“…I see it as game over. They can argue all they want but this is an inglorious day for Team Moroun. No crossing owns the future. But a new bridge is going to happen.”
– Gregg Ward, Vice President of the Detroit–Windsor Truck Ferry
Epic bridge battle far from over
WASHINGTON—When they come framed in the sterile language of business, stories about bridges and borders and trucks and trade sometimes add up to less than the sum of their parts.
Even stories as big as the one Prime Minister Stephen Harper declared an end to Friday with the triumphant announcement of a new bridge to Detroit.
Harper delivered a breakthrough at long last. And, by the vast majority of accounts, the coup de grace in Canada’s epic battle with Manuel (Matty) Moroun, the aging owner of the Ambassador Bridge that accounts for a quarter of all truck trade to and from the U.S.
All the pieces are now in place, all doubts now removed, Moroun’s monopoly will be dismantled by publicly owned competition — except for the deeply disciplined silence from the Moroun camp.
And that’s where this story worthy of Hollywood remains unwritten. What does the famously combative, shrewdly litigious Moroun do now?
Moroun has locked horns with Canadians since the late Trudeau era, when he became sole proprietor of the Ambassador and simultaneously amassed a trucking and brokerage empire worth an estimated $1.5 billion today.
And even if he holds nothing but losing cards, few who have watched this saga over the long haul accept that he will lay them down quietly now.
“Litigation is Matty Moroun’s main hobby and thrill in life and I expect him to sue incessantly,” said Jack Lessenberry, a veteran observer of Michigan politics.
A frequent critic of Moroun’s bully tactics with the Michigan legislature, Lessenberry wonders whether Gov. Rick Snyder, in agreeing to side step the chamber to cut the deal directly with Ottawa, has covered every imaginable legal obstacle.
“One would hope and expect the Snyder folks had gamed this out. Then again . . . ,” Lessenberry said. “But then there’s also a real question as to how long (Moroun’s) health and vigour will last. But it may last years.”
Let’s ponder those years a moment. In a best-case scenario, few anticipate any ribbon cutting on a new crossing until 2016, even without Moroun adopting scorched-earth legal tactics.
In April, during an off-the-cuff interview at a Washington think-tank, Harper put his cards on the table, saying the new bridge will be built “before I leave office.”
With Canada’s next election tentatively scheduled for October, 2015, the bridge won’t yet be done. But nevertheless it could be well on its way, construction visible to all as potent political evidence that Harper’s Canada extends palpably to what remains of Ontario’s struggling manufacturing base.
Former Michigan lawmaker Steve Tobocman, another of Moroun’s outspoken Detroit critics, is unwilling to place any final bets on that timetable. He has just too much respect for the family’s appetite for battle.
“I’ve never seen a more litigious entity than Matty Moroun so who really knows how big they will go to invent new hurdles,” Tobocman told The Star.
“If you are earning in excess of $50 million a year from monopolistic profits, why not spend $10 million and delay as long as possible, even if you are going to lose in the end? Every year of delay is another year of profit,” he said.
There’s another Moroun in the wings, of course — Matty’s son Matthew, who has increasingly taken the reins of the firm and is emerging as an equally combative chip-off-the-old-block. Many anticipate the younger Moroun will sustain the family’s ferocious efforts, regardless of how much fight is left in 85-year-old Matty.
“His dad is an SOB — but a brilliant one. But Matthew has a degree of anger about him that I never saw in the father,” said Gregg Ward, owner of the Detroit Windsor Truck Ferry and one of Detroit’s fiercest Moroun watchers.
“But when you look at the sheer energy behind this announcement — so many levels of government, from Harper to Obama to the unions, community and business — you can’t help but conclude that the Morouns have finally been emasculated,” Ward said.
“Yes there will be more lawsuits. Maybe an injunction or two. But I see it as game over. They can argue all they want but this is an inglorious day for Team Moroun. No crossing owns the future. But a new bridge is going to happen.”