A work in progress - City's New Border Plan

IDNUMBER 200711240021
PUBLICATION: The Windsor Star
DATE: 2007.11.24
EDITION: Final
SECTION: News
PAGE: A3
COLUMN: Gord Henderson
BYLINE: Gord Henderson
SOURCE: Windsor Star
WORD COUNT: 726

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A work in progress

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Provincial government insiders have dismissed as "laughable" a warning from Brian Masse that Windsor's GreenLink border infrastructure proposal could be a victim of Finance Minister Dwight Duncan's leadership aspirations and they insist work is progressing on a solution that should please everyone.

In a breakfast interview this week, the Windsor West MP expressed concern that Duncan might help impose a third-rate border fix on Windsor in order to show Liberals in the rest of the province that he sees the bigger picture and is not hogging scarce infrastructure dollars for his economically depressed hometown.

"The race to succeed Dalton McGuinty might be the problem we're facing," speculated Masse, while voicing concern over the seeming lack of progress since the city and a team led by New York City traffic expert Sam Schwartz rolled out the $l.6-billion, six-tunnel GreenLink border route plan six weeks ago.

He said his sources tell him the province is the main stumbling block and that makes him wonder whether Duncan, and, to a lesser extent Economic Development Minister Sandra Pupatello, are more concerned with spreading infrastructure money around Ontario, "scattering it in the hope that it brings you provincial Liberal support."

Masse said it's obvious "Sandra has no sway with Dwight" and "what worries me to death is that it's now quite clear the province hasn't put any money in their budgets for this." If the province tries to fix the border on the cheap, warned the Windsor West MP, it will constitute a betrayal of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and a huge failure on the part of our Liberal MPPs.

Duncan wasn't available for comment. Maybe they've got him down in the bowels of the provincial treasury rolling loonies. But a government official, who requested anonymity, said Masse's concerns are ludicrous. "This is just Brian being Brian. He loves to stir stuff. He's stirring the pot and I wouldn't read too much into that."

GRIP ON PARTY

Besides, said the official, there is no leadership race and, given McGuinty's big win last month which cemented his grip on the party, there's no reason to expect him to step down when his current mandate ends in 2011.

If Masse's aim was to smoke the government out about its intentions, he at least partially succeeded. An insider said claims that the government is dragging its heels couldn't be further from the truth.

He said it was at the specific direction of Duncan and Pupatello that a DRIC (Detroit River International Crossing) team led by Fausto Natarelli, director of the Windsor Border Initiatives Implementation Group, went to New York last week and held detailed GreenLink discussions with Schwartz and the tunnel engineering experts of Parsons Brinckerhoff.

That "generally positive" meeting, said the insider, provided many financial and technical answers but other questions were raised and discussions are continuing. "The process is moving and there are really positive signs ... but give them time to get through this as far as the information exchange. We want to make sure we have all our T's crossed and I's dotted. Nothing has fallen off the table. But it's got to go through due diligence."

He said it's understandable that there's anxiety and impatience in Windsor, "but people have got to take a deep breath" because the file must clear all the hurdles, and be backed by solid data, before Duncan and Pupatello can take it to cabinet.

"We believe that ultimately we're going to have something that makes everybody happy and has them all on the same page," added the insider.

I sure hope he's right. As Masse said, the Conservative government in Ottawa is on board, ready and waiting to write a cheque, which would make it all the more appalling if a provincial government that includes two senior Windsor cabinet ministers missed this historic opportunity to get it right.

"If you're from this area, your job is to get the best deal possible, not push for half-measures and parade excuses," fumed Masse. "It really does anger me because we're not going to get another opportunity like this."

I might be hopelessly naive. But I still have this gut feeling Duncan and Pupatello will find a way, even if it means kicking bureaucratic butt and browbeating fellow ministers, to deliver most, if not all, of the dream fix needed to unclog Canada's asphalt aorta, the nation's most vital trade link.

Dwight and Sandra. Heroes or goats? We'll know soon enough.

ghenderson@thestar.canwest.com