Thoughts and Opinions On Today's Important Issues

Friday, September 05, 2008

What Else Are The Authorities Investigating


Let me speculate. There is more going on with respect to investigations on many matters in this region on both sides of the border than we are aware of. That is absolutely clear now.

When Councillor Bill Marra talks about the police, you have to respect what he knows.

  • "Since 2004, he has been a member of the Ontario Civilian’s Commission on Police Services...he served [as] Chairperson of the Windsor Police Services Board."

When Bill talks about the Tunnel deal and the FBI in one sentence, then you have to be concerned.

  • "I have not heard anyone say the tunnel negotiations are not part of the (FBI) investigation," Marra said."

When Bill states that the deal ought not to be pursued at this time, you have no choice but to agree

  • "But one member of the tunnel commission, Coun. Bill Marra, suggested Thursday it may be time to turn the page on the tunnel negotiations in the wake of Kilpatrick's resignation.

    "Just the fact he resigned today and another one of their key negotiators, Derrick Miller is also being investigated (by the FBI) is a red flag to me," Marra said. "I think the best thing right now is to create further distance."

What is going on with this Tunnel deal? Why is Eddie so insistent upon doing it? Why is it so vital to spend a huge amount of money on a Tunnel deal on a crossing whose volume is still declining when we have so many other important needs in this City. Explain to me:

  • why can't Councillors Marra and Halberstadt get answers from the Mayor on questions that they have asked on the Tunnel deal for almost a year now
  • why can't WeACT and Chris Schnurr get records on two files, the 400 Building audit and the Tunnel deal, without having to spend over $350,000 and waiting for two years
  • why can't I get information from Infrastructure Ontario in a timely fashion about the City's application for a loan under my Freedom of Information Application or even get a phone call from them to discuss the matter even though I have asked to be contacted
  • the Mayor now talks about the Tunnel deal as a commercial transaction yet how is it going to be paid for
  • where is the valuation of the Tunnel to justify a $75 million amount when a smart border operator like the Bridge Company only offered $20 million
  • why did the Deputy Prime Minister really come down to Detroit to kill the Bridge Co. Tunnel deal
  • what did Eddie and Senator Fortier, the P3 expert, talk about?

Here is what troubles me a lot about all of this. I've speculated before that the Tunnel deal is essential for the DRIC bridge project. I have said that there needs to be one owner of both crossings in order to ensure the financial viability of a new DRIC bridge. A P3 investor does not like competition and likes a monopoly to ensure a good rate of return on their investment. That is why in the many toll road agreements the Government agrees not to build a competing free roadway near the toll road.

How can a P3 investor possibly compete against a Tunnel and an Ambassador Bridge and get a return on a billion-dollar plus payout? Please, it cannot be done.

If Councillor Marra is correct, and to put what he said in the Star in a different fashion, then we can assume that the authorities on the US side are looking into the Tunnel deal as well. It would not be a big leap considering some of the other investigations that are being carried out by the FBI in Detroit and some of the people who are involved.

Should we now ask the obvious question:

  • Is the FBI taking a look at the DRIC project as well?

You know what my opinion of this project is and why it has been undertaken--to force the Bridge Company to sell out cheaply to the Governments. You have heard the very serious allegations made by the Bridge Company about what actions have been taken by DRIC to try to hurt them and to eliminate them from consideration. In my BLOG about the Cropsey hearings, I related some of the bizarre comments that are now being made to justify building the DRIC project. I am sure that you can do the the math to figure out how much money is involved in all of this.

We know that there have been both House and Senate hearings in Michigan on the DRIC project. We can suspect that there are FBI investigations involved in the Tunnel deal. What is happening in Canada? Is the RCMP involved? If Canada's Auditor General can issue a scathing report on the Blue Water Bridge, then why has DRIC not been examined?

These comments from the Senate hearings in Canada about Bill C-3 troubled me greatly when I first heard them and concern me even more now:

  • Senator Mercer: I still do not understand why we are having this legislation.
  • "Senator Dawson: At the beginning, when this bill came in we were led to believe, and I am not saying there was any bad faith, it was going to be a bill that would pass easily as opposed to the division on a bill that had been proposed in the past, and it went through the House of Commons without practically any major discussion.

    All of a sudden we understand that there is an adverse effect for one of the strong participants in the bill. I was told last week by someone from the Department of Transport that Bill C-11 is now in the House committee and we should be expecting it here so we should be going on as fast as possible with Bill C-3. I want to be sure that as we process this bill through this committee that we understand it is not the same as Bill C-44, it is not the same as Bill C-26 and it does seem to have an adverse effect on a player that not been identified and, from what we have been told, has not been listened to reasonably by the department and not listened to at all by the minister. Therefore I want to be sure we understand that I hope we do not think we will be fast tracking this.
  • Senator Munson: I wish to echo the sentiments of Senator Dawson and Senator Mercer. This seemed to be slam dunk before.

Who gave the Senators this misinformation and why?

A question that needs to be answered, and especially after Councillor Marra's remarks, is whether people on this side of the river have been interviewed by the authorities about what has happened in Detroit. If I was a betting man, I would suggest that interviews have either taken place or are about to take place. There have been some interesting comments in the Star that suggest to me anyway that this process in Canada has been going on.

I really do not know where any of this thing is leading. All I know is that it is a horrific mess with the lives of hundreds of thousands of people in our region being hurt by everything that is taking place. I just don't get it.

Unseemly Haste


Someone at the Star is extremely upset. For what reason, I am not sure yet.

What a strange juxtaposition of a banner headline on the Star Online and photograph of the Mayor of Detroit. I do not think that it is my Freedom of Information application that is being referred to since I have not been interviewed by the Star and mine was with Infrastructure Ontario. I’ll just have to wait until the story is posted or published tomorrow morning.

I did hear recently that there were a flurry of Freedom of Information applications filed.

I started writing this BLOG at around 6:30 p.m. on Thursday and will post it when finished and not wait until my usual time of sending out notices of postings. I am very angry and disgusted with part of the story “Kilpatrick pleads guilty, resigns.” The part that really troubles me is the Francis news conference.

What is it about Francis and the Tunnel deal? Why does he want it so badly? And please don’t try to feed me this nonsense about trying to protect 5,000 commuters or worrying about somebody cementing up the opening to the Detroit Tunnel on the American side. There is more to this than that malarkey, a lot more.

Kwame still is the Mayor of Detroit for another two weeks, until the 18th when his resignation is effective. However our Mayor cannot wait.

He generously states that:
  • “There is a lot of healing that need to takes place…

    there is no other way to describe it, but to say it's sad."

No, what is sad is our Mayor. There he is signalling that he is ready to do the Tunnel deal. Already. Oh I know that business is business but there is also a need for some real compassion given what the people of Detroit have gone through, not just words.

As I speculated before, it appears that Eddie had been talking already with Cockrel about the deal. For how long, it is not clear. I wonder if Kwame knew about that. I also wonder whether it was Eddie directly or one of the other Councillors or someone else.

  • “The city's tunnel negotiating team has developed a relationship with council president Ken Cockrel Jr. who steps up to be Detroit's acting mayor, Francis said.

    "I have a good working relationship with Ken Cockrel and other staff in Detroit. This deal did not hinge on (Kilpatrick), it was with Detroit."

If it was not Eddie, then he accurately but narrowly could say that he had no conversations with the Council President about the Tunnel deal if asked.

Given the mayoral system in Detroit, I wonder why he was talking with the Council President at all. I would have thought that the proper protocol was to talk only with the Mayor’s Office. I wonder how Eddie would feel if President/Mayor Cockrel spoke with some of the Windsor Councillors about this deal even though Eddie is the "Voice of Council." But then again, what do I know.

Just out of curiosity, I wonder if Eddie will talk to Monica Conyers the new President of Council too so that he can have a working relationship with her as well. Or perhaps with some of the other people who might be running for Mayor. Just in case mind you.

I was outraged by this absolutely pompous and egotistical statement:

  • “Ken Cockrel has a list of issues he has inherited. We will give him some time to make the transition and then make that call when the time is right."

Is that the Royal "we" speaking again?

Is tomorrow morning the right time for our Mayor to place to call? So nice that Eddie will make the decision when the time is right. For him.

Clearly, he will have no trouble at all stating that he made the phone call this time around. Just to keep the record straight!

PS. I just saw the Star story. It will take 11,000 hours and cost over $350,000 for the City to provide records on two files: the 400 Building Audit and the Tunnel deal.

Naw, I cannot be bothered writing anything about this tonight. It is so pathetic and so outrageous that it just boggles my mind. I do not know if I should laugh or if I should cry.

However, to be productive let me remind you of the following. Contribute to the WeACT Legal fund:
  • "Funds may be paid into the Legal Fund by visiting any branch of the Royal Bank and making a deposit to Account #08152-1008275.Donations can be completely anonymously thereby eliminating any perceived or real concerns of retribution."

What other remedy do taxpayers have in this City until the Councillors get off their collective asses and start fulfilling their legal obligations under the Municipal Act.

Candy Is Not So Dandy


You learn to live with it, although it is not very pleasant. If one dares to support anything that the Ambassador Bridge says or does, then in this region one is vilified.

To be honest, it gets funny after awhile to see the knee-jerk reactions of certain people after I write a BLOG criticizing DRIC or supporting what the Bridge Company wants to do. And predictable.

Surprisingly, and this is shown by various polls run on the Internet which are as “scientific” as those of the City for Greenlink, by listening to the radio when Dan Stamper is questioned by listeners after being interviewed or by reading comments on the Windsor Star Forums, most of the responders support what the Bridge Company wants to do.

Is it that people agree with what the Bridge Company is saying or is it that people are so tired of this whole mess that they just want to have the job done already and know that the Bridge Company can do it properly. After all, there are only 15,000 high-paying jobs at stake about which our politicians, especially at the local level, do not seem to be too concerned.

A recent example is an opinion piece by Representative Steve Tobocman of Detroit who is the Democratic floor leader and an opponent of the Bridge Company. Or rather to put a positive spin on it, a supporter of DRIC.

The timing I am certain was purely coincidental. It was written a few days before the Bridge Company was to appear in front of Senator Cropsey’s hearings and after the MDOT and FHWA reps made a mess when they spoke at the hearings.

Did we read a reasoned argument by the Representative? If you call smearing two members of Congress “reasoned,” this is what the main focus of the opinion piece was all about.

And if you are Senator Randy Richardville whose constituents might happen to read an out-of-state newspaper, that newspaper ran an Editorial designed to intimidate him about the border. The Editorial was so full of errors that it was a disgrace. And why would he be targeted? He was one of the Senators who asked questions during the Cropsey hearings. I’m sure that he understands now what he is required to do. Or else.

Unfortunately, Congresswoman Candice Miller has not learned her lesson and undoubtedly she will be the next target. It is not that she is supporting the Ambassador Bridge. Her district includes the Blue Water Bridge so that is her crossing of choice. Rather, it is because she attacks the DRIC. It means the same thing doesn’t to some people.

She sent a letter recently to MDOT Director Steudle. In it, she makes comments like these that will undoubtedly provoke the DRIC-ites:
  • “However, your assumption of my support for the Detroit River International Crossing (DRIC) is erroneous. In fact, I had provided MDOT with a copy of a letter I recently sent to US Secretary of Transportation Mary Peters which expressed my deep reservations about the DRIC project.”
  • “At this time, I remain unconvinced of the need for this [DRIC] project or the decision to spend taxpayer dollars studying and/or constructing it.”
  • "I believe the DRIC would be a distraction from the important work ahead of us in upgrading and improving Michigan's critical transportation infrastructure."
Why is she so opposed to DRIC:

  • the Ambassador Bridge is a "mere 60 miles to the south of Port Huron" which distance seemed like the end of the earth to MDOT during the discussion about redundancy


  • the existing operators including MDOT "have taken significant steps to ensure the continued smooth flow of traffic along the border"


  • traffic growth has leveled off and that at the Blue Water Bridge it is "nowhere near the growth that had been projected"


  • the changes in the manufacturing sector "could diminish the amount of cargo moving across the border"


  • she is "troubled by MDOT's reliance on future traffic projections as justification for the DRIC project"


  • other crossings "are capable of handling current and higher levels of traffic"


  • updating deficient and obsolete bridges and fixing the interstate system is a better use of pressures transportation dollars than "a controversial, unnecessary project like the DRIC"


  • she believes that this project would waste scarce federal resources


  • it is her belief that "this new Crossing would simply hurt our established an existing crossings."

These points have been raised before and are obvious. I just do not understand why others can see this except for the DRIC apologists.

I wonder if MDOT and FHWA will take her remarks seriously or if the US Secretary of Transportation will do so. Perhaps they might. After all, she is only on the US Congressional Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure and the Committee on Homeland Security.

In case you're interested in reading the letter for yourself, I've posted it here. WARNING: Be careful and wear asbestos gloves. It could burn your fingers if you hold it: http://www.scribd.com/doc/5420632/Millerletter

Thursday, September 04, 2008

More Stories Pour In

I'm certain that you cannot believe it but there are still more stories to tell you about. They just keep coming and coming and coming.

EDDIE'S NEWEST TUNNEL DEAL PARTNER

It really was totally predictable as you read here before:
  • Cockrel has transition team ready just in case
    'I'm prepared to do what is necessary'

    If Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick does indeed step down from office today as part of a plea deal, City Council President Ken Cockrel Jr. will become the city's 61st mayor.

    The city charter dictates that when a sitting mayor is removed, resigns or dies in office, the City Council president replaces him...

    The city's budget and finances is a major concern, and Cockrel said he is unsure whether Kilpatrick has been truthful with the council about the state of the city's books.

    "I need to get a better handle on what is or is not the city's financial situation," he said. "I think some form of financial review is necessary..."

    Cockrel faces a host of major issues.

    There's the languishing deal proposed by Kilpatrick to sell the city's half of the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel for $65 million to help balance the budget.

    Cockrel said he wants to reopen talks on a deal with Windsor on the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel, but not to sell the city's half and instead work out a joint management agreement that could net the city revenue over the long term."

Here we go again!

A RAY OF LIGHT NEEDED

I happened to notice on the list of people who are members of Dave Cooke’s canal feasibility study team the name of Mike Ray. He is shown as a “Member at Large” rather than someone who seems to be appointed from an organization like the CAW or the Chamber of Commerce.

I wonder how he was picked. Was there an application form that someone had to fill in? If so, I did not see one nor did I see an advertisement for the position. Does he have any special qualifications for the position? He must be a very important person go to be chosen because it seems that he must represent the “public” on this august team.

I’m not certain who this Mike Ray is. I did notice that there is a Michael Ray on the Windsor Port Authority who was appointed by the City of Windsor. He is a retired lawyer apparently. It wouldn’t make any sense to have him as a Member at Large since the Port Authority already has two other places on the Team.

There was a Mike Ray who ran for Mayor when Eddie first ran…until he dropped out three days later. He might have given Eddie a good run for his money if he had stayed in the race and that might have allowed Bill Marra to sneak up the middle. The Star seemed to like him because they pushed his name about a year before the election as a person who could possibly run for Mayor. He made this comment when he was running

  • "At the time, he said that he believed Marra and Francis were too young and inexperienced and that the job needed someone with maturity, integrity and sensible leadership abilities."

I do not know if they are one and the same person or different people.

Oh well, perhaps Chair Cooke could provide an explanation if he's not too busy with this project, his other tasks with the University and the Education Quality and Accountability Office to which he has just been appointed.

HAS THE DEVELOPMENT COMMISSION HEARD ABOUT THE BORDER FILE

Here is an interesting slide that was presented at Council by the WEDC representative. It is a shame that the Chair, Remo Mancini, had a conflict and could not attend because I'm certain, given his past experience, that he would have remembered that there was an issue with respect to the border going on in Windsor for the last six years or so.

The slide mentions any number of positive factors for the region including the multimillion dollar Casino expansion and the new Engineering s complex.

Here is a quiz for you. What isn't mentioned? You got it: the multi-billion dollar DRIC and/or Greenlink road and the Enhancement Project and/or the DRIC bridge.

Can you believe it?

It is an absolute disgrace to ignore this project considering that it will produce thousands of new jobs that ought to encourage people to come to the region and that will produce the foundation for our new economy.

It must mean that this is not part of the sales package that these people use with new investors. Perhaps someone could enlighten them.

At the least however in going through their presentation it seems that they have dropped this stupidity:

  • "Because of the nature of the region’s strategy, traditional performance measures such as the number of new plants attracted, or the number of jobs retained, albeit significant, should not be the primary indicators of success. These could actually be counterproductive by driving the wrong behaviour."

CAESARS TALKING UP A STORM

It is the perfect economic storm. Here is how Holly Ward of Caesars Windsor describes it:

  • “Since 2001, Canadian tourism has taken a major hit because of border concerns, the strong Canadian dollar, the economic climate on both sides of the border and more recently, high gasoline prices.

    But Caesars Windsor spokeswoman Holly Ward said those issues have been partially mitigated by the influx of 5,000 visitors on concert nights in the new Colosseum…

    Of course, the Colosseum has been a major change as well and there's clearly been a spike in attendance with the influx of 5,000 people on concert nights."

    "I would say the majority are U.S. visitors, but there has been an increase in our Canadian clientele as well," said Ward.”

The latest border crossing statistics that I have seen do not tell a very good story. The traffic at both the Bridge and the Tunnel were down again in July compared with last year. Naturally, the Bridge Co. traffic is down considerably because of the Ambassador Gateway project. However once again, that traffic has disappeared from the region and people have not crossed over since the Tunnel did not capture the traffic lost from the Bridge. The traffic year to date for both the Bridge and the Tunnel is down compared with last year.

The only good news for the Tunnel is that its loss is certainly not as great as that of the Bridge. It is impossible to tell whether the Tunnel numbers are bolstered by the Colosseum or whether it is traffic that is afraid of being caught up in the Gateway construction.

The real tragedy is that the Bridge and Tunnel are NOT co-operating to increase the number of tourists coming over. Oh well, Eddie has not gotten over the fact that the two crossings are competitors. It seems to me that he has lost sight of the big picture of what is good for Windsor.

Council Passes New Downtown Interim Control Bylaw


Did you miss it last night if you were watching Council? I’ve not yet seen it reported in any of the traditional media in Windsor. Effectively, the City’s endorsement of the Francis/Cooke canal project feasibility study means that there will be no downtown development for who knows how long.

It’s even more effective than an Interim Control Bylaw that freezes development as in Sandwich. There are no statutory provisions that apply. Downtown development can be frozen for as long as the Mayor and Council choose to do so.

Can you imagine if a development company came to City Hall and said that they wanted to do something. I am sure that the answer would be that nothing can be done until such time as the feasibility study and other work was finished. After all, whatever the new development, it would need to fit in with the canal proposal.

This really is all very troubling. About 18 months ago, do you remember this:
  • Core site tempts U of W; Urban village delayed as city considers school's plans

    The University of Windsor is in talks with the City of Windsor for what could be "a significant project" on the lands adjacent to the Art Gallery of Windsor.

    Plans for a downtown urban village have been delayed as the city considers the school's plans for future development…

    "The potential development is not developer-driven so much as it's idea-driven based on what we believe needs to happen on those lands and we believe it will generate significant interest," Francis said.

    As a result, plans to issue a request for proposals for an urban village have been delayed.

    Postma said the decision to postpone issuing RFPs for the urban village in favour of considering the education alternative was agreed to by council because "there's no other projects" that have been proposed for the area.

    "No one's really come forward with any ideas yet," said Postma, whose ward covers the property in question. "There really hasn't been much interest from anyone else at this point."

    Coun. Percy Hatfield would neither confirm nor deny the involvement of one of the local post-secondary schools.

    "What I can say is that the mayor told us a little while ago that there's an opportunity for an exciting new proposal that would accomplish everything we'd like to see accomplished on the urban village property and it would have a residential component to it and, you know, everybody would really stimulate the downtown."

The Request for Proposal for the urban village was “delayed” because of the University Engineering Complex fiasco. Interestingly, two of the people involved in that from the University, Dave Cooke and Marty Kpomsa, who supported the Mayor’s losing vision on having the building come downtown are now involved in the canal project.

Why wasn't an RFP issued once it was decided that the project was not going to go into the downtown? Normally one has an RFP to get ideas from people who are experts in the area to see what they can come up with. Whatever happened to the RFP concept for the urban village?

Obviously, it was hijacked by the Mayor’s vision for the canal. We get yet another "idea-driven" Mayoral proposal. Like---hey this sounds like a good idea (his $100M Fund as an example that was dredged up by the WEDC rep at Council during his presentation). Let's tip off the Councillor Loopies a few minutes before I tell the public about it and see how far we can run with it until it is shot down by the Naysayers!

I cannot believe that the Councillors just sat by and let him do it. They really have no backbone. They had a process in place and it has been circumvented and all that they are doing now is applauding it. It really is so shameful.

In passing, it now appears from Councillor Loopy’s comment 18 months ago that the “tippor/tippee” system has been in place for a very long time:

  • What I can say is that the mayor told us a little while ago that there's an opportunity for an exciting new proposal…”

Why do we spend money on all of these Community Improvement Plans if we never do anything with them and we allow people to undercut them before they even get started? Obviously, one knows now what the Sandwich plan was really all about. Have you heard anything about it lately?

Seriously, who would want to go to the Sandwich or invest there when you can have Venice on the Detroit River.

I’m posting the materials that were handed out to Council by the Canal Feasibility Study Team so that you can read them for yourself. http://www.scribd.com/doc/5478002/CANAL-FEASIBILITY-STUDY-TEAM

It is fantastic. They just started out and already they have their own logo! It looks like most of the money that was raised goes to the engineering firm.

Effectively what Mr. Cooke told us is that we’re spending all this time and money to determine whether an interceptor sewer can be moved or else this project is dead in the water. Apparently this sewer serves a large part of the Downtown.

We know that from an engineering perspective based on what was said at Council that this can be done but the question would be at what cost. Does it make sense to do so?

We know now that this study is a mere opener. Another one at least has to be done with respect to the business case and money has to be raised to pay for that. Somehow there has to be public consultation but it is not clear to me at all when and how it is to take place.

It should be very amusing to see how a business case can be made for development given Councillor Postma’s remarks

  • “No one's really come forward with any ideas yet," said Postma, whose ward covers the property in question. "There really hasn't been much interest from anyone else at this point."

If no one was interested before, why would anybody be interested in a City now whose economy is sinking under the water quickly. Even our Mayor wants to chase our best and brightest out West knowing full well that when they start working out there, they will move their families there as well. Even the number of immigrants to this City is decreasing as a recent news story stated.

I thought that the City had a Purchasing bylaw. If so, was it followed with respect to what has taken place so far? Does anyone care?

It is not an answer to say that a study is being financed privately when this is a City project and huge sums of City money will be necessary to pay for the infrastructure so that some developers might be able to reap huge benefits one day.

You do need to read Councillor Halberstadt’s column in the September issue of BIZ X Magazine. He destroys the urban legend about how the canal vision came to light when he talks about the two previous concepts that were proposed. He also points out many of the real problems that will make this project extremely difficult to bring to fruition. The environmental assessment and the archaeological concerns are huge stumbling blocks.

It is almost laughable hearing about the City wanting to get into the marina business again. Or, is the plan to give it to a private operator? Our own marina is in financial difficulty as is the one in Amherstburg. In 2007, as an example:

  • “Lakeview Marina won't be sending any money to municipal coffers. Last year the city received $100,000 in profit sharing funds.

    According to the 2007 preliminary budget, the marina's reserves are "in a deficit position."

Wasn’t the City considering at one time selling it?

The canal proposal almost sounds like the Belle River project on a smaller scale which

  • “was once touted as a potential site for a $20- million condominium with 175 boat wells.”

Whatever happened to that? How are things going at Boblo and would those developers be happy with a City project that would compete with them? Wouldn’t you rather sip a cappuccino at Boblo:

  • “Everyday on Bob-Lo Island will take luxury living to a higher level, bringing you and your family a wide range of options for health and well being, entertainment and dining.

    A number of parks and state-of-the-art fitness facilities will dot the landscape… Bike paths and pedestrian walkways will criss-cross the island…

    Magnificent homes honouring a traditional charm will stand majestically in peaceful, tree-lined neighbourhoods. Clusters of luxurious waterfront condos will rise up on the shores offering breathtaking views of the marinas and river.”

Back to where we started… the new, downtown, nonstatutory Interim Control Bylaw.

What is this all about? Can anyone make sense of it? As I speculated before, in my view, this is nothing more than the way that Eddie can get money for his shovel ready lands at the airport. Divert our attention, give him time to negotiate with Sandra because the Province needs industrial lands as she stated in Ottawa and then kill this project when it is no longer needed based on cost and lack of developer interest.

Don’t worry, the restauranteurs in downtown Windsor will be made happy. Can’t you see our vibrant downtown now with the funky bus terminal and all those St. Clair students spending tons of money to revitalize the area? Why the Keg restaurant must be loaded with kids at lunchtime eating all those filet mignons. And after school, they probably bring their sports cars purchased with their Student Loans to buy drinks at the Keg given their cheap parking rates.

Think of the crowds when all the Glengarry apartment building residents move there and some of the apartment buildings near the Casino are torn down and rebuilt in the Western Super Anchor site so we can have our new City Hall at Campus Francis.

I'm sure that the Downtown Business Association people are so pleased that they kept their mouths shut when the arena was moved to the east end since an urban village was held out to them. They are getting it but I doubt if it is the kind of urban village they expected.

One of the people who has to be really pleased about all this is Mr. Farhi. He clearly saw his opportunity and took it with the Henderson story. The more that comes out about how long this is going to take for the canal study and how much money it is going to cost means that more and more people will be attracted to his “new downtown” at the East End arena lands as the viable and feasible alternative. I would think that he has been given at least a year or two before the City really gets anywhere on its studies and then who knows how long before approvals can be obtained if in fact they can be.

And as the Mayor said, the people who really are going to be smiling are:

  • “Shrewd investors [who] are already picking up properties.”

Perhaps one day a title search in the area surrounding the arena will tell us who those people are. I’m sure that will be a fascinating revelation.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Has Alfie Morgan Converted


The Star Columnist is obviously torn. Do you think he sees things clearly now or are they still out of focus for him?

It was another of those columns that just fill space on page 3. “Whining to the poorhouse,” the column about the $2.3 million Casino Windsor party, was what one would expect from a Columnist whose function it is to get people worked up in Windsor. After all, why else do most people read that Star? I'm waiting for the attacks by people who saw the comment about this:
  • "By the way, not everyone who attended was rich or a big shot. There were plenty of us one-suit, one-car wonders soaking up this once-in-a-lifetime spectacle while sweating bricks over the price of a spouse's new dress. I felt lucky to be present, to witness Windsor's historic entry into the entertainment/convention big leagues."

Oh Gord, the Star pays you better than that! Such modesty.

Obviously the attack on paying customers (or do people stop subscribing to the Star and just go online these days)---“Check out the whinefest on The Star's Sound Off website” ---was designed to provoke Letters to the Editor or more hits to the website. Got to keep that circulation up! It was however another column not dealing with the Tunnel deal, the 400 audit and other vital City issues.

What I think is more interesting to read is his Thursday column “Drowning in red tape.” It was a tagteam event. Henderson and Alfie Morgan, former University professor, former Windsor CAO and now Chair of the small business task force appointed by Council in 2006 went after the Mayor in the strongest possible language for two people who were Eddie’s biggest supporters.

What is it that provokes these kinds of impassioned outbursts against Eddie Francis? It really is rather simple. People become disappointed and disillusioned after finding out what the real Eddie Francis is all about. It just takes some people longer than others.

Been there, done that.

Their reaction is similar to mine if you have been reading this BLOG for awhile. He is not at all what we thought he was. This person who is the Mayor of Windsor today is not the person that I supported when he first ran for mayoral office. How many times have you heard that? How many times have you just heard the talk but never seen the walk from this man?

The secrecy is the big part...just wait until the next story comes out that I heard about this morning. It literally turned my stomach. Nothing but complete contempt for citizens as far as I am concerned and a shocking indictment about the mess that this City has to be in. Just wait for a few days until it hits the headlines, if it does with certain strap-on "W" journalists in this City.

It is only when it happens to you personally that you understand the deep feelings of animosity directed to Eddie because of the shattered hopes that he was the guy who could lead this City to greatness. Instead, depending on what happens over the next two years, he may turn out to be the worst Mayor that this City has ever had.

Henderson is an enigma. Deliberately so. But if you look at a number of the columns that he has written over the past few months, as I have tried to point out, is he also tired of the Mayor but not ready yet to declare his opposition. His last line in the column is clearly directed to the person whom he praised at one time as being a legal technocrat:

  • "Procedure is supposed to be a means to an end, not an end in itself," said Morgan. He pointed to corporations like GE which kicked off legendary turnarounds by burning policy manuals.

    Quick. Somebody find a match.”

That is not a friendly Henderson comment.

Take the column on the small business task force. Look at all the negative comments set out. Of course they do not come out of Gord’s mouth. Rather they are attributed to others, in this case Alfie Morgan.

Alfie Morgan for heaven sakes!!! I did a search through my archives about things that Alfie has said about Eddie. Other than Gord, who could possibly be a bigger booster in public:

  • Attacking Dennis DesRosiers--- " To promote yourself as a consultant, the cheapest way is to get written up in the media often enough. The way to do this is to take extreme, controversial positions, like running down Windsor's mayor and council. Obviously it worked. And media fell for it....

    "As it turned out, he is a close friend of former mayor Mike Hurst. For some reason, when his chum was mayor, all was well with Windsor. Now that Eddie Francis is mayor, against the wishes of Mr. Hurst, all is wrong with Windsor. Coincidence?

    Well, I know firsthand that Mayor Francis and councillors have been working diligently 24-7 tackling the issues that DesRosiers claims are not being addressed, such as the border, taxes, the debt (a legacy of the Hurst era), attracting investments, etc.

    For a change, Windsor has dynamic, intelligent, hard-working leadership. Let us not ram these people down."
  • "Most politicians would shy away from confronting a situation like this [Bureaucrats being paid overtime]. I'm really glad (Mayor) Eddie Francis had the courage to tackle it."
  • This is regarding Gord Henderson's column in the Dec. 4 edition of The Star in which a panel assessed Mayor Eddie Francis' performance. The panel noted two weaknesses: too many closed-door meetings and micro-management. I think I can shed a different light on these two issues.

    Regarding the closed-door meetings, here we have a new mayor and a new council facing many uncertainties and serious crises. They need intense deliberation and debate to clarify matters for themselves.

    To go public before clarifying the uncertainties will lead to misinterpretations, confusion and invite self-serving players to muddy the issues. They are doing the prudent thing: clarify and discuss in private first and then go public when your ducks are nicely lined up. This is a reasonable behaviour.

    As for micro-management, best practices in leading big organizations show that at times of crisis, the chief executive must step in and manage the issues hands-on.

    The mayor inherited an organization in crisis. Now, stepping in means taking over from managers at certain critical moments. But, this is not micro-management at all.

    It is crisis management.
  • Will the mayor suffer a burnout because of the energy it takes to be deeply involved in the affairs of city hall? Highly unlikely. He is young. He thrives on extending himself -- driven by a strong devotion to the city of Windsor. He has the mental stamina to manage the issues and a physical strength to match.
  • people should be relieved that Francis is a "logical, methodical, nuts-and-bolts kind of person" who won't be "rushing into things like Canderel and the other nonsense." Morgan said considerable time and energy has been devoted to fixing past screw-ups, including the Canderel and MFP files and the bungled city hall restructuring.
  • He was particularly impressed by Francis's ability to build trust and respect among councillors. "There was no arm-twisting. No ridiculing. Everybody was treated equally and everybody had the chance to speak, even if it meant delaying something."
  • Let us not attach such negative labels to a man who puts in at least 18 hours a day of undivided attention and passionate, intense effort. I found his commitment to serve this city bordering on obsession. For sure, he is dead against the tax-and-spend mentality that the other government levels have engaged in over the years.
  • Windsor is fortunate to have such an outstanding mayor and dedicated councillors. Let us celebrate their hard work and cheer them along as they put in unlimited hours at the expense of their personal and work time to make Windsor a great place in which to live and do business.

I have written so much about Alfie praising our Mayor because of the comments in the Henderson column. Has he become disillusioned too or am I misreading what is being said?

Morgan has been working on this matter for over two years. Frankly, that seems like an eternity. The question needs to be asked why it took so long. But look at what Morgan has said obviously after an in-depth study: The buck clearly stops at the top and that is where the responsibility lies. One can try and argue that it is really an attack on the City bureaucracy but it is not. Do not forget that our Mayor is the micro-manager par excellence

  • please consider this a cry for help
  • his members are frustrated and angry over their inability to alter a slow-paced, unhelpful and sometimes adversarial culture at city hall which is killing businesses and driving investment out of Windsor.
  • but you can hear the anger rising in his voice as he describes the rule-bound, process-driven grief he sees city staffers dishing out to business people who are hanging on by a thread.
  • "It burns me up. It really does. It just looks like nobody gives a damn." Morgan cited instance after instance of bureaucratic mugging.
  • We are cutting off our noses to spite our faces. And the people doing this have total job security and enviable benefits. Apparently they are creating work for themselves. They have to justify their jobs

However, it is this comment that a shocking because it attacks everything that Eddie Frances is and stands for and has become:

  • “This situation, said Morgan, cries out for aggressive leadership from Mayor Eddie Francis. "We need someone to crack the whip. Don't delegate. Don't get consultants. Don't do reviews. Make the changes. Deal with the problem right now."

    His advice to Francis: "Get that vim and vigour you had before, that unwavering determination to change things."

    "Procedure is supposed to be a means to an end, not an end in itself,"

What Alfie described as positives before have become negatives now for Eddie.

Something obviously triggered this violent reaction from Alfie. I wish I knew what it was. Perhaps it is the bankruptcy of so many small businesses in Windsor or the death of the downtown or another grand vision that will achieve nothing other than waste time and effort. I wonder if Alfie ever met George Sofos to learn of his experiences with City Hall and what it is doing to him financially!

If you want to see how little the City really cares about small business just take a look at this City website http://www.thevoiceforsmallbusinessinwindsor.com/

What Alfie has seen over the last two years I am sure is the real Eddie Francis. Not the one who delivers these uplifting speeches about our future but the Mayor who spends millions on consultants to stall, who has to study problems to death, who is afraid to make a decision because he might be wrong and get blamed and who passes the buck to anyone else when the times gets tough.

Alfie has seen how the legal technocrat uses the process as his excuse for inaction. The 18 hour work days are not being spent to improve Windsor but for developing grand visions and plotting and maneuvering to achieve what?

Welcome to the Phone Booth, Alfie. Careful, it is getting crowded in here. Please, leave a bit of space. Gord Henderson may be following behind shortly.

Estrin Lawsuit Back On


I wonder why the Star did not contact the Mayor for a comment. He was an obvious one to call to discuss the impact on the City's position:
  • "Neither Estrin nor Eugene Driker, the American lawyer representing Gowlings in this case, returned calls seeking comment on Monday."

When a US Legal publication tried to get a quote:

  • "Estrin did not return a call and e-mail message requesting comment, nor did the firm's managing partner in Toronto, Peter Lukasiewicz. The appellate attorney for Gowling, Eugene Driker of Barris, Sott, Denn & Driker in Detroit, could not be reached for comment."

I was rather shocked to be honest. All these lawyers being unavailable to make a simple comment.

I thought I should wait a bit and give the Mayor a chance to to give us some encouraging words but nothing yet. I guess he's just too busy compiling all the answers that he got from his survey from people who want to commute out West.

Thank goodness that our Mayor IS a lawyer. He’ll be able to understand all this and what it means.


video


It is another twist and turn in the border file which has been nothing more than twists and turns for the last six years.

The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in the following manner:
  • “We hold that CenTra established genuine issues of material fact as to whether Gowlings’s simultaneous and adverse representation of Windsor and CenTra on the Bridge Plan was a conflict to which CenTra could consent, whether CenTra was adequately informed of the conflict to the extent that CenTra could have consented, and whether CenTra in fact did consent. We, therefore, hold that the district court erroneously granted summary judgment to Gowlings on CenTra’s claims of breach of contract, breach of fiduciary duties, and legal malpractice. We also hold that the district court abused its discretion in denying CenTra’s Rule 56(f) motion for discovery. For these reasons, we REVERSE the district court’s grant of summary judgment and REMAND for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.”

In other words, the Bridge Company can carry on in its lawsuit against David Estrin and his law firm, Gowlings, for acting against them on the border file. Of course, the decision of the Court does not do anything other than allow the matter to proceed on to trial. However the fact that the Bridge Company took this matter to the Court of Appeals means that they are serious in pursuing it.

I was able to find the entire decision and have posted here for you to read. http://www.scribd.com/doc/5055223/Estrinappeal

Do you want to know what is extremely ironic? Scott Jolliffe is the Chair and Chief Executive Officer of the Gowlings firm. He was also the Chair of the Canadian Bar Association committee dealing with lawyer conflicts of interest. That committee just issued their report recently “Conflicts of Interest: Final Report, Recommendations and Toolkit.” Fate has a strange sense of humour.

You ought to read the Appeals decision for yourself. I trust that Scott will too. It is not that hard to read and understand.

Here are some interesting excerpts from the Court decision:

  • It turns out that Windsor and CenTra were both employing the same law firm, Gowling Lafleur Henderson, LLP (“Gowlings”): while Windsor hired Gowlings to help the city oppose the second span, CenTra hired Gowlings to help the company raise money to fund the construction of that same span. Although CenTra wanted to expand its connection to Windsor, it was hoping to do so with an additional bridge, not by sharing legal counsel; thus, CenTra sued Gowlings for damages, alleging breach of contract, breach of fiduciary duties, and legal malpractice.

  • in November 2005, CenTra sought Gowlings’s assistance in creating a $700- to $800-million bond offering by which to finance the twinning of the Ambassador Bridge. Shortly thereafter, Windsor employed Gowlings to help the city oppose the Bridge Plan.

  • Estrin claimed to be even more clueless: “Until a few weeks before Centra filed this lawsuit, I was completely unaware that Centra, DIBC, or CTC had retained Gowlings on any other matter.

  • CenTra submitted to the district court a declaration from an expert who stated that “I simply do not see how a law firm can offer sound professional service simultaneously to a client it is helping to build a bridge and to a client it is helping to block or delay construction of the bridge. This is not even a close question.” Thus, CenTra presented a genuine issue of material fact as to whether this conflict was one to which it wascapable of giving consent, and the district court’s grant of summary judgment was erroneous.

  • The case at hand is not a case where the firm was working on only unrelated matters; instead, while trying to help one client, CenTra, procure funding for the Bridge Plan, Gowlings was working for another client, Windsor, to oppose the Bridge Plan. Gowlings was working for two adverse parties on the same matter, and for that clear-cut conflict, CenTra’s general knowledge that Gowlings has previously represented parties with adverse interests to CenTra is not enough to inform CenTra adequately with regards to the direct conflict of interest in Gowlings’s representation of two adverse clients on the Bridge Plan.

  • If the vague and general information that CenTra possessed regarding prior, different conflicts was enough, then the client would bear the burden of identifying and understanding the full scope of any conflict of interest. It is not the client, however, to whom the various codes of conduct have given this responsibility; “[t]he affirmative duty here rests not with [the clients] but with [the law firm] and its attorneys.”

  • Gowlings does not claim that it provided to CenTra more specific information regarding the current conflict on which informed consent could have been based, because Gowlings itself admits that it was not aware until 2006 of the conflict with respect to the Bridge Plan.

  • Gowlings claims that Canada would have required CenTra to pay for an environmental assessment even if Estrin had not urged the U.S. Coast Guard also to demand an assessment. Gowlings’s argument, however, is disingenuous. Estrin’s letter urged the U.S. Coast Guard to demand an environmental assessment because, according to Estrin, Canada’s environmental assessment was not adequate. J.A. at 43 (Estrin Letter at 9) (“In Canada, however, there are only a minimal prescribed requirements [sic] for this type of environmental examination.”). Thus, on the basis of Estrin’s own arguments, it is reasonable to assume that CenTra was forced to expend greater resources on a more robust environmental assessment than it would have if it were required to meet only Canada’s standards.

  • Under the Seventh Amendment, the plaintiff is entitled to a jury trial on any disputed issues of material fact. After proper instructions, it will be up to the jury to determine the nature of the legal representation undertaken by the defendants and whether civil liability is foreclosed by the Michigan Rules of Professional Conduct stating that the Rules “do not '. . give rise to a cause of action . . . or for damages . . . .” The District Court should set the case for trial giving the parties a reasonable period of time to complete discovery.

Causing problems for a $1 billion project can cost serious sums of money. Who knows what a US jury might do to a Canadian law firm too. Remember the Estrin/Francis bravado before, when this first started. Strange, they are not talking much now:

  • Estrin said Tuesday the lawsuit was "another dubious attempt" by bridge owner Matty Moroun "to reach his objectives."

  • "It's really not Gowlings they are going after here," Estrin said. "It's the City of Windsor and the best interests of the people. I've been hired to protect their best interests. They are attempting to stop me and our firm from doing that.


  • "It's an unfortunate waste of energy."


  • "Every firm tries its best, but sometimes the conflict screen breaks down," Estrin said. "In this case there is no conflict."


  • "Our position is there is no conflict," Estrin said. "When it was brought to our attention we basically fired them as a client. (The lawsuit) in my view is clearly an attempt to intimidate me and our firm from representing the city. It's an attempt to get me off the case.

    Obviously it didn't work."


  • Mayor Eddie Francis called the timing of the lawsuit "predictable." He said the border crossing debate is at a critical juncture, with the city ramping up its opposition in recent months to the bridge company's bid for a twin span.

    "The timing on this speaks volumes," Francis said. "It also speaks to the effectiveness of our strategy to protect residents of Windsor. When people resort to these type of tactics and setting up roadblocks, it's an indication we are being effective.

    "The reason (the bridge company) is attempting to do this is they want the city and law firm to be distracted away from what they are trying to accomplish."

I expect that there may be some sweating going on after the Court of Appeals made its decision. The Court said this too by the way which could be very troublesome for Gowlings:

  • "There are some conflicts of interest to which a client may not consent. Thus, the district court was only partially correct when it stated “that a client may impliedly waive its consent to an attorney’s conflict of interest,” J.A. at 589 (Order at 6), because it ignored the question of whether Gowlings’s simultaneous and adverse representation of CenTra and Windsor was in fact a conflict to which CenTra could consent. We hold that there is a genuine issue of material fact as to whether Gowlings’s conflict of interest with regards to the Bridge Plan was one to which CenTra could consent...

    The district court broadly stated that a client may consent to a conflict of interest; however, it is not true that all conflicts are consentable. Whether a conflict is consentable depends upon the facts of the case. According to the commentary to Michigan’s Rule 1.7, a conflict is nonconsentable “when a disinterested lawyer would conclude that the client should not agree to the representation under the circumstances.”

To come back to the Mayor, he has his defence against any citizen criticism already prepared. In January, 2007, several months after the Bridge Company lawsuit started, the CAO said:

  • "Skorobohacz said the money paid to Estrin includes consultants he hired on a subcontract basis. "He gets the report, evaluates it and then provides a comment" and recommendation to council. "As projects progress, David will keep us apprised...

    Skorobohacz said it has been money well spent and not "out of the ordinary" compared to other cities. "Windsor has challenges because of its location," Skorobohacz said. "Is the investment of a David Estrin warranted? Yeah, it's more than warranted" to make sure the city's interests are protected."

Watch for something similar to be trotted out by our Mayor/lawyer to justify the hiring of Estrin.

What comes next? Who knows. I will bet though that the fun has just begun.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

From Soup To Nuts

Whew....all of those stories you missed over the long weekend. Aren't you glad that you can find all of the interesting ones here.

IT’S ALL BULL, RED BULL

I’m sure that this phrase will go down with all of the other great phrases such as
  • A voyage of a thousand miles starts with the first step

  • I’d walk a million miles for one of your smiles

Here it is:

  • “Windsor and Detroit may be one step closer to attracting the hugely popular Red Bull Air Race back next year."

Unfortunately, they still have the other 99 out of 100 steps to go.

It is interesting that people from both sides of the border are setting up a working group since:

  • “news that Red Bull representatives may come here is encouraging”

Personally, I would have preferred “are coming” before I got too excited about all of this.

The one thing I still do not understand is why Detroit Air Racing Inc. is not part of this:

  • “Detroit Air Racing is not responsible or involved with the production of the Red Bull Air Race in Detroit, but only facilitated the key relationships required to enable this race. Detroit Air Racing is now an Agent of the Red Bull Air Race Hospitality Programme in Detroit.”

BLOGGERS GET NO RESPECT

I just cannot tolerate it anymore.

I cannot get media accreditation from the City the way the traditional media journalists can. The Star gets all the big scoops. Now, CKLW has pairs of Grand Prix tickets to give away. Pairs, not singles either. And what do BLOGGERS get… nothing but being called names.

Oh this giveaway may be quite costly and I just don’t mean in a monetary fashion.

Now we all know that Eddie needs Windsor's GrandPrix program to be a success to keep his friend Roger Penske happy:

  • "He was the driving force behind bringing racing back to Belle Isle last year. And as chairman of the event's sponsor, the Downtown Detroit Partnership, he's still the engine behind it"

It is pretty clear now that the City’s attempt to fill up the racing grandstand was a dismal failure:

  • “…a dedicated grandstand of Canadian race fans will be created at the Grand Prix. Prime race viewing in Grandstand 2, located at the start/finish line, will come alive with hundreds of Canadian fans on Grand Prix weekend.

    “The Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix is a tremendous event for entire region,” said Windsor Mayor Eddie Francis…We want to pack the Canadian Grandstand for all three days of the Grand Prix and show our pride and enthusiasm to the world.”

And to show pride to Red Bull and Roger too I would bet.

After all, how can Eddie get the air race back here if not only could he not fill up the viewing area in Windsor for Red Bull but now he can’t do it for the Grand Prix race.

So it is true that the grandstand will be “packed” but not in the way that most people think. I wonder frankly how much all of this will cost. I cannot believe that the City would get so many freebie tickets that they can give them away.

Here’s where things get interesting. CKLW was at the Tunnel Duty-free Shop giving away tickets. Apparently the Duty-free also was running a Customer Appreciation Day. Given the decline in Tunnel volumes, any customers there would be appreciated! They too were giving away tickets if someone purchased $100 worth of goods.

I guess I would not be too happy about this if I was a downtown merchant seeing that people were being encouraged to buy at the Duty-free instead of my shop, especially since I believe they have made some kind of a new rental rate arrangement with the City as well.

I certainly hope that our Mayor did not structure this arrangement with the Duty-free since he declared a pecuniary interest in the issue of the Duty-free when it came before the Windsor Tunnel Commission.

I hope that someone from the favoured, traditional media will ask the Mayor some questions about all of this. I’m getting tired of filing Municipal Freedom of Information applications.

Just one other matter. If someone you knew was trying to find a hotel room in Windsor and was having difficulty, don't let anyone tell you that Grand Prix people were filling the hotel rooms. I heard there was a big baseball tournament in town that took the rooms.

HOLA ONTARIO GOVERNMENT

I believe that our two Cabinet Ministers and the Premier better get ahold of Senator Fortier quickly and tell him to resolve the problems with the Ambassador Bridge quickly.

If they do not, then Ontario’s main corridor to trading with the United States, Windsor/Detroit may have a competitive disadvantage as Mexico starts flexing its distribution muscle.

  • Mexico plans huge Baja port for U.S. trade

    MEXICO CITY -- Mexico's government is setting sail with the largest infrastructure project in the nation's history, a $4-billion seaport that it hopes will one day rival those of Los Angeles and Long Beach.

    President Felipe Calderon is scheduled to travel to northern Baja California today to open bidding on a development that his administration hopes will catapult Mexico into a major player in North American logistics…

    Plans call for the construction of a massive port in the tiny coastal village of Punta Colonet, about 150 miles south of Tijuana, along with new rail lines to whisk Asian-made goods north to the United States. Mexico's aim is to snatch some Pacific cargo traffic from Southern California's ports, whose growth is constrained by urban development and environmental concerns…

    “But whether Punta Colonet turns out to be lucrative for Mexico won't be known for years. Competitors up and down the Pacific coast are in the midst of major upgrades. Panama has begun a $5.3-billion expansion of its landmark canal. Canada's Prince Rupert port in British Columbia began speeding containers to the American heartland by rail last year and is planning a major expansion.”

TWO POLITICAL STORIES IN THE STAR

I hope that you can help me. I'm having a bit of difficulty reconciling these two stories about the Federal Liberals:

  • Liberals 'fully ready' for fall election: Dion

    Liberal Leader Stephane Dion says his party is "fully ready" for a fall election, and suggested the party will build an election platform on championing arts and culture funding.

  • The candidates line up
    Politicians who have declared so far


    Essex
    Conservative - incumbent Jeff Watson
    Green - no declared candidate
    Liberal - Susan Whelan
    NDP - Taras Natyshak


    Windsor-Tecumseh
    Conservative - Kristine Robinson
    Green - no declared candidate
    Liberal - no declared candidate
    NDP - incumbent Joe Comartin


    Windsor West
    Conservative - Lisa Lumley
    Green - no declared candidate
    Liberal - no declared candidate
    NDP - incumbent Brian Masse

BYE-BYE GREENLINK

I trust that when Finance Minister Dwight Duncan looks for a new job after he has finished his political career that he will not look to the finance industry for a position, especially on the investment side.

Take a look at the following story where you see the amount of money that the Provincial Government has lost in the subprime mortgage market and other asset-based securities messes and how long it will take to get that money back.

If one looks for a quick way not to spend money, then the obvious place for Dwight to look is the DRIC road because it is claimed that is 10 times more expensive than any other road project in the Province. In other words, why spend $1 billion when $100 million would work satisfactorily. Why give the fancy DRIC road the nod when a "cheap" at grade road can be justified at this time as an "intermediate" solution to the Ambassador Bridge Enhancement Project.

After all, why not shove it into our Mayor's face because he was talking about "cheap solutions." Give him one and blame it on his threatened lawsuits against everybody and their uncle!

  • "Ontario's subprime hit worse than forecast
    Public is out 7% more than minister's estimate


    Ontario taxpayers are facing a bigger hit than expected on an ill-fated investment in asset-backed commercial paper (ABCP).

    The province is taking a writedown of $106.8 million – about 7 per cent higher than Finance Minister Dwight Duncan forecast in his fall economic statement when opposition parties accused him of "rolling the dice" with taxpayers' money.

    The figure from the province's public accounts is about 17 per cent of Ontario's original investment in ABCP.

    Duncan's office defended the increase in the writedown as "quite small."

    The market for asset-backed commercial paper – securities made up of mortgages, credit-card receivables and other debt instruments – collapsed about a year ago as fears deepened about subprime mortgage defaults in the United States' housing slump. Other governments and companies have taken billions in writedowns as the ABCP market shakes out.

    Ontario's investment in ABCP peaked at $1.4 billion in July 2007 but is now worth an estimated $636.8 million.

    That is less than 10 per cent of the government's cash and temporary investments, the finance department contends, noting that other governments of all stripes have put money into ABCP going back as far as 1994.

    "We have a balanced portfolio that is prudently invested in a diverse range of investments," a spokesperson for Duncan said. "This means that we have no undue risk weighted in any one category of risk."

    But the government said it could take 10 years to "earn back" most of the $106.8 million writedown.

DOES EDDIE WANT A GREEN CARD

Apparently, it is possible to get a US green card through investing. Here's one explanation that I saw:

  • "Green Cards through Investment (also called the Fifth Preference Green Card or EB-5) are available to anyone who invests a certain amount of money United States by creating a business or expanding one that already exists.

    The investor must be active in the management of the company. A number of investors may join together in creating or expanding a U.S. business so that each applicant may qualify for a Investor Green Card through one single company. However, the individual investment of each applicant must still meet the minimum qualifying amount, and each investor must be separately responsible for the creation of new jobs."

The reason why I asked the question is the following excerpt from a news story in the Star:

  • "The economic impact of last year's Detroit Grand Prix for both Canada and the United States is in the neighbourhood of $59 million, said event chairman Bud Denker.

    Race organizers are hoping that this year will be even bigger. They are expecting more out-of-towners will take in the speed spectacle.

    "We're looking at bringing $65 to 70 million to the community (this year)," said Denker. "A big part of that is bringing fans down from Canada thanks to Mayor Eddie Francis over in Windsor.

    Francis and Denker created a ticket package to appeal to race fans from Toronto and across Ontario."

Super Bowl, WWE, Grand Prix racing, Red Bull air races, fixing Detroit's budget deficit... our Mayor is doing as much for our neighbour's financial well-being by investing in matters there as is his buddy Roger Penske.

After Kwame, What Happens To The Tunnel Deal





This Tunnel deal is almost as bizarre as the whole border file and especially the DRIC bridge situation. Read on and you will see what I mean.

The Mayor of Detroit has so many legal actions going on against him now that you need a program to tell which ones are which and which are taking place when.

Let’s assume for the sake of argument that there is a resolution of all of these actions whether by agreement or by a court decision or by the Governor of Michigan and in the end Kwame is no longer Mayor. What then happens with the Tunnel deal between Windsor and Detroit?

In passing, one should ask whether the authorities on both sides of the border are looking into this transaction the way the FBI is looking into several matters in Detroit. I am not suggesting that there is anything criminal going on but it is after all a huge transaction between the two Cities with lots of flip-flopping and secrecy being involved.

There is no doubt that our Mayor wants a Tunnel deal. Why, I still don’t have the faintest idea. He was prepared to be “accurate but narrow” when he answered Councillor Mara about the “face-to-face” meeting with Kwame. That the Mayor was prepared to say such things in order to keep the meeting secret confirms to me how much he wants to do this deal. I had thought before that Council had voted not to take any more significant action but that didn't seem to bother our Mayor.

It must have really bothered him to ask Infrastructure Ontario to put the loan transaction “on hold” and seemingly to put the discussions with the Detroit “on hold” as well.

If Kwame is no longer Mayor of Detroit, then that job falls to Ken Cockrel Jr., the President of the Detroit Council. Apparently, he is already looking at what he would do:
  • "City Council President Ken Cockrel Jr., who would become interim mayor if Kilpatrick steps down or is removed by Gov. Jennifer Granholm, told the Free Press he has been studying the city's organizational chart and the names of appointees to determine who keeps a job. He said he would not fire every Kilpatrick appointee.

If Cockrel is Mayor, that will be good for Eddie because I believe that he’s been cultivating Cockrel for a long time. He was always Eddie’s fall back given what I believe to be a strained relationship between Kwame and Eddie after Eddie seemed to support Kwame's opposition candidate for Mayor.

Remember that the President attended one of Eddie’s State of the City speeches and it is clear that Councillor Jones is being the loyal member of Council by keeping up a dialogue with the Detroit President. I do not believe that the Councillor would be involved without Eddie's permission given that our Mayor is Windsor's "Voice of Council."

Cockrel has said in the past that he thought that a management agreement with Windsor was worth looking into. He was one of the two members of Detroit Council who were in the minority when Council opposed the transfer of the Tunnel into an Authority on the other side.

Therefore, if Cockrel becomes Mayor and wants to move forward on the Tunnel deal he can say that he has been consistent throughout. And being the nice guy on Council, a number of the Councillors may well go along with him since he was one of them just a short time ago.

I have long believed that the DRIC bridge and the Tunnel deal are tied together. After all, a private investor in a P3 deal generally wants a monopoly in order to induce him to invest. While the Tunnel is being run into the ground under the leadership of our Mayor, nevertheless it does draw a significant number of vehicles. If Eddie chose as his "business case" to lower the price of the tolls dramatically to gain traffic, it could affect the profitability of the DRIC bridge because presumably they would have to match the lower tolls at the Tunnel.

The Feds must have an interest. Why else would former Deputy Prime Minister Anne McLellan have taken such an active role when the Bridge Company wanted to do a Tunnel deal with Detroit:

  • "[she] sent a letter to Mayor Eddie Francis to emphasize there are no plans to move Canada Customs officers to Detroit -- as called for in the bridge proposal.

    There are also "serious concerns" about redundancy by creating one customs bridge-tunnel superplaza at North America's busiest border crossing, she said.

    McLellan, who oversees the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) as Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, expected that Detroit's council would have contacted Ottawa first to learn there are no plans to move customs officers across the border, said McLellan's spokesman."

Why else would Transport Canada be so interested:

  • "It would be inappropriate to comment on actions involving Detroit's council and the mayor," Mark Butler, spokesman for Transport Canada, said Wednesday. "But we are watching very closely to what happens in regards to the ownership of the tunnel...

    We certainly know there is a faction over there that wants the deal involving the Tunnel to go ahead. But anything that could impede the flow of two-way traffic is not in the best interest of anyone on either side (of the border)."

There is no doubt in my mind but that Senator Michael Fortier is a key player in this exercise. He is after all one of the key people that Prime Minister Harper is relying upon. He is the P3 man in the Cabinet given his professional background. We do know that he has already spoken to the Mayor and to the Bridge Company. It would not at all surprise me if he has been visiting with people from Michigan to provide them with assistance since they do not have any P3 legislation in place yet. Who better but the Senator and his colleagues to help them draft legislation and then to help them on the financing given all their contacts.

If you think that I am kidding about Canada's "educational" role read the following:

  • "When the Canadian Council was conceived in 1993, there was an appreciation that PPP expertise developed in Canada would be valuable to other jurisdictions at some point. Certainly Canada benefited from the transfer of skills from the UK and Australia and continues to do so as more and more individuals take up positions in companies working in the PPP businesses in this country. Now it is Canada’s turn to showcase its PPP experience. At the request of the Government of Canada, Infrastructure Ontario’s David Livingston and representatives of CCPPP participated in two days of meetings with State of California legislators and staff, local business organizations, Stanford University students and municipal representatives highlighting the concepts of AFP and PPP, and the progress being made in Canada."

I have all kinds of questions that have that I would like to have answered. Here are some of them.

The first and obvious one is how can Windsor finance the Tunnel deal and who is going to do it?

Why would anyone ever believe that the US half of the Tunnel is worth $75 million, especially when a smart border operator like the Bridge Company offered so much less. Don't you find it interesting that the $75M (less $10 million for fees and insurance) remarkably solves Detroit's budget problems? Windsor apparently has some kind of valuation on the Tunnel but no one has yet seen it even though it has been asked for.

What would happen after Kwame left if a new bid from Windsor came in but much lower than the $75 million because of all of the difficulties that Windsor is having because of the mess in Detroit? Would Detroit Council still go along with it and blame the whole fiasco on Kwame as their scapegoat? Is there a giant game going on designed to lock up Detroit with an "exclusivity" clause so that the City could not deal with anyone else and then put the squeeze on that City in the end on the financing?

I would still like to know how much money the Province of Ontario is prepared to invest in the Tunnel deal. In fact, even more interesting would be how much Eddie has asked for. We have all assumed that it is $75 million. Perhaps my Freedom of Information Application will reveal that information.

Presumably, the Federal Government was involved in this matter at one time but decided that they were not going to invest $75 million. Let's assume they offered $50million. Could it be that the Province has only been asked for $25 million, the deficiency amount? Wouldn't that be interesting!

Why hasn't the Federal Government made a decision on the transferring of the Tunnel from the City of Windsor to its subsidiary Company. Notwithstanding that there are no Regulations in place yet, it should be a no-brainer. Is the Federal Government deliberately stalling things for its own purposes until the situation with Kwame is resolved?

In this light also, what is the position of Homeland Security? Would they be happy if our Federal Government controlled both sides of the Tunnel for the next 75 years and also had a major role in the new DRIC bridge? I believe during the Cropsey hearings a suggestion was made that perhaps the US Federal Government would finance the entire DRIC project if Michigan pulled out. Has the Canadian Government also offered that kind of financing so that neither US government needs to be concerned?

If that happened, do you truly believe that the US Government would be pleased if Canada controlled two of the most important border crossings between the two countries? Why wouldn't the US feel the same way that Canada did with respect to the Bridge Company? Is this all part of building plazas on the Canadian Side of the river so that Canada can control access of our goods and foreign goods into the United States.

As I suggested before, can it be that Eddie is nothing more than a front for Canada in this deal? Would the City go into default almost immediately on the loan transaction so that the Federal Government has to intervene and take over? I do not see what else could happen since the financial side of the deal, if Windsor pays $75 million, does not seem to make sense.

Would Homeland Security be able to argue that it was not concerned when a mere City ran the Tunnel but they were caught by surprise when our Federal Government took it over after a default? Is that the justification that someone dreamed up for that Department to use if Congress got upset?

What I can't figure out is that if the Tunnel deal makes so much sense for the City of Windsor, then why isn't the Tunnel Plaza Improvement Project being carried out? Why is it in limbo for a number of years because of budget reasons especially when the Senior Levels were going to put into this project the amount of $20 million? And then the question that needs asking is why the Senior Levels have not pulled their funding if this project is not going forward for years.

Don't you find it strange that our Mayor has never said anything negative about the new DRIC bridge taking over 25% of the Tunnel's traffic? What happens to the Tunnel's financial position if that happened?

Don't you find it strange that our Mayor has never said anything negative about a proposed water taxi that the Windsor Port Authority is looking into with respect to the canal project and that in fact the Port Authority has contributed $25,000 to the Cooke feasibility study. I'm sure that it is just a coincidence that the Port Authority is involved considering that they are one of the lead agencies on the Bridge Company's Enhancement Project file.

Here is something that I found very interesting as well that I've written about before. It is even more interesting given the lawsuit by the Bridge Company against the City's lawyer David Estrin:
  • "Feds threaten to sue Detroit
    Windsor Star 11-30-2005

    "Feds threaten to sue Detroit
    Windsor Star 11-30-2005

    The Canadian government has threatened Detroit with legal action if it approves the Ambassador bridge's bid to take over the U.S. side of the Windsor-Detroit tunnel...

    The federal government's concerns were raised in a letter sent by the law firm Honigman, Miller, Schwartz and Cohn -- the Canadian government's legal counsel in the U.S. -- to the City of Detroit...

    "The (federal government) letter reaffirms support not only from our perspective, but also from a national perspective," Francis said."
    Remember that law firm name for a few minutes.

    How many of you spotted in the ad in the Detroit papers that I Blogged the other day the two names, "Detroit & Canada Tunnel Corp." and "Detroit Windsor Tunnel LLC."

    I started doing some research on those companies and guess what I saw---Honigman, Miller, Schwartz and Cohn were involved with the Certificate of Merger between Macquarie North American Infrastructure Inc and Detroit Windsor Tunnel LLC on May 12, 2006 and one between the Detroit & Canada Tunnel Corporation and Detroit Windsor Tunnel LLC on May 12, 2006.

    For the heck of it, I checked out the Detroit & Canada Tunnel Corporation. Honigman, Miller, Schwartz and Cohn were involved with the Restated Articles of Incorporation of the Company back in 1991.

    I had no idea what all of this meant to be honest or how much work the law firm did. I wondered though if the law firm had done legal work for DCTC for all of this time. Had there been a hiatus between 1991 and 2006? Those were interesting questions to ask. I sent an email to both Gordon Jarvis and Neal Belitsky of DCTC (or is it now Alinda) asking the questions but did not get back an answer.

    The reason for the questions was that if the Honigman firm was acting for DCTC at the time when a threatening letter was to be sent by the Government, how could it act for the Government of Canada too? If it was not acting for DCTC during the period, then presumably there is no issue. But if it was, why would the Government use a law firm whose other client was a competitor of the Bridge Co.? Doesn't that just invite criticism? Doesn't it appear as if the Government was favouring one proponent over another? Why would it put itself in that position?
Remember what I said about Fortier being Michigan's P3 teacher. In case you forgot, DCTC used to be owned by one of the Macquarie bank companies. Macquarie is headquartered in Australia. Interestingly, one of the MDOT representatives at the Cropsey hearings talked about Australian P3 companies.

If you think I am reading too much into Canada and Macquarie perhaps working together because of a law firm, then put this into your pipe and smoke it.

David McFadden is a partner at Gowlings where the City's lawyer David Estrin works. He is National Group Leader Infrastructure where Estrin practises. McFadden was Chair of the Board of the Detroit and Canada Tunnel Corporation and is Deputy Chair of the Board of Macquarie Canadian Infrastructure Management Limited. He is also a Board memeber of the Canadian Council for Public-Private Partnerships . And if you want to have some real fun bringing a number of border crossings together, Gowlings through Estrin represented the "public" Buffalo and Fort Erie Authority for the purpose of obtaining all environmental approvals required for the twinning of the Peace Bridge.

Here is some more data that you might be interested in to show you how small the P3 community is in Canada. Senator Fortier's old law firm was Ogilvy Renault. One of its partners, Jacques Demers, has worked for Borealis and Infrastructure Ontario. And remember that hint about the DRIC road perhaps being a "toll" road (well, they did not call it that; rather it was a levy to use the NEXUS and FAST lanes), Demers worked on a toll road project for the private operator in New Brunswick.

My head is spinning again. As I wrote months ago:

  • "Are Windsor, the Feds and Macquarie working together...

    Oh no.....Were Windsor, the Feds and Macquarie working together along with Borealis?

    Were Macquarie and Borealis going to be the P3 partner for the new border crossing?"

Is the only logical explanation for all of this that the new DRIC bridge and the Tunnel are going to be put together in one big package and be put out to bid? Given the Rail Lands study that will cost $300 million as well as another $400 million for a proposed doublestack DRTP rail tunnel (which OMERS’ Michael Nobrega wants to help finance and which has been promoted aggressively by Mike Hurst), will that project be part of all of this too as well as will the DRIC Road to the border? It would not be all that far-fetched to me to see Macquarie/Borealis and perhaps the Canada Pension Plan take a piece of this and be the lead syndicator in a transaction involving private investors from around the world.

The only problem in this grand scheme is the private ownership of the Ambassador Bridge. Do you understand now why some are trying to get them to sell out cheaply.

Questions, questions, questions and speculation... never an answer though.