“It is a routine occurrence,” Francis told federal officials on Tuesday. “It’s routine to be sued. It’s also routine (for us) to be successful.”
The mayor made the comments in a video conference with the federal government’s Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities — which has been discussing a new piece of legislation that could prove a potent defence against the tactics of Ambassador Bridge owner Manuel ‘Matty’ Moroun.
The Bridge to Strengthen Trade Act would make the Detroit River International Crossing project exempt from the process approval requirements that Moroun’s lawyers have been using as leverage to call for judicial reviews.
“I don’t think there’s enough time … allocated to us today to talk about the number of lawsuits that have been levelled against us by the Ambassador Bridge,” Francis told the committee.
Francis referred briefly to the city’s fight with Moroun over demolition control bylaws in Windsor’s west end — a lengthy and costly court battle that ended up tipping in the city’s favour.
Committee member and Essex MP Jeff Watson described Moroun’s strategy as “nuisance lawsuits” — meant to halt or delay construction as much as possible rather than ensure compliance with Canadian law.
Helena Borges, assistant deputy minister with Transport Canada, agreed. “(The lawsuits) definitely are not meant to speed up the project, that’s for sure.”
Borges said the DRIC project has been directly subject to six challenges legally and two challenges under trade law. At present, three of the legal challenges and both trade challenges are still in play.
All but one of the challenges were launched by the owners of the Ambassador Bridge.
In Francis’ testimony to the committee, he threw the City of Windsor’s support behind the Bridge to Strengthen Trade Act, describing it as “a very significant step forward.”
“That’s why I’m here. This is a very important bill. It’s more than just words on paper,” the mayor said.
Francis said he believes the most important effect of the legislation would be the certainty it will bring to “the P3 market” — referring to the public-private partnerships that would build and operate the new bridge.
More certainty about the project would bring more competing bids — which would result in better value for taxpayers.
Although greatly freed under the new legislation, the DRIC project would still be required to comply with federal oversight on “environment and other concerns,” according to the committee discussion.
Francis said public consultation on the project has been extensive, the environmental assessment was thorough, and he feels project officials have “gone to the Nth degree” in their due diligence.
“This issue has gripped this community for the last four or five years,” Francis said. “There were a lot of opinions expressed, a lot of feedback given, a lot of suggestions made.”
Francis described the Windsor-Detroit corridor as an “economic lifeline,” with its trade depended upon by many municipalities, jurisdictions and regions on both sides of the border.
“Up until now … that trade has been carried on infrastructure that was built by our grandparents,” Francis said.
The mayor went on to describe Moroun as an individual intent on protecting “his private interests.”
Tuesday’s committee session ran out of the time before recommendations could be tabled. The legislation will return to the committee for further discussion on Nov. 20.