“Canada, understand, has agreed to pay for the bridge in full, including liabilities — and potential cost overruns — under an agreement that was about a decade-in-the-making and officially announced to much fanfare, at least on the Canadian side of the border, by Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Michigan Governor Rick Snyder in Windsor/Detroit in mid-June.”
Roy Norton, the Canadian consul general in Detroit, has been putting a lot of miles on his five-year-old Canadian-made Mercury Marquis of late.
Crisscrossing the great state of Michigan, speaking at business luncheons, to university crowds and at town hall meetings, stumping in support of the multi-billion-dollar “New International Trade Crossing” (a.k.a. bridge) spanning the border at Detroit/Windsor, while trying to convince Michiganders that there is such a thing as a free bridge.
Canada, understand, has agreed to pay for the bridge in full, including liabilities — and potential cost overruns — under an agreement that was about a decade-in-the-making and officially announced to much fanfare, at least on the Canadian side of the border, by Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Michigan Governor Rick Snyder in Windsor/Detroit in mid-June.
For Michigan, it is a slam-dunk arrangement. As Mr. Norton told one audience: ‘‘If this proves to be a dumb financial decision, it’s on us, not on you.’’
It’s a free bridge, a vital new piece of publicly owned infrastructure — for both countries — and yet one that is in grave danger of being demolished before construction even begins when Michigan voters head to the polls for a ballot initiative attached to the Nov. 6 elections.
“There are no arguments, literally no arguments that anybody in Michigan should embrace against the new bridge,” Mr. Norton says. “But, again, the owners of the Ambassador Bridge are prepared to say and do anything to mislead the public…
“The Morouns are greedy. They are manipulative. They are cynical.”
Manuel (Matty) Moroun, an 85-year-old self-made billionaire who owns the 83-year-old Ambassador Bridge, is Cynic-in-Chief. The Ambassador is currently the only transport truck-bearing bridge in town. Twenty-five percent of Canadian-American trade, representing about $120-billion, flows across it each year.
It is a perfect monopoly for the Moroun family, a golden goose that just keeps on laying eggs, putting upwards of $80-million a year in tolls, duty free gas and shopping sales in their pockets. Allowing a Canadian-financed competitor into the ring without a fight isn’t an option.
For months, Michiganders have been fed a robust diet of Moroun-family-financed television commercials urging them to vote “yes” to Proposal 6 on Nov. 6. Proposal 6 is a statewide ballot initiative that, if successful, would see Michigan’s state constitution amended and make any new “international bridges” subject to the approval of a majority of Michigan voters.
The Morouns have reportedly spent over $10-million to thwart the free bridge, an effort highlighted by door-to-door flier campaigns, robocalls and their ubiquitous television spots featuring a soundtrack of ominous-sounding piano chords and a series of plain-talking Michigan folk — retired cops, stay-at-home-moms, nurses aides and longtime Detroit residents — striking apocalyptic notes about a paid-for-by-Canada border crossing.
“There is no such thing as a free bridge,” one woman says.
“Eventually, we the people are going to end up paying for it,” warns a Vietnam veteran with an American flag on the back of his motorcycle.
“Quit being so arrogant with our money,” a weathered-senior in a yellow golf shirt growls. “We can’t go out and start building bridges, our grandkids are going to have to pay the debt off.”
The message: “The People Should Decide.” The impact? It is working. Polls show voter support for Proposal 6 at about 50%, down from 57% a few months ago, but still a figure that no Canadian, anywhere, and especially not one living in southwestern Ontario, where the economy is bound-and-tied to the Big Three automakers and the American industrial heartland beyond, should be comfortable with.
Dan Daniel, the Vietnam vet featured in at least two of the television commercials, is a retired Troy police officer. I phoned the station house in Troy, looking for a forwarding contact for Mr. Daniel. The officer who answered was a friend of “Danny’s”. He assured me he would pass along my message and chuckled when I mentioned the free bridge.
“You mean the bridge to nowhere?” he said. “If you believe that it’s free I’ve got some swampland down in Florida I can sell you.”
A Moroun family spokesperson did not respond to an interview request. But in a recent interview with Michigan Radio, John Bebow, with the Center for Michigan’s Truth Squad, a non-partisan watchdog that monitors political advertising in the state, pointed to the falsehoods underlying the Morouns ad campaign.
“It’s been very well documented that grandkids in Michigan are not going to have to pay that [bridge] off because the Canadian government is going to pay for it,” he said.
“Michigan taxpayers of any age, including your grandkids, are not on the hook.”
Most unions, the automakers, the Michigan Governor’s office, the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, assorted economists, and the Ohio and Indiana state legislatures back the bridge.
On a dreary Tuesday, our consul general was in Bay City, Mich., for a Rotary Lunch, selling Michigan voters on a sure thing.
“I am here, and I am out here, literally every day, giving a speech,” Mr. Norton said. “Every device that you can imagine is being utilized by the Morouns and their henchmen to persuade Michiganders that this [bridge] is going to cost them money — and it won’t.”