Sunday, November 15, 2020

Without Data, City Council Writes a Blank Cheque for Hospital Plan


Windsor's Worst Planning Mistake Ever: Part 2
At an eight-hour Windsor City Council meeting on Monday, November 9, 2020, four councillors said they could not endorse the proposed County Road 42 location for the new hospital. To the surprise of many, one of them was Councillor Kieran McKenzie, in whose ward the hospital is to be built.

These four councillors each cited serious concerns: they identified critical analyses, cost and impact reports that were never produced. They also stressed the plan is environmentally unsustainable and completely ignores Windsor's commitment to reduce its energy use by 40% in the next two decades.

A large number of delegates presented hard facts and data to explain why the new hospital needs to be built where people live. Those in favour of endorsing the plan side-stepped the location issue entirely. They just want a new hospital.

There were also 92 personally-written letters pleading with councillors not to endorse the rural location. 

Oddly, the extent of citizen opposition to the selected hospital location and the facts brought forward during the meeting were glossed over by the local media. Why? One can only imagine.

Yet, there were some truly shocking new revelations during this week's meeting!

The six councillors, who, together with the mayor, endorsed the controversial hospital location, openly admitted they were signing a blank cheque in their eagerness to secure the next tranche of provincial government planning funding.

They further reinforced their disregard for informed decision-making and fiscal stewardship when they subsequently voted against a motion to engage an outside consultant to determine the financial, societal and environmental impacts to the residents of Windsor of the existing plan. This motion failed to pass.

This means there is no data supporting the financial, social or environmental costs of relocating 5,000+ healthcare jobs to the outskirts of the city. There is no analysis of the probable impact on the neighbourhoods where the two hospital campuses are currently based - Windsor Regional Hospital is now the city's biggest employer. Nor have the impacts on the region's most vulnerable residents, the majority of whom live in the City's central neighbourhoods, been analyzed.

Windsor City Council is openly and recklessly flying blind with one of the largest projects in the City's history, and they don't care how such a lack of fiscal sobriety and due diligence may be perceived by the provincial government. Neither do Windsor's municipal leaders demonstrate any concern for the residents who will be saddled with the hard and soft costs of their poor judgment for decades to come.

$270,000 in taxpayer funds diverted to suppress concerns!
Another outrageous revelation emerged during the lengthy Council debate: Municipally-funded WindsorEssex Economic Development Corporation (WE EDC) spent $270,000 - or 8% of the organization's annual operating budget - on the We Can't Wait promotional campaign. WE EDC hired Ottawa-based lobbyist Crestview Communications to orchestrate "grassroots" support for the rural hospital location. Yet there was never a public motion presented at Windsor City Council to transparently approve this expense.
Click the image below to hear an extraordinary admission by WE EDC CEO Stephen Mackenzie to Councillor Bortolin: the taxpayer funded We Can't Wait campaign cost $270,000 (27 second clip)
Provincial government: looking for financial stewardship?
The councillors endorsing the selected hospital location seemed oblivious to University of Windsor Law Professor Dr. Anneke Smit's pertinent point:
"There is one more elephant in this room...The federal government in particular has signalled its intent to fund a green recovery... In funding municipalities, partners such as the federal government will be looking to work with cities who are speaking the same language. Who have seen the opportunity that is presented by this pandemic to do a serious reset.

Windsor is going to be far more competitive if it shows real commitment to addressing the principles of the just recovery – equity, health, climate – than if it simply goes for the window-dressing.

The province, for its part, is looking to curb spending amidst the financial crisis of COVID-19. Our plan will be far more attractive if it offers a more economical way forward with better financial stewardship."
Since 2015 CAMPP has continually asked decision makers to transparently disclose the project's analyses and impacts. What we learned at the November 9, 2020 Council meeting was that these reports don't exist at all! The necessary impact studies were never conducted.

Click the image below to hear this shocking acknowledgement by WE EDC CEO Stephen MacKenzie to Councillor Bortolin (12 second clip):
MacKenzie: The impact of relocating hospitals from Windsor's central neighbourhoods to the city's outskirts was not determined prior to endorsing the proposed County Road 42 hospital site.
What kind of local government ignores not only the people it was elected to serve, but also the long term health of the community?
Four councillors voted against the motion to endorse the hospital site
Councillor Holt listed the analyses he needed to make an informed decision:
  • Impacts to road infrastructure of the expected new traffic patterns
  • Impacts on existing neighbourhoods that have grown around the hospital campuses
  • Municipal costs (capital outlays and ongoing operational legacy costs) and where the funds are to come from
  • Social impacts of relocating the hospitals away from the high risk populations that live in close proximity today
  • Long term sustainability in view of Windsor's climate emergency declared in November 2019
Each of the short clips below gives a snapshot of the reasons the four councillors voted against the County Road 42 hospital location. 
Ward 4 Councillor Chris Holt listed specific data and analyses that have not been prepared.
(170 second clip)
Ward 2 Councillor Fabio Costante described his belief in a healthy, sustainable and equitable community. He was unable to endorse the hospital site based on the lack of evidence before the council. 
(40 second clip)
Ward 9 Councillor Kieran McKenzie cited an absence of drainage studies and cost analyses as the reason the City simply isn't ready to endorse the County Road 42 hospital location.
(46 second clip)
Ward 3 Councillor Rino Bortolin explained how unsustainable growth will lead to an increased infrastructure deficit and higher taxes. He talked about the need for climate leadership and said the proposed site will do the opposite. (55 second clip)
A complete disregard for Windsor's Asset Management Policy
Windsor's Asset Management Policy is the policy framework to guide decision makers responsible for governance over Windsor's assets and infrastructure:
It is an absolute scandal for a majority on Council to rubber stamp one of the largest infrastructure projects in Windsor's history - the hospital's construction cost alone has now ballooned to $2.3 billion! - while actively refusing to ask for analysis of the probable costs and impacts of this project.

Poor governance bankrupts private corporations
In the corporate world, shareholders would be justified in firing management after becoming aware of such poor governance.

How much longer will Windsor's residents tolerate such dereliction of fiduciary duty by elected municipal leaders?
Commentary about the November 9, 2020 Windsor City Council meeting
We think you will be interested in this thoughtful Twitter thread by political commentator Doug Sartori. He describes the suppression of opposition to the rural hospital site by the media and decision makers, and presents a four-step approach to constructively addressing residents' concerns. 
Finally, for an in-depth discussion about this controversial Windsor City Council meeting, we recommend listening to the November 11, 2020 Rose City Politics podcast.
In their own words:
Members of our community comment on the issues this week
"Last night the mayor put a motion forward that divided us instead of unifying us. He wanted unanimous support, he got a 4 to 6 vote. He wanted to show the province the city was united, but more than half the delegates spoke to major issues with the plan. "
"I thought Ontario was in massive debt ? Then why did they pick the most expensive location ? It'll cost 3x more for the infrastructure then any other sites. Also only Windsor residents will foot this bill. These are blatant facts of you can't google them yourself then don't reply."
"Pressing forward with a bad plan for 8 years doesn't change the fact that it's still a bad plan. Based on the original RFP it was flawed from the very beginning."
"ppl that don’t struggle don’t care it’s not their problem"
"To continue to remove piece after piece from the city core area and the area with the greatest challenges and needs his nothing short of negligence and incompetence on the part of our elected officials. The “strong majority” according to Mr. Dilkens has won the arm wrangling at the cost of the environment, the revitalization of the city core and those who are in the greatest need. So disappointed."
"Although I agree a new hospital somewhere is better than no new hospital anywhere, I don't agree with the decision to build it next to an airport, on a farm field, in the middle of nowhere, with no infrastructure in place that has yet to be built. Urban sprawl is not the answer"
"As this goes forward more problems will become evident. Sadly, we can already see that they will use CAMPP as a scapegoat if thing go wrong. Why don't people read the facts on the site? People are so unaware."
"It just doesn't make sense to move a hospital so far away from the most densely populated area of the county and put an airport between it and them. Only 2 major arteries to get to and from the hospital for an entire city?"
"CAMPP is a response to a threat, a threat against the city - CAMPP would not exist without that threat.... in a sense – CAMPP was created by Windsor Regional Hospital and The City of Windsor.
Drew Dilkens and David Musyj made us... and until the threat is gone, CAMPP will be here."
"What they don't seem to get is that the group didn't start because of the location. It was started as an attempt to get the "powers that be " to engage with the citizens (the people footing the bill for a very long time) in order to, through consultation, work out the best plan for everyone"
"Windsor can not afford more sprawl, especially on a flood plain, when we have enough spaces already more suitable within our city, sitting unused and flooding is a major problem in most residential areas."
"I'm not as down on this project as others, but it is a little concerning to me that we moved forward on it based on the idea we were getting support that isn't coming.  Have to be careful not to treat grant applications as money in the bank."
"To characterize informed, concerned and engaged citizens as naysayers is an unacceptable treatment of the very people for whom you serve.

Public service does not privilege one to disparage the public - on the contrary, respect for the public is a requisite.

They've got it backwards, and it's a loss for all concerned, especially the uninformed."

Sunday, November 8, 2020

Windsor's Worst Planning Mistake Ever:


We'll be paying forever with our taxes (and our lives)
At the Monday, November 9, 2020 City Council meeting, Windsor Mayor Drew Dilkens will be introducing a motion to formally support the construction of the new single-site acute care hospital on County Road 42. His goal is to prove to the provincial government that there is sufficient community support for the project to warrant funding Stage 2 planning.

This motion follows repeated failed local promotional attempts to conjure up what still remains elusive:  definitive proof of broad public support for the plan. The most recent Mayor Dilkens-driven effort was the six-figure, taxpayer-funded, WindsorEssex Economic Development Corporation (WE EDC) "We Can't Wait" marketing campaign orchestrated by well-known Ottawa lobbyist Crestview Strategy - a campaign that was designed to demonstrate "grassroots" support. Yet this and other efforts have been unsuccessful in generating the groundswell of enthusiastic community support Windsor's Mayor was hoping for.

Remarkably, after years of bluster, spin and announcements, this will be the first Windsor City Council meeting where councillors will debate the merits and problems of locating the region's only full service acute care hospital on County Road 42! Strangely, it comes more than 5 years after the rural site was announced to the public as a "done deal" on July 16th, 2015.

If Council is voting on this motion tomorrow (09/11/20), why have power brokers for five years told residents that this was ever a "done deal"? But they have done just that. Was it simply to prevent a genuine public debate?

On Friday, November 6, 2020, CAMPP published a comprehensive new report, which was sent to all the Windsor City Councillors.

Titled Windsor's Worst Mistake Ever: We'll be paying with our taxes (and our lives), the document presents a perspective on the issues that decision-makers and residents may not have previously considered. Incomplete or misleading messaging has continuously flowed from Windsor Regional Hospital (WRH), the City and most recently, WE EDC; information that is shared and amplified by residents on social media. Yet neither the WRH, nor the City, nor WE EDC correct any of it. They allow residents to project and share whatever they imagine the plan will include. Even local mainstream media has amplified and perpetuated many of these false or partial narratives.

For example: The two acute care hospital campuses at MET and Ouellette are on the chopping block if this project comes to fruition as planned. The County Road 42 hospital is not another hospital for the region. It will be the only full service acute care hospital in the region. 
And what is going to happen to Erie Shores Healthcare in Leamington, an acute care hospital now serving nearly 25% of the region's residents? Will it eventually become an urgent care centre too? This is a sore point for those directing the new hospital plan and a question that remains unanswered.

The loudest argument for the County Road 42 site is to address a perceived need for the new hospital to be closer to county residents. But County residents will never have to contribute a dime to the hundreds of millions of dollars in infrastructure costs that Windsor residents will be paying in perpetuity, despite the monumental loss of hospital-based healthcare accessibility to much of the City. Is this really a fair and equitable plan?

We encourage you to read the document.
Read CAMPP's report here
A clear case of "bait and switch"
There has never been an opportunity to debate the location of the new hospital at Windsor City Council! In fact, Mayor Dilkens ensured this important debate stayed well away from the Council agenda:
  • December 21, 2015, April 20, 2016: Windsor City Council voted on a tax levy to pay for the 10% local cost of the construction of the new hospital. As you can hear in the short YouTube clip below, Mayor Dilkens made it quite clear the hospital location was not up for discussion.
  • August 13, 2018: Windsor City Council approved the institutional zoning of the County Road 42 site earmarked for the new hospital. At 12:13 a.m. on the night of this nearly 9-hour long Council meeting, Mayor Dilkens remarked: "What City Council could have done, is when the 10% share conversation came up, is to have said, You know what, that's a stinky location. We're not going to fund our 10% share that is required under the act."
For all public debate over the location of this large project to have been continuously and deliberately kept out of Windsor Council Chambers until now is atrocious.
Watch this short clip from the December 21, 2015 City Council meeting when Mayor Dilkens stressed the location was not up for discussion.
Thousands of residents have been pleading with Council since 2014 to re-think the plan on the grounds that hospitals belong where people live. Mayor Dilkens has consistently marginalized all expressions of concern, referring to those in opposition to the plan as “a small group” putting the success of the project at risk.

As the November 3, 2020 Windsor Star put it: the Mayor will be calling on councillors "to formally support construction of a new acute care hospital at its long-contested proposed location." The article goes on to say his main objective in bringing the controversial issue to council is to call on the provincial government to prioritize funding to move the hospital project forwards.

And yet, our increasingly cash-strapped province is far more likely to look favourably on a well-presented hospital plan with genuine and well-informed public support, a plan that solidly addresses the concerns residents have been bringing to their attention for so long and which no doubt are worrisome to the ministry bureaucrats as well.
What city residents have been saying
Ever since the notice of Mayor Dilkens' motion appeared on the council agenda last week, local residents have been sending their written submissions to the City Clerk's office. You can read the many letters explaining why the County Road 42 hospital site is ill-conceived in the Council package at this link (starting at page 493).
  • However, to date, not all of the correspondence has been posted on the city's website. We know quite a few people who submitted letters well in advance of the deadline and whose letters are missing -- including CAMPP's official submission.
  • Also noteworthy: Many of the letters supporting the County road 42 hospital location were generated from obvious templates. For example, a search of the term "crumbling" reveals 23 template-letters. Their extreme concern for the physical condition of WRH's buildings ignores nearly $200M in capital investments and expansions in the past two decades. It also flies in the face of the "Accreditation with Exemplary Standing” awarded to WRH on December 30, 2019 for 99.8% compliance with national standards for patient quality and safety.
  • There is no way to tell how many of the writers live in Windsor. 
  • A lengthy list of local residents have signed up to speak at Monday's virtual council meeting. Among those expected to speak in favour of Mayor Dilkens' motion are several WRH insiders, including Gary McNamara (the Warden of Essex County), Lisa Porter PhD (a cancer researcher and Essex County resident), and Stephen MacKenzie, President & CEO of WE EDC.
This once again demonstrates how highly manipulated this mutli-year process continues to be, and how genuine voices from the community are muffled and marginalized.

Although the deadline was noon on Friday, November 6th, there is a process to allow late delegates. If you wish to sign up to speak, please call 519-255-6432 and ask to have your name added.
Livestream link: Nov. 9, 2020 Council meeting at 12:30 p.m
In their own words:
Members of our community comment on the issues this week
"How can there be a motion stating ”the City of Windsor supports construction of a new regional acute care hospital on the land purchased by Windsor Regional Hospital” without any evidence that is true?"
"I have never seen a big decision put to council where the mayor didn't have it all sewn up ahead of time in closed door meetings.

I suspect he's done that this time as well, which means hours of delegate presentations will be totally ignored, again.

Secondly, it would have been a relatively easy thing to poll the entire city if they really wanted to know what the majority want instead of that weird phone virtual town hall where only some were invited. I'm looking forward to see which councillors, if any, have a backbone."
"In the city or not at all"
"A vote against this motion is not a vote against modern healthcare for Windsor Essex, but a vote in favour of getting it right."
"Taxpayers should not be paying for this campaign."
"Again, those without cars. How are they going to get to their medical appointments, if everything moves out there."

Sunday, November 1, 2020

The infrastructure bills keep piling up


Who’s going to pay for Windsor’s urban expansion?

Windsor's recently approved $5 billion Sewer Master Plan is aimed at protecting neighbourhoods from future flooding.
The federal government recently rejected $30M in grant applications that will now be financed by the local municipal tax base.
The city's stalled employment growth and aging population suggest few if any residents can bear increased taxes.

And yet municipal leaders are continuing to push the provincial government to move forward with the proposed rural hospital on County Road 42.

Developing Sandwich South (the 990-acre farmland surrounding the proposed hospital site) will add a multi-million dollar tax burden to Windsor residents in perpetuity. But, there is no current data that supports a real need to develop this rural area. Why is this a priority, when so much money is required for many crucial and urgent infrastructure needs where people already live?

So why are municipal leaders spending hundreds of thousands of local tax dollars on promotion after promotion to steamroll residents into backing such an ill-conceived and costly plan? 
On October 23, 2020, The Windsor Star reported that Windsor had been denied two federal government funding grant applications totalling $30M. While it is still too early to know the reasons why the two projects were rejected, it appears they will go ahead, though with local taxpayers now footing the bills.
$3M Vanity Project: The City of Windsor applied to the Canada Cultural Spaces Fund for assistance in paying for the controversial $7M Waterfront Celestial Beacon – Streetcar #351 project on the city’s riverfront, approximately 1.5km west of Windsor's downtown area.

The minutes from the June 15, 2020 City Council meeting (p.11) show the project would still go ahead should the grant not be successful. The funds are to be taken from other sources, including $1M from the Paul Martin Building, the current home of the Central Library.
$27M Flood Mitigation Project: The City of Windsor applied to the federal Disaster Mitigation and Adaptation Fund to help pay for $80M in Sewer Master Plan projects identified after Windsor’s historic 2017 and 2018 floods.
From the June 15, 2020 City Council meeting minutes' appendix (p.7): “There is a risk the City may not be awarded grant funding for this project. Should this occur the project will be revisited as part of the Sewer Master Plan and the recommendations associated with the implementation of that plan.
On October 30, 2020, The Windsor Star revealed that losses incurred by the city-owned tunnel and airport will total almost $10M by year’s end.

How much extra tax load can Windsor residents bear?

Major climate change-related flood risks
In July 2020, Windsor City Council approved a $5 billion Sewer Master Plan (the $27M project above is just a part of this plan) to protect the city against climate change-related flood risks. While it could be argued that the Celestial Beacon project involves discretionary spending, the Sewer Master Plan costs are significantly greater and the project fills a very real and urgent need. We don't believe anyone would think it wise to forgo this investment. Yet without the assistance of the federal government, Windsor taxpayers will be left paying the whole very expensive bill:
CBC footage from Windsor's 2017 flood
Accelerating municipal spending at a time of stalled population growth
As we wrote in our October 18, 2020 email, the City of Windsor has uncertain future population growth, while continuing to plan for the 990-acre Sandwich South expansion adjacent to Windsor Airport.
Higher taxes or reduced amenities?
Expansion costs money, a lot of it. Without population growth, the only way to pay for it is through higher taxes and/or reduced amenities in established neighbourhoods. As reported this week, the municipal budget is already constrained by financial commitments that will not be covered by federal government grants.
No employment growth in two decades
In the past two decades, the Windsor-Essex employed labour force has shown no discernible growth. Covid-19 significantly impacted the region's employment this year: In September 2020, 1,300 fewer people were employed than in March 2001!  After the large Covid-19-related drop in employment and an uncertain economic future, there is unlikely to be any appetite or ability to pay much higher municipal taxes.
76% more retirees
Looking forward, Ontario's Ministry of Finance population projections show a rapidly aging Windsor-Essex population. By 2036, the number of seniors aged 65 and over will have grown by 76% or 53,500 persons since the 2016 Census. Retirees on fixed incomes are not going to be enthusiastic about higher local tax bills and/or reduced essential municipal services:
Why is Windsor's municipal leadership so eager to develop Sandwich South? Given the existing data, it makes no sense at all. So why exactly are these individuals so gung-ho about financing a short term windfall for construction companies, at the long-term expense of Windsor taxpayers?

We'll be paying their bill in perpetuity, with our taxes and our lives.
In their own words:
Members of our community comment on the issues this week
"Kind of strange to close down the hospital and move it all out to the edge of the city and then look to the library to anchor downtown development."
"Every hospital is a regional hospital. It's being used as a marketing ploy in the case of the 42 location.

Let's remember that City taxpayers are paying two different bills for the new hospital (hospital levy and infrastructure improvements). County taxpayers are only paying one (hospital levy). If the hospital was built where sufficient infrastructure existed, that infrastructure improvement amount would be minimal."
"Perhaps the question should have been framed as: hospital in core means more money to fix sewers in your neighbourhood versus hospital in beanfield means: less money to fix sewers in your neighbourhood.

Which one do you pick?"
"I think there is a fundamental disconnect between the identified issues that matter and the plan to proceed with Sandwich South expansion.

It embraces urban sprawl at a time of climate crisis and when the science connects climate change to urban sprawl, carbon-based transportation systems, reduction of green spaces and more."
"If folks in the county need ER capacity then they should have it. I'd be willing to fight for it, but not at the expense of having NO ER capacity in the whole core of the city and most of the rest too."
"If transfer between hospitals is an issue, then transfer of a sick/injured person from a home in town out to the boonies just to get any service at all is obviously a huge hazard."
"why not build an urgent care in the county. A mega hosp out there will cause major problems."
"I'm one of those "frequent flyers" ... When it's 4 in the morning and I have to go to ER that location will take me almost 20 mins to get to compared to less than 5 now. We bought this house near 2 hospitals and a 24 hour pharmacy for a reason. Who ever heard of a city this size with no ER? Absolutely foolhardy."
"I am getting angry that tax payer money is used to fund the campaign of sponsored Facebook posts and signs"
"Cheerleading and slogans will never replace a worthy, well written, and complete application. Our hospital application has been stalled at Stage 1. There is a Five Stage Ontario hospital application process. Our W.E. planning committee needs fresh faces, fresh thinking and greater willingness to look for solutions with Queens Park to get our application completed."
"The mayor, various developers, and other big shots are determined to have their way. That’s how we ended up with the shangri la pool downtown that none of us in the west end/core wanted, especially since we have a perfectly good and well used pool in the neighbourhood.

No one I know wants a 7 million dollar pavilion at the waterfront and most people want the refurbished streetcar downtown or near the art gallery...

...It’s very frustrating and I wish we could finally elect a leader who listens to and genuinely cares about all the residents in this city."