Henderson: What happened to our once mighty neighbour?

The Windsor Star

Gord Henderson

When did America lose its mojo? When and how did the Great Republic, historic bastion of freedom and democracy, surrender its pride and self-respect?

I’m as delighted as the next resident that Ottawa came through with a billion dollars worth of lifelines for the Windsor region this week, including big bucks to keep Fiat-Chrysler here and $631 million to support construction of the all-important Detroit River International Crossing.

No sane person would rain on that parade. The torrent of money from Finance Minister Jim Flaherty’s budget might well be this region’s salvation. Tuesday, Feb. 11 was, in all likelihood, an epic turning point that saved thousands of jobs and kept this area from dissolving into an economic puddle.

Still, amid all the cork popping, it strikes me as sad and embarrassing to see our once mighty next-door neighbour, last of the former big spenders, sit on its hands while Canada picks up most of the eye-popping tab for the new trade link between our partner nations.

Thoughtful Americans are surely humiliated by the demeaning spectacle of America and Michigan riding free, counting on Canada’s chequebook to get this vital project built while they concern themselves with more urgent issues, like building a grand new home for the Red Wings.

Yes, our federal government’s financial backstopping was instrumental in bringing Michigan public opinion on board at a critical stage in the approval process. Free money from the Great White North. With no risks and no conditions. Who the heck says no to that offer?

And yet here we are, deep into the process, waiting for a foot-dragging and seemingly disinterested Washington to commit $250 million to build a customs plaza in Detroit to service traffic over the new bridge.

Meanwhile, Canada, with fewer people than California and a devalued currency, is spending eight times as much, something like $2 billion, to build the international bridge, acquire properties in Detroit and pay for connecting roads.

We’re doing their job. How did it come to this? How did a nation once labelled the planet’s sole remaining superpower, chest-thumping victor in the Cold War, become a country that can’t or won’t pay its fair share of a new link on one of the world’s busiest trade corridors?

Say what you will about Stephen Harper and company, but this Conservative regime has been shrewd, visionary and remarkably generous in its unwavering commitment to seeing this border project completed.

They have nothing to gain politically in Windsor, a Conservative wasteland, but they see the long-term picture and understand the immense value to Canada of streamlined cross-border commercial traffic.

Why can’t Washington see this? Why hasn’t the Obama administration been a full partner with Canada in getting this done? Why aren’t they splitting costs 50-50?

Surely a country that squandered $800 billion to $4 trillion (depending on which study you believe) on the Iraq War fiasco, including massive infrastructure investments, could find a billion for a bridge to its closest neighbour.

What happened to the America that built the Panama Canal, sent men to the moon and had the resources and foresight to sponsor a ravaged Europe’s reconstruction after the Second World War?

What became of the wartime America that, under threat of invasion from Japan, built the 2,700-km Alaska Highway through swamps and muskeg, over jagged mountains and across raging rivers, in less than eight months? Work began on March 8, 1942 and was finished that October. That was an America that believed in itself.

What would Dwight Eisenhower, two-term president and former Allied supreme commander, think of this dithering over a single bridge across a mile of calm water? This guy presided over a D-Day invasion so complex it included shipping entire harbours from England to Normandy.

In 1956 Eisenhower took time out from his golf craze to authorize construction of the National System of Interstate and Defence Highways. A quarter-century and $131 billion later, the U.S. could boast of the “greatest public works project in history” with a staggering 46,000-plus miles of interstate highways.

And this bunch can’t see their way clear to building a bridge and a short stretch of road connecting to one of those interstates? How sad is that?

This is a different America. Hobbled by $17 trillion in debt and with a Capitol paralyzed by bitter partisan gridlock, it’s a diminished country. Its space shuttles are parked in museums while American astronauts hitch rides to the space station on Russian rockets.

It’s great that Canada, on the cusp of a balanced budget, is in a position to take the lead on DRIC. But it would be nice, given the once all-important lessons of 9-11, if we could get a bit more help from the folks next door.

Originally posted by The Windsor Star