Thoughts and Opinions On Today's Important Issues

Friday, January 16, 2009

Is MDOT Overstepping

The bureaucrats needed to get that US Record of Decision out there for the DRIC Project before Harper met Obama to keep the pressure up and by George they did it!

However, wishing the DRIC bridge built does not make it so.

I cannot believe the bureaucrats on both sides of the river on this border file. I believe that they are completely out of control. There is no one who can hold them accountable. Politicians… heck, they come and go. Who cares about them seems to be the attitude of the people who are supposed to be working in the public interest.

They seem to be able to say and do things with impunity. The problem from my perspective as a poor taxpayer, and getting poorer all the time, is that they are spending my money for a project that makes no sense to me.

Take Sean O’Dell, please.

I cannot believe still the comments that he made in the Detroit newspaper about the border and in particular with respect to traffic. The Star reported the other day:
  • “Truck traffic at the Ambassador Bridge plummeted 15 per cent last year over the year before, surpassing declines at other border crossings, including the Windsor-Detroit Tunnel.

    The Ambassador Bridge — North America's busiest border crossing — had 181,938 truck crossings in December, down 17.9 per cent from December of 2007, according to the Public Border Operators Association. There were 2,885,047 truck crossings all year, a 15.1 per cent decline over the 3,398,745 crossings in 2007.

    Commercial traffic at the second busiest truck span, the Blue Water Bridge in Sarnia, was down 2.5 per cent on the year,

    The Peace Bridge in Fort Erie experienced a year-to-year decline of 4.3 per cent, including a 4.9 per cent decline in car traffic and a 1.9 per cent decline in truck traffic.

    The Lewiston-Queenston Bridge at Niagara-on-the-Lake experienced a year-to-year decline of 7.8 per cent, including an 11.6 per cent decline in truck traffic and a 6.7 per cent decline in car traffic.

    The average year-to-year decline for the 11 crossings monitored by the PBOA was 6.9 per cent or 2,764,876 vehicles, down from 40,334,567 to 37,569,691.

    Truck traffic declined 9.2 per cent, from 8,049,136 to 7,311,654 vehicles and car traffic declined 6.2 per cent, from 32,060,355 to 30,064,378 vehicles.”

It does not seem to matter. Mr. O’dell can say whatever it is that he wants to say and no one chastises him. In fact, our Federal Minister of Finance can also pretend that someone might be foolish enough to actually finance the project here when he spoke to the P3 conference. Nothing like losing one’s credibility. I guess the Minister is too busy discovering the financial problems that he said did not exist during the election campiagn

I cannot slam Mr. O’Dell alone. I have to include people from Michigan as well, the friendly people from MDOT.

I’m sure that you will call that there was a fight over the Michigan budget dealing with DRIC. Here is the language of the compromise that was passed by the Michigan Legislature:

  • “Sec. 384. (1) The state transportation department is allowed to finish the Detroit River international crossing (DRIC) study provided that activity associated with finishing the DRIC study shall not bind the state in any way to construction.

    Certain preliminary activities which are necessary to prepare a proposal for a decision by the legislature are allowed as long as they do not bind the state. Those activities include the following:
    (a) applications for permits and approvals.
    (b) preliminary design engineering work.
    (c) preliminary utility planning and relocation
    (d) preliminary financial and funding arrangements.

    (2) The department will report on a quarterly basis to both the house and senate appropriations committees on any expenditures relative to the process identified in subsection (1).

    (3) In addition, advanced property acquisitions that are hardship or opportunity purchases are allowed as long as they do not bind the state. The department will notify, in writing, both the house and senate appropriations committees within 30 days of any advanced property acquisition purchases. The department can not enter into any binding commitment to construct the crossing until authorizing legislation is enacted into law.”

I am certain that you will agree with me that this language is not difficult to understand. It is written in plain English. There is not too much of it so it is not all that difficult to absorb. If that is the case, then please explain how MDOT can say this in a Press Release:

  • “The Record of Decision allows Michigan to begin right-of-way acquisition and construction planning for the proposed new bridge.”

Wait a minute… where is this written in the legislation? The only property acquisitions that are allowed are if there are hardship or opportunity purchases. There is no permission to start right-of-way acquisition. In fact, it would probably be illegal the way I read the legislation.

Perhaps that is why the MDOT spokesman said in the Star but not in the Press Release since it would take away from their pressure campaign:

  • "The approval by Washington turns over the lead on the DRIC bridge project to the Michigan Department of Transportation.

    MDOT spokesman Bill Shreck said property purchases on the Detroit side are unlikely to begin until summer."

Construction planning… I did not see that either. The only thing that can be done is some preliminary work “necessary to prepare a proposal for a decision by the legislature.”

Then a Backgrounder was issued and it said the following:

  • “The new border crossing system will cost $1.8 billion for the U.S. portion of the bridge, the plaza and the new interchange with I-75. This cost will be covered by a number of sources. The bridge itself will be paid for by the private sector in partnership with state and federal government. While the private participant will use tolls to build, operate and maintain the new bridge, the Border Transportation Partnership will provide public oversight and ensure the accountability of any private sector participation to ensure a safe and secure international border crossing system.”

That certainly sounds like a P3 project to me. I would have thought that such a statement is rather presumptuous of the bureaucrats since there is no legislation in Michigan that permits a P3 bridge to be built in the first place.

Some Michigan Legislators might be rather upset that their bureaucrats have made the decisions for them as to how the project should be financed if it is to built in the first place. As discussed by the documents it seems to be a fait accompli notwithstanding the language “do not bind the state.”

Perhaps it is time for Senator Cropsey to re-open his hearings!

The other thing that troubles me a little bit is that I do not recall seeing anything that has come from the Canadian Government formally with respect to governance. Oh I know what the Federal Minister of Finances hoping for but has anyone ever seen a report about the subject? Has anyone seen any kind of financial calculations undertaken that show that a P3 project makes sense for the crossing when there is a private operator who is prepared to spend his own money?

You know it will be impossible to get outside financing since the investment grade traffic survey has been buried by Canada until at least mid-2009, a year overdue! Want to bet that it too will say that much of the traffic has to be taken from the Ambassador Bridge to make the project viable since volumes are down so much.

One other little wrinkle... didn't US DRIC try to get a Presidential Permit from the US Department of State. My recollection is that they did not get it. If that's the case, then how can MDOT say what it is saying? I just do not understand.

As I said, nothing seems to matter other than the bureaucrats running amok with their MegaProject even at a time when there is financial distress in the economy.

You will understand that civil servants are so much smarter than mere politicians and the public. Why just ask them and they will tell you. Remember this comment from the Civil Servant who wrote a column in the Star:

  • “Civil servants have been trained to give politicians the best, most extensive and most complete analysis of just about any public policy issue thrown at them. Bureaucrats are initiated very early in their career in the art of communicating this kind of information to politicians, and by the time they reach the senior echelons of the civil service, they have learned to do this very well indeed.”

How pompous is that!

This really is Canada driving this file and hoping that Canada can finally complete a voyage that started almost 50 years ago to take over the Ambassador Bridge. To be direct, our side of the river has tried to completely outmaneuver the Americans who still do not seem to have a clue about what is going on. Expect Prime Minister Harper to discuss the subject with President Obama when they meet. He tried it with President Bush and failed. Some in the bureaucracy must hope that he is more successful with the new President.

If the meeting is held on Valentine’s Day, then you will know that the Report prepared by Former Canadian Ambassador to the United States, Michael Kergin, is in play.

The Obama Meeting: Cliched Action From Canada’s UltraSecret Playbook

It is getting nearer to the Super Bowl time and the Coach of Canada’s border DRIC team is pulling out all the stops to make the big score. He is giving it 110%.

True, the DRIC team has had a few setbacks recently. They had their clock cleaned when President Bush rebuffed them several times. However, they are not discouraged. They are going to take it one Presidential meeting at a time.

It will be the grand-daddy of them all, the meeting between US President Obama and Canada’s Prime Minister Harper. I am sure that you saw the story

  • “Barack Obama will make his first foreign trip as president of the United States to Canada, the prime minister’s office confirmed Saturday.

    The war in Afghanistan, climate change and the global recession are certain to be high on the agenda of meetings between Obama and Prime Minister Stephen Harper.”

I am sure that you have noticed that there was nothing mentioned by the PM's Office about our border crossing. That was deliberate to throw off the Bridge Company and the American Government if they have done any pre-meeting scouting. Fake them out. Catch them lead-footed!

Of course, Canada will stick to their game plan. It's decision time for Canada. They're in their hurry-up offence, expecting the Bridge Company to blitz. Seriously, it could be Canada’s last down and it’s goal to go! Canada really has to come away with some points when they are this close.

It has not been a good time for Canadians. They have run into a brick wall.

They literally were run over by a freight train when Dan Stamper made his presentations in Ottawa and Lansing at the various Governmental hearings.

Diplomacy, especially international diplomacy, is a game of field position. This game is being won in the trenches. I can just hear the Canadian Coach saying to his team:

  • “Just go out and execute. We have to keep the drive alive.”

Of course the Bridge Company Defensive team is no slouch either. Stamper has been able to sack the Canadian bureaucrats a number of times. When he talked about the Company’s legal right to build their bridge, nobody laid a glove on him. He has been able to break through the phony Canadian line about increasing truck volumes so many times that he could drive a truck through that hole.

There certainly is no love lost between Canada and the Bridge Company.

One mystery has been cleared up, at least in my mind: why it took so long for the Star to write about the Kergin report and why they did not focus on the DRIC bridge that was part of the report.

Clearly, after all of the offensive setbacks… the Canadian Ambassador’s NAFTA-gate actions with respect to the Democratic candidate when he was running in the Primaries and for election was certainly offensive…Canada has had to come up with a new approach.

That was former Canadian Ambassador to the US Michael Kergin’s job. It took time for him to do his work. But his job has been accomplished and the Star’s Editorial was nothing more than a call to action setting out the approach that should be taken. The former Ambassador knows that Canada does not have all the time in the world. Canada has to be right on the money or it is game over.

Do not however expect a direct approach by the Prime Minister to the President. That tactic has failed miserably. Expect instead a variation of the Statue of Liberty play. It is a trick play that is described as something done “where one side is so far behind they're desperate enough to try anything.”

What Canada is going to try to do is an endrun the President. They want to work around him, to isolate him. Canada wants the lower level bureaucrats to make the decision and just present it to the President to be rubberstamped.

Unfortunately for Canada, a copy of the Kergin Report has fallen into the hands of the Bridge Company. They know what is going to happen and they are ready for it.

Canada's Coach wants to try a fake and see if they can pull it off. Here is what is going to happen.

Part of this is taken right from Kergin’s Report with a few add-ons by the Canadian Striped Pants diplomats who need to pretend that they have a role. The whole approach is to keep everything lowkey. It is absolutely essential to keep the American decision-makers out of the loop and to let the Canadian diplomats and politicians sucker in their American counterparts. That is exactly what is set out in Canada’s Ultrasecret Playbook. The Kergin plan fits in beautifully:

  1. The Kergin Report plan has a subliminal name: “A New Bridge for Old Allies.”
  2. Canada should attempt to influence President Obama NOT by directly advocating for the DRIC bridge, although the subject will be brought up by the Prime Minister as he did before, but by doing it indirectly
  3. Since free trade is so important to Canada and the new President may need to become somewhat protectionist to maintain his Union base, there is a need to stress how important trade is to our two countries. It is absolutely essential to get the President onside with respect to free trade with Canada at the least before he knows what hits him
  4. The Prime Minister needs to talk again as he did with President Bush about the American dependence on Canadian oil and energy by discussing how Russia cut off gas supplies to the Ukraine
  5. The American concern re Homeland Security after 9/11 needs to be acknowledged but in the context that security ought not to trump trade
  6. “At their first meeting, Prime Minister Harper and President Obama should mandate the creation of a Permanent Joint Border Commission to modernize and manage the border."
  7. The Commission should be framed in the context of security by bringing up the past where Canada and the United States formed a Permanent Joint Board of Defence that has been around for 68 years
  8. A press release needs to be issued to cement the deal that says something like this:

    “Media Opportunity, February 14, 2009

    Today the President met with the Prime Minister of Canada in their first meeting as leaders, exchanging views on critical foreign policy issues, including Afghanistan and global climate change.

    The leaders agreed to appoint two high level Personal Representatives, Mr/Ms……, from Canada and the Honourable……, from the United States, to prepare recommendations to modernize our shared border and to secure our economic competitiveness, including devising a bi-national body to coordinate the implementation of new border measures.

    The Personal Representatives will report back within six months with their findings and recommendations.”
  9. Naturally, former Ambassador Kergin would be Canada’s representative since he understands what the object of the exercise is i.e. to get the DRIC bridge built and he would understand how to hide that objective from the Americans.
  10. Within the six-month period, a Report would be prepared on a number of issues but the key one buried within the Report would be to build a 3P Bridge in Windsor/Detroit. Note Kergin does not want a P3 bridge but 3P one to confuse everyone more.

Canada has to rise to the occasion. If that play could be run successfully, that would give Canada some room to operate. Canada cannot afford to cough it up here. If they do, it would be a costly turnover.

I am certain that you noticed that the statement about the meeting between the President and the Primer Minister that came out of the PM's office talks specifically about what was in the Kergin Report.

In a Canadian Press Report

  • "Michael Hart, a free-trade negotiator and the Simon Reisman chair at the Norman Patterson School of International Affairs at Carleton University in Ottawa... said Harper shouldn't try to build a relationship with Obama based on "irritant resolution" but rather focus on developing "mutual confidence and trust" by working together on issues that include climate change, the global economic crisis and global security issues."

Do you see what I mean? Canada's play has started. While supposedly no date for the meeting has been determined yet, if the date is settled on February 14, then you will understand exactly what is going on, dear reader.

Unfortunately for Canada, the Bridge Company team will be able to read the play easily now that they have seen the Kergin report. They will have it covered like a blanket. They will be able to sniff out the move and to assert themselves.

It will be another ill advised move orchestrated by Canadian Ambassador to the US Michael Wilson again. It will be so obvious when the Canadian Team telegraphs the move. I am sure that, when he is asked to resign his position finally, his big regret will be that he did not have the opportunity to have that one play back.

A hint however that Canada could be in serious trouble even using this trick play:

  • "The fact Barack Obama is meeting with Mexican President Felipe Calderon before Prime Minister Stephen Harper smacks of political payback for the Conservative government interfering in the U.S. Democratic primaries, critics say."

Clearly, after all these years as the Ambassador Gateway project moves forward, the momentum has definitely shifted to the Bridge Company. In the end, it all comes down to which team wants to win it more. And when one is risking one's own money, about $500M already and an equal amount to come, and not taxpayers' cash, it should be obvious who has to work harder.

As for the bureaucrats who are trying to protect their careers now after wasting years of time and $60M in expenditures, they are no longer playing to win. Now they are playing not to lose.

This political diplomacy might not be the Super Bowl, but to these two groups, this is the biggest game of the year.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

FCM And The Media

This is our City's wish list of items for which funding is being sought. Click on the image and it expands so you can read it better. The last column represents the number of jobs to be creeated by each project.

Here is an interesting finding from the Federation of Canadian Municipalities. Do you think our Mayor knows this? Perhaps this might convince him and Council to reconsider their ridiculous opposition to the DRIC Road and the Ambassador Bridge project:

  • "Make jobs the priority

    Each $1 billion invested in new infrastructure creates more than 11,000 jobs—more than twice as many as an equivalent tax cut. A significant number of new infrastructure projects must get underway during the 2009 construction season in order to offset a recession. Any countercyclical infrastructure program should have job creation as one of its key policy objectives.

While I would like"shovel ready" projects started right away, I am NOT in favour of the method for doing so "Allocated by population, to all municipalities in Canada."

Our Mayor likes that approach as he said at Council some time ago. As a taxpayer, I would prefer the money to be given for specific projects. The last thing I want is any of this cash available to be used at the whim of the Mayor and Council. In Windsor, they would spend it on that absurd canal project!

But here is something strange that suggests to me that the City has bigger financial problems than we know about and cannot possibly do the Tunnel deal or other major projects except pay for the East End arena:

This was one of the projects for which the City wanted money. I thought we had set aside the funds years ago when the Phase 1 Agreement was signed with the Senior Levels. Each level was to put up $10M for the project

Where are the City funds now? What happened to them? Do we have the money available for our share? If not, is the whole deal dead since the Senior Levels would not put their $20M into a project that cannot pay for itself.

By the way, we do know that the costs of the project have increased dramatically above the $30M mark. We were told that at Council a long time ago by Mr. Tyagi. I speculated that it was due to increased expropriation costs as well as increased construction costs.

Is this why the City has done little for years on this project: no more money. If so, why is Eddie wasting millions on trying to do a deal with Detroit if we cannot afford to improve the access to the Tunnel.

This Tunnel deal is so bizarre.

Oh and have you noticed, none of the traditional media have picked up my Infrastructure Ontario story about how much that Organization was prepared to loan to Windsor for the deal ie $75M or less and asked for answers to the obvious questions I raised.

There are all kinds of stories that flow from it that could win Pulitizer prizes for good investigative journalists eg why is there a refusal to provide the relevant information so that I have to do a Privacy Commission FOI appeal, why were there so many meetings over such a long period even after the project was put "on hold" by the City over a project that could not be financed if I am right in my assumptions, why was so much money spent on legal and other fees, were there any text messages sent from our Mayor's office about this deal and so on.

To be totally unfair because she HAS written some good exposes on what is going on here, I would quote from a BLOG written by Monica Wolfson of the Star:

  • "Free Press rules for exposing Kwame

    By Monica Wolfson 09-04-2008

    The Detroit Free Press had better win a Pulitzer Prize for its reporting on Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick.

    The daily shouldn't just be recognized for bringing down a mayor who will soon be jailed for obstruction of justice and assault.

    The honour shouldn't be given just because Kilpatrick was ordered to repay the City of Detroit $1 million after city council unknowingly paid out $9 million in hush money to keep Kilpatrick's philandering with his chief of staff secret.

    They should be given journalism's top award for bravery, ingenuity and resiliency.

    The scandal never would have come to light without the Free Press reporting...

    The Free Press should be given a nod for its perseverance and hard work. The Free Press kept up a flow of stories -- sometimes five or six a day -- over an eight-month period. Some days I'm sure it was easy, but it was probably also a struggle on other days when reporters probably had to shake city hall to dislodge some news."

What an indictment of the lapdog, Windsor media!

Want another example of the media not doing its job. Read Henderson's column today:

  • "Feuding over FOI"

Here is what the Star's provocative city columnist's hard-hitting views on City Hall did NOT include....nothing on the 400 audit or the Tunnel deal story or the WEDC secrecy.

Perhaps Monica should circulate her BLOG to her Windsor media friends, including the Windsor Star Editorial Board.

Old vs.New Downtown

A new war is about to start in Windsor. It represents a battle between the old and the new. It will be brutal with no holds barred. The stakes will be huge not only from the financial position of the combatants but for the future of this City.

The fight will start over a call centre but it will escalate very, very quickly. The war will be fought over where Windsor’s future downtown will be. Will it be our existing Downtown or will it be moved to the new downtown, right next to the new East End Arena:
  • “London-based developer Shmuel Farhi will demolish the former Lear Corporation plant on Lauzon Road this fall, clearing the way for a massive development that could top $100 million and include a hotel, restaurants, retail outlets, apartment towers and senior-citizen residences…

    I can see eventually 60 acres being developed ... the equivalent of an entire downtown,"

Our Mayor who in my opinion is no fan of the existing downtown signalled the start of the war recently in a Gord Henderson column.

  • “Mayor Eddie Francis said it's "bittersweet news" that the plant is being demolished. "My first priority would be to have a plant open and people working." But it's better, he agreed, to have redevelopment in the Lauzon/Tecumseh area than a padlocked plant. "You want activity. You want action," said Francis. "The entire Lauzon Road corridor is going to come to life again. This just adds to and complements the activity at the WFCU Centre. Shrewd investors are already picking up properties."

How can Eddie be a fan when he allowed the Downtown to move eastward towards the Casino? How can he be when he effectively killed off the Urban Village by never issuing a Request for Proposal for the area and using the Engineering Complex to stall off revitalization of that area. Yes, how can he be when he broke his election campaign promise about a downtown arena and moved it out to the East End, all at taxpayer expense.

Remember what we read about events at the East And arena:

  • “As for economic spin-offs from the new WFCU Centre, Lescanec said anything which creates activity is beneficial. "Any time you can get 4,000 or 5,000 people to come down to an event, that has to help."

Can you imagine what would have taken place on New Years Eve if Jay Leno was at the Casino and there was also another big act booked at our downtown arena… 10,000 plus big spenders in our downtown!

Oh I have not forgotten about the canal vision. It is nothing more than a stall as far as I’m concerned notwithstanding what Mr. Cooke’s Report may say. It will stall all development in the downtown as if it was an Interim Control Bylaw but without the fuss of actually passing one. Think I am wrong… where is the RFP for the urban village after the Engineering Complex downtown was killed.

Why do I say the war will start over a call centre. It will be the “shot heard round the City,” just like the one that started World War I.

I am sure that you recall this recent story:

  • Developer hoping to build new call centre
    Rogers, unnamed firm could bring 2,500 jobs

    A proposed call and client service centre operated by telecommunications giant Rogers Communication and another unnamed company would bring up to 2,500 jobs to downtown Windsor, a local developer says.

    Joe Mikhail of Mikhail Holdings said Windsor is in competition with London for the project, which would involve construction of a 200,000 square foot building at an undisclosed location in the downtown.”

Competition with London? Do you remember this one back in 2006:

  • “With the swap of 40 acres to the city, Farhi will be left with about 70 acres to develop.

    He is also working on attracting a call centre to the 90,000 square feet of office space he owns in the Lear plant.

    Farhi said he foresees the Lear plant moving to an industrial area in a few years, which would pave the way for him and other landowners in the area to create a commercial and recreational hub surrounding the new arena. "This place, the way I see it, it is going to be transformed into a new development."

If in fact Mr. Farhi is interested, then he would be a formidable competitor because he is located in both London and Windsor so he can offer sites in both places. Moreover, thanks to the Star, now he knows that Rogers wants to set up a call centre somewhere.

It seems very clear that the initial combatants will be Messrs Farhi and Mikhail. Here is what Mr. Mikhail is talking about from a Henderson column back in June, 2005. The only big difference is that the arena went to the east rather than to the Raceway property:

  • “Windsor developer Joe Mikhail thinks the city must have rocks in its head to be contemplating an arena project at Windsor Raceway that will, in his view, amount to a lavish gift to neighbouring LaSalle.

    Mikhail, a partner with his brother, Lou, in Mikhail Holdings, a firm that owns properties in Toronto, across Southwestern Ontario and in downtown Windsor, warns that the city is making a huge planning mistake, one that will pound another nail in downtown's coffin, in supporting a far-west-end site for a new Spitfires home.

    He admits, straight up, that his firm has a vested interest in downtown, having spent more than $2 million to acquire a number of core properties at bargain basement prices, including the former National Bank building at Ouellette and University that now boasts a Starbucks outlet and oodles of vacant space.

    He also senses he's wasting his breath since the fix is in to make the city a financial partner in the raceway project. "It's a done deal. They (council) smelled the easy way out. They looked at the numbers and saw little risk. The deal is done and now it's a selling game."
    A key part of that sales pitch, in his opinion, is all the hoopla about building an "urban village" on the downtown site that was acquired for an arena. He suspects that project is both unsustainable and unlikely to have the dramatic impact its boosters are predicting. "I doubt very much this will ever get off the ground. It doesn't make sense from a dollar perspective. You'll never get the tenant base."

    He said there are already thousands of people living downtown in highrise condos and yet the area has almost zero retail. "Spreading them out at ground level in townhouses. What's that going to do?"

    Downtown's fate was sealed 15 years ago, in Mikhail's view, when the council of the day agreed to sell land in its industrial parks for office developments at below market rates. A parade of law firms, accounting companies and other white-collar operations fled downtown for new quarters near the E.C. Row that had, in effect, been paid for by city taxpayers. "They drained the downtown and then they wonder why there's nobody downtown," he scoffed."That was the kiss of death back then."

    Now, said Mikhail, the city is repeating that disastrous error by offering taxpayer dollars (at least $15 million) to move an arena, long promised to a dying downtown, to the city limits.

    It's throwing in the towel for downtown. It will be a 100 per cent subsidy for LaSalle. It's just ludicrous to suggest that taking an arena to LaSalle is a good fit." He said smart folks will be acquiring nearby properties. "LaSalle will look more attractive to anybody in the development business."

I believe that opposition to redevelopment of the East End site will be extremely difficult considering that Mr. Farhi already has a rezoning there that will permit offices in the existing building. So what if the building is torn down, the principle of having offices there is the same.

Would a call centre be important for Mr. Farhi. Of course. It could be the start of his redevelopment at the site.

  • "Jim Williams, president of Remax Capital, said the site is a great piece of property, ideal for redevelopment, but he doesn't see it happening until the Windsor economy starts creating jobs and generating demand.

    "He's certainly not talking short-term because there's no demand, and it will not develop without demand," said Williams. Shmuel Farhi is a smart man. He's not going to do it unless the economics work."

Moreover, if I am correct about an Ontario Government Department perhaps coming to Windsor, which the Province wants to locate beside the new jail, that would be a nice coup as well for the site, especially considering that the Mayor is so opposed to where the Province wants to go.

Of course, who has been the big booster for civil servants being moved here:

  • "The Mikhail brothers, who have a vested interest in this as office landlords, think the city should lean on its cabinet ministers to move a ministry or government department to Windsor to help the city withstand the shock waves as it tries to reinvent itself.

    Mikhail said the transfer of government jobs to Sudbury when the rock-bashing industries were in rapid decline played a key role in that city's turnaround. "One thing the politicians can do is relocate government jobs to distressed areas. That's something totally within their power." Mikhail said if the labour ministry and its 400 jobs had been moved here in the early 1990s, as promised, it would have made a difference.

    He believes the province could save significant money by moving workers to low-cost Windsor. For starters, he said, it would free up immensely valuable Toronto real estate and ease the burden on that city's clogged transit system."

Oh the battle has just begun. There will be many casualties before this war is over.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Last Chance--2008 Stories Must Be Cleared Out

Here are some new stories that you may have missed because of all the holiday festivities. Absolutely, positively the last stories from 2008 that I finally can share with you.


A very interesting Editorial from the Star about the Kergin Report that I Blogged about over a month ago. Why it took so long for the Star to talk about it and the approach taken was very surprising to me.

Since the Star Editors know everything, the only conclusion that I could come to in reading that Editorial was that the Governments on both sides of the river have finally figured out that the Ambassador Bridge Company has won the battle. But not necessarily the war. That war has been going on for about 50 years now with the Canadian Government, ever since Dief the Chief, except we did not know about it.

Did you see anything in the Editorial about building the DRIC bridge? Nothing in there as well about capacity or security or redundancy. In other words none of the reasons why a second public bridge was supposedly necessary. The real problem with the border has nothing to do with what DRIC talked about.
  • “Kergin's report directly addresses the main reason for continuing problems at border crossings -- a U.S. customs regime that has developed into a cumbersome bureaucracy.”

Gee, isn’t that what the Bridge Company said years ago about the root cause of the border backups and was ridiculed. How nice for Mr. Kergin to bring the Star Editors on side.

One would have to be naïve given that Mr. Kergin was once the Canadian Ambassador to the United States and was also retained by the Ontario Government respecting the Border not to believe that he has some idea about what the Governments want. It would not surprise me if his Report reflected Canadian Government policy at this time.

That policy is a hasty retreat so that the Bridge Company does not get the American Government onside and win the border war forever. Better to pull back now, regroup and fight the battle 10 years from now the way that Canada did with the FIRA supposed settlement. After all, the International Bridges and Tunnels Act is nothing more than FIRA in disguise. It is directed only at the Ambassador Bridge after all.

The idea is to create a Border Authority where the Canadians can try and take control. Nice move to call it NORAD-like so that the Americans will think that it has something to do with Homeland Security.

  • “the leaders of Canada and the United States might not, once again, collaboratively confront international instability, albeit of an economic nature.”

We can see now that the Canadian Policy is to sucker the Americans into setting up some kind of a Public Authority that ultimately will try to micromanage the Ambassador Bridge business. That is what Canada wanted to do as part of the IBTA.

The approach is to keep the Government action in the low-level bureaucratic arena and away from politicians on the US side. That approach after all is part of Canada’s Ultrasecret Playbook. Don’t let the Americans know what is going on until it is all too late.

Thanks to the Windsor Star we know that the Canadian Governments’ action-plan has started.

If only the Governments on both sides of the river had actually talked to the best border operator in North America, then we would not have had the problem that Mr. Kergin has had to write about. We would not have had to have wasted years of time and millions of taxpayer dollars either.


I think that would have been a better headline.

Oh how calm everyone is at City Hall over the loss of $6 million in taxes because of the reassessment of the Casino. I guess that this is the reason why the Star could put in this headline:

  • “City downplays tax base damage”

Oh silly me, I forgot. If the City loses money on one hand, it just reaches in deeper into our pocket with the other hand to make up the difference:

  • “But the city should be able to withstand the casino tax fallout through a combination of options to cushion the blow, such as spreading the impact throughout its commercial tax class, find additional revenue sources, cut expenditures or raise tax rates in other classes, Guthrie said.”

Whether it is increased taxes or generating revenues without calling it a tax, the rest of us will pay more.

Another option was raised by Council Halberstadt:

  • “In the longer term, the city will have to weigh selling off some assets.”

Bye-bye Enwin. Bye-bye WUC. Bye-bye Tunnel. Look for the City to try to P3 all of these assets. They are not really “sales” so our Mayor can say that he is not selling anything but we will give up the effective control of these utilities for the next 75 to 99 years. Just wait then until you see what increases will be like.


In that Star story, what did give concern was the following:

  • “Lower property assessments caused by the dismal local economy are not expected to have a major impact on Windsor’s municipal tax revenues unless an entire classification is lost — such as a crash of the Big Three automakers that shutters every local plant.

    “That's why we were very interested in the auto sector bailout,” said Janice Guthrie, the city’s deputy treasurer of taxation and revenue. “If they close up and leave, we would be in serious trouble.”

Granted that Lear was not a major player in the automotive business in Windsor, nevertheless their plant where the arena now stands did generate a lot of tax revenue for the City.

I do not know if it has been torn down yet or will be torn down soon but what I was told by a local developer was that the City could lose millions of dollars of revenue because the land would be "vacant." No more plant and office space to tax.

Oh that is all right, we remaining taxpayers can make up that difference too.


I saw this article from the Daily Commercial News:

  • "Southwestern Ontario construction companies adjust to economic slowdown

    Southwestern Ontario’s construction sector is experiencing the full effects of the global economic meltdown.

    Longer bidding lists, greater competition from companies looking farther afield, tougher challenges to secure financing as well as major job losses are just some of the new realities facing the region’s building community.

    In particular, the crash of the auto industry, the region’s primary economic driver, is having an impact, says Paul Cocker, president of London-based McKay-Cocker...

    Jim Lyons, executive director of the Windsor Construction Association says contractors in his area are pursuing work out of the region, which is highly unusual.

    “The quality of life isn’t as good for those guys as if they’re working in their own backyard,” he says. “But that’s the nature of the business —got to go where the work is.”

    In Windsor, which has experienced the lion’s share of the province’s automotive sector layoffs, “it’s been pretty doom and gloom.”

    There are projects — Lyons mentions an upcoming $70 million Windsor Regional Hospital project, and notes that the University of Windsor has plans to build a $90 million engineering building. The institutional sector looks the most promising, he says, listing projects involving area schools, arenas and a pollution control plant in Leamington.

    Bill Jean, Windsor’s deputy chief building official confirms there are projects on the board that haven’t yet applied for permits, including a four-storey Toronto Dominion Bank building in the downtown core and the construction of a nursing home on the site of the former Salvation Army Grace Hospital."

Oh who needs those thousands of construction jobs for the DRIC Road and Ambassador Bridge Project. Let us argue about quality of life issues that are nonexistent. That is so much easier than trying to negotiate a solution. It is so much easier when you are a weakling to be an irritant.


In going through my archives I found the following Star article from a few years ago. Most of the projects set out have been accomplished. Tell me if you can actually see what was supposed to happen. Think of this when you read the Cooke Report on the canal vision at the end of February and you will be told how the City Centre will be re-invigorated:

  • "City core to soar, Francis predicts: Mayor says projects point to 'renaissance'; Craig Pearson, 05-21-2005

    Downtown Windsor is set to undergo a renaissance, Mayor Eddie Francis said Friday.

    Thanks to a new Dieppe Gardens reception centre, possible university and college use of the Cleary International Centre, Casino Windsor development, and a potential deal to finally rent out two empty floors of the Canderel building for which the city has been paying, Francis thinks the city core will soar.

    "What we have downtown is a renaissance of sorts," Francis said addressing the 10th annual Mayor's Luncheon sponsored by the Windsor & District Chamber of Commerce. "You have a new casino expansion -- new convention centre, new theatre -- you're going to have a transit terminal, you're going to have council move on an urban village, you're going to have a potential university-college concept here, and you have two new enterprises taking place on the block.

    "There's a lot of activity coming downtown. So the next year's going to be exciting."

    Francis said that over the last half year, the city has been negotiating with a company to take over the empty space it has been leasing in the Canderel building.

    "It's in front of the corporation's board of directors. The board is very positive towards it," said Francis, who won't publicly name the company unless an agreement is signed. "It's a significant corporation that we're working on."

    Francis said he is also excited about a $2-million Cleary Guest House, which will be built to replace the existing Dieppe Gardens snack bar -- possibly starting in the fall.

    The plans for the sleek, glass-walled building -- provided by the mayor's office Friday -- call for it to be built into the embankment below Riverside Drive to clear the view across the Detroit River. It will offer a patio on top of the building and at the base, with licensed service and a lighted and towering Peace Beacon that will signal its presence around the clock."

Gosh, and he did not even mention the Keg restaurant either by name!

Fisking The Francis CTV Interview

Here is an interview with the Mayor on CTV. I had it transcribed because it annoyed me so much.

I thought you might be interested in it too, dear reader. Watch and listen to it or read the transcript for yourself and see how you feel about what he said. My comments are included.

ANNOUNCER: Windsor, Ontario suffered more than any other city, as we see in this latest report, losing more jobs than any other city in the country. And joining us now is the Mayor of Windsor, Eddie Francis. Mayor, pretty tough times. Can you give us kind of a thumbnail sketch of what’s going on in your city? What has happened? Have people lost hope? Are people leaving town? How’s everyone coping with all this?

[Not a very good image for our City when we are trying to attract people to come here. Lost hope, leaving, sounds like we are suicidal here!]

MAYOR FRANCIS: Well it’s good to be with you. I think it’s important to recognize that this is not something that just happened overnight. For the past several years, the city has been struggling to meet the challenge of the decline in manufacturing. And with manufacturing declining and with automotive plants and parts suppliers closing, it’s had a significant impact. So for the past several years, we’ve had to be dealing with a very high, if not the highest unemployment rate in Canada.

[It is not as if this just happened or was cyclical as Eddie once claimed. What bothers me so much is that we knew there were big problems coming and we did NOTHING to try to diverisfy when times were good. Now, we are desperate because of our dependence on the auto industry and yet we are fighting private enterprise and the Governments who want to invest billions here. And why, for what reason? Please, I do not want to hear the dying and health and kids BS that has been and will be spewed for months out of City Hall.]

And obviously we’ve undergone and begun to undergo our transition, diversifying our economy. Parts suppliers that were once a hundred percent supplying the automotive industry have now taken their products to the aerospace industry.

[ he kidding! I have written about this before. Go on the WEDC website and see who is involved in aerospace in Windsor.]

Workers that were on the lines producing minivans and producing cars for GM and Ford, are now back in the university, back in the college updating their skills.

[True. Enrolment at St. Clair is very high.
  • "The economic downturn gets the credit for a huge increase in enrollment at St. Clair College. Student registration has jumped nearly 24% over last year. College spokesperson, Anne Hetherington, says many of those enrolled have been laid off and are re-training for a career in a different field.

Once they graduate though, where will the people work in Windsor]

Other sectors of our economy, the tourism sector, has tried to pick up with a new $500 million Caesars Casino Convention Centre and Entertainment Centre. Those new, those new facilities, a new engineering school, all of those new facilities were signs of a transition. However, despite the best efforts, the recent economic crisis has compounded the issue, and like every other city we’re trying to deal with it as best as we can.

[Tourist volumes are down by huge numbers given the gigantic drop in car traffic and bus numbers. The Engineering know how critical I am of his role in that fiasco. He is taking credit now for a project that he tried to hurt.]

ANNOUNCER: Mm-hmm. As you say, your troubles began a long time ago with the downturn in the auto industry. Give us some idea of how big a hole the downturn blew in your city.

[Rub it in talking about how long we have been in trouble and our civic leaders have not dealt with the propblem]

MAYOR FRANCIS: Well historically, the City of Windsor, because of our dependence on manufacturing and because of our location as a border city and our deep roots to the big three, historically we’ve been known and described as the first city in and the first city out. So as a result, for the past three years we’ve lost a significant amount of jobs up to 20,000 jobs in the automotive manufacturing parts supplier industry. And to describe what that means to the rest of the economy it’s important to understand and accept the fact that each automotive job, each automotive pay cheque creates and has a direct benefit or indirect benefit to seven and a half other jobs. So when that automotive worker loses their pay cheque, it affects daycares, it affects the mom and pop operations, it affects retail and it creates this crisis of confidence and certainly made no easier with the past several months and the discussion with regards to loan guarantees for the big three. All of that I think is now shaping to, shaping the discussion both in Ontario and across Canada and that is that our economy is in trouble and it is affecting the behaviour of individuals and the spending power of individuals.

[It's ok though. Eddie sent a letter to the PM and got a personal 10 minute phone call back. Too bad that he had to miss the Premier's visit and did not appear at the pre-Budget meeting held by the Minister of Finance. We lost 20,000 jobs. Too bad that Eddie has to "irritate" the Senior Levels and the Bridge Company rather than negotiate with them because that is the number of jobs we would get back if the border projects are started. We would have a real safety net as we transitioned to our new economy.

Unfortunately, Eddie needs a few more weeks to harangue us over the health issues and stop homes being demolished on Indian Road. Those are his priorities.]

ANNOUNCER: Speak to us a little bit, when you say about the behavior of individuals. You know one of the great tragedies in the Atlantic Region for many years was that young people, if you wanted to get ahead, if you wanted a job, if you wanted to start a career, many people felt they had to leave their homes, go some place else to get established. Are you getting that sense now that maybe you’re about to lose your young people?

[Now we are compared with the Maritimes. It's to bad that the announcer did not ask if our young people were "Going down the road!"]

MAYOR FRANCIS: I think for the past couple of years when we were the only city going through the difficult challenge and the economic challenges that we were facing, that was a reality that we were facing. Fortunately for us we have a great university, a great college that has done and picked up the slack in terms of keeping them here and now when the young individuals in our community are looking to other opportunities across Canada and they find that other cities are experiencing the same thing that we’re experiencing, they’re realizing that the best place for them is here at home where the cost of living is affordable, cost of transportation’s affordable and there are more opportunities for them being located here as a border city.


Only recently, Eddie was taking credit for setting up the system to allow people to commute out West (even though his assistant said that they were just at the beginning after so many months of inaction). Clearly, Francis did nothing on this project, dumb as it was in the first place. Another example of our Mayor merely talking and burying his head in the sand and hoping it all works itself ut because he is incapable of dealing with the situation. Can you imagine if someone relied on him to set up this program how they would feel now.


Having said all that, the crisis of confidence is something that you see across Canada and across the United States. And that’s why you have governments in Ottawa and Washington and across the world looking at ways to stimulate the economy. Looking at ways to put dollars into the economy so as to put more money into the hands of people so that they [silence]….

[Not even the CTV lines could take any more of this. I know exactly how the transmission lines felt after listening to Eddie.]

ANNOUNCER: Well, very sorry about that. That was the Mayor of Windsor, Eddie Francis. We just apparently lost the line. That was not tape, the line freezes up like that. Anyway, Mr. Mayor, Eddie Francis, good luck in Windsor Sir, and we appreciate your taking the time to speak to us today.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Energy, transport top list of infrastructure projects

Yup, we really are important

  • From Canwest News:

    OTTAWA - The energy and transportation sectors are on top of a new ranking of Canada's biggest infrastructure projects for 2009 that estimates $61 billion in public and private capital investments will soon be pumped into the country's economy for construction.

    The ranking of the top 100 infrastructure projects, obtained by Canwest News Service, shows a wide-range of multimillion- and multibillion-dollar projects, with more than a third scheduled to be completed in 2009.

    81. Windsor Gateway Project. Capital cost: $128 million. Windsor, Ont.

What happened to the multi-billions?

Where's Dionne Warwick When You Really Need Her

I wish that one of the religious leaders who offers a prayer at the beginning of the Council meetings would also offer up a prayer for taxpayers rather than just for the Mayor and Council. We need help as well.

You see, taxpayers are going to have to open up their wallets again for the next anti-DRIC advertising bonanza and to be told that we have a significant risk of dying. So much for the big story on the Senior’s initiative in the Star today:
  • “Council unanimously passed a series of motions that included launching a public information campaign regarding the DRIC health information, a demand for meetings with local MPPs Sandra Pupatello, Dwight Duncan and Premier Dalton McGuinty as well as an invitation to SENES -- the air quality consultant hired by DRIC -- to appear at council.”

Who the heck in the seniors community would want to move to this region after these scare stories? The better question to ask is who the heck wants to stay here!

What a bunch of petulant children. Making “demands” on the most senior politicians in the Province who control everything that this City does. How ridiculous. Compare that with the “invitation” offered to a DRIC consultant.

If you believe that the Province will knuckle under to this City, then you have a serious problem of being delusional. Before the Council meeting was started, DRIC sent out a Press Release that included the following:


    WINDSOR – The Detroit River International Crossing (DRIC) study team wants the public in Windsor and Essex County to know the facts about the technical reports that were submitted as part of the Environmental Assessment to the Minister of the Environment on December 31, in particular the reports on air quality and human health, as many questions have recently arisen on these topics…

    The air quality assessment completed for the DRIC study found that all options for the access road would have a similar impact on air quality and that, “the existing air quality is greatly influenced by local, regional, and long range (cross border) contaminants generated in upwind urban and industrial areas.” (DRIC Environmental Assessment Report, page 10-2) .In fact, a transboundary pollution study by the MOE indicates air quality episodes in Windsor are driven by transboundary pollution rather than by local sources. Moreover, predicted PM2.5 levels associated with The Windsor-Essex Parkway are not expected to
    exceed criteria levels in residential areas. Other sources of particulate include industry, agriculture, and construction sites. The air quality assessment also found that building The Windsor-Essex Parkway will improve overall air quality in comparison to building nothing at all. The greatest air quality benefit of The Windsor-Essex Parkway will be from the reduction in truck idling along the traffic corridor.

    A Human Health Risk Assessment was also undertaken using results from the air quality studies to determine the potential health effects for people living in the immediate area of the Recommended Plan, including The Windsor-Essex Parkway. The results of this analysis concluded:
    • The Recommended Plan does not increase the risk of cancer for local residents exposed to vehicular emissions.
    • The Recommended Plan does not result in an increased health risk in comparison to either the existing conditions or the future conditions that could be expected if the access road is not built. In fact the reduction of truck idling along the traffic corridor results in health benefits.”

That shows to me that DRIC does not intend to sit idly by but it also says to me that they intend to ignore City Council. Why not, they are irrelevant. Except to viewers of Cogeco and readers of the Star, the rest of the Province does not have a clue what is going on here nor do they care.

Just in case, dear reader, you do not trust what was said by DRIC, in 2004 that man of integrity, Gord and Eddie's bestest new buddy, Dr. Diamond of the MoE, said in relation to the Windsor crossing, which seems to me to support DRIC:

  • “During normal traffic movement (no delays), the average increase in particulate matter adjacent to the road was minimal.”

I have to admit that I don’t understand all the numbers going around but I also have to admit that I don’t understand how pollution will increase so dramatically when traffic numbers will obviously be significantly less than what DRIC projected for 2035. Moreover, with the changes in diesel fuel and on diesel engines, the amount of the pollutants should shrink dramatically. Why no one is talking about this, I just do not understand.

Tell me the truth. You did not watch the Estrin presentation at Council several weeks ago and you did not sit through about three hours of the presentation last night did you, dear reader. I will admit that I did not either. We both know that this is nothing more than a game. We are not expected to have listened to all of that but rather just to read the summary prepared by the Star.

Today, we are supposed to be very worried and so supportive of the Mayor because:

  • “Particulate pollution will nearly triple by 2035, causing a 2.5 per cent increase in the death rate in some areas close to a new border highway proposed by the provincial government, the city's environment consultants told council Monday.”

Quite a paragraph to start off your day and that of rich Seniors in Toronto.

Let us assume however that the Mayor may be correct in what he is saying. Where does that get us?

Obviously, the campaign is directed primarily at the Premier politically and at Dwight and Sandra secondarily.

Do you honestly believe that the Premier will back off based on what he said several weeks ago in Windsor that we need to move forward? Do you really think that he is going to be made the fool by the Mayor of a small town? Do you really believe that in a time of economic distress with every area of the Province demanding money that the City of Windsor will be given Greenlink?

The attack on the Federal Government has not come yet and Eddie is being so nice to the Prime Minister. The reason for that is that the Feds are the ones who going to put up at least half of the money and perhaps even more for the road to the border if the Province can convince them to do so. No point in attacking the people with the real money. At least not so far.

I hardly believe that the Conservatives are ever going to put in the kind of money required for Greenlink in an NDP area.

Everyone knows that Eddie will not do anything. He will not sue. He does not have the nerve. If he does sue, it is "Wink wink, I do not mean it." He is a WEAKLING after all. All talk, no action as was seen again last night.

He knows what would happen to him politically if the Senior Levels pull out and take the 20,000 jobs with them. His threats are nothing more than threats. He is bluffing. Did you see anything in the Resolution reported in the Star that talked about a lawsuit? In fact, didn’t the City’s lawyer say last night that judicial review was not the only alternative but that representations could be made to the Minister of the Environment.

Councillor Marra was correct again. Sorry Gord.

No, dear reader, the real risk to the Senior Levels is the Bridge Company and Eddie knows it. What they have to be concerned about is NOT Eddie but that Eddie and Estrin are giving them so much material to attack their Environmental Assessment that the Bridge Company actually will start a lawsuit over it. That is what Eddie is counting on. He expects the Bridge Company to save his bacon.

What I find very interesting however is that Eddie is locking himself into position where he must sue. He has no choice. The Bridge Company will play to their agenda not to his. With all of these attacks on DRIC and the pleas to save our children and to prevent people from dying what alternative does our Mayor have if no one listens to him? He must sue. Poor Eddie.

If Eddie sues, then the lawsuit and appeals will take years since this is such a complicated matter and so much technical evidence will have to be introduced. That does not help the region and create jobs.

Let’s assume however that the City wins. What is the result… the DRIC process must start all over again, or at the least, they must do an in depth analysis of Greenlink. How many years will that all take. That does not help the region and create jobs.

To be direct, with the fall in traffic, I could see the approach that a “do-nothing” solution might be satisfactory. It saves the Senior Levels billions. That hardly helps the region and creates jobs.

Alternatively, I could also see a situation take place here as took place in Sarnia where the Province refuses to do an environmental assessment on their new road to the border and we could get an at grade or perhaps a below grade non-Schwunnelled road to the border. We lose again.

In other words, by litigating, Eddie will give us the worst of all possible solutions. We are better off now even if there are some imperfections.

Never fear however, dear reader, there is a strategy behind all this. It is no coincidence that the DRIC matter and the Bridge Company matter were both heard at the same time by Council. You see they are both tied in together.

The strategy that is taking place is the Hamilton strategy against the Federal Government developed by Estrin except there is no lawsuit here as there is there that has been ongoing for years. The intention of the Mayor is to be an irritant and to annoy everyone. The game is to threaten the lawsuit not the lawsuit itself because that will cause a delay and that costs money.

How many years would it take the Bridge Company to appeal to the Ontario Municipal Board or to the Divisional Court for judicial review? I already discussed this in relation to the DRIC road. Moreover, since the DRIC road and the new P3 bridge are part of the same EA, the new bridge is in jeopardy.

Both the Bridge Companay and the Senior Levels have cause for financial concern due tp Eddie even if he loses in the end. And he has little personal risk he thinks because it is taxpayer money that funds all of this, not his personal cash.

Some people are going to have to make some decisions pretty soon. Is it worthwhile giving in to the Mayor’s demands whatever they are, and we do not know because we have never been told by this secretive City? After all, what’s another few hundred million dollars in a $5 Billion plus DRIC project. How much will the Bridge Company be willing to suffer at the hands of the City even though the City does not have much of a legal position?

So relax. Your only concern now is to shovel the snow and to keep warm in the subzero temperatures over the next few days. All of this waste of taxpayer money is designed to pressure the Bridge Company and the Senior Levels. And do not worry too much, since the Detroit Grand Prix has been cancelled, we can use that money for all of this extravaganza.

This is a bunch of amateurs, the Mayor and Council, negotiating a big deal. You know how successful they have been in the past in hammering out major deals.

They are way out of their league. Trouble is, they are so arrogant, they have not yet understood that if they have guessed incorrectly, then Windsor is really doomed. What a legacy to leave.

Darn, I think I missed Dionne Warwick. Wasn't she supposed to be at the Casino entertaining. Had I met her, I would have asked her to

"say a little prayer for me."

And for you too, dear reader!

The End Of Our New Retirement Community Initiative

Honestly, I feel sorry for the Windsor-Essex Regional Chamber of Commerce, Greater Windsor Home Builders' Association and Windsor Essex County Real Estate Board. All of their efforts down the drain, in the toilet! They literally have been killed off before they even got started.

Their idea was an interesting one. They started up the concept called the Windsor-Essex Active Retirement Community Initiative
  • “a not-for-profit cooperative marketing partnership. Our mission is to attract investment, create new jobs and revitalize the real estate market throughout Windsor-Essex by building on the region's growing development of active retirement luxury properties and services, and by promoting the unique location, diverse lifestyle and quality amenities of its nine communities.”

You remember we are going to attract all those rich Torontonians and others who had lots of money who would come down to this region to retire. It made good sense. As an example, selling a home in Toronto, even with the decline in the real estate market, meant that a seniors couple could buy an equivalent home here at a much lower price, or perhaps even a condo on the new Canal, and have more than a few dollars in their pocket left over to live very well.

Forget about the fact that we do not have enough doctors for the time being. I am sure that all of our problems in that regard will be solved by our new Medical school. Okay, so I am dreaming.

Picture this… a husband and wife decide that they want to retire shortly and so go on the Internet to do a survey about where they might want to relocate. They think of Windsor because they had seen the wonderful booklet produced and distributed through the Windsor Star.

They know that the weather is good here because we have an extra long spring and fall in this part of the Province. They know as well that we are right across the River from a major metropolitan city in the United States. Everyone knows that the cost of living down here is pretty good as well. We have the advantages of Canada and the advantages of the United States, the best of both worlds.

They go to the website which is very well done and follow the links so they get a better appreciation of this region. Imagine how excited they are. Really, what other location could be better.

Just before they decide to drive down here to investigate first-hand and perhaps even put a downpayment on a new residence, they do one last search on Google to see what they can find. Here are some of the things they may see:

  • “It's going to be rough. We are in deep s**t. It will catch up to us and have a significant impact," said Francis...

    Financial markets are crumbling. And guess who's left on Main Street to deal with all these issues? The taxpayer," said Francis...”

  • “The reality is that without immediate action by the Government of Canada and the Province of Ontario, this country and this province will lose a city,” Francis said in letters to the prime minister and premier…

    Francis said “the combined loss, and impact on the community, will be staggering.

    “At this stage, a refusal by the federal and provincial government to act is nothing less than a decision to allow the death of a community.”

Can you imagine the sweat that is now coming out on the brows of these two people? They are looking at each other saying

  • “What were we thinking?”

What they are being told by our Mayor is to expect higher taxes in a community that may be dead economically even if the automobile industry recovers. I would expect that they would start to wonder whether this would be a good area to come and buy a new house and to live comfortably as they grow older notwithstanding the pluses.

Then the pièce de résistance, the ultimate statement by our Mayor which they might find on the video on the Windsor Star website:

  • “Again, I think that has been the fundamental issue. It is not an issue of want, it is not an issue of need. It is an issue of fairness and quality. Our residents, their lives and the quality of life they lead should be of equal value for all residents across Ontario and across this country. This very report, this Human Health Assessment report, clearly identifies that Health Canada has already done a study that indicated that Windsor has higher rates when it comes to cancer, when it comes to cardio-vascular issues, when it comes to health affects as a result of air pollution. This report clearly identifies that in 2035 that we are going to continue to suffer high rates as it relates to respiratory issues, as it relates to exposure to particulate matter, as it relates to chronic lung issues, as it relates to cancer. We are not asking for something we want, for something we need. We are asking for the insurance that the residents of Windsor are valued the same way that the residents of Ontario and Canada.”

He looks at her. She looks at him. High taxes, a dead City, cancer, cardiovascular issues, air pollution, respiratory issues, exposure to particulate matter, chronic lung issues. The Mouse pointer goes to the “X” in the top right corner of the Retirehere website, there is a click and that is the end of the Windsor as a possibility.

Do we have big issues in Windsor? Of course we do as do other areas across the country.

Is there the need to make a point with the Senior Levels? Of course there is in order for us to get our fair share.

Do we need hyperbole or exaggeration which makes a good headline or a sound bite for a short-term political advantage but which will turn around and hurt us when we try to move forward? Of course we do not.

We do not need a Mayor who slams naysayers and yet is the biggest naysayer of all for this Region. Our Mayor needs to start thinking before he starts talking any more.

Fortunately for us, if our Mayor keeps his promise, he will only be a two-term Mayor. Unfortunately for us, his words on the Internet may be around and continue to haunt us for a very long time.

Monday, January 12, 2009

BLOGEXCLUSIVE: Was There Ever Any Money To Do The Tunnel Deal

Did the City of Windsor ever have $75M to do the Tunnel deal with Detroit in the past? If not, has Infrastructure Ontario now put up that amount so that all that must happen is that the Mayor of Detroit calls our Mayor to start up the deal-making again? If not, why has almost $2M been spent in legal and other fees by taxpayers? If not, what is the purpose for all of this? More importantly, who knew what and when!

Keep on reading. You will see documents you have never seen before that will shock you and will lead to questions for which you, dear reader, ought to be demanding immediate answers from our City leaders. No excuses. Truthful answers only. Right away.

Councillors Halberstadt and Marra may be prepared to wait for a year or so for answers from our Mayor/Chair of the Tunnel Commission but we ought not to do so. It is time that they got some guts and started demanding answers to their questions on the Tunnel deal!

They and their colleagues cannot be so weak any more. Windsor cannot afford it. Halberstadt and Marra must ask their questions again publicly at Council on Monday and demand that Eddie provide the answers on the spot. They must not let him off the hook.

Heaven forbid, it looks like the Tunnel deal may be started up again. Oh my aching wallet, more money to be spent unless this thing can be stopped right away.

I note in the Detroit media that:
  • “Other issues ahead for the [Detroit] council include:

    • The city's deficit, which could be as high as $300 million. Cockrel's staff said recently that a deficit elimination plan could be submitted to the City Council within the next two weeks. Layoffs and proposed sales of multiple city assets, such as the Detroit/Windsor Tunnel, are expected to be core components."

  • “City Councilwoman Barbara-Rose Collins said fixing the mess will require measures she once opposed, such as selling Cobo Center to a regional authority and the city's half of the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel.”

In addition, here is some frightening news that scares the heck out of me when thinking about the transaction. Can you imagine now if the deal had been signed. Guess whose head would be on the block and who would be blamed:

  • Detroit, in financial crisis, can look to San Diego

    Extracting Detroit from a junk bond credit rating will require difficult, painful steps to finally balance the city's budget and untangle its financial records, government and financial officials said Wednesday…

    Standard & Poor's downgraded Detroit's rating Tuesday...

    The downgrade carries severe consequences for the city. Besides higher interest rates on the city's debt, depriving the budget of money to fund services to residents, it also could force the city to pay $400 million to investors with certain deals with the city.

    Those deals enabled the city to get a lower interest rate on certain debt -- with the catch that if the city fell into junk bond status, it would have to repay whatever savings it derived from the lower rate, an amount estimated at $400 million.

    Daniel Cherrin, spokesman for Mayor Ken Cockrel Jr., said the city is consulting with its financial advisers and attorneys about the downgrade and is putting together a plan to avoid having to pay the sum, which experts say could force the city into bankruptcy.”

Some very tough questions need to be asked on both sides of the river and the questions that need to be answered forthwith.

The assumption on the Detroit side seems to be that Windsor is still in a position to do a deal with them. After reading this BLOG, someone on the Detroit Council or their Mayor needs to ask Eddie Francis exactly how much money Windsor has been offered by Infrastructure Ontario to complete this transaction with Detroit. I would be very surprised if the amount is anywhere near what Detroit thinks it is.

From Windsor’s perspective, someone on Council needs to ask the Mayor why the City should enter into a transaction with Detroit. It is one of only five cities in the United States who “have junk bond credit ratings from Standard & Poor's” and whose deficit is at least $300 million, a 50% increase from the amount that the former Mayor was dealing with. Why do we want to do a loan transaction with a city that is verging on bankruptcy and whose rating has just been downgraded?

Infrastructure Ontario needs to be asked by politicians at Queen’s Park why they would even consider such a transaction when Ontario has its own infrastructure problems. Someone needs to ask the question whether money is still available knowing that is going to a City in the United States in financial crisis and that Windsor is facing severe economic problems that could also result in a default in the transaction.

Taxpayers need to demand that Windsor Councillors stop this madness right away and if not why not! We ought not be paying any more money in legal and other fees. Almost $2 million is enough already.

What did we get for that money and was it worth it? You may get pretty angry by the time you reach the end of this BLOG so make sure that you do not have any hot liquids near you that may spill over. I do not want it to be responsible for you getting burned.

If one goes by success, then this was another failure by the Mayor. It shows that he is incapable of executing a transaction. Unfortunately, there is nothing to show for the $1.7M since no deal was completed with Detroit.

However, there seems to be a silver lining to justify this spending although it is hard for me to understand the comment of Council Valentinis:

  • "But unfortunately when you are trying to protect your interests it simply becomes necessary."

Eddie repeated the comment by saying:

  • "The costs incurred are necessary in order to protect the asset."

On Face-to Face, Eddie said:

  • "For us, the driving, the driver force, the driving force behind the discussions was that we cannot afford to have this entity, the American half fall into private hands because of the…consequences.

Can somebody please explain to me how spending all that money achieved the result of protecting the asset? The deal had nothing to do with Windsor's asset----it all had to do with Detroit's asset. Nothing has changed after spending $1.7M except taxpayer money has been wasted. Even after the deal was done, Detroit could still sell the asset. Windsor was NOT buying it.

Presumably, the asset is still available to a third party if someone wanted to get control of Detroit’s half of the Tunnel. In that respect, Valentinis and Francis still do not understand that they have failed to protect at all. In fact, I would not be surprised to see it being offered by Detroit as collateral for Detroit creditors with credit swap agreements given their extra $400M exposure because their credit rating dropped.

Oh I do remember the comment about someone cementing up the Tunnel. That took a very fertile imagination to think that someone would spend millions and then destroy the asset. At least now our Mayor has condemned P3 investors so we know that we will never get a P3 DRIC bridge in Windsor because the Mayor will use all of his resources to adamantly oppose it:

  • "He reiterated his concern that investors such as Ambassador Bridge owner Matty Moroun or private infrastructure funds could make a bid to take control of the Detroit side of the tunnel."

Poor Eddie, he just cannot get the Bridge Company Owner out of his mind! He is so fixated on him.

I do have a bit of trouble understanding the mathematics of the legal fees. I know it is a minor detail but it is those minor details that interest me. The Star story claimed:

  • "Legal fees have risen about $375,000 since March, when the city said it had been billed $1.3 million by lawyer Cliff Sutts, according to a report prepared by Mark Galvin, executive director for the tunnel commission."

However, in a previous Star story, the following was written:

  • "Legal fees hit $1.2M in city's tunnel talks
    Windsor Star 04-05-2008

    The city has spent $1.2 million in legal fees to date as it attempts to negotiate a deal with Detroit over control of the U.S. side of the Windsor-Detroit tunnel."

So which is it? Is it $1.3 million in March or $1.2 million in April? Surely if they cannot do the mathematics on this, one has to question the mathematics of their business case, especially since they seemingly forgot that, if the DRIC bridge is built, the comment was made that about 25% of the Tunnel traffic would be lost.

Do you remember what Cliff Sutts said:

  • "Residents and council in Windsor will soon be privy to more details of the multimillion-dollar transaction, Sutts said."

How many months ago was that? Apparently that "soon" may take much longer than I thought. As you will see below, I asked under a Freedom Of Information Application for certain documents to be disclosed by Infrastructure Ontario. Some "third party" opposed the release. Now I have to appeal and that will take months for a decision.

You see I had some questions:

  • How much was the City going to receive from Infrastructure Ontario as a loan, $75M or less and if less, how much less

  • If the amount was less than $75 million, why would Eddie want to go on with the transaction when that amount might not solve Detroit’s budget woes

  • Did Eddie tell anyone about the amounts he was going to be loaned and if so whom

  • When was the Infrastructure Ontario transaction put on hold and who was told that and when

  • What does the new Mayor of Detroit know about the amount of the loan that Windsor was to receive?

The most simple transactions in Windsor seem to be complicated all out of proportion as they move along. I am not sure of the reason for it but given the experience of contract negotiations in Windsor on a major transactions, every time one happens it makes me nervous.

Why am I asking these questions?

The Blogmeister has found through the FOIA directed to Infrastructure Ontario some startling new documents that demand an answer from our Mayor. I was advised recently that Infrastructure Ontario has refused to provide certain other documentation and a key piece of information because a "third party" has refused to allow the information to be released to me.

Since the only parties who could be involved in the document request were the City of Windsor, Windsor's new Tunnel Corporation and Infrastructure Ontario, I am certain that you can make an assumption about who the third parties were who refused permission to release the information.

To me, it is shocking since the "old" Transaction is over and done with as the Detroit Mayor has stated yet the "third party" still wants to keep the materials hidden. I cannot think of a reason why it should continue to do so. The "third party" believes I am told that to give out this information would weaken its position.

However, as was said in the Star story:

  • "Francis said he does not anticipate additional legal fees related to the tunnel talks in the near future.

    Valentinis hoped the legal fees were nearing the "tail end."

It is important first that you take a look at the key documents. I will comment on each.

This first document is interesting because it suggests early on that Infrastructure Ontario might have a problem with the transaction and so sought the support of the Ministry of Transportation, the DRIC Road people.

One can wonder whether there has been some wheeling and dealing with respect to the DRIC/Greenlink issue that may result in a payment perhaps from the Province so that the Tunnel deal can be done. If Eddie gives up on Greenlink after being made to appear as our Saviour as an example, would he get money from the Province for the Tunnel deal? Who knows? Mind you, $75 million is mere chicken feed in a $5 billion plus DRIC transaction.

Note that part of the document has been "redacted." Must be something really serious there. The key point to notice is that Infrastructure Ontario would not make a loan for the purposes of making a loan. In other words, neither the City nor the New Tunnel Corporation could borrow money and then immediately loan it to the City of Detroit for its half of the Tunnel.

That may explain why the Loan Application was made by the Tunnel Corporation to acquire the Canadian half of the Tunnel from the City and it was then going to pay off part of its promissory note to the City for $75M. Presumably then, the City was going to turn around and loan the money to Detroit.

One may question whether this transaction was possible at all since it was doing indirectly what could not be done directly. Moreover, there is a question in my mind whether the City of Windsor, if that is how the transaction was going to be structured, has the municipal power to loan money to a foreign city. I am not certain if the Regulations passed previously by the Province contemplated this type of a transaction. It may therefore be one that the City cannot entertain.

Now we are getting to the nitty-gritty. Note the important piece of information that was redacted again.


Presumably, that amount was not $75 million or the letter would have been drafted to say that. It sets out how much money was being asked for. There would be no reason to set out a range of amounts if the full amount was to be loaned. If $75 million had been granted, then there would be no reason for "the third party" not to allow that amount to be disclosed. After all, there would be nothing to hide.

Shall we assume therefore that the amount was less and perhaps significantly less than what was asked for? If you will remember, I did a BLOG on this and speculated that the range might be around $15-20 million or so. Was I right or wrong? Unfortunately until the Privacy Commission appeal takes place, probably four to six months from now, we will not know assuming that I am successful. Otherwise we will never know until Cliff Sutts tells us.

The final document is interesting because it now appears that MTO is the party that may have an interest in the Tunnel deal. It also appears that the loan application to Infrastructure Ontario was put on hold pending further direction from the Tunnel Corporation.

In passing, what is very strange to me is that there is no documentation in writing between the City and Infrastructure Ontario putting this transaction officially on hold in July. This is the most bizarre way for government entities to act on a $75 million transaction. There may be a reason for this but frankly I don't understand it. Perhaps the Auditor General better see how Infrastructure Ontario carries on business.

From these documents, we can see that there seemed to be a question whether Infrastructure Ontario could do the transaction at all, and that might be why MTO was involved. The assumption that I am making is that the amount of the loan that Infrastructure Ontario was prepared to make was less than the $75 million asked for. My assumption again is that the amount would be significantly less or why else would the transaction be put on hold at this time.

The fundamental question that I have is why this transaction went forward and negotiations continued if the amount was less than the $75M. Why was time and money being wasted? Was the deal on or off?

If the deal was on hold in May, why was Windsor Council only "stepping back" in July? If it was "on hold," why were there negotiations and over what? When did negotiations actually cease. We do know that there were actions on the transaction until around the end of July at least.

I do not understand why negotiations would continue if the $75 million was not going to happen? Detroit needed that amount of money. Why were legal costs incurred from May to July?

As I said, it appears from the Infrastructure Ontario records that this deal was put on hold at the end of May. If that is the case, then why did it take so long for Windsor Council to know that? It appears that it was not until mid-July that Council made the decision to put the transaction on hold. And yet, there were still negotiations but in secret as my previous BLOGs set out.

Was Council ever told that Infrastructure Ontario was only prepared to extend a loan of less than $75 million and was Council told the exact amount? Note that Mr. Sutts said he had authority to continue speaking with Detroit officials. Were Windsor Councillors told for example that Detroit would take less? Otherwise, why would they want legal fees to keep on being incurred if the deal could not go forward?

Here is what I wonder now. Does the City of Detroit know that Infrastructure Ontario may have offered less? It would seem to me that if their deficit is about $300 million and that they think that they are going to get a significant amount of that from the City of Windsor transaction, then they are in for a big surprise.

Wouldn’t you expect that Eddie would tell the new Administration in Detroit what was going on? After all,

  • "Francis also said he has a good relationship with U.S. attorney Saul Green, who on Wednesday was named Detroit deputy mayor.

    Francis said they previously worked at different offices of the same law firm."

We need answers and we need answers now. There is no reason to keep secret the amount of the Infrastructure Ontario loan any longer. If it is less than $75 million, Detroit will hear about it sooner rather than later once negotiations start again if they ever start.

Do the Councils of both cities know what the amount of the Infrastructure Ontario range is? If so, why is that information being kept from citizens on both sides of the river?

Who knew what and when? This is a $75 million transaction that makes no sense on the face of it especially given the huge amount of the legal bill. This secrecy is shameful and a disgrace. What took place between March or April and today that justifies an increase in legal fees of anywhere from $375,000-$500,000.

In a different context in this strange file, Cliff Sutts stated:

  • "We feel it's necessary to put the record straight...

    We feel we need to reveal the facts...

    The facts are the facts -- and they can't change them."

I agree. I trust on Monday our Council will ensure that Windsorites get the facts!