Thoughts and Opinions On Today's Important Issues

Friday, December 12, 2008


Can the Development Commission survive another loss of a senior executive? More to come!

Institute for Diagnostic Imaging Research Appoints New Head


WINDSOR –The University of Windsor-based research institute that recently won a $5 million grant from the Ontario Government’s Ministry of Research and Innovation has taken another step toward diversifying the area’s high-tech market. The Institute for Diagnostic Imaging Research has appointed veteran marketing executive Michael Burton to the key development role of General Manager.

“Mr. Burton is a dynamic leader with a substantial knowledge of our initiatives,” said University of Windsor physics Professor Dr. Roman Maev, founder of the Institute. “He is uniquely positioned to quickly move the Institute forward.”

Burton, who was most recently Vice President, Director of Corporate Services & Communications at the WindsorEssex Development Commission (WEDC), will assume the new post at the end of January, 2009. During his two years at WEDC Burton spearheaded an overhaul of the organization’s organization and marketing infrastructure and led several major communications initiatives, including the launch of the award-winning WEDC website, advertising campaigns to promote investment in the region, and the "Believe W.E. Can" campaign, a local new investment. He was also instrumental in organizing and implementing trade missions to Germany and the UK. Before joining the WEDC, Burton spent 20 years in senior executive roles with 3M and West Coast Energy.

Remo Mancini, WEDC Board Chairman, stated “we will miss Mike’s efforts at the Development Commission, but all of us are very happy for him personally and we look forward to working and collaborating with him in his new role. I know there will be many opportunities for Mike and the Development Commission to move forward a number of economic development initiatives for the Region. We at the WEDC sincerely wish him the best of luck.

He and several members of the WEDC team had been working with the Research Institute and the University of Windsor to locate a new home for the facility in the area. The announcement of Mr. Burton’s appointment was jointly made by the Institute and WEDC. Both organizations see the move as an important development step for the region’s diversification and job-creating initiatives in the research and development field. An announcement on Mr. Burton’s replacement is expected in the near future.

The Institute will focus on various R & D initiatives utilizing high-resolution imaging innovations. The research will explore new applications of the technology Dr. Maev developed so it can be used for a wide range of industrial, medical and security purposes. Each with potential commercialization and spin-off opportunities. Professor Maev is world renowned in his field of research.

Did Windsor Get Red Bull

The Arena and Red Bull all in one week. Terrific success for the Mayor. Too bad for him if the City may die if the auto industry does. I wonder if he sent his letter to the PM and Premier by regular mail and it has not been received yet.

Rumour has it that Red Bull has chosen to return to Windsor. My sources claim that the date is toward the end of June, 2009! No wonder Eddie answered how he did at Council about the race.

Now all that Eddie has to do is find the several millions in Sponsorship money so that taxpayers are not on the hook. Better that than pay for an inspector for bus safety or fix WUC watermains for which citizens were hit with an 86% increase.

And Keith Baxter only wanted a paltry $10,000 a year for 5 years. No wonder Council turned him down. He should have asked for more! Here is what he is doing at his expense: The Windsor International Air Show

Presumably this will help our economy just as much as Red Bull. And boy do we need help now.

I am sure that Eddie will ask his friends at the Senior Levels to put up the cash. Too bad that Senator Fortier was not elected. Eddie could have asked his good friend for money since Fortier went to Europe for the Montreal Grand Prix.
  • "Representatives from three levels of government said Thursday they want a look at the books before they commit to any public money to save the Canadian Grand Prix, which was abruptly dropped from the Formula One calendar this week."
They can use that money here instead since Montreal did not get the race. Uh-huh!

Do-It-Yourself Border BLOG

It is just one of those days again. It is not easy writing these BLOGs. It does take time to research and then write something that hopefully makes sense to readers and makes complicated subjects understandable.

Every so often one needs a break and today is my day to take it easy. However, I know that you need to do something when you eat your breakfast or first come into the office in the morning or have your coffee break. Heaven forbid that you would do a crossword puzzle or play one of those WINDOWS’ games like solitaire or Free Cell. No, you need stimulation to get you going, something more to make those brain cells work.

I thought then that I would allow you to write your own BLOG today. What I will do is set out facts that I have found on the Internet and let you put them together in any order that you want and see if you can make sense out of them. I have categorized them under headings for ease but you can do with them what you will.

Try and figure out the connections between different companies and individuals, take a look at the financing and the history of the various border projects. Put it all together and you have a very interesting picture that you may not have considered before.

Effectively, that is what I do each day when I do my BLOGs. Sometimes it all comes together and then I have one of my EUREKA moments and sometimes it goes nowhere. When you look at all of the facts and they seem to make some sense, that leads you to a conclusion about what the different parties are doing. Then there is a terrific feeling of accomplishment.

At the least, this will be a good review of what is known to date with a few recent additional facts that makes all of this much more interesting when one is trying to figure out what is really going on with the border file.

Trust me, it is not as simple as should we build a new crossing and where should it go.

  • By mid-2000 the Canadian Government knew that the Bridge Company was going to expand its Canadian plaza and by 2012 was going to build a second bridge adjacent to its existing bridge.

  • the Bridge Company had announced that in 1998.

  • Michigan and the US Government have sunk in several hundred million dollars into the Ambassador Gateway project which was designed to accommodate a second bridge

  • MDOT has said that the Ambassador Gateway project with the Bridge Company is “Effectively the first Public-Private-Partnership (P3) in Michigan”

  • Dan Stamper has said that they have all the approvals they need to start building a six-lane twin span beginning next year.

  • The City of Windsor WALTS study set out a route from Highway 401 to the Ambassador Bridge that could be used for border traffic, which route the Bridge Company engineered and which would have cost in the region of $2-$300 million

  • the Border Infrastructure Fund was a $300 million fund set up by the Governments of Ontario and Canada to be used for existing border crossings to improve the physical infrastructure at or around border crossings including local access roads and Canadian highways that provide direct access to a border.

  • While monies have been provided to improve the access to the competitive border crossings of the Detroit/Windsor Tunnel owned by the City of Windsor and for the private Detroit/Windsor Truck Ferry, nothing of significance has been spent to build a road to the Ambassador Bridge except for building a left turn lane at Industrial Drive/Huron Church.

  • The Michigan-Ontario Railroad Border Crossing Infrastructure" Report effectively destroyed in 1991 the concept of a DRTP-type project.

  • The DRTP truck highway was to cost $600 million

  • DRTP wanted $150 million subsidy or grant from the Senior Level Governments to make this deal viable

  • Borealis was not going to pay for the entire transaction but claimed that they had a number of pension funds who had been lined up who were interested and investing in the project

  • I remember a DRTP representative saying that there would not be a payback on its project for at least 20 years

  • Mike Hurst used to be Mayor of Windsor but then joined DRTP

  • Michael Nobrega used to be the President and Chief Executive Officer of Borealis Infrastructure. Management, a subsidiary of OMERS

  • Michael Nobrega is now President and Chief Executive Officer of OMERS

  • Even though the truck expressway appears to be dead and the double stack rail tunnel is invisible to the public, Nobrega has said that "we are confident that the project will ultimately succeed in some form...We are committed to investing another $300 million of equity"

  • Nobrega’s goals included to create a “North American infrastructure fund, managed by Borealis Infrastructure, in which OMERS would be the lead and largest investor” and “Borealis Infrastructure and OMERS would also consider expanding their reach of co-investment partners to include other major capital pools around the world

  • Nobrega just set up an office in London England so that it would be easier to partner with some of the world’s major pension and governmental funds

  • However, these sovereign wealth funds are having problems of their own since their inflow of funds is being reduced as the price of oil goes down and their investment in Western banks decreases in value because of the economic meltdown

  • Nobrega has suggested that they should diversify their investments and not concentrate in one market segment and has recommended that they take a look at investing in infrastructure projects

  • Nobrega is pushing for investments in “alpha assets which can generate sustainable cash flows for the future generations”

  • In his terms Alpha assets are “major real estate, infrastructure and related private market assets”

  • OMERS has four primary investment businesses - public markets, private equity, infrastructure and real estate.

  • Presumably, the DRIC project at a price tag of $3-$5B, and especially if it included the Blue Water Bridge, would be classified as a “major” infrastructure project.


  • He was a former Senator in Canada, former Cabinet Minister and a defeated candidate for a seat in the House of Commons

  • Presumably, he is looking for a new job

  • He seemed to be the point man for the Prime Minister on the direct file visiting a number of the players in this part of the world

  • He is also a former lawyer at the firm of Ogilvy Renault and an investment banker


  • He was a lawyer at the firm of Ogilvy Renault

  • He heads a new OMERS a new strategic fund to be backed by billions of dollars of investment funds”

  • The new fund will look for “once-in-a-lifetime opportunities”

  • Demers acted for the consortium that was involved to develop, finance, design, build, operate, manage, maintain and rehabilitate the Fredericton-Moncton Highway

  • That project turned into a “Shadow Tollls” project.

  • “Shadow tolling is a tolling approach… where governments pay tolls rather than motorists… a government makes shadow toll payments to a private concessionaire for a highway facility's construction, operation, or both. The payments are based on traffic volumes and service levels. Motorists see no visible evidence of government payments to the facility's contractor or operator.


  • this project was intended to be a fair analysis to determine if a new border crossing was needed and if so, where it should go

  • there is considerable question, at least in my mind, as to what its true purpose is

  • it has recommended that a new road to the border be built along with a new plaza and bridge on both sides of the river at a cost that may exceed $5 billion by the time actual costs are calculated

  • it is expected that part or all of this project will be funded by P3 investors even though at this time there is no legislation in Michigan that permits it

  • based on my calculations and considering the reduction in the traffic volumes and the competition of the Ambassador Bridge, this project does not seem financially viable

  • Most infrastructure projects require that a sustainable revenue stream be present or that the project financing be at least partly guaranteed by government.

  • a system of ”Shadow Tolls” could be used to provide a guaranteed return to the P3 investors considering that the Government of Ontario has said that it would not toll the road to the bridge

  • the US DRIC consultants claim that the new bridge would take away the vast majority of the Bridge Company’s traffic and a significant percentage of the traffic from the Detroit/Windsor Tunnel and the Blue Water Bridge

  • the US DRIC consultants stated that the Ambassador Gateway project in itself could handle twice the volume of today’s traffic without the need for a new bridge

  • only about 50 to 60% of the capacity of the Ambassador Bridge is being used today while the opening of new Customs booths has virtually eliminated truck back-ups on local streets in Windsor

  • the Ambassador Bridge does not need a Presidential Permit to build their Enhancement Project but the new DRIC bridge will require one and it seems that the Department of State on behalf of the President will not issue such a permit


  • its main competitor is the Ambassador Bridge

  • recently the Government of Canada announced that it is considering disposing of assets one of which could be “Two bridges over the St. Clair River between Ontario and Michigan”

  • presumably, given the competition, a P3 for those bridges alone might not make sense to a P3 investor who generally favours a monopolistic position


  • He knows a provincial government insider who gives him all kinds of information about the border crossing matter

  • he reminded us that “Herb Gray moved heaven and earth, as Liberal minister responsible for FIRA (Foreign Investment Review Agency) in the early 1980s, in a failed effort to prevent Moroun's trucking empire from acquiring the Canadian half of the bridge.

  • He is “in awe of Moroun and his hired hands. These folks are the masters. They're always two or three cunning moves ahead of the other players in what amounts to a high-stakes border chess match."

  • Recently he attacked the bureaucrats claiming “They can't figure out where to place a jail or find the means to let our main highways be driven in comfort instead of excruciating pain. And these are the folks preparing to undertake the biggest infrastructure project in the province's history? Lord help us.”

  • His latest revelation of the Duncan/Francis ride to Toronto Airport, along with other governmental indiscretions, could result in the DRIC project being set aside on the basis of a reasonable apprehension of bias.

  • He mentioned the Confederation Bridge in PEI at least 7 times in his columns.

  • OMERS has an interest in that bridge


  • Sam Schwartz in his first report laid out a game plan about how truck traffic could be managed in South West Ontario/South East Michigan but that plan would probably require a single owner of all of the crossings

  • The disclosure by the Ontario Realty Corporation that the Brighton Beach area may not be satisfactory for a new jail may mean that a bridge and plaza in that area is also not satisfactory

  • The Mayor of Detroit may have to oppose the DRIC project until such time as this project as well as the DIFT project are examined together to determine if there are negative impacts on South West Detroit based on a resolution that he introduced previously in Detroit Council

  • The Gowlings law firm has acted for Borealis, the City of Windsor, DCTC, Macquarie, the Ambassador Bridge Company and the Peace Bridge Authority.

  • The Government of Canada threatened to sue the City of Detroit if it completed its Tunnel deal with the Bridge Company.

  • At the same time that it was opposing having Canadian and US Customs together on the US side of the Ambassador Bridge, Canada was trying to implement shared border management on the Canadian side of the Peace Bridge

  • The Canadian Government’s worst nightmare given NAFTA-gate has come true with the election of Barack Obama who may want to renegotiate NAFTA

  • Could the dispute over the Ambassador Bridge become another software lumber-type dispute between Canada and the United States

  • This file has already reached the highest levels between Canada and the United States when the Prime Minister at the SPP conference tried to convince President Bush to go along with Canada's plans for the border crossing in Windsor but failed miserably

  • Even the leaked Radio Canada story which came from senior Government officials I am sure that Canada and the US would sign a deal in mid July with respect to the crossing did not achieve its purpose of trying to force the US government to go along with Canada's plans before the Canadian and US elections.

  • Key players in the border file have just moved from the private sector into the Government groups that will be closely involved in the financing: Leonard Kozachuk from URS is the Vice President of Project Assessment. Saad Rafi from Deloitte's National Infrastructure Advisory and Project Finance Practice Leader moved back to Government and is now the Deputy Minister of the Ministry of Energy and Infrastructure. He was Deputy Minister of Transportation in 2004 so he would be quite familiar with the Windsor border file.

Wow, that is a lot of information to absorb and to try and figure out what it all means. However, it's all there. The BLOG practically wrote itself when you set out the facts in a logical order. The conclusions just jump out at you don't they?

Hmmmm not quite yet. It is still not all there. I agree. There are a few more bits of information that we need to fill in all of the blanks. But we are getting there. We are getting closer. I can just feel it.

Now perhaps you understand how hard it is to write a BLOG and to keep it short. If I was going to write something on this subject, I need to provide the backup. I would need to put all of this information in a context in order that you would be able to understand my conclusions. I just would not want to make statements without helping you understand why I am saying what I am saying.

Go on. Take a shot at making sense of all of this. As for me, my head hurts and I am going to take a nap.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Henderson Destroys Francis With Praise

It is another classic column. The Sheriff has done it again. It has to be chosen by every Journalism school in North America to be part of their curriculum.

There is no Columnist who can destroy a politician the way Gord Henderson does while seemingly praising the person. He is the Master at doing so and not even his Editorial bosses can claim otherwise.

He totally and completely shows that our Mayor, Eddie Francis, is incompetent in a way that no one else can. It is about as brutal a condemnation of a politician that I have ever seen. And he does it with a smile on his face.

The headline to the Column was a classic as well:
  • “Fiddling as Rome burns”

That sums up as far as I’m concerned the mayoral terms of Eddie Francis. Fiddling around with consultants and lawyers while stalling and ignoring problems as the City sinks more and more into oblivion. It was not just last week that Windsor’s rate of unemployment was the highest in Canada and we are still waiting for Eddie’s plans to send people out West. Oh, that won’t work either now with the oil industry dying as well with low oil prices. It was not just last week when it was clear that the auto industry in Windsor was in trouble. It's today that we learn that "Windsor vacancy rate six times national average"

It is alright though… we can have a celebration about an East End Arena that cost us over $50 million and more than it should have in a location that makes no sense. The circuses have come to town while people here need bread. Just wait until the Red Bull announcement for which we can cheer about but for which we will not hear about the cost to the taxpayers of millions of dollars for the Sponsorship. Did you think it was free?

Do you know what is really funny? At 8:50 a.m. when I am writing this BLOG, the most read story on the Star website is not the Mayor’s story but rather “Celine coming to Caesars.” Celine's story is now #2 behind the Mayor's at 11:15.

Gord continues on with the Front Page story “Bailout auto industry or Windsor dies, Francis warns” about Eddie’s letter to the PM. Talk about grandstanding when it is too late. Or has Eddie’s friend in Ottawa, Brian Masse, told him that a package is coming because he is the auto industry critic for the NDP. Eddie can then take the credit and claim that the Prime Minister was shaking in his boots when he got Eddie’s letter and immediately acted thereafter.

Other Mayors in Ontario ought to take note about how our Mayor operates. Whatever happened to the “Ontario Mayor's for Automotive Investment” of which the Mayor was part? Check out the City’s page where that group is mentioned. Their last activity supposedly was in 2006

Why isn’t the Mayor calling upon them to act collectively again since there clearly is more power in numbers? Oh I forgot, that would not give him the headline in the Star to show how concerned he is.

Do you want to know what the funniest part is? It is so sad that it turns my stomach as well. The Mayor sent a letter to Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty as well warning him of Windsor’s problem.

  • “only a fool could fail to recognize the danger posed by the company's threat to close its Windsor and Brampton assembly plants and shift production to the U.S.”

I consider Chrysler's threat to be a big problem don’t you.

Wait a minute. Wasn’t the Premier in Windsor last week? Where was the Mayor? Where was City Council other than Council Marra? Was Eddie in a one on one meeting with the Premier demanding immediate action, calling out for help for this community? Did he hand deliver his letter to the Premier so that he could save a few taxpayer dollars on courier costs at least?

Not our Mayor. Neither he nor Council was there and even Councillor Marra was not interviewed about the problems of the auto industry. Here is the signal from the Mayor about how important he considers this matter:

  • “Windsor Mayor Eddie Francis had a "long-standing family commitment" and didn't attend the event.”

I will let a member of the traditional media discover and let you know, dear reader, why Eddie was away. I was told why and where he went by my inside moles but in confidence so I am not about to reveal it. Clearly, he did not seem to be as concerned a few days ago as he now claims to be or he could have rearranged his schedule to accommodate the Premier’s plans.

  • “Mayor Eddie Francis is pleading for this country's leaders to wake up and smell the coffee.”

What has the Mayor been smelling for years? Or is he admitting he is not a leader?

How long have we been studying economic development in this region? How long has the new Economic Development Commission been around? Other than going on several trips to Europe, firing their first president, not hiring a replacement yet, asking for more money because they did not have any brochures for investors, spending huge sums of money on useless marketing campaigns and creating at least one new job that I can recall, what has this group done under the Mayor’s watch?

Eddie cannot be responsible for the failure of the automobile industry. But he does have to take responsibility because he called its problem cyclical not structural at first. As Mayor of an auto town, he dropped the ball. He failed to recognize the immediate need for Windsor to diversify. Oh it is fine to talk about it and to bring in experts to show their Powerpoints about it but it is another thing to actually do something about it. But then again that is our Mayor. All talk and no action. Failure to execute.

This is what our Mayor is good at:

  • “Francis fired off letters Tuesday to Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty begging for fast action on a co-ordinated, comprehensive response. "At this stage, a refusal by the federal and provincial governments to act is nothing less than a decision to allow the death of a community," wrote the mayor.

    "If this industry fails, you're going to lose a city.”

Whew, it is all up to THEM to do something, not him. He “fired off” letters so he can no longer be blamed. It is up to the Federal and Provincial governments to solve this problem not our Mayor. If this City dies it is THEIR fault, not his.

Our Mayor should be careful about throwing stones. I hope he did not move to a glass house:

  • “He views the circus in Ottawa as something akin to Nero fiddling while Rome burns.”

Sure the Arena is important but more important than the auto industry? On the day before the Premier came to town, did Eddie try to rearrange his schedule? Perhaps, but he also found the time to do something else as Gord let us know:

  • “Last Thursday, on a tour of the new facility with Mayor Eddie Francis and parks czar Don Sadler…”

He's a tour guide for a columnist now. Did other media types get the same royal treatment?

What is so important to our Mayor that he had to send an e-mail around to his Councillor colleagues in a panic recently? Something to do with the auto industry? Nope, commemorating the opening of the Arena.

Did the Mayor go to Europe to develop more trade with people like his onions investor. No he had to go there to get us the Red Bull weekend so we can spend several million dollars of Sponsorship money.

Then the ultimate, the pièce de résistance. It is the quote that will haunt the Mayor for the rest of his political career, assuming that it lasts longer than the remainder of his mayoral term. It is the laugh of laughs, the joke of jokes, the farcical statement of farcical statements. Henderson allows the Mayor to destroy himself out of his own mouth, using his own words. Who can complain if the Mayor actually said it himself:

  • “Francis, who believes people lose their grasp of what really matters when they spend too much time in the halls of government, away from the real world, has one snarky bit of advice for distracted politicians: "Get your act together."

You know, dear reader, exactly what I am going to say. He lives in his own world having been involved in Government since 1999.

  • City readies to fight over green space

    Windsor council says it could take its battle to court if the province fails to provide more green space and environmental protection in the final blueprint of the planned $1.6-billion border feeder highway...

    “The city through Mr. Estrin will do what we can to ensure the proper outcome is arrived at,” said Mayor Eddie Francis. “Legal (action) has always been an option.”

Oh Eddie, get over it. Get YOUR act together already. The city is about to die remember and you are passing up on thousands of jobs because of your own ego.

I am sorry. I will not say any more about Eddie and the border in this BLOG. If you have been a loyal reader, then it has been said so many times before by me that I do not have to say it again. His performance has been a disgrace given the power that the people gave him when he was first elected. He squandered that, for what?

I really did laugh when I read this Column. It was so destructive about the career of a politician. The irony of it will be that most of the cheerleaders and sycophants will not understand it that way. Astute readers, like those of this BLOG, will appreciate the hidden meaning.

That is exactly what the Sheriff intended. You really have to give the guy credit. No one can take his place.

Protecting Students and Homeowners From Greedy Out-Of-Towners

Who can resist this battle cry? How can one argue against it? The fight is not directed against local landlords but those people who come here to exploit us. We have to unite and use every tool at our disposal to beat them.

We need to set up a Committee to deal with this but take care not to have these exploiting landlords as part of it. Keep them off. All of a sudden we have to move fast too even though the problems were identified 7 months ago in a Star article. We must act now.
  • "Absentee landlords who "herd students like cattle" into overcrowded, substandard and often unsafe housing are causing a rapid deterioration in neighbourhoods surrounding the University of Windsor, says Coun. Ron Jones.

    Reacting to neighbourhood concerns about unkempt properties, trash, fire hazards and declining property values, the Ward 2 councillor said university administrators and city hall officials must sit down with the residents to find solutions.

    "We've got kids living in cellars and attics being gouged $300 to rent places not fit to live in," Jones said. "Over the last four or five years we've had a proliferation of really bad landlords."

    He added that, while the vast majority of people renting to students in the area do take responsibility for the upkeep of their buildings, dozens of other property owners are absentee landlords from out of town who have let rooming houses deteriorate through neglect.

    "This has been a very big concern of mine," said Jones, a retired firefighter. "As a firefighter, I spent 25 years at the College station and I've seen that neighbourhood change.... Safety of the students is first and foremost in my mind and overcrowding is an issue."

    As a resident in the neighbourhood himself, Jones added, "I don't like being awakened at four or five in the morning by people partying on their front lawn."

Something is up when Administration schedules a stakeholders meeting at 10AM when many people are working or in school and then says:

  • "If this date does not accommodate your schedule, please inform me at your earliest convenience so that Administration can schedule a one on one meeting at a later date.

    Furthermore, written submissions are also encouraged in the event that a stakeholder is unable to attend."

Why meet at a convenient time? Divide and conquer, "one on one." No separate landlords meeting to bring them up to speed or to understand their concerns. Let them write a letter that can be ignored or meet "at a later date" whenever that is.

The performance by the Ward 2 Councillors with respect to the Town & Gown matter at Council was disgraceful as far as I was concerned. Their strong opposition to a simple request for a deferral proved to me that there is more involved in this matter than meets the eye. Why give the landlords a chance to gain information and perhaps also to organize?

Councillor Jones pointed out that the Town & Gown committee had been around for years while Council Postma warned that action had to be taken before May of next year before the students left. In fact, what they were pointing out was their own inadequacy in accomplishing anything significant with respect to whatever the problem is.

Fortunately for them, there was no time to ask if there really is a problem since, according to the Administration Report presented to the Licensing Commission, everything is fine. All that will be created is a gigantic and expensive bureaucracy through a licensing regime or, in my opinion, the setup of a one-year committee as Administration was proposing.

Whether landlords want to believe it or not, the object of the exercise is not to ensure that there is no garbage or mattresses left by students on the roadway when the school term ends. It is to force out tenants from their homes and move them to a new student housing area, probably in the downtown area to “revitalize” it. Wasn’t that how the Cleary deal with the College was sold to us? Have you noticed a big change there?

A considerable number of landlords asked for the matter to be deferred 30 days so that they could speak with Administration about something that few of them knew very much about. Obviously, a number of other stakeholders had been contacted but not the landlords.

Supposedly, representatives of the University and St. Clair College were to be consulted after the proposed committee was set up. It is too bad that no one was able to ask the question whether the schools had already been contacted and whether their representatives had already been chosen. It would have been very interesting to hear the Administration answer to that question.

Of course, some people do not want to believe that this is an exercise by Government to take away their property rights effectively without compensation. Why would a City Government want to hurt them by forcing students to go into some new accommodation that a developer would build? That does not seem fair does it.

Of course the answer is a trade-off. This is not just a Ward 2 issue but can spread to different parts of the City as the schools are expanding and seemingly are going to be setting up different campuses around the City.

If you are a Councillor and you are being inundated with complaints by single family home owners about student housing in your area what are you to do? Which side do you pick? If you make a decision to support the homeowners, because they have more votes, then all that you have done is set up an opposition by individuals who want to protect their investment. They have money because they own one or more homes that they rent out. That could mean defeat in the next election if they and their occupants joined together to beat you.

Instead of dealing with the problem head on, because that it is too dangerous, then follow the model in Oshawa and set up a Committee to deal with it in the way that they are. Do not tell anybody about it but ram it through, all in a period of one year so it is done quickly.

Oh this is a lot bigger issue than just the University. Someone wants to act proactively because of this story:

  • College pitches $25M project in core; Strasser seeks Ontario funding
    May 9, 2008

    St. Clair College president John Strasser has pitched to the province a $25-million applied health sciences centre, possibly for downtown…

    Strasser gave Pupatello a 20-page proposal that was drafted two years ago when the college hired an architect to sketch drawings of the 112,000-square-foot building…

    The building could be located on campus, but Strasser suggested it could also go downtown, if the city provided land.

    One possibility is the city's municipal parking lots behind the Art Gallery of Windsor, expropriated and consolidated two decades ago for an arena project that's now being built off Lauzon Road. Strasser showed the drawings to Mayor
    Eddie Francis earlier this week…

    Strasser said he has 1,000 nursing, dental assistants, massage therapy, paramedic and pharmacy students he could move downtown today, and that number would grow by 200 as the college starts more health science-related programs in the next couple of years…

    The proposal is similar in scope to Francis's idea last year to have the University of Windsor put its new engineering building downtown. But the St. Clair building is simpler, cheaper and appears to have less resistance.”

Notice that there was nothing in the proposal about student housing. There would be 1,200 students many of whom might need accommodation close to the College downtown. What about them moving into the West End in addition to the University of Windsor students who live there? Oh my goodness, the area would be overrun with students. What to do? What to do?

Lo and behold, only two months later we see the following which offers a perfect location and provides the focus for the canal project:

  • Canal plan floated for Western Super Anchor; 'Opportunities are dynamic'; Windsor Star 07-29-2008

    Mayor Eddie Francis will today unveil an ambitious marina, canal and boardwalk concept for the Western Super Anchor properties he believes can finally help transform the downtown dead zone…

    The 40-foot-deep basin would be shadowed by a combined condo and retail development…

    "Now that the casino (expansion) is open people have been saying 'What can we do to spur people and attract them to the city?'" Francis said. "This provides a sense of community, identity and mixed use we have desired for the Western Super Anchor."

    "It all translates into economic benefits," the mayor said. "The time for this is right.”

Sure, how do you “spur” people to move there? Simple, you force them to do so at the expense of those big, bad, greedy, exploiting, out of town landlords.

Fine, you still do not believe me. I can understand that. You cannot believe that a City Government would force people to live in a certain area even if it means causing major financial problems to investors in their city who also happen to be taxpayers in their city. It is virtually expropriation without compensation.

Just think this through also if you are or know someone who is a single family home owner in the West End as an example. Assume that the students are all chased out and even assume that the owners of the home convert them at some cost into single-family dwellings. How are the owners going to get rid of them in a dismal real estate market that Windsor has especially since we have the highest unemployment rate in Canada with risks now to the Chrysler plant?

Who would buy the homes since financing may be very difficult? How would the owners continue to pay on the mortgage if they had no tenants? What would happen to the homes if the owners could not afford to keep them up?

I would think that what we would see would be a number of homes foreclosed and then boarded up throughout the entire West End of the City which might make the West End look more and more like Sandwich with all of its vacancies.

Single family owners might be a bit more careful what they might wish for because there could be other consequences that they have not considered if student housing does not actually take place downtown but is built instead in their area too.

More Blogmeister scare stories? Cannot happen here? Maybe not. But here is what happened in Oshawa. My sources tell me that it may get even worse for landlords in Oshawa soon:

  • Student housing battle: part II

    OSHAWA -- Homeowners near the Durham College and UOIT campus have succeeded in lessening the number of students who will be able to rent homes in the neighbourhood and are now turning their attention to the next phase of the battle -- a proposed student apartment building.

    Days after council passed a controversial bylaw requiring landlords renting homes near campus to obtain licences and limit the number of bedrooms per house, residents are fighting a large apartment development planned for Simcoe Street North and Niagara Drive.

    The 183-unit building proposed by Dundurn Edge Developments Inc., would include 800 bedrooms in two-, four- and five-bedroom units, as well as 217 parking spaces and a possible restaurant/pub.

    A flyer circulated to area homes this week by "concerned Niagara citizens" says it would cram too many students into one area and plague surrounding neighbourhoods with noise, traffic and parking problems.

    "Do you want this in your neighbourhood?" the leaflet asks.

    Many residents don't.

    Julie Nichols, a mother of four young children, said she worries about their safety if overflow parking from the apartments creeps onto the quiet street where her family has lived for four years.

    "Right now we already have some issues with parking and garbage on our street," she said. "I don't want it to get worse. I want my kids to be able to play out front. I just want to raise my kids in a healthy environment."

    Also concerned is Erindale Crescent resident Bill Jenkins, who says the proposed building will be an eyesore and worries 800 students will stress his neighbourhood, especially because the most direct access to the campus is through his subdivision.

    "I have nothing against the students, but I think this will have a negative impact on the neighbourhood," he said. "We moved here because it was advertised as a quiet family neighbourhood."

    Carlo Di Gioacchino, vice-president of business development for Dundurn, is surprised by the reaction from residents.

    "They want the students out of the subdivisions, but they don't want them in apartments either?" he asked.”

More work for lawyers in Windsor by the time this is done. Preparing artistic drawings for City visions and legal work are the only growth industries in this City now.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Commemorating The East End Arena Opening

I was reading Gord Henderson’s column the other day, “A dream come true,” about the East End Arena and started doing a play on the word “dream.” Obviously, I came up with the word “nightmare” especially in relation to what this project is actually going to cost us once we find out in a decade or two after the project is audited and the Audit Committee releases the cleansed Report.

However, something happened. I don’t know whether it was the holiday mood that came over me but I decided that I was not going to take a shot at anything in this BLOG. Rather I had a thought that just came to me right out of the blue that perhaps I could offer to help commemorate the occasion. It was such a strange feeling, just like the one that probably hit our Mayor in the Mall that day when he came up with his Youth Committee concept.

There is no doubt that a lot of people want to go to opening night of the Arena for a number of reasons. The main one is to be able to say that one was part of history in the making and that one attended the first game in the Arena. As the Star reported:
  • “It took less than an hour for Thursday's first-ever Windsor Spitfires game at the WFCU Centre to sell out.”

Those lucky people who were able to get tickets including those who stood in line for about four hours will have a momento. Hopefully, the Arena people will not rip up the tickets as people enter but allow the fans to keep them whole as a souvenir.

I can imagine that many of the fans will put the tickets in plastic or under glass so that they will be preserved as a memory of this first night. What a nice keepsake to have and to be able to pass on to future generations in one’s family or, if one is not as sentimental, to offer for sale in some Sports Memorabilia show or on E-bay one day.

But what about the rest of us who are not as lucky to get tickets? What is there for us that we could put aside since, to be blunt about it, we are all paying for it through our taxes?

I wondered whether our Mayor and Councillors had had the opportunity to consider this matter knowing how busy they were with all of the important issues that they are dealing with. I doubted it and said to myself that it might have slipped through the cracks since different people might have thought that someone else was looking after this matter. The Mayor’s Office for example might have thought that Parks and Rec was dealing with this while that Department might have thought that it fell under the CAO’s bailiwick who might have thought that the Spitfires or Global Spectrum was responsible for the activity.

Do you see what I mean? I would hate to think that the event would take place and that nothing would happen. Imagine the embarrassment.

If I was right, then something had to be done and done quickly. Moreover, whatever it was that was going to be done had to reach the entire population of the City and give everyone the opportunity to have something special.

I thought about manufacturing pins or penants or flags with the Arena logo on it to give away to Windsorites. The logistics of being able to produce so many items and to be able to give them away within days meant that this was an impossibility.

Creation of something and distribution over the Internet seemed like a good idea except not everybody is online and not everybody has a printer that could produce something worthwhile to keep.

I was racking my brains trying to figure out what to do and the answer was there, right in my hands. It was the Windsor Star. While I know that not everybody subscribes to the Star, they do distribute a version of the Star to non-subscribers too and it is sold at so many retail outlets that just about everybody in the City would have access to it.

My idea was something along the lines of what the Ambassador Bridge does during the July 1 holiday weekend. What I thought about is the City creating a two-page spread in the middle of the Star that could be taken out and saved. It would be something dealing with the Arena obviously but I would let the Star advertising people figure out exactly what should be done. I was sure that they had plenty of photographs that could be used and they have the people who can create the copy since they are used to producing advertisements quickly.

I was certain that the Star, being the good corporate citizen that it was, would give the City a good rate for the two pages considering all the advertising that the City has given them this year along with that nice booklet they distributed across Canada. I figured that our Mayor could twist a few arms and probably get two pages in colour for about $10-$15,000.

Just as I was congratulating myself on this brilliant stratagem, I turned white and thought that this too was impossible to do. Council would need to approve the expenditure of money and I was not sure if they would all agree or even if they could get together quickly to reach a decision. Fortunately, I recalled something in the Procedural Bylaw that allowed decisions to be made by e-mail so I resolved that issue as well. I expected that there was some Committee that this should have gone to but I did not believe that, in this instance, any Councillor would dare bring up the matter of process as a stumbling block.

That is what I thought up. As I say, it just came to me but I thought it was a pretty good idea. I hereby assign this concept to the Mayor and Council and they can take the credit for it.

My expectation is that people would save the section. Not just sports fans either. I would think that lots of people would want to share this small piece of history with their families, their children and grandchildren every December.

Why, I can just see people pulling this paper out and pointing to it when appearing at Council as delegations when they are debating where they should construct the new replacement Arena 100 years from now.

Council Drama Disappointment

What a terrible disappointment. I even watched the Council proceedings live because I expected fireworks. Was I ever upset when nothing special happened.

Oh well, the Bridge Company lost the vote to demolish their home but won the war. I guess that is some consolation for them.

I wrote this fantastic BLOG as you will recall explaining what would happen when Ward 5’s Councillor Loopy was going to be consistent in his approach and vote the way he did with respect to the other damaged home. Remember the video clip where Councillor Hatfield said it made “common sense” to tear it down even though the owner had no development plan.

I was so excited. My prediction was exactly correct. The vote ultimately turned out to be 6-4 not to allow the Bridge Company to demolish its fire damaged home. I thought for sure that Councillor Loopy was going to be consistent since the fact situation was virtually identical and would vote to make it a 5-5 tie.

Can you imagine my excitement as well when at the beginning of the Council Meeting the Mayor was not there and Councillor Lewenza was in the Chair. I was hoping that it was similar to him leaving when the Kevin Flood matter was being heard as you saw in the clip too. If Junior ever thought to run for Mayor, he better forget it. His performance in running the meeting last night was a disgrace. Thank goodness that Eddie returned or else the meeting would still be going on. Unfortunately, Eddie's presence removed a lot of the drama for me and predicted the end result.

If there was a tie, Eddie would be put on the spot and have to do something. Instead, Councillor Loopy raised some issue with respect to noise if the house was torn down that even the City Engineer did not seem to understand or agree with. With that, the Councillor I guess had a way to distinguish the two matters and voted not to allow the demolition.

In other words, the Councillor made the ultimate sacrifice and made himself look foolish rather than put the Mayor in a difficult position. How nice of him to do that. What a "team player."

Some other random thoughts.

The Bridge Company representative had contacted the Clerks Office and said that he was going to be unable to attend the meeting. One would have thought that perhaps out of courtesy Council could have deferred the meeting for a week or so until he could attend. Councillor Marra to his credit introduced a Motion precisely to do that but it was defeated.

Just to make sure that everyone who was watching TV knew that the Bridge Company representative was not there, our Mayor needed to call out his name to make a big production out of it.

But then again, it seems that Council does not want to hear what the Bridge Company wants to say anyway. Do you remember the time that Council refused to extend the Presentation period of 10 minutes when the Bridge Company was there to explain what they wanted to do with respect to the border and in particular with respect to the Green Corridor plan. It was only a project of $1 billion and the Bridge Company should have been able to explain it all in detail in 10 minutes it would seem. Mind you, Council gave Schwartz over an hour to outline his plan.

Councillor Postma voted to tear down the home. She had no choice given what she has been talking about recently with respect to the homes on Indian Road. Unfortunately for her, she demonstrated to her residents that she was incapable of convincing other Councillors, including her Wardmate, to support what many residents in the area demanded. It was not a good night for her either on the landlords’ matter where her colleagues agreed to defer the matter even against her strong opposition.

There must be two Procedural Bylaws that are in use at Council. We saw the first one being used and interpreted by the Mayor very strictly with respect to a part lot matter. However, when it comes to the Bridge Company, the other Bylaw is used by Eddie. He allowed Councillor Jones to talk about all the homes in the area and why the Bridge Company had not presented a development plan to Council. I wonder why Eddie did not say that the Councillor was off-topic and should be speaking only about a particular house that was the subject matter of the Application. Thanks to the second Procedural By-law the good Councillor was able to get a few digs in.

I am very upset at the Medical Officer of Health. Councillor Jones has been struck by the amnesia disease as well. He claimed that the Bridge Company had never presented any plans about what they wanted to do in the area. He must have forgotten about that meeting involving the people from the Green Corridor group at the University. As Councillor Halberstadt wrote in his BLOG today:
  • “Council's Ambassador Bridge detesters claim that the Bridge has not offered any concrete plans for redevelopment of the street. I beg to differ, especially after unearthing an 11-page Green Space proposal for the Ambassador Bridge Plaza that was shown to the Chamber of Commerce several months ago.

    I displayed the document to Council last night in making my arguments in favour of the demolition. The plan, conceived in co-operation with the University of Windsor's highly-respected Green Corridor group, calls for wetlands stormwater remediation, an eco parking lot, a green gateway opportunity and bike paths and berms.

    Bridge detester number one, Councillor Ron Jones, wrongly stated that the green corridor plan has not been presented to anyone.

    Ron, unlike myself and his ward mate Carolyn Postma, has apparently not heard from many citizens in the Indian Road ghetto who have pleaded for Council to remove the blight. More recently, he might be right, since there is strong evidence that residents are abandoning that neighbourhood in droves.

    In another juicy irony last night, a report was considered on changing ward boundaries for the 2010 municipal election. It cited demographics indicating that Sandwich lost 1395 residents between 2001 and 2006, an 11 percent reduction. I would hazard a guess that the population flight has accelerated since the Indian Road nonsense began with the city's Draconian Interim Control Bylaw two years ago.”

Councillor Halberstadt at least had the courage to speak out publicly to support the demolition of the house and remain consistent with the position that he has put forward.

Where do we go from here? We’ve had Interim Control and Demolition bylaws, Sandwich Community Improvement Plan and the Heritage Plan. The “Blight Report” is next. In a different context at Council, Eddie mentioned that he had read the report over the weekend I believe. It must have been a pretty poor “long-standing” family event that he attended that gave him a chance to read the Report.

If you will recall in his State of the City Speech, he said:

  • “It is my hope Council will commit to acting on all of those CSP initiatives that deal with the way the city looks.

    There are few sites as depressing as abandoned homes, storefronts, or gas stations. And the number of derelict properties in Windsor is disproportionately high given the prosperity we do have.

    These abandoned buildings are a blight on our city.

    That’s why we need to take action.

    When it comes to the look of our city, small things can make a world of difference.

    This is especially important in downtown Windsor, along the waterfront, and on major thoroughfares…

    Let’s consider the implementation of a green streets program, and encourage a tree planting and flower planting effort.”

Call me silly but I thought that this was exactly what the Bridge Company wanted to do with respect to their homes in the West End but that the City was opposing them.

One needs to ask the question why this was not allowed to happen. Obviously, there is an answer and I think it is “blight” which will be the new anti-Ambassador Bridge tool. Moreover, thanks to one "loose lip" at Council, the Bridge Company was told exactly where to look for what Council will try to do next.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Did Councillor Marra Just Announce He Is Running For Mayor

There can be no doubt about it. It was a very good few days for the Councillor who seemed to assume the mantle of leadership for the City at the Premier’s luncheon while our Mayor:
  • “had a "long-standing family commitment" and didn't attend the event.”

Don’t you find it interesting that we have not heard so far what the Mayor’s perspective is on what the Premier said. The Eminence Greasie must be away.

This could be Marra’s turning point. It is about time too.

Bill obviously had a strategy about what he wanted to do before he officially announced that he wants to be our new mayor. That announcement clearly will not come for many more months. After all, why take shots from the Star for two years before the next election.

My belief, and I had heard this from a number of people in the City including some of Bill’s friends, was that he was becoming virtually invisible. He was disappointing people who felt that he should be taking a bigger leadership role in the City given his background and given his desire to run for mayor. It was almost to the point that many were doubting that Bill had the ability to run a City like Windsor.

I am sure that Bill decided early on, and smartly as well, to be low key and to work with his colleagues quietly so that he would not be viewed as a show boater who is just putting in time since he believed that he was the heir apparent. He had to gain their trust. From what I am hearing from my inside moles, he has been able to achieve that with a number of the Councillors but obviously not all of them.

The Councillor formerly known as Councillor Budget has not yet realized that he has risen to the level made famous by the words of Dr. Laurence J. Peter as was made clear in this Henderson column:

  • “But anyone who thinks this means the 2010 coronation of Ward 4 Coun. Bill Marra is back on schedule should give that a second thought. There will be no free ride. There will be a war, a vicious, take-no-prisoners struggle and I'm placing early money that it will be between Marra and Ward 1 Coun. Dave Brister.

    Brister told me in his rookie term that he had no interest in the top job. And he's still circumspect about his intentions. But what I'm hearing, from people close to him, is that if Francis does pack it in to go make some serious money, Brister will not stand idly by and let Marra claim this (dubious) prize without a fight.”

Bill I am sure understands that Eddie may well run for a third term because where else can he go and make the kind of money that he is making as Mayor. Moreover, if he decides to leave, then Dave Cooke is around. He has to know, no matter what, the Star will not support him.

The issue for Bill really has to be when does he start making it obvious that he is not merely a “team player” no matter what. He does not want to offend and yet on the other hand he does need to create a distinct identity that people can rally around. Some of his biggest supporters, so the rumblings went, were thinking that Bill was waiting too long.

In my opinion, they were right. If Bill remains as quiet as he has been to date especially on City positions that are causing tremendous damage to this Community, then his support will disappear no matter what he does or says down the road. It will be too late. People will have started to look elsewhere for a new champion.

I think Bill understands this and has decided that he is now going to show what he is made of and why he ought to be our next mayor. He knows he needs to earn it by gaining the respect of Windsorites.

That does NOT mean that he is going to be obnoxious about it.

Ironically, one of Bill’s biggest weaknesses is his biggest strength. He is a consensus builder. He does not want anyone going away angry from an issue no matter what the result. His preference has always been to have people try and work out their differences rather than to have a decision imposed upon them.

This can make him look weak although he is not. One only needs to look at what he has been able to accomplish at New Beginnings. One needs only to compare his style with that of certain others who like to impose his/her point of view while pretending not to do so.

If you read the transcript of what Bill said on TV interviews at the end of the week, my view is that Bill has just made it clear that he is separating himself from our Mayor. Yet, he still wants to arrive at a compromise between the City and the Senior Levels to avoid unpleasantness and to avoid any further animosity so that Councillor Valentinis no longer have to ask why no one listens to Windsor.

Here is what I mean. Here is part of the CBC interview after the Premier said it was time to “move ahead” with the DRIC Road:

  • “Reporter: Councillor Bill Marra was the only City representative at the lunch and he wasn't opposed to what the Premier said. In fact he agrees that the current Parkway plans have changed a lot from the beginning.

    Marra: We have made vast improvements. We are protecting the communities. We've got a lot of green space buffering. We are connecting Windsor and LaSalle. So we have come a very, very long way. I believe that the final result will be compatible with everybody's needs."

Do you see what I mean? He has separated himself from the Mayor no matter how anyone wishes to put it otherwise.

However, Bill goes on to say as the consensus builder that he is:

  • “Reporter: Now Councillor Marra says that he is going to reserve his judgement on the Parkway until he sees the final application but he believes that we are still going to see some more changes in the Windsor-Essex Parkway especially after the feedback from the open houses.”

This is a whole different tone from that of the Mayor who might have said something but with an undertone of litigation if he did not get what he wanted based on his previous threats.

The other interesting matter was the jail situation where Councillor Marrar was the one who discussed it and not the Mayor. In fact, the Councillor told us that HE was successful in getting the Province to agree on the process with respect to the placement of the jail at the location picked by the Province but that the Province was not going to Brighton Beach, the Mayor’s preferred location for whatever reason.

Another Marra victory and an Eddie Francis defeat.

Ah politics. We shall see if Councillor Marra’s remarks at the Premier’s lunch is the turning point in Eddie’s mayoral career in the same way that the Council Meeting in March, 2003 was for ex-Mayor Hurst.

If you see attacks on the Councillor in the Star soon, then you will know that I am correct.

Where In The World Was Mayor Eddie Francis

I just do not understand people in this City. Why do they always think on the negative side when the Mayor is involved?

Take the luncheon on Friday with the Premier of Ontario where Eddie did not show up and where Councillor Marra was the only elected Windsor Member of Council who was there. I know for a fact that a number of Councillors could not make it because either they were already out of town or just coming back. I have not heard anybody taking a shot at them.

But if the Mayor doesn’t attend, then how many of the naysayers in town would say that he “snubbed” the Premier!

Just because Eddie happened to be in Germany when Dwight Duncan had a pre-Budget meeting or he was too busy on the Tunnel file to meet with John Tory doesn’t mean that Eddie snubs Senior Level politicians.

Just because at a time when Ministers Duncan and the Pupatello were in town to hand out money to Windsor, "Mayor Eddie Francis did not attend because he was at a read-a-thon at General Brock elementary school" does not mean that he was not grateful.

After all, he knows those are the people who have all the money that the City desperately needs. He does not want Councillor Valentinis continually asking why no one listens to Windsor.

We learned from the Windsor Star that
  • “Windsor Mayor Eddie Francis had a "long-standing family commitment" and didn't attend the event.”
That is very commendable that he puts his family first. It must have been something very important too. Mind you, one would think that if he knew about this family matter so far in advance that he would have told Councillors well in advance as well that there would be no BULLpen session on the Friday. That did not happen. Councillors only found out just a short time before my inside moles tell me.
However, I have a sneaking suspicion that there is more going on than we really know about. Let me tell you why I think that might be the case.

Apparently, this talk about the Mayor snubbing the Premier probably arose from a most unfortunate event that took place at the luncheon. I believe from what my inside moles tell me that a Senior provincial government insider was seen speaking with the Premier just before the Premier’s speech. A person happened to be eavesdropping and heard the words “Eddie Francis” and “clog” being bandied about.

The person did not hear all of the conversation and jumped to the conclusion that the word clog was being used with respect to the description of Eddie Francis being an “an obstruction or hindrance.” Of course, that would be a natural when one thinks of the border file and our Mayor. No wonder the person thought what he/she did.

On the contrary however the word was not being used in that context at all. You see that is the problem when people only hear parts of the conversation and then spread gossip. Misunderstanding and bad feelings can arise out of an offence that never took place.

The word “clog” was being used in a completely different manner. It was used in this sense:
  • “A type of shoe or sandal made predominantly out of wood.”

Of course, most people associate wooden shoes with Holland and the Dutch people. And that is exactly what the Premier must have been talking about when this person overheard the snippets of the conversation. Unfortunately, the eavesdropper did not hear the entire conversation or else the malicious comments would not have been spread.

Eddie was out of town I believe. The following is completely and totally unsubstantiated because I do not know exactly where the Mayor went but it could well be what happened.

After the meeting on the jail on Thursday where the Province told him exactly where they were going to put that facility and not move it, the Mayor knew that he lost that battle. Notwithstanding that defeat, the Mayor left the meeting and rushed out to YQG to take a flight that was ultimately headed to Amsterdam, Holland.

The Star I believe, who would know absolutely everything about the Mayor, gave us a hint in the Saturday Star. The editors must have been sworn to absolute secrecy because of the delicateness of the conversations yet their journalistic instincts required them to print something that they could point to in the future if someone asked why they didn’t report the story. Here is what was published:

  • Dutch want Heritage status for canals

    AMSTERDAM - The Dutch government wants the 17th-century canals at the heart of Amsterdam to be declared a UN World Heritage Site because of the district's cultural and historical significance, its culture ministry said on Friday.

    "The structure of canals, roads, bridges and land around the Singel, Herengracht, Keizersgracht and Prinsensgracht is an international icon of urban planning that is still intact after four centuries," the culture ministry said in a statement.

    The four concentric semi-circles of canals are big draws for tourists. Boutiques, cafes, upmarket restaurants and handsome residences line the canals.

    The government plans to put its case to the World Heritage Committee by February 2009. The Netherlands has seven listed World Heritage Sites, including a 19th-century fortification in Amsterdam and the country's oldest reclaimed area.”

I bet you understand now. The Dutch called Eddie over since he is considered to be the world’s expert when it comes to using “heritage” in a political environment. I mean, after all, look at how heritage is being used by the City in Sandwich and with the homes on Indian Road with respect to the Ambassador Bridge Company. It is sheer genius.

The Dutch have an issue with the World Heritage Committee and I am certain that not only is Eddie able to help them with that Committee but also he can explain to them the way to get money out of the World Heritage Fund. That money, millions of dollars worth, can be used

  • “to provide international assistance to States Parties in the following areas: preparatory assistance for the nomination of sites, training activities, technical cooperation, emergency assistance, or promotional and educational activities.”

It is of course not all one way. What is the latest exciting vision of our Mayor and for what are the Dutch famous? What is it exactly that the Dutch want to be declared as heritage?

The answer my friend is blowing in the wind from the windmills: CANALS!

Eddie has obviously formed an alliance with the Dutch whereby he helps them with heritage and they help him with canals. It is a brilliant move that I am certain we will hear more about in the future.

In case you have been wondering where Dave Cooke is, he will be rewriting his already finished Report on the canal vision once Eddie returns with the new information. Although my belief is that the Report should have been issued by now, it is no wonder that it was not released already. I expect now that the Report will say that building canals in Windsor is feasible and that the costs will be substantially below the amounts that have been quoted before.

Those people who thought that an outrageous sum of money was put forward initially just so that the actual budget would come in below that are nothing more than naysayers. Who would ever dream of doing something like that?

What a nice Dutch treat to have after all this bad news about plants closing, the number of vacancies of retail storefronts increasing and having just about the highest unemployment rate in Canada. What a terrific opportunity it is for us that I am certain that the Mayor will capitalize on when he demands from the Senior Levels millions and millions of dollars of infrastructure funding to make this newest of dreams come true. GO BIG OR GO HOME will be our newest slogan building on the THINK BIG Schwartz campaign.

With the help of the Dutch, our new canal is a sure thing just as heritage status for their canals is a sure thing along with the receipt of millions of dollars after our Mayor advises them. It is the perfect partnership.

Unfortunately, stories spread. I certainly hope that I am correct in what I am suggesting. If I am right, then a number of people owe our Mayor an apology for doubting him.

I know that it is troublesome for Eddie to be open and transparent. Sometimes though it might be helpful for him to do so. We do not need any more idle chatter in this town.

It's all Gouda from now on.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Will Indian Road Homes Ever Come Down

Will there be a new beginning tonight or more of the same? We will know after the vote on demolishing the Bridge Company's fire-damaged home on Indian Rroad.

It is time already for the phony facade to end. It is time for Councillors to say enough already to the Mayor. They have their opportunity tonight to use their "common sense" in the words of Councillor Hatfield in a similar matter that was before Council a number of months ago. Can they do it or will they fold again? Just watch the video below to understand what I mean.

It is time for this City to deal with issues in a real manner and to move forward finally. We have been stuck in a border rut since the winter of 2002, and before. We truly do need "leadership" to use the word of the Premier. The community that has suffered the most and will suffer more while being Delray-ed has been Sandwich! Who would invest in Sandwich now after the last few years of Interim Control and Demolition By-laws!

It is all personal and everyone must know that by now. As I shall show in another BLOG, the cost of trying to stop the Bridge Company in Sandwich has risen dramatically even though the Mayor knows he has a very weak legal position after his presentation in the Senate hearings on Bill C-3.

Stall them off, make life difficult, be an irritant. That is all this is. Work together to solve a problem for the region in a time of economic not be silly. Who needs thousands of jobs.

And this strategy is really working. NOT. One just has to look at the Ambassador Gateway project and compare that with the lack of action on this side. When will the Americans finally wake up and demand that Canada build their road to the Ambassador Bridge soon since the concept of a P3 bridge is dead with the loss of traffic due to industry closings, lack of tourists and the economic melt-down.

Is our Mayor truly an entrepreneur? Perhaps he is but only at taxpayer expense, not his. He is not the one who has invested a half a billion dollars so far of his money for improvements to the border. Our Mayor wanted to build a Horseshoe Road at a cost of hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars that would not have moved one single truck across the border more quickly while the Bridge Company built 4 US Customs booths at a cost of a few million of their own dollars that virtually ended truck backups.

His efforts to stop the Bridge Company can easily be viewed as using the power of the City to help out the Bridge Company's competitor, the Tunnel, owned remarkably by the City as well. I am sure you remember his role in killing the Bridge Company's proposal to Detroit and then making his own offer for the Tunnel in an amount several times higher. It is not a hard leap to make the argument that his opposition to the Bridge Company's Enhancement Project that will ultimately cost Windsor taxpayers a huge amount of money for legal and consulting fees was designed to ensure that the DRIC bridge went to Brighton Beach where the City wants to sell its property.

An arena in the East End---taxpayer expense, canals---taxpayer expense, the airport---taxpayer expense, Tunnel deal---taxpayer expense, Tunnel Plaza Improvements---taxpayer expense, $60M (reduced from $100M it seems) investment fund---taxpayer expense, bus terminal giveaway--taxpayer expense, Keg parking giveaway---taxpayer expense, Cleary giveaway---taxpayer expense, Naming rights and Spitfires deal giveaway---taxpayer expense.

A Young Entrepreneur of the Year playing with my and your hard-earned money, dear reader, as our infrastructure--roads, sewers and watermains--falls apart. More additional taxpayer expense to come as we know from the 86% WUC fiasco. Or will we have a P3 fire sale of Enwin and WUC to allow more money to be squandered soon.

And we are trying to encourage Seniors to move here!

The Bridge Company should have learned their lesson. By acting responsibly, they allowed Administration to justify why they want to reject their application to demolish the fire-damaged home on Indian Road. The house is a write-off yet according to the Report, the Bridge Company foolishly secured the home. If they had left it open to rot or so that people could gain access to the house, then presumably Administration would have recommended that it be demolished. Wasn’t that the case in some other demolitions including that of a City-owned home?

It certainly doesn’t matter that the home is damaged beyond repair and that if it was torn down and replaced with green space, then it would at least look attractive. Heaven forbid. One would not want to set a precedent about greening the neighbourhood.

In reading the Report, I could see how Administrations’ heart went out to the residents of the area but they do have a Community Improvement Plan and a Heritage Plan that they have to protect. After all that effort, why let the concerns of a few citizens trump their goal to hurt the Bridge Company.

It should be very interesting to see what Council does with this matter. Will they support Administration or will they overrule Administration and allow the house to come down? I would think that the residents of the area would be happy if the house was torn down but who cares what citizens think if the object of the exercise is to stop the Ambassador Bridge Company.

We will be able to see how much influence Councillor Postma has with her colleagues. She is after all the one saying that she wants all the boarded-up homes torn down provided that there is an ironclad guarantee from the Bridge Company as to what they are going to do.

Will she have the ability to persuade her colleagues to follow her wishes? I doubt that she will even be able to convince her Wardmate to change his mind. If not, I would expect the residents of Ward 2 to be quite upset about her inability to accomplish something for the Ward. It is not enough for her to be able to say that I tried but was voted down by the rest of my colleagues. Her function is not to try but to succeed.

It will also be very interesting to see what Councillor Jones does. Will he support his colleague and the residents of the area or will he vote against them?

I would expect that the vote would be six to four in support of Administration. It would be fun however if one of the six decided to allow the fire damaged home to be demolished since that would create a tie vote. In that case, what would be Mayor do?

The Councillor who has no choice but to vote to make it a 5-5 tie is Councillor Hatfield. Thanks to Chris Schnurr taping his comments on a previous application to demolish a fire-damaged home, what he said before has to be his position today. If not, then he makes the strongest of cases that the Council action is directed right at the Bridge Company. Here is the tape of what he said before:

If I was the Bridge Company lawyer, I would merely run that clip rather than make a speech. No one could be more eloquent or logical why the home must come down!

Let's assume that the vote is 5-5. If Eddie votes to support the Administration recommendation, then he is front and centre if there is a lawsuit over the demolition of the homes. If he chooses NOT to break the tie, then the Administration Recommendation loses. Watch then for a Motion to allow demolition and it will lose too on a 5-5 vote with the Mayor now choosing not to vote to break the tie.

Hmmmm....State of Limbo.....cannot support demolition, cannot support NO demolition. Chaos!

It is very clear that the Bridge Company was right in not going in front of Council to try to get all of their homes torn down as was suggested. Councillor Postma tried to get them to do so but for what purpose. Administration had said before that they would probably not support any demolitions in the area and their Report proves the point. If they will not support the demolition of a fire-damaged house, then the Bridge Company has no hope of ever getting a demolition permit for their other homes.

All that would have happened at Council would have been further embarrassment of the Company and rejection of their application. It would have been another example of the bad faith shown by the Council towards the Company.

The Bridge Ccompany declined to be suckered!

The debate over the Agenda Item tonight should be fascinating to watch. What signal will be given: a new start or a continuation of inaction. Which Councillor(s) will dare speak out for the good of our region? That is what the fire-damaged home issue is really all about.

PS. I have it...I know what Eddie Francis can do to get out of this messy situation:
  • Run and hide and let the Councillors take the blame and the hit no matter how the vote goes!

He would just disappear as the Agenda Item is discussed. Watch the clip again. He leaves the meeting as the matter is introduced and does not come back until it is over.

Here is what the Official City Minutes of Meeting said when Mr. Flood was in front of Council:

  • "2919 Donnelly Street – Request for Exemption from Demolition Control By-law and Interim Control By-law, Kevin Flood, Applicant

    Mayor Francis leaves the meeting at 8:05 o’clock p.m., and Councillor Marra assumes the Chair.

    Kevin Flood, Applicant, appears before Council to request an exemption from Demolition Control By-law and Interim Control By-law for the Olde Sandwich Towne area, so that he may demolish the existing house at 2919 Donnelly Street, so that he may clean up the property, with no intention of taking out a building permit in the future...

    Mayor Francis returns to the meeting at 8:18 o’clock p.m., and Councillor Marra returns to his seat at the Council table.

I wonder if there was a long-standing family matter he had to attend to at that exact moment when he left the Chambers. Will there be another tonight?

As a sub-plot, it will also be interesting to watch the dynamics between a lawyer who practises law, the lawyer for the Bridge Company, Paula Lombardi, and our Mayor/lawyer. As we know from past experience, Ms. Lombardi is NOT afraid to stand up to him and knows how to handle him.

The Town & Gown Affair

There is a lot more going on with this Landlords dispute with the City than I had considered.

There is a centralized core of landlords who are the organizers, an association for landlords, an alliance with tenants and they have a very active group of supporters who come out to meetings or who can contact politicians as required. Moreover, to identify themselves, they wore red shirts to the Licensing Commission meeting presumably to mean STOP. They also have money and seem prepared to spend it to protect their investment.

All of this effort seemed to be directed to the Licensing Commission meeting last Tuesday. The landlords seemed to believe that licensing fees are going to be charged and that they were:

  • “nothing more than a tax grab!”

Obviously, in a time of high vacancy rates, the last thing that a landlord would want would be a new “tax” or licensing fee imposed on them which they would have to pass on to a tenant. The last thing that a tenant would want to do would be to pay out more money or alternatively have to move into a unit that was not as good as the one that he/she lived in since the rent was cheaper.

Accordingly, this matter should all be over considering this story in the Star:

  • Landlords win licensing tiff with city

    Applause ended the Windsor Licensing Commission public meeting at city council chambers Tuesday, Dec. 2, 2008.

    Hundreds of landlords crowded into city council chambers Tuesday night erupted into applause when the Windsor Licensing Commission accepted a report that no further regulations be imposed on their sector.

    The group was worried that the commission would follow the lead of other cities like Oshawa in imposing limits on the number of bedrooms for student housing, written tenancy agreements for each tenant and other regulations.

    But city licensing director Diane Sibley told commission members that the requirements would result in an “onerous licencing regime for business owners.”

There is one slight problem. On the Agenda at Council on Monday night there is this item:

  • "Item 11 CQ58-2008 regarding Town & Gown Association Committees."

The “Council Question” asked

  • “that with regards to Town & Gown Association Committees, can Administration take a look at how other Ontario Municipalities (that host post secondary institutions) form working committees with all stakeholders and recommend a model to Council that will aid the residents, students, university, college and other tenants to live a healthy, safe community”

Shades of the infamous Agenda Item #5 that the City tried to sneak through until citizens caught them!

Administration, notwithstanding all the work that has been imposed upon them, not only answered the question but recommended an approach. Mind you, they only wanted whatever they were suggesting to last for a year because of Service Delivery Review. Accordingly, the working committees would do all kinds of work and then disappear it would seem.

I could not believe that Administration had done all this work and contacted different cities just to do something that was so short term. Why?

The whole way this was being presented seemed very strange to me in itself. What if the Committees worked at something outrageous? Where would one go to object or to provide information if they were no longer around?

I noticed again that Landlords were excluded by Administration from these Committees. Why exclude a group that is a key stakeholder when you are looking at students as tenants. Whether you like landlords or not, they have invested a good deal of money into their properties and yet they were being ignored. How could anyone not include them especially after their big victory at the Licensing Commission?

However, that is not all that what was surprising to me. It was the fact that it looked like the whole issue of landlords, housing and students was being raised again after it had been dealt with supposedly the week before. What gives?

I happened to talk to one of the landlords who was at the meeting in front of the Licensing Commission. The landlord told me that everyone there was quite surprised about how easy and quick it was to have the Motion introduced and passed that nothing further would be done. It all seemed so cut and dried.

I understood the game then. It was the old diversionary tactic. Make them think they won on something insignificant. Then hammer them subsequently because none of them would understand what could be happening next to them. After all, who wants to give up another night, especially if you have to sit at City Council and listen to all of their nonsense. It would have been expected that few landlords would show up given their supposed massive victory on the previous Tuesday.

Something was going on but what was it? I thought that the Landlords were off the mark believing that it was a tax grab. It had to be something a lot more than that and bigger but what.

I looked more closely at the Report. Not only had the Landlords been excluded but the University and College had not been consulted at all yet. They were going to be spoken to afterwards.

This was bizarre. Administration had not talked to key stakeholders and yet was suggesting that Council make a decision on a Committee. How could Council possibly do so without being provided with the facts so that they could make an informed decision? Seriously, the Report of the Licensing Commission had said that, in effect, there were no issues with respect to student housing after they had undertaken a blitz of an area near the University and yet someone thought that a Committee ought to be formed to deal with the issue. And without talking to key stakeholders.

Whatever was going on was obviously directed against landlords and was something that was to earn the favour of residents, especially votes for the next election. I cannot help thinking about politics with everything that is going on in Ottawa.

Given the fact that the Working Committees were only going to be around for one year, it had to do something. Given that this is the City of Windsor, that meant the members had to do all kinds of studies, assisted naturally by Administration who would give them direction as they had with the Heritage Study and Sandwich CIP.

Here is what I think this is all about from what I have been able to discover.

The object of the exercise is to cater to the single family house owner. After all, they make up a lot more voters than the few landlords and transients students do. My guess is that the object of the exercise is:

  • Eliminate multiple unit homes and make them all single detached dwelling units in compliance with the Zoning By-laws focusing on the University and College areas;
  • Develop an extremely strict enforcement regime with additional enforcement officers to ensure compliance and to close down illegal units, probably with some form of licensing of for "acceptable" units under the guise of safety so that no one can complain
  • Fire Dept and other regulatiry authorities will also play a role in closing down homes
  • Penalties for non-compliance will be very costly
  • Make it difficult and costly to get a licence to rent in the first place with annual inspections
  • Provide alternative, lower-cost attractive housing in a prime location to the students who would otherwise be displaced by the closing down of the rental units.

If I was a landlord anywhere in the City, because this is citywide, I would be pretty upset. Effectively, the City would be trying to put me out of business and destroy my investment by giving my business to some third party developers who would be asked to provide housing competitive to mine for students. In other words, the City would be helping my competitor put me out of business and would provide all the muscle to do so at my own expense as a taxpayer too!

Why this is so outrageous and unfair, it seemed like something that the City might do to the Ambassador Bridge Company to pressure them.

I thought about it some more and wondered why the University and College had not been consulted yet. They should have been very easy to approach. After all, Eddie worked with the President of St. Clair College re the Cleary and revitalization of the downtown so they were buddies. Dave Cooke was Chair of the Board of the University. Not only did he try to bring the Engineering Complex downtown as Eddie had hoped would happen but he was also the head guy looking into the feasibility of Eddie’s Canal vision.

Then it hit me. How could I be that forgetful. I knew it was all about. Bear with me on this, it is a bit complicated.

The object of the exercise is to get rid of students from certain areas of the City notwithstanding that Licensing has said there are few problems. Move them out... It does not matter what the reality is; that is not what people believe. Play on people's fears.

The fact that a few landlords lose their investment is troublesome. However, most would be mollified by a bureaucratic “exit strategy” that would be described as an effort to help them protect their investment. Presumably they would be forced, or rather “encouraged” to convert their homes back into a single-family unit. Then they could sell the home if they wanted to recover their funds. Of course they would be selling in Windsor’s dismal real estate market.

So they lose some money. Win some, lose some. That’s what happens when you make an investment.

Now these students would have to live somewhere because they had been displaced. Here comes the genius of the idea. Move them downtown! Wasn't there supposed to be student housing right next to the downtown Engineering Complex?

Where would they go downtown? How about the lands owned by Mr. Farhi? The poor man came to Windsor at the worst possible time with all of our economic woes. He might be happy to get out and sell at a good price.

I know he wanted to build this luxurious condominium on his prime piece of property downtown but look at the mess that the economy is in. Other condos in good locations are having trouble selling units. Builders even offered big discounts to try and get rid of them. Frankly, it might be difficult for him to get financing for a Windsor condo project with the mortgage meltdown. Getting rid of the property might not be such a bad idea for him. Heck, he had a 3 year holiday in paying City taxes since the property has technically not been transferred to him yet that is running out.

He is a developer after all. Why wouldn’t he sell his land with a building constructed on it for student housing for the people who are displaced from the rental units to either the University or St. Clair College or both. He could sell everything and perhaps not have to pay much in property taxes this way. It would be a terrific location right on the river, close to downtown and right next door to the bus terminal. Express buses could take the students right from their home to either the University or St. Clair. The location would be right beside the Greyhound terminal as well so that it would be easy for them to go back and forth between their school and home. It would be ideal.

Can you feel it? We are revitalizing the downtown. We are building something there. Why, the downtown would be even more exciting than it is now with the Keg restaurant and the St. Clair students.

There is more obviously. While the City was unable to get the Engineering Complex downtown, there still was talk of moving the Law School there or perhaps the another stand-alone School. St. Clair was still interested in moving more students downtown if they were able to get control of the Capitol Theatre. I am certain that Eddie’s University and College head honchos would help him revitalize the downtown by moving parts of their schools there because they were willing to do so in the past.

I can just see this area around the Art Gallery being a focus of higher education in Windsor with joint cooperation between the University, College and the City. Stick a Museum nearby and tie it into the Armouries project for the Symphony and we have a cultural centre too now.

  • "St. Clair College president John Strasser and Mayor Eddie Francis have been kicking around ideas for a second downtown facility, potentially with museum and hall of fame components, that would enable the college to build on its success in transforming the money- losing Cleary into the St. Clair Centre for the Arts with close to 500 students and instructors. "

Wait a minute, there is even more to this. Now Dave Cooke has a reason for supporting Eddie’s Canal vision. Remember what he said before:

  • “If you want to revitalize your downtown, you build things downtown."

    He fears the "urban village" touted for the Western Super Anchor site is merely a sop to minimize opposition to moving the arena from downtown. "What marketing studies have been done? Where's the business plan to show us this is even viable? Show us the goods...”

My goodness, we would be building downtown. The student housing, the educational buildings and the support services they require… those are “the goods.” I can see it now. Dave would have a reason to be excited too.

That would be the basis upon which the canals would be built. That would be the focus of our new revitalized City Centre.

Did you notice all the seniors' stories in the Star the last few days? Maybe the Editors figured it all out too before me. All those rich seniors that we are trying to lure from Toronto, Ottawa and the United States would have a reason to live downtown. Developers would flock here to build the housing units for them as well as all of the University and College professors, teachers and students who would want to live near the school.

That is it. It all has to be part of a huge package deal that will be introduced to us. I can hardly wait to read Dave Cooke's Report which I have heard is already finished.

Get everyone on the Working Committees, without those pesky landlords who might get screwed and object, to provide us with the dream that can be sold to us before the next election. Whether our Mayor will still be Eddie, or if he does not run, then Dave Cooke (as Henderson said “if we're very lucky, Windsor's next mayor), it does not matter.

The first step in all of this is to close down those rental units and force students out. Create the need to build student housing downtown and everything follows from that. Make a captive market for the new units. Now I understand why this Committee, without landlords, needs to be set up and for one year only. It is like an informal Community Improvement Plan for Sandwich but without the fuss and muss.

Landlords have been warned. They had better prepare for a big fight.