The Windsor bridge NAFTA challenge & other key annual conference issues

Downtown WindsorThe Harper government wants a second bridge across the Detroit River to connect Windsor and Detroit completed by 2020. About $120 billion of goods travel through the Windsor-Detroit corridor and across the Ambassador Bridge each year. Harper wants a new six-lane bridge so much that his government is paying the entire cost of the $1 billion bridge construction.

And work has now begun to make this happen. This past July, an international authority – the Windsor-Detroit Bridge Authority - was established to oversee the construction of the second bridge, the Detroit River International Crossing (DRIC) bridge. In August, a clean-up of the site began and in October the clearing of the land of abandoned publicly-owned structures started on the US side.

But the owner of the current four-lane bridge across the Detroit River is using a tool – one that Mr. Harper backs in agreements like the Canada-European Union 'free trade' deal – against him. Michigan billionaire Manuel 'Matty' Moroun is using the NAFTA Chapter 11 investor-state provision to sue Canada for $3.5 billion in damages.

When Moroun launched his investor-state claim in 2010 he argued that the second bridge discriminates against American investors, namely himself, who have the right to be treated no differently than a Canadian company. The claim says, "Canada has arbitrarily undermined the claimant's investments by steering away traffic." He says the federal government reneged on its commitment to invest in roads leading to the current bridge given a new parkways stops three kilometres short of the Ambassador Bridge and funnels traffic away to the new bridge.

The 85-year-old Ambassador Bridge generates about $60 million per year in toll revenues and millions more in duty free goods and gas sales. It carries about 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. Moroun also claims to have spent $250 million on his proposal to build a twin span bridge across the river.

The Toronto Star recently reported, "In the ensuing proceedings, Canada has argued the case should be thrown out because Moroun’s company did not file a complaint within the time deadline for Chapter 11 suits, which is three years after a complainant becomes aware of an alleged rights violation. The case is still before the NAFTA dispute settlement tribunal."

The Council of Canadians will be holding its annual conference in Windsor this coming October 23-25.

We will continue to monitor this investor-state challenge as well as other issues critical in the Windsor-Detroit area including: the proposed closure of the Leamington hospital's obstetrics unit; a proposed Kinder Morgan fracked gas pipeline from Ohio to Windsor; the Windsor Regional Hospital's partnership with Detroit’s Henry Ford Hospital to accept paying medical patients; the petroleum coke piles near the Detroit River that are a byproduct of tar sands bitumen being refined in Detroit; the ongoing violation of the right to water and sanitation against Detroit residents who are having their water shutoff by the city; the closure of the Veterans Affairs office in Windsor; and numerous other issues of concern.

In terms of the federal election, the two federal seats in Windsor are currently held by the NDP but the ridings have been described as Liberal-NDP swing ridings. With climate change, Windsor has been called the "smog capital of Canada", in part because it is downwind of coal-burning power plants in the United States. And with the Great Lakes, Windsor is situated on the St. Lawrence Seaway, it's the third largest Canadian port on the Great Lakes and is accessible to ocean-going vessels.

We hope that you join us in Windsor to discuss these critical issues. For more on this 30th anniversary annual conference, please click here.

Photo: Downtown Windsor.