Alan Halberstadt

Alan Halberstadt

Alan Halberstadt is a career journalist who served on Windsor City Council for 17 years before deciding not to run for re-election in 2014. Alan Halberstadt believes all businesses share a common interest in how governments spend tax dollars. The emphasis of his columns is to expose and comment on the political gymnastics and taxation excesses of bureaucracies. As a former Windsor City Councillor he has a particular insight on how local municipal governments function or not.
Rick Spencer

Engineer Spencer Convinced Hospital Figures Altered

“Recommendations and costs were misrepresented,” says Rick Spencer. Photo courtesy of R.C. Spencer Associates Inc.

Engineer Spencer Convinced Hospital Figures Altered

After three years of punting the can down the road over the baffling selection of the urban sprawl location for the proposed $2 billion acute care mega-hospital for Windsor Essex, nagging doubts persist.

They come in the form of a letter written by consulting engineer Rick Spencer, dated January 25, 2016, to GEM Properties Inc.

GEM, an amalgam of five low profile property owners headed by George Papp of Papp Plastics, commissioned R.C. Spencer Associates Inc. to review an analysis of the facts and figures he previously submitted to the Site Selection Committee of Windsor Regional Hospital on behalf of the two short-listed proponents.

The purpose of re-deploying Spencer was to support an injunction, filed by GEM December 22, 2015, to halt a $6 million sale of a farmer’s field site on County Road 42, and a $10 million lawsuit against Windsor Regional, disputing the fairness and integrity of the verdict by the 11 person site selection committee.

The injunction was subsequently dropped and the lawsuit settled after the hospital chilled its foes by bringing in big legal guns from Toronto to escalate litigation costs well above the means and will of the GEM partners.

The earnest group also didn’t want to jeopardize the chances of Windsor Essex getting the hospital, as suggested by Windsor Regional CEO David Musyj.

Spencer’s letter vigorously disputed comments from hospital officials presented as facts, in a January 8, 2016 Windsor Star article, to justify the choice of the O’Keefe property, the bean field on County Road 42, over the fully-serviced GEM property at the east Windsor confluence of Tecumseh Road and Lauzon Parkway.

He concluded the numbers were skewed, underscoring suspicions that somebody from above tampered with the figures of a complex 32 criteria scoring system.

GEM was ranked the best site out of 22 applicants in the first phase of the competition. When price of the land was factored in, accounting for 30 percent of the final score, the O’Keefe property jumped ahead because its land was $1.6 million cheaper.

That’s peanuts,” Spencer told me, referring to the $1.6 million when compared to the huge cost advantages of the GEM site identified in his original April 16, 2015 reports on behalf of GEM and O’Keefe.

We were advised at the Phase 2 Site Selection Committee meeting that Stantec Consulting would review all reports to ensure consistency with the cost estimates submitted and would liaise directly with our firm to obtain agreement on same,” Spencer wrote in his four page letter to the GEM officials.

Spencer claims that consultation never happened, despite altered calculations and excluded known taxpayer costs from the final Phase 2 site evaluation that crowned the O’Keefe property the winners.

Spencer told me he was originally advised by Stantec that they were in agreement with his cost analysis, which determined there was only a minor external cost ($20,000 for a lift pump station) assessed to the in-fill GEM site, since sanitary sewers, water mains, hydro and gas servicing and ample back-up feeds have long been in place.

Yet, the Windsor Star article, gleaned from a news conference attended by Musyj on January 7, 2016, stated that the infrastructure costs directly tied to the hospital site at County Road 42 would be less than the cost for the GEM site.

That’s nonsense,” Spencer told me. “The O’Keefe site external costs included the extension of almost two kilometres of a 300 mm diameter water main and an ‘external’ outfall sewer to the Little River watercourse,” he wrote in his letter.

 He continues, “The external cost was $580,000 more for the O’Keefe site (than the GEM site) and it did not include any allowance for hydro distribution upgrades or plant extension if required.”

Transportation is the second major discrepancy in the comparative analysis.

There is no comparison between the two sites from the transportation perspective,” says Spencer flatly.

Firstly County Road 42 is a two lane arterial road that requires an estimated $25.7 million to upgrade to four lanes. By comparison, access to the GEM site is via Tecumseh Road which was recently upgraded to six lanes.

It appears they have changed the criteria provided in the RFP (Request For Proposals),” says Spencer.

The County Road 42 site was assigned a price of $100,000 per acre of land by the hospital consultants, plus extra costs estimated at $1.4 million, while the GEM site was asking $136,000 an acre plus $925,400 in extra costs.

The extra costs (assigned to GEM) are significantly more than our external services costing and should have been reviewed with our firm,” Spencer wrote in his letter.

I asked Spencer if he felt the final report was doctored, pardon the pun. “Certainly the results of the recommendations and costs were misrepresented,” he comments.

The hospital selection committee threw a couple of cost-crippling red herrings into the Phase 2 mix by including $26.9 million in upgrades to Tecumseh Road East to Banwell Road, and previously ignored Jefferson Boulevard, in the GEM calculations.

What does Jefferson have to do with anything?” asks a clearly rankled Spencer of the new requirement to upgrade Jefferson from two lanes to four. “Jefferson does not have arterial road status and is quite limited in length, i.e. E.C. Row Expressway to Tecumseh Road East, and does not have a full interchange at the Expressway.”

There is also no need to improve Tecumseh to Banwell, he adds, since any county traffic travelling westward to the GEM site can easily access it from E.C. Row and Lauzon Parkway.

Spencer says the Phase 2 costs of $26.9 million wrongly assigned to the GEM site for non-required access roads, plus the infrastructure needs not assigned to O’Keefe, easily offsets the $1.6 million O’Keefe advantage in the cost of the land.

All of this information and misinformation could be on the table when the province’s Local Planning Appeal Tribunal stages a case management conference in Windsor on March 30.

The Tribunal is investigating whether the city violated good provincial and municipal planning and anti-urban sprawl principles by rezoning the Country Road 42 site from agriculture to residential and institutional.

Eric Gillespie, Lawyer for Citizens for an Accountable Mega-hospital Planning Process (CAMPP), which opposes the bean field site, should have fertile ground if Spencer is asked to testify.

Notified of Spencer’s assertions in this column, Windsor Regional forwarded this statement: “The GEM lawsuit was unsuccessful in obtaining an injunction and also was withdrawn as a result of lacking any merit. This was stated from the start by Windsor Regional Hospital and confirmed by the end result. It (the Spencer letter) has been referred to on many occasions by the small group that opposes the project. It is old news that is of little value.”

I understand fireworks could erupt due to evidence permitted at the Tribunal hearings, although the bean field champions, perhaps unwisely, do not seem to be concerned.

Essex Terminal Railway Company

Essex Terminal Railway Strikes New Deal

Photo: ETR President Terry Berthiaume is proud of non-subsidized accomplishments. Photo courtesy of the Essex Terminal Railway Company.

Did Anybody Notice? Essex Terminal Railway CompanyStrikes New Deal With FCA

The Essex Terminal Railway Company (ETR) reminds me of the old fable, The Little Engine That Could.

The fictional engine lugging a trainload of toys up a steep hill, huffing and puffing, and repeating the refrain — “I think I can, I think I can,” demonstrates the value of optimism and hard work.

ETR, my modern day equivalent of The Little Engine That Could, was actually founded in 1902, long before the storybook by Author Watty Piper was published in 1930.

Rail line construction happened between 1902 and 1918, and ETR has been chugging along ever since as a switching or short-line railway that assists industry and major rail companies in coupling and uncoupling cargo cars efficiently. And in case you haven’t noticed, ETR has spread its wings.

Last year, in January of 2018, it purchased the barren brownfield property once occupied by the General Motors Transmission plant on the doorstep of ETR’s headquarters and main terminal at 1601 Lincoln Road in Windsor.

Without fanfare, it recently purchased two other small parcels and transformed the 46 acre brownfield into a huge parking lot, dubbed Motipark Automotive Storage. Most of the cars are Pacificas and Grand Caravans from the Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) assembly plant, less than a kilometre away.

How it happened is a reflection of the hard work and acumen of ETR President and CEO Terry Berthiaume and his management and ownership team.

“A couple of years ago, we were contacted by an offshore car manufacturer looking for a distribution centre on this side of the world,” explains Berthiaume.

The company was aware of ETR’s reputation for good service, right in the middle of North America, through mutual dealings in marine transportation.

The prospective partners entered into two years of negotiations, which ended when circumstances caused the offshore company to pull back.

“A lot of money, time and effort went into it,” says Berthiaume. “We realized it was a good idea.”

It turned out to be more than that.

“It was a eureka moment,” chimes in ETR Vice-President Tony De Thomasis.

ETR approached close neighbour Fiat Chrysler with the proposition of storing its products on the former GM property. FCA ultimately decided to move its distribution centre, adjacent to Home Depot on Provincial Road, to the infinitely more convenient locale.

ETR has spent in excess of $10 million to first rent, then purchase the property from investor group Orchard Heights Canada Company and get it ready to accommodate up to 5,300 bins, or vehicle parking spaces.

A new car repair facility, on Seneca Street between Kildare and Walker Roads, cost $1 million. Other improvements included landscaping, lighting, security cameras, fencing and drainage.

FCA saves copious fuel costs with the lot so much closer. So it’s environmentally friendly. And the short trip from the assembly plant lessens the chances of the new vehicles picking up nicks or malfunctions, says De Thomasis.

“It’s a win-win — good for us and good for FCA,” says Berthiaume. As well it is also good for nearby residents, since there is no real traffic congestion. Cars, transport trucks and rail cars stacked with vehicles enter and exit on remote Munsee Street off Walker Road.

ETR punches well above its weight. Its mainline stretches only 35 km and roughly parallels the Detroit River, from the east side of Windsor, through LaSalle and terminating in Amherstburg. The total track, including sidings and spurs, is 70 km.

The volume of cargo it moves in a year — 12,000 loaded rail cars — is spectacular for this unique short-line company with such a low public profile. While there is still romance in passenger train travel, there is little overtly sexy about a railway with a “Go Slow” safety policy that limits train speed to 15 km per hour.

Its value, however, to local customers engaged in the lumber, steel, agriculture, scrap metal, alcohol, and liquid petroleum gas industry sectors, is profound. ETR offers in-plant switching services to customers with trucks and rail cars clogging production processes. It reduces shipping costs, improves safety and increases efficiency and plant capacity.

ETR operates with only four regularly rebuilt locomotives, worth approximately $500,000 each. But, don’t be fooled. ETR and sister company Morterm Limited provide far reaching rail access from CN, CP and CSX railways to ships traversing the Great Lakes to load and unload cargo, connecting these customers to any point in the rail networks of North America.

Local industries served by ETR are: ADM Agri Ind. Border Reload Inc., Canadian Salt, Dainty Foods, Diageo Canada Inc., Hiram Walker (Penrod Ricard), K Scrap Resources, Petro Gas, and Plains Midstream Canada.

“There are a lot of spinoffs to big companies,” Berthiaume indicates. “A lot of industries depend on rail. ADM, Hiram Walker, Dainty Foods . . . they can’t operate without rail.”

“We’re not the kind of business that needs to be in the public eye,” adds Berthiaume when asked why ETR generally operates under the radar screen. “We advertise in trade magazines, to targeted audiences.” (Note: In these publications, ETR stresses its cost effectiveness to attract new business on the rail line).

In 1983, ETR merged with Morterm Limited, a full service marine terminal, under the corporate banner Essex Morterm Holding Company. That year there was a change in ownership with a private local investment group purchasing the company from Canadian Salt.

Morterm, located on Maplewood Drive in west Windsor, is a story in itself.

It was built in 1917 by U.S. Steel. A large portion of the docking facility was expanded using debris from the 1967 Detroit riots no less.

Today it is a thoroughly modern marine facility. It recently purchased $500,000 in state of the art lift truck equipment to accommodate the transport of cumbersome cargo, such as wind turbine components, across the country.

ETR is forever on the prowl for new business. One opportunity would be to attract a big manufacturer to redevelop 140 acres of land idled for five years with the closure of the Honeywell chemical plant in Amherstburg. ETR has a track there waiting to be reused.

Berthiaume is prideful of the fact that his company has never been subsidized by government. In fact, ETR and its sister companies pay an estimated $850,000 a year in municipal taxes while employing a dozen core staff and 60 employees during peak operations.

He allows that ETR might pursue tax deferment under the city’s Community Improvement Plan (CIP) as it explores other opportunities for converting brownfields.

With governments liberally tossing money around to private companies with little proof of sustainable payback, I can’t think of a more deserving recipient.

*If you have a comment on my opinion about this topic please post it below. If you have any questions I will try to answer them.

Floods Swim Upstream To Snare $151,000 Prize, City’s Multi-Residential Tax Grab Picks On The Little Guys, Dilkens Not “Mr. Popularity,” But Who Else Is There?, Final FINA Report Fuzzy On Cost Benefit Analysis, Windsor Airport: “Air Cargo City” So Far A Lot Of Hot Air, Premier Job Guarantees

Did City Pardon Penalties On Premier Job Guarantees?

Did City Pardon Penalties On Premier Job Guarantees?

Two issues ago (read here) I explained my travails in attempting to shed light on the sketchy operations of the aircraft Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul (MRO) facility that has occupied a $23 million, 144,000 square foot space on Windsor International Airport lands since it was constructed by the city and federal government, and opened in June of 2012.

Since the overriding rationale for spending gobs of taxpayer money was to create jobs in a new industry, it behooved me to unearth how many jobs have actually been created.

It turns out the city was hell bent on suppressing those numbers. Finally, through a ruling three years in the making, from the Municipal Freedom of Information and Protection Act Privacy Commission, the city was ordered to reveal covenants in the operating contract with service provider Premier Aviation to hire 100 full-time employees within the first year, 175 employees by the end of the second year and 325 by the end of the seventh year.

Premier paid $1 a year in rent for the first three years of operations, also revealed through an FOI request. My second request illuminated the information that Premier would be on the hook for $5,000 times the difference between the number of employees targeted and the actual number.

As explained in my September column, I subsequently asked the city’s FOI Coordinator to provide the number of employees hired by the service provider in year one and two and the number currently employed as the seventh year approaches in mid-2019.

I was told that Your Quick Gateway (YQG) was now handling airport FOI matters and to ask my questions of that corporate entity. I complied, asking concurrently that if Premier didn’t meet its job requirements how much has been paid to the city in penalties.

Prior to the 30 day deadline for responding to those questions, I received a letter from YQG CEO Carolyn Brown, dated September 5, 2018, denying the information on the grounds that the responsive records reveal information that is commercial or financial in nature, that was supplied in confidence, and that the prospect of disclosure gives rise to a variety of corporate harms that override the public’s right to know.

I hastily filed an appeal of that decision to the Privacy Commission in Toronto, with no chance of potential politically damaging information surfacing before the municipal election on October 22, 2018. Incumbent Mayor Drew Dilkens is Chair of the YQG board.

Then a bizarre thing happened on September 25, 2018. AAR Aircraft Services, the Illinois-based company that purchased the MRO business from Premier last fall, staged a one year birthday party for its employees inside the huge hangar.

The media was invited as well as Dilkens, but only a Biz X photographer showed up (see photo and story on page 10 of this issue). I later contacted Dianne Wright who issued the invitations as Manager of Human Resources for the company in Windsor. I found her to be a delightfully open person who spoke freely about the jobs situation.

She reported that there are roughly 70 employees on the day shift, and 30 on the afternoon shift ending at 11:45 p.m. She also had an explanation for snoops like me who drove around the parking lot this summer and counted less than 50 cars.

She explained that operations were halted for two months to accommodate training for skilled aviation mechanics as AAR sets up an in-house apprenticeship program. Over the summer, full time employees were sent to Trois-Rivières to work. AAR also purchased the Quebec sister company from Premier last year. Other Windsor employees took vacations during the down time.

Finding properly trained mechanics for aircraft MRO is a major struggle in the industry, and it haunted Premier.

St. Clair College partnered with Premier to host a 44 week aviation familiarity course that ended last fall, but due to high drop-out rates, only 12 to 15 of 36 projected graduates have wound up working on apprenticeships for AAR. The St. Clair training was funded by a $292,273 Canada-Ontario Job Grant.

Wright, a carryover from the old regime, can’t stress enough that Premier Aviation is “a different company” than AAR.

We are spending a lot of money on training and mentorship and recruiting co-op students right out of high school,” she says.

AAR has been on the Forbes “Best Employer List” for a mid-sized company. Information attained at the birthday party indicated the company hopes to eventually grow its Windsor workforce to over 300 by the year 2020.

At this writing, Wright said that five customers with multiple planes are being serviced with more expected. The facility, humming with activity as all new software systems are being installed, can handle six aircraft at a time.

It seems clear that Premier didn’t live up to expectations in Windsor in any way, and I suspect that this is a primary reason for the denial of my FOI request.

Brown, in her correspondence, notes that “third party interests may be affected and are given the opportunity to make representations about the release of the records.”

My FOI appeal asks if there is a new agreement with AAR that changes the employment guarantees, and further has AAR agreed to pick up any outstanding default payments? Finally, will AAR be required to fulfil the requirement of 325 full-time jobs by the end of the seventh year?

Wright states no-one from head office has told her about any obligation to employ 325 by a certain date. AAR head office Vice-President of Strategic Communications Kathleen Cantillon did not respond to phone and email messages from me asking for jobs and contract information in the summer.

It’s my guess that Premier didn’t meet the job covenants and the city pardoned the penalties as a reward for selling off its assets to AAR and getting a hair shirt off its back.

Meanwhile, Wright says AAR will soon be organizing an open house. Now that he’s safely re-elected, I’m sure Dilkens will show up with bells on and cameras popping.

*If you have a comment on my opinion about this topic please post it here under my column using Facebook comments.

Mega-Hospital Decision Not Over Until It’s Over

Mega-Hospital Decision Not Over Until It’s Over

Photo: Philippa von Ziegenweidt: sprawl mega-hospital foe. Photo courtesy of Howard Weeks.

Mega-Hospital Decision Not Over Until It’s Over

August 13-14, 2018. Mark it down in your diary. The momentous decision made by Windsor City Council that night (or more accurately early morning) could well reverberate negatively on our city for eons to come.
It was a record setting marathon mega meeting, ending at the ungodly hour of 2:42 a.m. that gave the green light to a $2 billion mega-hospital that looms as a mega mistake.

Council’s rezoning approval, with an 8-2 vote, despite vigorous protests of some 60 delegations, underscored Windsor’s pattern of chasing urban sprawl to the detriment of the downtown core.

Richard Peddie, the brilliant former CEO of Maple Leaf Sports Entertainment and a University of Windsor grad who now lives on Boblo Island, was not in attendance at the nine hour meeting, but he has capsulized a lot of citizen chagrin on social media.

The decision, he tweeted, “will add to the hollowing out of Windsor when it could be an investment that would add to the liveability of the downtown core . . . a decision that will hurt Windsor forever.”

Windsor Mayor Drew Dilkens, Windsor Regional Hospital kingpin David Musyj and former MPP turned mega hospital super hero Dave Cooke, would like us to believe it’s a done deal now that the city has agreed to the rezoning and to contribute a one percent levy, or $108 million over 14 years, for construction of the single-site acute care hospital which could leave the core bereft of 24 hour emergency hospital services.

Acute care will be lost at Windsor Regional’s Met Campus and Ouellette Campus (formerly Hotel Dieu) which are headed for the wrecking ball, as are the $18 million Cancer Centre at Met, built in 2005, and the $1.6 million Ronald McDonald House, just opened in 2016.

But wait! At this writing, a resolute band of opponents has vowed to appeal the decision to the province’s Land Use Planning Appeals Tribunal. The appellants, led by Citizens for an Accountable Megahospital Planning Process (CAMPP), will empty the tool kit to discredit the proposed location at County Road 42 and Concession 9, a stone’s throw on the Windsor side of the Tecumseh border.

Philippa von Ziegenweidt is the fearless leader of CAMPP who has absorbed belittling social media language and name calling from people in positions of power.

In my books, von Ziegenweidt has drawn ire because she hits a lot of nails on the head in a 50 page report she authored over the summer to debunk a sleep-inducing 522 page report, plus appendices, from the city’s planning department.

In recommending approval of the rezoning amendment for the Sandwich South Secondary Plan and hospital land rezoning, City Planner Thom Hunt agreed with Musyj’s high-priced Toronto lawyers and planning consultants that the plan met all requirements of the city’s Official Plan and the Ontario Planning Policy.

Von Ziegenweidt, a physician’s wife with an accounting background who is doing all of her advocacy for free, concludes that the city’s rationale for paving over farmland next to an airport is “shockingly and wildly inaccurate” relying on decade-old reports to create an overly optimistic population and job growth scenario.

The city has coveted the development of 400 hectares of farmland since it was annexed from Essex County in 2003.

The secondary plan, approved in August, calls for commercial and residential development on the property, as well as the mega-hospital as the anchor.

Von Ziegenweidt and others discredit the city’s long-term estimate that new houses will be needed for 7,134 people through 2036 and space for 6,880 new jobs.

Stephen Kapusta, who worked for the city for nearly 10 years from 2001 to 2011 as a transportation planner and planning policy expert, made a submission to CAMPP that reinforces von Ziegenweidt’s view that the city’s population and jobs projections for 20 years and beyond, are not rooted in reality.

“Any population projection over five years is pie in the sky,” Kapusta told me. Kapusta is supportive of the secondary plan, minus the proposed hospital.

The city is trying to justify the spending of mega millions on infrastructure, over and above the mega-hospital construction costs, to develop the fallow and unserviced 400 hectares. It is estimated that Windsor taxpayers will be on the hook for some $220 million of that portion. The city and county will also be responsible for $236 million for furniture and equipment.

City Council recently jacked up its development charges in a move to have developers pay for farmland growth, but it could actually backfire. Facing charges four times the rates of Tecumseh, developers of residential subdivisions may chose to build across the shared border in Tecumseh, and the anticipated cost recovery for Windsor taxpayers would disappear.

The city’s plan is fatally flawed because it is utterly devoid of any economic impact analysis on the downtown. Windsor Regional Hospital is the city’s second highest employer next to Fiat Chrysler.
The existing acute care hospitals employ nearly 4,000 workers, not including some 400 physicians.

Most of these high-paid jobs and physician clinics would naturally migrate, along with their taxes, to live and do business in the sprawl area on the border of Essex County, creating a donut. If you think downtown is barren now, wait until the mega-hospital moves out, one prominent commercial real estate agent told me.

The city recently identified 700 vacant properties, and the sprawl move would kneecap the city’s Community Improvement Plan (CIP) for the downtown area.

Another fly in the ointment could be the lack of consultation with the Aboriginal communities in the region. The Ontario Planning Policy and Windsor’s Official Plan specify that consultation with First Nations take place as part of a development application.

The Appeals Tribunal will have to determine if one email to the regional First Nations inviting them to a stakeholder meeting they didn’t attend, constitutes legitimate consultation. A precedent could possibly be a federal judge’s recent ruling that halted the construction of the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain Pipeline.

If the Tribunal finds fault with the city’s process and plan, it can kick it back to Council. The review timeline will extend well beyond the October 22 municipal election, and perhaps a political power shift could see at least six of 11 Councillors reverse the decision next year.

Core city residents can only hope.

Premier Aviation Jobs Deal Exposed, But More To Come

Premier Aviation Jobs Deal Exposed

Photo: AAR posted its signs after purchasing Premier Aviation.

Premier Aviation Jobs Deal Exposed, But More To Come

Story And Photo By Alan Halberstadt

EDITORIAL VIEWPOINT

I came across a newspaper article early this year that fortified my beliefs about the shortage of value and accountability surrounding taxpayer-funded handouts to private sector businesses.

A new University of Calgary study calculated that the Canadian federal government and four provincial governments — Ontario, Quebec, Alberta and British Columbia — bestowed $29 billion in subsidies to businesses in 2014-15 while estimating that more than half of that money was wasted in terms of economic performance.

For a local example, look no further than handouts to Federal Express Canada Limited (FedEx) and Premier Aviation, two secretive operations on Windsor airport lands that rose from the ground over the last eight years, thanks to the generosity of politicians with grandiose visions of a Windsor aerotropolis.

I have previously exposed, in this space (October 2017), the FedEx sweetheart deal.

The city and federal governments invested $24 million to create cargo handling and research facilities at the airport and the University of Windsor. FedEx was gifted a 35,000 square foot, state-of-the-art loading and staging structure, in exchange for a 30 year lease, starting at a dirt cheap $4 per square foot.

My Freedom of Information (FOI) request revealed there are no job guarantees in the deal with the city. FedEx brought 51 existing employees into the new space when the company relocated from a nearby old building, but a FedEx official later told me, last fall, that information on current employment levels is proprietary.

An outrageous attitude when you consider how former Mayor Eddie Francis championed new industry job creation as justification for throwing tax money at these multi-million dollar projects.

That brings us to the notorious aircraft Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul (MRO) facility that has occupied a $23 million, 144,000 square foot space, constructed by the city and federal government. Founding company Premier Aviation started fixing planes in Windsor in 2012. AAR, a respected aircraft services company based in Illinois, purchased the Windsor business and Premier’s similar-sized MRO in Trois-Rivières, Quebec, late last year.

Extracting basic information on job numbers out of Premier (now AAR), the city and Your Quick Gateway (YQG), the agency that oversees Windsor International Airport, has led me on an FOI odyssey covering six years.

It began with a two and a half year mediation that resulted in an order from an FOI adjudicator to make public Premier’s lease with the city, which turned out to be $1 per year for the first three years of a 10 year contract.

That prompted me to begin another FOI journey, requesting a copy of the commercial services agreement between the city, YQG and Premier that spelled out the number of jobs Premier was required to create at the end of 2013, 2014 and 2019. As well I asked what penalties existed for not meeting those targets.

When the stakeholders refused me, I launched an FOI appeal under the Municipal Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (MFIPPA). A phalanx of lawyers, led by city legal department counsel Mark Nazarewich, fought like caged lions to conceal the jobs and penalty information.

In April of this year, more than three years after I filed the appeal, Commission Adjudicator Jenny Ryu ordered the city to disclose the pertinent portions of the agreement.

There is a good possibility that the numbers in the agreement would cause embarrassment to Francis and his like-minded successor Drew Dilkens, a staunch defender of the project.

CBC reported in June of 2012 that Francis expected the company to hire 250 to 300 people within the first two years and 375 people after seven years.

There has been much speculation that the gold-plated hangar has not met these objectives. I have yet to count more than 50 cars in several drives around the parking lot this summer, and on some days I counted significantly fewer than that.

The FOI order exposed covenants from the service provider to hire 100 full-time employees within the first year, 175 employees by the end of the second year and 325 by the end of the seventh year.

These covenants impose penalties or “additional charges” of $5,000 times the difference between the number of full-time employees required to be employed and the number actually employed.

This information led me to ask the city’s FOI Co-ordinator, in an email on May 29, to tell me the actual number of employees hired by the service provider at the end of year one and the end of year two, and also the number of FTEs presently employed as the end of the seventh year approaches in 2019.

Concurrently, I asked how much the service provider is obliged to pay in penalties, if any, for not achieving those employment figures.

Further questions arose from an FOI revelation of an agreement in which the city, through the airport (YQG), agreed to use its best efforts to provide the service provider with $3 million in working capital from various federal, provincial and other government authorities.

I asked how much of the $3 million has been given to the service provider and to identify the sources of that funding.

The sale of Premier to AAR begs the question whether there is a new agreement with AAR that changes the commitments made by Premier. Further, has AAR agreed to pick up any default payments to the city imposed on Premier for not meeting its employment guarantees?

After AAR announced its purchase last September, the company stated that over 300 staff positions in Trois-Rivières and Windsor would be retained. Interestingly, the company’s Communications Officer Kathleen Cantillon would not tell the mainstream media how many of those 300-plus aviation mechanics would be employed in Windsor.

After several attempts to have my May 29 questions answered by the city, I was informed in an email from City Clerk Valerie Critchley that YQG is a corporate entity that is now handling its own MFIPPA matters.

The old runaround, I suspect. But, on July 20, I dutifully filed an FOI request to YQG’s new FOI Coordinator Jim McCormack seeking the information outlined above.

On August 14th I received a response to my access request saying they would make a decision by September 13.

If they deny the information I will lodge another appeal to the commission. Stay tuned, and remember that Mayor Dilkens, who is seeking re-election next month, chairs the YQG Board.

The views and opinions expressed by Alan Halberstadt do not necessarily reflect those of Biz X magazine or its advertisers.