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NEWS: Harper considers legislation to ensure Detroit-Windsor bridge, despite NAFTA challenge

The Globe and Mail reports in a front-page article today that, “The Canadian government is considering the extraordinary step of using an act of Parliament to shield the new Windsor-Detroit bridge project from lawsuits launched by owners of an existing crossing. …Briefing notes prepared for Transport Minister Denis Lebel when he assumed his post last May show his department feels the New International Trade Crossing project may require legislative protection from Ottawa to prevent further delay in Canada.”

The briefing notes say, “There is a risk that the legal challenges launched by the Ambassador Bridge could delay the DRIC project or, in the worst case, they could prevent the project from proceeding. …While Transport Canada is vigorously defending these challenges, the DRIC project may incur further risks, including additional legal challenges by the Ambassador Bridge as permits are issued under various federal acts. …To avoid further delays to the project, Transport Canada is actively examining, with other departments, the option of an act of Parliament to enable the construction of the DRIC and to exempt the project from specific laws under which permits or approvals are required to implement the project. …In essence, such an act could allow the project to proceed while quashing current legal challenges and preventing any future challenges to Canada.”

The article notes that in order to secure the bridge, “(The Harper government has) even offered to pay Michigan’s $550-million share of the new bridge, which would later be repaid from toll revenue.”

But, “The operators of the privately owned Ambassador Bridge, however, have waged a public campaign against the project, even using TV ads to raise questions in Michigan voters’ minds about the rationale for a government-backed second crossing. They say there’s insufficient traffic for two bridges and have launched multiple legal challenges in Canada and the United States. …The State of Michigan’s efforts to secure legislative approval for the project stalled this fall over local politics, but Governor Rick Snyder vowed during a recent visit to Ottawa that he’s determined to push it through in the months ahead.”

Not mentioned in the Globe and Mail report by Steven Chase is the pending NAFTA Chapter 11 challenge against the construction of a second bridge. In April 2010, the Windsor Star reported, “Ambassador Bridge owner Matty Moroun… is seeking US$3.5 billion from the Canadian government… (because) Moroun says the Canadian government violated the North American Free Trade Agreement with its proposal known as DRIC (Detroit River International Crossing) — a plan to construct a $1.6-billion Windsor-Essex border parkway that links Highway 401 to a new downriver bridge.”

Presently, the four-lane bridge Ambassador Bridge carries more than 10,000 trucks on a typical weekday and more than 25 per cent of all merchandise trade between the United States and Canada crosses this bridge. Along with the expectation of increased cross-border traffic, it has been estimated that the DRIC bridge would divert about 75 per cent of truck traffic and nearly 40 per cent of car traffic from the Ambassador Bridge. “(Moroun’s) legal documents indicate Canada stands to be the greatest beneficiary under the plan since DRIC features investment by the Canadian government and likely other private Canadian business interests. That arrangement discriminates against American investors — largely Moroun and his bridge company, the claim says. ‘Canada has arbitrarily undermined the claimant’s investments by steering away traffic.’”

The Harper government views the second Windsor-Detroit bridge as a critical component of the recently announced Beyond the Border deal with the United States.