Kelly McParland: Obama punishes Canada by penalizing Americans

By Kelly McParland

Canada appears to have sunk pretty low on the priority list of Barack Obama’s White House. The President stressed in his State of the Union message that he intends to bypass the sclerosis in the U.S. Congress by making executive decisions that don’t require congressional approval. Yet he has two major Canadian infrastructure projects he could approve, and instead they’re lying around crying for action.

The recent report issued by Mr. Obama’s State Department made clear that the Keystone XL pipeline project carries no serious threat to the environment, and would produce much-needed jobs for Americans. Yet the White House quickly said Mr. Obama won’t be rushed into a decision, even though he’s already had six years to consider the proposal.

More perplexing is his refusal to help speed along the new bridge that will cross between Detroit and Windsor, eliminating bottlenecks, easing trade and contributing to the recovery of the U.S. economy. Canada is paying for nine-tenths of the $2.1 billion project. Canada will pay for preparatory costs, land acquisition and construction, recouping the U.S. share later, from tolls. The only expense for the U.S. is an estimated $200 million for a Customs plaza on their side.

Yet Mr. Obama has been stalling. Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder vented his frustration to the Detroit Free Press in January, complaining that “the U.S. government has largely taken a position that they don’t think they should pay anything for a facility for the United States government.”

Asked whom the federal officials want to pay for the customs plaza where incoming vehicles would be checked by federal workers, Snyder said, “Apparently, someone other than them.”

There’s a suspicion that Washington’s tardiness is related to the efforts of local businessman Matty Moroun, who owns the Ambassador Bridge and is upset at having to face new competition. Maroun has launched a storm of legal challenges and spent heavily on Washington lobbyists and Michigan Republicans in Congress. But Obama is a Democrat, and Congressional Republicans give him nothing but grief anyway, so it’s curious if he’s allowing that to influence his decision. Mr. Snyder is also a Republican, also a businessman, and he’s avidly in favour of the project. He’s also seeking re-election in the U.S. mid-term elections; perhaps the president feels that denying the governor a high-profile job-creating project will weaken his chances and give a Democrat a chance.

In the process, however, he’s also weakening Detroit’s recovery efforts. It’s no secret that the city is in dire condition. It filed for bankruptcy in July — the biggest municipal bankruptcy ever — and is being run by an “emergency manager” appointed by Snyder.  The neighbourhood in which the U.S. Customs plaza would be built is, according to the Free Press, one of the most distressed of the city’s neighbourhoods, an area of abandoned homes and empty streets. The plaza would help clear away the rubble, give value to otherwise unwanted land, create jobs in a high unemployment area and end the waiting among remaining property owners who have been left dangling by the uncertainty. As Snyder noted, delay won’t necessarily block the project, it will just make progress unnecessarily slower and more difficult.

The Customs plaza, it hardly needs saying, is needed so officials on the U.S. side of the border can do their job. It’s not some exotic demand dreamed up by officials in Ottawa. There is some talk that U.S. Customs officers could always work on the Canadian side of the border for a while, but, as Canada’s outgoing consul-general in Detroit noted, suggesting that Canada build a home in Detroit for U.S. Customs is just “silly.”

From the National Post