Trade is like a river; it moves around all obstructions. For too many years now, the Windsor-Detroit corridor, which accounts for about 30% of Canada-US trade, has been viewed as exactly that: an obstruction to the efficient flow of trade in the most critical part of our nation’s trade network with the US.
The 83-year-old, privately-owned, Ambassador Bridge linking Windsor and Detroit is by far the busiest commercial crossing in North America and congestion when the economy was booming left both shippers and carriers complaining. It’s estimated that 1.3 million trucks trips are made annually over the bridge. The route to the Ambassador Bridge on our side of the border, which winds through Windsor, has been an object of scorn for decades for motor carriers fed up with being tied up in congested city streets with far too many traffic lights.
As you will read in our feature on automotive logistics, the crossing is particularly important to our automotive industry. The complex automotive supply chains see some car components crossing the border up to seven times. Windsor’s two largest employers are Chrysler and Ford. The latter estimates it has as many as 600 trucks a day crossing the border on the current bridge.
So it’s no surprise that the automotive industry is concerned about being so reliant on aging infrastructure in private hands when accessing our primary trade market. And it’s also no surprise the automotive industry, the trucking industry and Ottawa itself are solidly behind the proposed six-lane New International Trade Crossing (NITC) connecting Windsor and Detroit through a more viable route than the current one.
Yet the NITC could be in danger, yet again, of never being built. All thanks to the greed of one man: Manuel Maroun, the owner of the Ambassador Bridge.
Maroun is dead set against any plans that would allow the construction of the new six-lane public bridge and cut into the toll revenues currently generated by his aging four-lane span. He has spent millions on a campaign against the new bridge, proposing that he privately build a new bridge alongside his existing one instead. His lobbying efforts against the NITC have proved so effective at creating political gridlock across the border that Michigan governor Rick Snyder and the Canadian government had to resort to signing an “interlocal agreement” this summer to save plans for the NITC. Canada agreed to finance Michigan’s $550M portion of the project.
But that didn’t stop Maroun. A group called The People Should Decide, which is actually funded by Maroun and his family, managed to get a measure on the Nov. 6 US election ballot that could block construction of the bridge. The November 6 US election ballot will ask Michigan residents to vote on an amendment that would prevent the state from spending any money or resources on “new international bridges or tunnels for motor vehicles” unless approved by the voters – even though Canada is picking up the tab for the NITC and constructing the new bridge is expected to create 6,800 permanent jobs and contribute $630M each year to Michigan’s gross state product, according to a recent study by the Centre for Automotive Research.
The Conservative government in Ottawa is also having to resort to passing legislation to exempt the NITC from a slew of environmental laws in order to protect it from any other legal actions from Maroun. In mid October the Conservative government introduced legislation that would exempt the construction of “the bridge, parkway or any other related” from the Fisheries Act, the Navigable Waters Protection Act, the Species at Risk Act and large parts of the Canadian Environmental Protection Act. That’s likely to draw fire from supporters of the new bridge, such as Windsor MP Brian Masse, a New Democrat. But the Canadian government believes Maroun’s next move, if his ballot measure doesn’t work, would be to challenge environmental approvals so it’s moving to head him off.
Regular readers of this column know I don’t place much trust in the Harper government’s interest in environmental protection but on this occasion I believe them.
So one critical question remains: Can we outlast Maroun’s seemingly endless greed?
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