about the job they are doing.

Au contraire mes amis. I'm actually doing investigative research. Windsor may also have its Crackberry scandal. What I am doing is trying to see which Councillor has the strongest thumb.

A recent report was quoted in the following manner:

  • "Canadians are so addicted to wireless devices that they actually feel anxiety and stress when disconnected from them, according to a new study.

    The report, dubbed "Disconnect Anxiety: And Four Reasons Why It's So Difficult to Stay Off the Grid," was conducted by the Toronto-based Solutions Research Group.

    The group interviewed more than 3,000 Canadians last year for the study, and turned up some startling findings about our dependence -- or addiction -- to everything from laptops to cellphones, iTouch's and Blackberries (or 'CrackBerries', as they're known to the more seriously afflicted.)"

One of my readers sent me a note claiming that one of the Councillors has a Crackberry "habit which is running at an average of $2000.00/mnth."

This seems impossible, unbelievable. I have no idea whether that is true or not but I thought first that I would see whether a Councillors has a very strong thumb from sending out all those text messages or perhaps a cauliflower ear from listening to the phone so much. I cannot conceive of spending that kind of money on a Blackberry, especially taxpayer money.

I will let you know what I find out. There are other ways of getting this information if I am unsuccessful with my preliminary investigation.

If true, then we can join the ranks of other American big cities like Detroit and Albany/New York City with messaging scandals. Hmmmm I wonder how many Library books $2000 a month would buy?

TUNNEL DEAL

Both Eddie and Detroiters have to be a lot more anxious about whether the US $75 million Tunnel deal will ever get finalized. It is a key factor in helping to balance the Detroit Budget. As the Detroit News pointed out:

  • "Aides to Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick say they are on track to end this fiscal year in June with a balanced budget, as long as a few variables happen as predicted -- mainly a $68 million deal to lease to Windsor the city's side of the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel. They say the city's $1.48 billion budget has been pared and they're just trying to chip away at the deficit that has rolled over for several years."

As I have said before, and I hope this does not jinx the deal, who in their right mind would have anything to do with the Tunnel? I expect that it should have a bump upward in traffic because of the Ambassador Gateway project in the US (Did you see the Tunnel's so-called clever billboard on Huron Church Road about sleeping in late?) but if a DRIC bridge is built, a huge chunk of the Tunnel business would be taken away. I just don't see a private investor putting money into a project whose numbers are dropping drastically.

Then who does that leave... the Canadian Federal Government. It should be obvious that the Feds can't take over the Tunnel directly or else the Americans would go ballistic, especially because the Tunnel is a unique security risk. In addition, Bill C-3 would apply to any other new party involved and my understanding is that the regulations will not be finished for quite some time.

Wouldn't it be convenient therefore if Eddie tookover the whole Tunnel for the next 75 years or so and the Feds financed him and subsequently took over his position. While the Feds would not be the actual owners of the Tunnel, effectively they would be in control for a very long period of time.

The beauty of this approach as I see it from the Feds' perspective is that this deal never gets done for $75 million but for substantially less since both of the Mayors are desperate to do a deal. And the Feds know it. No need to do anything yet but just wait and see.

I just hope that Michael Wilson's alleged indiscretion does not mess this plan up for everybody. Hmmmm I wonder if this is the model for what the Feds are trying to do at the Ambassador Bridge as well.

MORE BULL FROM CITY HALL

Red Bull that is. I'm sure that you saw the announcement:

  • "Air race to roar over Detroit River

    Christine Ferretti / The Detroit News
    DETROIT -- Motown could get more bragging rights as Sports Town USA this spring, when the world's top acrobatic airplane pilots bring their death-defying series of slaloms, stunts and slides at speeds exceeding 250 mph to skies over the Detroit River.

    The Red Bull Air Race World Series, an international race that features planes zigzagging through 65-foot-high inflatable gates, is coming to Detroit on May 31 and June 1. It's one of two North American cities selected for this year's series of races from April to November in 11 nations including Sweden, Australia, Hungary and United Arab Emirates."

I wonder if Eddie has the nerve to become a sponsor of this Detroit event as well and to announce it at his State of the City speech... you know the rhetoric as well as I do: international event, puts Windsor on the map, big moneymaker for downtown from tourists, regional cooperation with Detroit etc. etc. etc.

Is Roger involved?

CATERING TO OUTSIDE BUSINESSES

Do you remember the fight that Windsor caterers had with St. Clair College potentially taking away their business and competing unfairly with them as a result of them running a catering operation out of the former Cleary.

  • "The downtown St. Clair College campus was billed as a godsend for the core area, but leaders in the city's food services sector fear it's turning into the 800-pound gorilla of the catering industry that could drive some of them out of business.

    Leo De Luca, owner of Koolini Italian Eatery, one of Windsor's largest and most successful catering businesses, is furious over aggressive moves by the St. Clair Centre for the Arts catering operation to lure away his loyal customers.

    "I'm not a whiner, but when you have to compete against a public institution funded by the government that's giving away food to entice businesses, that's just not right," fumed De Luca. He alleges the low-key catering operation run by the former Cleary has morphed into a "ruthless" rival that's throwing its weight around."

I have no idea what ever happened with this matter and whether it got resolved or not. However here is an interesting story out of Detroit's Metro Times that reminded me of that issue:

  • "With revenue projections quadrupling those in previous years and updated equipment improving the quality of its work, the Wayne County Copy Center seemed poised for a glossy 2008.

    The glass-fronted center is located in newly renovated space in the basement of the Coleman A. Young Municipal Center conveniently near the elevators. It's been marketing itself with colorful brochures advertising its design, printing and binding work for county offices as well as walk-in business for the same services and general copying...

    But the center, which by county charter is operated by the Wayne County Clerk's Office to do the county print work, has some local printing business owners angry about the competition and others wondering if a government entity, funded by taxpayers, should be taking work away from the private sector...

    "If you brought this out to the nth degree, we'd all be working for the government because they'd own everything. They'd make cars; they'd make steel," he says. "It just isn't right. You cannot use the citizens to create a business that puts the citizens out of work."

I wonder if this last statement applies to border operations as well and the Bridge in particular.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Doing It In Your Sleep

You would think that it gets boring after a bit.

It is becoming a pre-spring ritual. The same questions, the same answers. Year after year. Nothing ever seems to change. And taxpayers always pay.

I compared the stories in the Star in 2007 and 2008 about the Police members being paid over $100K and was struck by the similarities even though there is a new Chief.

Hmmm, I wonder if there is a media guide that is passed from Chief to Chief for them or their spokespeople to use or one prepared by their Association for the Chiefs.

I found it interesting as well that the 2008 headline picked up on a comment from the Treasurer in 2007. Check out the comparison below.

Interestingly, in 2006, it was overtime that was the big factor explaining the numbers:

  • "It's for overtime ... the bulk of that would be court time," said department spokesman Staff Sgt. Ed McNorton. The four constables, one of whom made more than $110,000 -- 52 per cent above the base salary of a first class constable with 10 years seniority - - were in patrol and drug enforcement.

    "It's hard-earned overtime, I'll tell you that," said McNorton. Overtime can be taken in cash or time-in-lieu, he said, adding earnings made from off-duty work such as at downtown clubs on weekends are not part of the Sunshine reporting requirements."

And in 2005

  • "With the exception of the top management echelons, almost all the department's top earners get their regular paycheques boosted by overtime expenses while working on murder and other big cases, as well as for attending court.

    "We had some significant investigations last year," said Stannard...

    Department spokesman Staff Sgt. Ed McNorton said a "slew of things" contributed to so many local police joining the $100,000 club, including officers testifying in court and recent "significant raises" in salaries. An officer called in for court duty on his or her day off, for example, is paid double-time, with a minimum of three hours per morning and afternoon appearances."

However, probably due to inexperience, the new Police Chief may have cost his Department dearly and for that Fire Chief Dave Fields should be grateful for being taught how to make up a budget.






Do you remember the big deal that was made when the Fire Department was attacked for all of the overtime hours? Dave almost lost his job over it!
  • "The city will spend about $800,000 in overtime pay to cover sick days this year, which is about $300,000 more than the fire department budgeted for in 2005. Windsor firefighters work two, 24- hour shifts per week. If someone calls in sick for one shift, that amounts to half their week."
Dave's big mistake obviously was that he did not put in ENOUGH overtime funds in his Budget. Compare that with the Police Dept. who obviously build it into what they think they need:
  • "Smith said he wasn't concerned about the number of high-earners in the police department, saying the salaries were within budget and consistent with inflation rates."

No fuss or muss with the Police Budget, no headlines, no demands for an investigation or audit as with the Fire Depoartment:

  • "City council will meet behind closed doors Monday with a consultant who conducted an audit of the fire department's operations. The consultant's goal was to review department procedures and policies to find savings. Hopefully, the consultant comes up with a plan to end this sick-day boondoggle. "
Poor Councillor Halberstadt who in his recent BLOG says he is still waiting for former Chief Stannard to supply
  • "a [2007] police budget, or even an executive summary of a [2007] police budget (which I had indicated would have sufficed), to this day. "

Mind you, the Councillor does remind us that

  • "Windsor Police Services Board, [is] chaired by Mayor Francis, does not supply Council with the police budget."
Just imagine how much extra work that would be for everyone to go through such a big budget line by line as is being proposed for the Library of which Alan is the Chair. Alan should be thanking the Mayor for not letting anyone see the budget so that they can enjoy their March break!

So Chief Fields, learn from the Police how to budget overtime properly. Take the hit once a year in the media when your Budget comes out, have your standard list of answers prepared for the standard media questions and the issue will be over until the next year.

Windsor Assets---Going, Going...


Now perhaps you will understand, dear reader, why I took such an aggressive position opposed to what was being proposed when the Mayor and Council wanted to incorporate private companies for the airport and the Tunnel.

You should know by now what I think of the the ability of the City to do sophisticated business transactions. What is the next asset that is going to be sold or leased or otherwise disposed of without full Council and Taxpayer knowledge? What will the impact be on taxpayers? Will I be proven correct about the sale or P3 of the Windsor Utilities Commission or perhaps Enwin itself as is being proposed in London or the Detroit/Windsor Tunnel.

Will we be dazzled by proceeds of the hundreds of millions of dollars that I fear will be squandered leaving taxpayers holding the bag?

These private companies deal with Taxpayer assets however you want to look at it. As private companies, they are able to do whatever they wish without Council oversight. There is that legal separation that can be used to prevent Councillors from knowing what is going on.

Oh sure, some members of Council might be on the Board, as with Enwin, but with the airport and the Tunnel, even though I believe the Tunnel company has not yet been incorporated, the Board consists of the Mayor and several subordinates of his. At least that was the position at startup and I do not know if it has changed yet. As one Councillor pointed out... on the Tunnel Commission there were a number of Councillors on the Commission but with the Tunnel company there were none proposed.

Remember what the Star reported only a few months ago:
  • "Council shot down a bid Monday for councillors to get their hands on the minutes of meetings from the city's growing roster of arms- length corporations.

    "I'm surprised," Coun. Drew Dilkens said. "What I put forward was a motion for open, transparent and accountable government -- something I thought everyone would support with a unanimous decision.

    "But tonight it wasn't the intent of this council to move in that direction."

    The city in recent years has continued to form a number of new corporations including Enwin Utilities, Windsor Canada Utilities and new companies to run the airport and Windsor-Detroit tunnel.

    Dilkens has suggested actions of board members behind the corporations have been too secretive and not accountable to taxpayers...

    Dilkens said that made him uncomfortable because every councillor is held accountable by taxpayers. Yet councillors can be in a tough position to respond because of a lack of information, he said.

    He pointed to issues surrounding WUC's controversial 86 per cent water rate hike in the summer, and also what he felt was a lack of information from city administration regarding the recent response to a request for proposals to operate the airport.

    Dilkens brought forward a motion Monday calling on all minutes from board meetings of the corporations to be sent to councillors on a monthly basis, including agencies funded by the city such as the library, art gallery and development commission.

    It was shot down by a 6-4 vote."

Do you see what I mean with the Maxess transaction and why everyone ought to be concerned!

It is a terrible shame that Enwin sold Maxess. Where a number of cities are developing a wireless network for their citizens using their fibre network, we just got rid of ours. It is so short-sighted.

I tried on two occasions on behalf of clients to structure an arrangement with Maxess but was unsuccessful. I had a vision of how I believed Windsor could become a leading technology city through the use of fibre and wireless. It was my belief that, if we had structured something properly, technology developers from all over North America would have flocked to Windsor if they wanted to do anything at all with wireless. It would have made Windsor a true technology centre, not just a location for low paying call centre jobs. In fact, part of the deal that I was working on with a major technology company was to make Windsor a "showcase city" for their customers.

At the same time, Windsor residents and businesses would have had a huge communications advantage over other cities. At a relatively low price, we would have blinding speed Internet, cheap telephone costs, the ability to upload and download documents in seconds rather than minutes or hours for commercial applications and wireless hotspots for tourists. We could provide improved telecommunications for the Police and Fire departments as well as enhanced security in our downtown. The possibilities were endless as far as I was concerned.

I remember one of the City Administrators that I was dealing with who called a broadband network as important to the City as roads for the future.

Oh well...

Maxess was an interesting organization. It was one of a number of telecommunications companies that Hydro utilities built out in the past, primarily for schools, hospitals and other Government organizations. While they had commercial divisions, I'm not sure how profitable some of them ever were.

I think that Cogeco did well with buying Maxess. Its network spreads from Windsor to Chatham to Sarnia. The population served was almost 650,000 with a fibre network of over 650 km. It certainly will give them a huge competitive advantage since they have a fibre network in place already. I would expect that the cost of duplicating this today would be substantially higher.

I am surprised that the sale was made considering that in the latest available Enwin Annual Report, it was recognized that "wireless connectivity is a springboard for future growth." Moreover it was expected that Maxess "would operate at or close to breakeven in 2007 following many years of disappointing financial performance."

The Star reported that there was a confidentiality clause in the Sales Agreement that may mean that Windsorites will never know how much the sale price for this asset was. That's fine for Cogeco but not so good for taxpayers. All we really know was that there was a related party deal at Enwin where the asset went from Enwin Utilities to Enwin Energy at a cost of $16.7 million. That doesn't necessarily mean that this was the amount that Enwin received on the sale.

I must admit that I would be curious to know what the cost of building all of that fibre was and then add into it the "many years of disappointing financial performance" to see if this is a good deal or not for taxpayers. If it is starting to make money, why sell it?

What was the sale process? Was this a transaction only with Cogeco? Were Bell and Telus invited to make an offer to purchase? What about other potential broadband operators, did they participate? Who determined the sale price? Was there an appraisal done and if so by whom and were they experienced in the business? Will the City get cash up front, are their covenants that could reduce the sale price, indemnities or guarantees?

I wonder where the sale proceeds will go. Will they stay in Enwin or will another dividend be declared and the money transferred to the City. If transferred to the City, how will the Mayor and Council decide to use the funds... don't hold your breath for a tax reduction.

This sale has opened up all of the questions that were raised at the Council meeting about these private corporations. We need answers and we need them quickly. We need to have in place protection to ensure that our assets are not sold out from under us. We need a process in place that allows for taxpayer involvement and full and informed consent.

These are taxpayer assets, not those of a private, closely-held corporation nor of the Mayor and Council either. Just wait until you may have to pay a toll on EC Row! If you think I'm kidding, take a look at what happened in Chicago.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Border Stories


Here are some short border stories that you might find of interest:

PRONOUNCING THE DETROIT RIVER RAIL TUNNEL NEW NAME

Say what you will about the project but the Detroit River Tunnel Partnership's short form name, DRTP, had a nice ring to it. D-R-T-P, it was so easy to pronounce and became very memorable. It just floooooooooooooooowed with all of those hard consonants!

As I told you previously, the Partnership's name has changed to the Detroit River Rail Tunnel. I must admit I don't care for that name very much. Moreover its nickname, DRRT, just does not have a good rhythm to it.

Go on, try it yourself: D-R-R-T. See what I mean. The double "R's" are difficult to say and almost feel like stuttering. Imagine how hard it will be for newscasters to use that name.

However, the BLOGMeister, or is it now the BLOGFather, is an equal opportunity name caller. Without any charge whatsoever, I'm here to offer the Detroit River Rail Tunnel a nickname pronunciation that I believe is appropriate considering that the project is now a tunnel under the river.

Ladies and gentlemen, the new name is to be pronounced "D-I-R-T!"

So please do not be offended when I write in future that the Detroit River Rail Tunnel is nothing more than D-I-R-T! I'm just trying to be helpful.


$500 MILLION TO BE WASTED IN PORT HURON


I have to ask the question why MDOT still wants to spend a half billion dollars to expand the Plaza in Port Huron. Honestly, it no longer makes any sense to me. Don't they have a better use for the money say, to fix up existing roads and repair bridges

I'm sure that you remember this slide that the Ambassador Bridge Company showed at the Senate hearings on Bill C-3. Clearly, the volumes are barely at the 1991 level even though a second bridge has been built and a new expressways put in right to the foot of the border crossing unlike in Windsor. Hundreds of millions of dollars were spent in all of these projects

Can you imagine if you were an investor in that border crossing who put in money based on traffic projections that have no basis in reality whatsoever. How much would you have lost by now?

In any event, there have always been problems on the Port Huron side with respect to the Plaza. So now MDOT wants to do a job in Port Huron similar to what they want to do in Delray by expanding the Plaza at a cost of about $500 million. In doing so, as in Delray, homes and businesses will have to be destroyed. One number as reported in the media in Port Huron was "130 homes and 35 businesses" as 50 acres of land were to be purchased for the new Plaza.

This sounded familiar from the Sarnia Observer as I've Blogged before:
  • "Perhaps no issue has been more contentious than the decision to expand the border-inspection plaza from 18 to 65 acres. Critics complain it would effectively divide the city while destroying two middle-class residential neighborhoods and the commercial district at the terminus of Interstate 94.

    Tomion said state and federal officials assured Michigan's congressional and legislative leaders that an inspection plaza at a major border crossing such as Port Huron would require at least 60 acres.

    He said local officials accepted that at face value until learning of plans to build a similar plaza at the Peace Bridge in Buffalo, N.Y., on 39 acres."

But here is the hilarious part. Nothing is solved:

  • "A proposal to spend $433 million on Port Huron's border crossing may not put an end to long lineups at the Blue Water Bridge...

    Tomion said local officials also are concerned because state and federal officials refuse to promise that the $433 million investment will reduce the average length of delays on the Blue Water Bridge."

Here is a question that the people in both Port Huron and Sarnia should ask of the authorities. Why does all of this money have to be spent when it is a given, at least according to DRIC in Detroit, that the new DRIC bridge to be built here will take away a substantial portion of the Blue Water Bridge traffic. According to their latest report, the bridge in Sarnia could lose up to 18% of their traffic or more.

If the traffic numbers are significantly down from expectations in Sarnia/Port Huron and the new bridge in Windsor will take away another substantial portion of traffic, then why is there the need to build, build, build and spend, spend, spend?

I wonder if the consultants and the Government people who work on the Detroit project ever talk to the people who work on the Port Huron project to see if what they are doing makes any sense whatsoever.

GREENLINK TUNNEL ACCIDENT CONSEQUENCE

Can you would imagine the border mess if this happened in a Greenlink tunnel or even in one of the DRIC shunnels. Isn't this the real reason why we are going to get the "cheap" solution in Windsor, never mind the money costs! Security forces know that a tunnel would be a weak link in the border crossing system.

As reported by CKLW news:

  • "HIGHWAY 3 CRASH 2008-03-10 16:27:30

    Travellors headed to the Ambassador Bridge had a backlog of traffic to deal with today. OPP say a tractor trailer headed east on Highway 3 was cut off, slid through the median and came to rest blocking on coming traffic. The west bound lanes of the highway in between Cousineau and Howard was closed for several hours. Police are looking for the suspect car, a grey vehicle with dark tinted windows, possibly an Impala."

BORDER CONSULTING BUSINESS IS GOOD

Wilbur Smith, a consulting firm, has the contract with MDOT to write the environmental impact study for the Blue Water Bridge project.

Wilbur Smith is also writing the EIS for the Peace Bridge Plaza.

The Port Huron officials are complaining

  • "He said local officials repeatedly asked MDOT, the Federal Highway Administration and U.S. Customs and Border Protection if similar projects were under way elsewhere on the border.

    "They said our plaza would be a new standard," he said. "They mentioned some crossings on the Mexican border, but they never told us about the Peace Bridge."

    The Peace Bridge, which crosses the Niagara River at Buffalo, is similar to the Blue Water Bridge in traffic counts, although the Peace Bridge handles more passenger vehicles and fewer commercial trucks. The customs plazas at the two bridges both are located in built-up neighborhoods.

    A proposed new plaza in Buffalo would require 39 acres, Tomion said, far less than the 65 acres being requested in Port Huron."

Hmmmm, how is the difference in land requirements explained away by the same consultant?

Wilbur Smith, as I also mentioned previously, is doing the investment-grade traffic survey that will show if there is enough traffic here presumably for investors to invest in a new DRIC bridge. DRIC said in their US report:

  • "According to DRIC, their new bridge would cause significant traffic shifts over the entire area from the Blue Water bridge right to the Windsor crossings. Dealing with truck traffic, the bridge in Sarnia could lose up to 18% of their traffic or more. The City of Windsor owned Detroit/Windsor Tunnel could lose up to 26% of its total traffic. The Ambassador Bridge could lose up to 75% of its truck traffic and 39% of its car traffic. Mind you, I thought part of the DRIC exercise was to remove traffic from Windsor too eg to rail, marine and to other crossings. So much for that when bridge economics come into play. We cannot have car and truck numbers crossing the bridge go down now can we!

    The new bridge good carry as much as 80% of the truck traffic carried by the two bridges and 60% of the car traffic.

    Now those are pretty impressive numbers don't you think. If I was a P3 operator, I'd be salivating waiting for the Governments to ask me to invest my money in a new DRIC bridge."

It may be so difficult for Wilbur Smith to say that DRIC was wrong don't you think. Think how awkward that would be for one consultant to say that another consultant was so far off the mark, especially when the number of consultants that do these kind of surveys are so limited. It is easily achieved though if the will is there because of economics: high Canadian dollar, Big Three market share problems, manufacturing industry job losses, opening of Detroit casinos, border crossing concerns, need for passports etc.

Wilbur Smith consultants are going to have to explain away this graph if DRIC is to move forward. If they support these numbers, then DRIC is dead isn't it for the foreseeable future and the Governments are saved a huge embarrassment! They can table DRIC until the truck volumes increase and not lose face:


Breaking News: Maxess Sold To Cogeco


As I BLOGGED previously, and the official word is now out, Maxess has been sold to Cogeco. BLOG: Thursday, January 17, 2008 "Immediate WUC Judicial Inquiry Required"
  • "I wrote a BLOG the other day asking where all the capital funds went that were supposed to be invested in watermains. There is something else that I was told by one of my readers. Is it true or not, I do not know and it might be something for the traditional media to investigate. All I was told by Sylvia DeVries was

    "Thank you for your email enquiry regarding MaXess Networx. Please be advised that EnWin does not comment on matters that are speculative or rumour driven in nature."

Here is the news tip:

  • The Maxess fibre optics business has been sold for an amount between $15-$20M or is in the process of being sold. The buyer is a major communications company.

    If you did not know, Maxess is a division of Enwin."

Interestingly, it was only yesterday when I asked:

  • "Just another question, Vic, is Maxess still part of Enwin or has all or part of it been sold? Just wondering since you made a comment

    "that "non-core" assets or other business activities that did not meet this new strategic plan were re-engineered or sold off."

Here is the News Release. I was told that the sale price was in the range of $15-20M but I do NOT know the official amount. Maybe the traditional media could ask Eddie now!

  • Cogeco Cable Inc.

    Mar 11, 2008 08:52 ET

    Cogeco Cable Acquires MaXess in South-Western, Ontario

    MONTREAL, QUEBEC--(Marketwire - March 11, 2008) - Cogeco Cable (TSX:CCA) the second largest cable operator in both Ontario, Quebec and Portugal based on the number of basic cable service customers served, announced today the acquisition of all the assets of MaXess Networx®, EnWin ENWIN Energy Ltd.'s telecommunications division (City of Windsor's energy company).

    Maxess Networx® operates a broadband network equipped with next generation ATM and Ethernet technology. This enables MaXess Networx® to provide organizations in South-western Ontario with the broadband capacity required for data networking, high-speed Internet access, e-business applications, video conferencing and other advanced communications. Cogeco Cable, which also offers broadband services to organizations in South-western Ontario, will use this network to expand its service offering in the area. Maxess Networx® customers will also benefit from Cogeco Cable's suite of business products and gain access to Cogeco Cable's extensive fibre network spanning Ontario and Quebec.

    "We're very happy to announce this acquisition, especially because it strengthens Cogeco Business Solutions Data services", said Louis Audet, President and CEO of Cogeco Cable. "We have always been on the lookout for both internal and external growth opportunities, in Canada and elsewhere. MaXess met our stringent criteria and we are confident it will prove a great added value for Cogeco Cable's customers, shareholders and employees."

    "The City of Windsor and Enwin Energy Ltd are pleased that an experienced and successful cable operator with a good track record in the Windsor region is taking charge of MaXess' customers. We are confident that businesses and public-sector organizations will be able to grow with a partner like Cogeco Cable" said EnWin Energy Ltd. Board Chair and Windsor Mayor Eddie Francis.

    This acquisition is consistent with Cogeco Cable's pursuit of external growth opportunities in the past and enables the Corporation to continue to take part in the development of the cable telecommunications sector in Canada.

    "This is a great opportunity for Cogeco Cable, as it enables us to grow internally, through service offering expansion, and externally, through acquisition. Profitable growth has always been our main goal, and we remain open to opportunities that meet our criteria in Canada and elsewhere," concluded Mr. Audet.

    ABOUT COGECO CABLE

    Cogeco Cable (www.cogeco.ca), a telecommunications company offering a diverse range of services to its customers in Canada and in Portugal, is the second largest cable operator in Ontario, Quebec and Portugal, in terms of the number of Basic Cable service customers served. Through its two-way broadband cable networks, Cogeco Cable provides its residential and commercial customers with Analogue and Digital Television, High Speed Internet, Telephony and Data services. The Corporation provides approximately 2,569,000 revenue-generating units (RGUs) to 2,365,000 homes passed in its Canadian and Portuguese service territories. Cogeco Cable's subordinate voting shares are listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange (TSX:CCA).

    ABOUT ENWIN UTILITIES LTD.

    EnWin Utilities Ltd. is Windsor's Local Distribution Company, responsible for the distribution of electricity and the servicing and maintenance of Windsor's power line infrastructure. As well, EnWin Utilities Ltd. is a management services company providing fleet, billing, collections, credit, financial, human resources, customer service; and information technology services to Windsor Utilities Commission and City of Windsor.

Is The CAW Still Of Value To Windsor




I have a very simple question to ask: is the CAW helping or hurting the City of Windsor.

Are the Union and its members that bad? Or, is all that is required is for the CAW merely to hire a good PR firm to help it with its image--rebranding in City Hall terms-- so they will stop scaring people so much. Why can't CAW be viewed as an organization that will fight for its members but will take a practical perspective as well in dealing with the employer?

You know our City's image as well as I do. Windsor is supposedly a hotbed of union militantism that scares away any new investment. Is the image true or is it one that Economic Development Commissions in other cities dredge up in order to scare away investment from here to make it go into their neighbourhood instead? Why can't we have an image of a City that has labour and companies working together for the advantage of all?


If it is a false image, what can be done to change it and who has to take on the responsibility to do so it?

Here is a note sent to me by one of my readers that has prompted this BLOG:
  • "You don't often make reference to the role that the CAW plays in our area, so I found it interesting to read your comments in No.10 of your Fast Breaking News piece that you posted this morning.

    Many people, particularly those in the business community, believe that unions in general and the CAW in particular, are, at best, a serious drag on our region's efforts to attract new investment and jobs and, at worst, a barrier to those efforts.

    As most well know, Windsor and area has a well-deserved reputation for militant and intransigent unions that will take a very long time to disipate even if we were somehow able to begin today and, given recent events (TRW), and those likely to occur in the near future (Casino), that is not at all likely. Windsor will, therefor, continue to be unable to compete for the investment enjoyed by communities elsewhere in Southwestern Ontario.

    It seems to me, that we as a community need to address this issue head-on and have an honest debate or public discussion about the role played by the strident and out of touch leadership of the CAW. Our Mayor deserves credit for trying to raise the issue in last year's State of the City address but had his head handed to him for his pains so I am not sure who has the stature or credibility to lead the charge.

    May I respectfully suggest that you could contribute to change by regularly raising the issue? I suspect that much of your readership would agree with and support the proposition that unless and until the CAW changes its modus operendi, our area's potential for progress and development will not soon be realized. The CAW just does'nt get it but needs to."

Is my reader correct or not about the union? Is he correct that the Union needs to change the way they do things?

The CAW is obviously a very sophisticated operation. It would have to be considering the number of employees that it represents and in the industries in which it is involved. I saw in an article that at one time, it represented workers in "14 different economic sectors."

It is a union that has to face the reality of a declining market share of the Big Three in the face of the competition from the nonunionized imports. Its workers are much older than those of its competition so that even within its own ranks there may well be a dispute as to what the union negotiations should be concerned about: improvements to wages or improvement of pensions and maintenance of post-retirement benefits.

For Windsor, it is obvious that the CAW was in the past a blessing. It was not all that many years ago when the average income of a person in Windsor was about the second or third highest per capita in Canada. We seemed to have lots of money to spend. When CAW wages went up, the wages of employees in other companies went up as well, unionized or nonunionized, following the pattern set. "For every job, every high-paying job in the city of Windsor in the auto industry, 12 other people are working in the city of Windsor because of that. That's worth fighting for and defending." One could ask legitimately whether the Casino workers would have as high wages but for the fact that the CAW was representing them.

Even now, one could make the argument that Windsor's economy is not as bad as it should be since the retirees from the various auto plants have received big buyouts and have comfortable pensions that allow them to continue spending thanks to the CAW.

On the other hand, is the CAW the reason why we have the highest unemployment rate in Canada? Are new businesses afraid to come into Windsor for fear of being unionized? Is CAW being unreasonable in what it demands, forcing companies into financial difficulties? Does CAW pick fights with small companies to try to teach the major employers a lesson? Even low-paying jobs such as the Call Centre ones had gained the attention of the CAW who may be interested in adding to its membership to replace the numbers of auto workers who have been laid off. After all, the union functions because it receives union dues. But would that mean the end of such jobs in Windsor as was suggested?

Is the CAW merely a bunch of hotheads? I hardly think so. After all in 2005, the CAW recognized the precarious position of the Canadian Automobile Industry:

  • "CAW reaches a "tough times" agreement with Ford Canada
    September 12, 2005, CBC News

    The Canadian Auto Workers and Ford Motor Co. of Canada reached a tentative three-year contract deal on Monday. CAW President Buzz Hargrove described it as a "modest agreement, but a good agreement for tough times."

    The agreement includes a plant closing, layoffs and small wage increases.

    Hargrove acknowledged the agreement did not score huge gains for the 12,000 workers at Ford Canada. It contained the smallest wage increases since 1985 and only "modest" improvements for retirees. The agreement calls for a forty-five cent an hour increase in the first year, a thirty-cent an hour increase in the second year and another thirty-cent an hour increase in the third year.

    As well the deal will see Ford close its casting plant in Windsor, Ont., and phase out production of the V-6 engine at its Essex engine plant, also in Windsor, which will result in about 1,100 jobs lost in total by 2008.

    The union said the shutdown was forced by falling market share but it expects most of the job cuts to come from normal attrition and early retirement plans."

Compare this with what Buzz wrote only a few years before in a book, Labour of Love. Did Buzz change his point of view after he wrote:

  • "In the neoconservative Canada of the late 1990s, the labour movement needs to become more militant, less accommodating to the demands of corporations and governments. If this sounds like a return to the days of the 1930s or 1950s, so be it. It's either that or watch decades of hard-won gains disappear. This resistance will mean arrests, charges, maybe even jail terms for some of our leaders and members. But if we are to check this massive wave of unfairness, we simply have no alternative.

The union was very practical at the Chrysler Bramption plant when workers first turned down a company offer:

  • "Union accepts cuts in pay, jobs: Chrysler Group, CAW compromise; Tim Higgins Detroit Free Press 03-12-2007

    Canadian Auto Workers members at Chrysler Group's Brampton plant near Toronto changed course Sunday, overwhelmingly voting to accept a pay cut and the outsourcing of jobs in hopes of ensuring that the facility not only remains open but also is expanded.

    The approval by CAW Local 1285 comes after a vote last month by members to reject the demands by the company that included the elimination of so-called premium pay -- money for about 40 minutes each day for time not spent working -- and allowing about 40 janitorial jobs to be outsourced...

    In exchange, Chrysler planned to make an investment at the facility worth $700 million Canadian that would allow five types of vehicles to be produced there -- up from three today -- including a new one in 2010...

    Bob Chernecki, assistant to the CAW president, said "Times have changed. ... We are in a hell of a mess in the auto industry. There are lots of options for Chrysler. We should not turn down a $700- million investment into a facility that's going to give us another product."

This same union can sign a "Framework of Fairness" agreement with Magna "that may usher in wide-scale unionization of the auto parts manufacturer’s historically non-union operations." And by the way, it increases the number of members of the union while at the same time giving Magna a competitive advantage in the marketplace. Seriously, what can be wrong with such an agreement:

  • "CAW will give up the right to strike in exchange for a final-offer arbitration to settle contract disputes, and attempt to help Magna boost productivity.

    Magna founder Frank Stronach announced the new deal with the CAW last month,
    calling it the template for "a new, innovative, flexible and efficient model of labour relations."

The same leader can take a very practical, although also a very unpopular position with some of his numbers politically, by casting aside the historical relationship with the New Democratic Party and suggesting that in the appropriate circumstance a voter should vote for the Liberals, both provincially in Ontario and federally. As was stated federally:

  • "Thus, union members might need to "vote strategically" in ridings where the NDP candidate is a distant third but the Liberals could win with union support, Mr. Hargrove said.

    "We want a clear minority government, led by Paul Martin, with as many New Democrats holding the balance of power as possible."

In fact, was Hargrove really trying to take over the Liberal Party so that Labour would have a stronger voice in Canadian politics!

Please explain to me therefore why the CAW should be attacked and condemned and be made to appear as the destroyer of this community. Just read the Windsor Star Forums over the past few days and see what I mean.

Perhaps the Union is the author of its own misfortune and that is where it needs help in good public relations:

  • "CAW issues ultimatum
    'The TRW strike strengthens our resolve'
    Craig Pearson, The Windsor Star,March 05, 2008 [I'd publish the Lewenza photo the Star published from its files but it might scare you]

    The CAW will shut down any of Windsor’s three remaining new Chrysler supplier plants if they don’t agree to the same wages TRW Automotive just negotiated after a six-day strike, union leader Ken Lewenza said Wednesday...

    “The TRW strike strengthens our resolve for the framework for agreements with (supplier plants) Oakley, Dakkota and HBPO,” said Lewenza, president of Canadian Auto Workers Local 444, after meetings with union officials to decide which company to negotiate with next. “And it should send a message to those companies that anything less than the TRW economic package will force a strike.”

What about at the Casino:

  • "Workers are prepared to defend their wages and their benefits and prepared to bargain a fair and reasonable collective agreement,” said Lewenza.

    Although the two sides have yet to discuss monetary issues, Lewenza stressed that the union would not accept cuts in wages and benefits. “There’s a tremendous amount of issues,” he said. “Our members understand more than ever that the economic challenges we faced in the last four years have been a roller-coaster in the least...

    Casino Windsor, however, has informed the union not to expect “a good economic agreement,” said Lewenza. “They’ve suggested we have to be cognizant of the decline in business, the decline in revenue and they don’t come right out and say ‘we want wage cuts, we want benefit cuts.’ But, they say ‘these are our fixed costs, our operating costs, how are we going to get this place back in business?’”

At the "Our Jobs, Our Community, Our Future rally" in May 2007, on the one hand we had Senior saying:

  • "To the business community, don't be scared of us."

    He predicted the community will continue to demand government action to protect good-paying manufacturing jobs -- which he said have a spinoff benefit for the entire community -- and delivered a pitch to potential investors.

    "We're open for business," Lewenza said. "There's not a more generous, hard-working community than the community of Windsor- Essex County."

Yet at the same time, Buzz was saying in a manner that conflicted:

  • "I want to send a message on behalf of the General Motors workers at the transmission plant to Mr. Harper but especially to General Motors that, by God, we've started the fight to save our jobs, to get a new product in Windsor, and we'll carry it through to the bargaining table and a strike if necessary in 2008," he said."

Is this company-bashing needed? Why is the rhetoric of the past still used? Do union leaders think that their members are that dumb that they do not understand what is going on and what is needed? Are they afraid that if they offer to workers in a plant reduced wages to save their jobs, they will be thrown out of their nice leadership jobs? Is it all negotiating gamesmanship? Are these tactics still applicable? You tell me. I do not know.

What I do know is that things have to change or we are in more trouble here.

Any views that you would like to express are desired, especially solutions. They would be most eagerly welcomed.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Enwin Chair's Scolding


Vic, Vic, Vic... your Letter to the Editor in the Star seemed so testy this morning. As Chair of the only electrical utility in town that serves the public, as far as I know, it could have beeen a bit more pleasant. Instead, you take a shot at your customers and owners. Can you imagine a business in a competitive environment doing that.

  • "I remain frustrated with comments from certain ratepayers that damage EnWin's reputation without regard to the many improvements made to infrastructure, customer service, and yes, to its bottom line."

Well poor you. Do you think Vic that taxpayers and customers may be frustrated too? After all the City, Enwin and WUC are all part of a happy family. Certain Councillors and taxpayers were hoping for an independent financial, business and operational audit that would shed some light on the relationship amongst the parties but instead we received a whitewash audit that told us nothing.

I am sure that you read, dear reader, the comments of Vic Neufeld, Chairman of the Board, EnWin Utilities Ltd. He scolded us:

  • "On behalf of the board of directors for EnWin Utilities Ltd., I would like to clarify a comment that indicated: "If (EnWin) is making all this money, then asking for another increase doesn't make sense."

    The article suggests there is a direct correlation between the electricity distribution rate increase and the amount of dividend paid to the City of Windsor.

    Rate increases have no bearing on dividend payouts to the shareholder. Rates are prescriptive in nature, meaning that EnWin is required to file annual rate applications with the OEB (Ontario Energy Board), using formulas established by the OEB - a formula that does not incorporate payment of dividends."

No Vic, that's not the point. Here is why people are upset:

  1. It's not the dividend that concerns people. Rather it is whether Enwin is making too much money in profits and overrecovering so that rates should not be increased.

  2. "Enwin's chief financial officer Victoria Zuber said the local utility has no cash and remains in a borrowing position, despite the dividend increase." Why then is the money being transferred to the City and not used for Enwin purposes?

  3. Why is money being borrowed? If there is a tax/accounting reason for it please let us know since, as a private company, I assume that Enwin can deduct its interest payments. There may be a financial advantage for doing so. Show us how brilliant your financial people are so that we can applaud them if that is the case and not leave such a concern outstanding. Mind you, at the same time you point out "a total debt reduction of $30M since Jan. 1, 2004" so I'm having trouble reconciling both matters.

  4. Is the real reason for the dividend transfer "If you didn't do this, well that's another one per cent increase on (municipal) taxes. It's a decision the (Enwin) board made" as Council Valentinis said. In other words, is Council hiding a tax increase by having it come through Enwin. Was the dividend a "political" decision or a "business" one?

  5. Here is what the City Treasurer said too ""(Enwin) is an asset of the city," he said. "This is normal business practice. If we didn't have it, council would have to find $4 million from other services or reduce services by that amount." Sounds like money coming out of a taxpayer's pocket and going to the City but not calling it a tax for "optics" purposes.

  6. "The "managed services" fees WUC pays Enwin also shot up by almost $1 million" which is remarkably similar to the increase in dividends. WUC was able to pay the increased fee after the WUC water rate increase that caused such controversy. Is that purely coincidental?

  7. Was the increase in dividend due to "improvement in operations." If so, where? Or did it come via WUC?

Now Vic, let us in on the big secret too if there is one. Is Enwin trying to fix up its books and to keep its good credit rating to make it easier to flog the Corporation to some third-party investor as London may be doing or to borrow against its assets? That could bring in a whole bunch of money to the City of Windsor at a time when we desperately need it. Windsorites ought to know.

Vic, you of all people should know how complicated rate setting is. I am told that Enwin is one of the two thirds of utilities across the Province that use a "mechanistic" approach to rate setting. The other one third use a cost of services approach.

I know that you're having fun with us when you talk about payments of dividends not being included in the OEB formula. That had me really confused for awhile. But what you did not tell us is that the OEB has an Audit function that periodically will audit the books of a utility to see if there is an "overrecovery." If there is, then presumably, the OEB has the ability to reduce rates even if there is a mechanistic calculation. If dividends were huge from a utility to its shareholders, one could argue that there was overrecovery. I would think that the Audit group might say to the OEB that they ought to take a look at rate increases wouldn't you think.

I want to quote to you something that was said in the Star quite some time ago about troubles at Enwin. We've never been told what the problems were. Why not? You can tell us Vic, we're almost family. We can handle it.

Oh, in passing, would you let us know how much Enwin is paying to City Council Members in 2007 for attending various Enwin Board meetings. If everything is so wonderful at Enwin, then I assume that there was hardly the need for any meetings as there was in the past so that the Members of Council would not have received very much from the Utility last year.

Here is what was in the Star:

  • "Brister, who groans at the thought of taking a public stand that will get him in hot water with the mayor and his council colleagues, sees "a number of big-dollar issues on the horizon that lead me to believe we should not be proceeding this way. I don't think we need to be spending more tax dollars on bricks and mortar at this point. In my opinion, we're going to need those funds."

    TAXPAYER RESOURCES

    The budget chairman said he cannot provide any details but there are major issues pending involving the Windsor-Detroit tunnel and Enwin that will consume "a significant amount of taxpayer resources..."

    Brister doesn't buy the argument that the city has already budgeted $15 million for an arena and therefore the expenditure is a non-issue.

    "That logic that it's already budgeted escapes me," said the financial analyst. Compared with real needs like deficient sewers and pothole pandemics, he said an arena would be far down on his list of priorities. "Not even my 10th or 20th choice."

    He fears the city is getting involved in a project that will cost taxpayers far more than anticipated.

    "Do I believe it's going to be limited to $15 million? No way. And if we enter into a partnership with somebody, who generally ends up entertaining the risk? We do."

    I don't know about you. But it scares the daylights out of this taxpayer to hear one of the sharpest councillors, an individual who doesn't welcome controversy, sound a heartfelt warning that the city could be going in the wrong direction once again.

    Think Canderel. Think Cleary. Remember how lonely were the voices of dissent.

    If Brister is worried, we should all be more than a little edgy. And damn anxious to know what misery is coming at Enwin and the tunnel."

Just another question, Vic, is Maxess still part of Enwin or has all or part of it been sold? Just wondering since you made a comment

  • "that "non-core" assets or other business activities that did not meet this new strategic plan were re-engineered or sold off."

So Vic, save me from reading another one of your Letters unless you intend to answer some of the issues that I've discussed in this BLOG.