Where’s Washington?

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The American focus on national security these days is hardly surprising.

Often very irritating, mind you, as I take off my shoes at the airport security point after lining up for most of an hour or more, but not surprising.

We’re pretty sure that nothing bad could possibly happen up here in Canada — yeah, right — but we joined in too. There was no choice, of course, post-9/11, given the way our two countries are intertwined. But while we joined our friends to the south in this security endeavor, I think there’s a sense amongst many Canucks that it’s all a bit unnecessary, a bit overdone.

So here’s my big question: how can it be that Canada has acted to exert a measure of public control over the privately owned Ambassador Bridge while the ultra-security-conscious United States has done nothing?

It just doesn’t wash. We’re supposed to be at least a little reluctant to take the big security step unless strongly urged into it by Washington. But we passed Bill C-3 earlier this year, which gives Ottawa the power to regulate the bridge, order inspections, and even set tolls. The American government is by all accounts mighty impressed by Canada’s move, and very surprised.

As one Washington insider told me about the U.S. Department of Transportation’s response to C-3, “No one believed the Canadians would have taken him (bridge-owner Manuel ‘Matty’ Moroun) on like this and followed through… Nobody has even dared to think about doing something like this, let alone getting it done.”

Do private-property rights on the
Ambassador trump public safety?

If you live in Red Deer or Restigouche, my apologies. This won’t interest you a lot. But it should, because that one bridge connecting Ontario with Michigan carries many thousands of trucks every day in both directions and represents a huge chunk of our international trade. Very huge.

Gigantic. Like $300 million worth every day, $100 billion a year, fully 25 percent of U.S. trade with Canada.

I’ve seen estimates that suggest the economies of Ontario and Michigan would each suffer monstrous losses of $3 billion a month if the bridge were knocked out of action in some way. Fully 150,000 jobs are at risk. It would be devastating.

And the bridge is vulnerable. It’s definitely vulnerable.

It’s private property, owned by one guy, Matty Moroun, a Detroit-area gazillionaire who’s also big in trucking. I’ve never been able to wrap my head around this one, but it’s been in his hands since he bought it in 1979. And the thing is, he won’t let either Canadian or American authorities inspect his bridge — or apply security measures aside from screening at either end.

In fact, Moroun refuses to adhere to the regulation that prohibits hazardous materials from being hauled across the bridge. If you’re pulling a hazmat load into or out of Michigan, you either use the quick and easy Detroit-Windsor ferry or go by way of the Blue Water Bridge quite a few miles to the north at Sarnia/Port Huron.

Unless, that is, you have the bridge company’s ‘permission’ to use its facility. It’s long been known that hazardous goods were crossing the bridge but actual letters of permission to certain fleets were made public a while ago. Are the bridge and its owner above the law?

Do private-property rights trump public safety?

Worse, though, since officials on both sides of the border can’t access the bridge, it’s verging on the impossible to institute the other security controls required.

But only Ottawa, along with Ontario, seem to care. I find this very hard to believe. And as at least one American commentator has pointed out, where’s the Detroit press in this? It’s a story they ignore totally.

But more importantly, where’s Washington? Can you imagine the security of any other infrastructure in the U.S., anything with the strategic importance of this crucial crossing, being left to private enterprise? With no government oversight?

It remains to be seen, of course, just how many teeth reside in C-3 and how hard Ottawa will make them bite, but at least they’re in place. We need American teeth too.

AND ON ANOTHER TOPIC… I also want to welcome Russ Fairley to the Today’s Trucking editorial team. He’s just joined us as Editor on www.TodaysTrucking.com, our award-¬≠winning website. He won’t be quite as public a figure as me and the other print editors, but he’ll play a critical role in taking the site to another level.

We’re that serious about TodaysTrucking.com, and the presence of Russ and his significant web skills prove it. As a bonus, he actually knows something about trucking — he and his father ran a small fleet of trucks and were involved in the logistics game for several years.

So welcome, Russ. We’re glad you’re with us.

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Rolf Lockwood is editor emeritus of Today's Trucking and a regular contributor to Trucknews.com.


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