Gongwer News Service

Canada’s counsel general to Detroit on Friday blasted ads broadcast now in both Michigan and Ontario as “total fabrications” designed to scare voters about a new bridge between Detroit and Windsor.

Meanwhile, the Senate Fiscal Agency issued a paper saying that if the benefits of a new bridge are realized as promised by supporters, then building the bridge could be a “very prudent business deal.”

Ray Norton, Canada’s counsel general in Detroit, spoke Friday to the Rotary Club of Lansing, outlining the reasons his government supports construction of a new bridge, now called the New International Trade Crossing.

Governor Rick Snyder also supports construction of a new bridge, and the Senate’s Economic Development Committee now has before it SB 410, which would authorize the new structure. The committee is planning to do a visit of the potential bridge sites on August 15.

Mr. Norton told the gathering, as he has told other groups, that the Canadian government considers construction of the bridge vital to the economies of both his nation and the United States.

Building the bridge could also help spur the Detroit area as a hub of international trade, since Canada is promoting international shipping to Halifax, which cuts time at sea. With a new bridge, goods could get into the central part of the United States and Canada faster.

But Mr. Norton ripped the television ads shown first in Michigan trying to block legislative approval of the bridge authority. The ads are produced by the owners of the Ambassador Bridge, the Detroit International Bridge Company, which is trying to block the NITC in favor of building its own new bridge next to the Ambassador Bridge.

Ads began running in the Toronto market last week, specifically accusing the Ontario government of spending money on a new freeway to nowhere.

The ads also claim that Michigan’s Legislature has decided against building the NITC, which Mr. Norton said is not true.

The Canadian and Ontario governments are building a new section of freeway to connect with where the NITC would land on the Canadian side. But the ads say the government is spending $2.2 billion (Canadian) on the road, when Mr. Norton said the actual cost is $1.4 billion and the Ontario government’s share of that provision is half that amount.

Mr. Norton told reporters following his address that at least one official in the Ontario government is looking into whether the ads violate that country’s laws on campaign ads. Clearly the ads are a specific attack on the Ontario provincial government and there is a provincial election slated for October 6.

Matt Moroun, vice chair of the Ambassador Bridge company, said the primary reason for the ads were to make sure people were aware of the issue. They then will be able to ask questions about the proposal and form their own opinions.

He also denied the ad about the highway was an attack on the bridge. It was to raise the question about why the government was spending so much money on a road that doesn’t go anywhere.

Mr. Norton said it was clear why opponents were running the ads, because they did not want to lose business to a new bridge.

But he also the ads were false and intended to scare voters to oppose the new bridge.

For example, he said, the ads in Michigan have implied that the state will be on the hook for the bridge’s costs, which is a “total deception.” Michigan residents face no risk, even if the bridge does not succeed financially.

The paper prepared by the SFA also said that if the NITC project goes forward, the entire cost would be $3.8 billion (including the new freeway being built in Canada), but that the bridge itself would cost $949 million. Another $400 million would be for a toll plaza and customs area and nearly $400 million would go for I-75 changes.

But as now structured, Michigan would not have to pay for any of those costs, the paper said.

A private authority would pay for the actual construction of the bridge. The federal government would pay for most the cost of the customs area.

And because Canada has offered to put up $550 million to cover Michigan’s costs for road and customs work, the state would not have to pay any money.

If projections on traffic prove true, and even if they fall somewhat short, the paper said the bridge should provide enough revenues to cover its costs.

The “low financial risks” make the project “a very prudent business deal” if all the prospective benefits come to pass, the paper said.

The paper did say that traffic volumes at the Ambassador Bridge and the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel have fallen dramatically in the last decade. It also pointed out that a variety of projections estimate that traffic volumes will increase.

And the paper said that if the NITC is built, revenues at the Ambassador Bridge could fall by as much as 50 percent.

But the paper said it was very plain that Mr. Snyder was ready to sign legislation approving the bridge.