by Kathleen Harris
Despite years of setbacks and fierce well-financed opposition, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder promised a second bridge will be built to link Detroit and Windsor, and he’s intent on getting the green light within months.
“We are continuing our process in a relentless fashion, and you’re looking at months, not years,” he told government and business officials from both sides of the border gathering for a one-day summit in Ottawa on Canada-U.S. innovation.
The Detroit-Windsor crossing is the busiest land border point, yet the existing Ambassador Bridge is a clogged, aging artery slowing down the flow of goods and travellers. The $1.8-billion project to build a new bridge was stalled at a Michigan legislative committee, but Snyder vowed to defy the “special interest” blocking the project and is positive it will move ahead.
“It will get done – it’s right for both our countries, for all our people, and for 10 million citizens of Michigan. One special interest should not over-ride what’s in the best interests of millions of people. So you have my commitment, we are going to build a bridge,” he said, drawing applause from the crowd of hundreds at the Chateau Laurier conference.
Snyder called it “unfortunate” that private interests representing the Ambassador Bridge are spending a lot of money to block competition. He is working to counter the “fundamentally wrong and misleading” campaign, explaining that the new bridge will create long-term jobs, short-term construction work and foster international trade.
The Ambassador Bridge’s private owners have slammed the project as a waste of money and a self-serving monument to Snyder, and have also donated heavily to Michigan law-makers.
Thanking Canada for being “pro-active” and offering $550 million to help build infrastructure, Snyder declined to say if he would use executive powers to pursue the project. His current path is to work in a “thoughtful, aggressive” way to rally support from legislators in a quick time frame.
“Relentless, positive action is my motto, but it has worked well,” Snyder said. “To the degree there’s skepticism, it’s a difficult project. It will be hard to do, but we’ve taken on some major projects already in our state and done things people didn’t think we could do for the last 30 to 50 years. This is just another one on that list, and we are going to get this done.”
Canada’s ambassador to Washington Gary Doer called Snyder a “can-do governor” who has managed to bring together unions, business and key executives.
“He’s going about building support in the broader community and the public. I think his words today are encouraging,” Doer said.
In his keynote address to the summit, hosted jointly by Canada 2020 and the U.S. Embassy, Snyder also spoke about how governments often err by “hunting” to bring new business to their jurisdictions instead of helping existing ones stay, grow and create more jobs.
He also lashed out at tax credits and incentives for business – calling them the “dumbest” – favouring instead a flat-tax regime and assistance programs that are open and transparent.
“It’s going back to basic tax philosophy — simple, fair and efficient, instead of something riddled with credits and exceptions that is fundamentally unfair in many respects,” he said.
Snyder said Canada and the U.S. should be considered more as one economic region, instead of two separate countries.
“We’re much more alike than we are different. And the differences are good: I like Canadian beer,” he said.