Prime Minister Stephen Harper has applauded the decision by voters in Michigan to reject a controversial ballot proposal backed by Ambassador Bridge owner Matty Moroun that threatened to halt the $1-billion government-backed bridge.
The Canadian government in the wake of the election decision on “Proposal 6″ declared on Wednesday it is prepared to march forward on construction of the Detroit River International Crossing (DRIC) that would link the downriver communities of Brighton Beach and Delray.
“We’re very pleased to see the support of the people of Michigan for the new bridge between Detroit and Windsor, which is very important to the economies of both our countries,” Harper told MacLean’s magazine while in India where he is on a trade mission.
“I look forward, in particular, to working with [President Barack Obama] on the Beyond the Border initiative, which is obviously very important for the opportunities for Canadians and Americans going forward.”
With about 94 per cent of the ballots counted in Michigan there were 2,573,553 votes against the proposal or 60 per cent and 1,746,802 in favour or 40 per cent.
Moroun’s ballot initiative would have forced a statewide vote before any bridge could be constructed in Michigan.
The proposal was defeated despite Moroun spending a record $35 million in advertising and campaign promotion in a bid to win votes.
Canada’s transportation minister Denis Lebel signed an agreement in June with Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder to construct the DRIC bridge. The federal government under the plan will lend the state up to $550 million to cover its share of the project. Canada would recoup the loan through tolls.
“The defeat of Proposal 6 clears the way for the construction of the new bridge across the Detroit River,” said Lebel on Wednesday. “This is good news for travelers, workers and industry on both sides of the border who will benefit from the new publicly-owned bridge.”
He was not immediately clear on exactly how quickly construction on the DRIC bridge could get started, but once completed the new Windsor-Detroit bridge will “attract new investments and business opportunities to boost our local and national economies.”
Officials from the Ambassador Bridge did not immediately respond to messages Wednesday from the Star.
“It is clear the voters resisted amending the constitution, but it would be a mistake to assume taxpayers support a flawed government bridge that puts taxpayers at risk,” said company spokesman Mickey Blashfield in a statement provided to the Detroit News.
He defended the spending by the Moroun family on the ballot proposal.
“We are happy with the investment made in this campaign on behalf of taxpayers and the 5,000 families employed by the Ambassador Bridge family of companies,” Blashfield said. “Like any family business we would do it again – and will in different ways – to defend economic freedom and limited government.”
Canadian Chamber of Commerce President Perrin Beatty praised the voters in Michigan for having “switched on the lights” to the long-awaited DRIC bridge and creation of 10,000 construction jobs.
“This is a great victory for citizens and businesses on both sides of the border,” he said. “Michigan and Canada share one of the largest trade relationships in the world. With this wise decision voters have signaled they are ready to cooperate on a huge project to enhance that partnership.
“Last night’s decision by Michigan voters marks a turning point. Now we need to see the project through.”