The head of Canada's biggest business group says he's worried a "misinformation campaign" by opponents of a second Detroit-Windsor bridge is hurting the chances the long-sought project will secure vital approval in Michigan.
There is no greater conduit for Canada-U.S. trade than the link between Detroit and Windsor. The thousands of trucks that cross the Ambassador Bridge each day carry about 25 per cent of the merchandise traded annually between Canada and the United States.
Canada has been pushing to build an additional crossing for more than seven years to ease bottlenecks in cross-border traffic and meet future demand. It's offered to pay Michigan's $550-million share of the project – which would later be repaid from toll revenue.
The operators of the privately owned Ambassador Bridge, however, have waged a public campaign against the plan in recent months, using TV ads to raise questions in Michigan voters' minds about the rationale for a government-backed second crossing.
Opponents not connected to the Ambassador Bridge have used more controversial tactics, such as delivering fake eviction notices to Detroit residents that erroneously suggested they would be displaced by the project.
Canadian Chamber of Commerce president Perrin Beatty calls the new crossing "the single most important thing we can do to improve the functioning of the border" and says campaigns against the project are throwing up barriers to the deal.
Michigan Governor Rick Snyder had committed to getting legislative approval for the new bridge by early July. But bills that would pave the way for the state to enter officially into a bridge deal didn't pass before the summer break.
Detroit media have reported in recent weeks that the project currently lacks sufficient political support among Michigan legislators.
Mr. Beatty, whose group represents about 192,000 Canadian businesses, said Michigan taxpayers must understand that Canada's offer to front more than $500-million of the costs for its neighbour "is a deal that the people of any other state in the United States would give their right arm for." It would also create jobs for Michigan as it struggles through economic recovery, he said.
"If there's ever an opportunity to get it done, it's now," he said. "[But] what you have is massive amounts of money being poured into a campaign to spread misinformation."
Brad Williams of the Detroit Regional Chamber estimates bridge opponents have spent more than $1-million (U.S.) on campaigning against the second crossing.
The proprietors of the Ambassador Bridge make no apologies for the messages in their TV ads.
Matthew Moroun, vice-chairman of a family holding company overseeing the Ambassador Bridge, said a new government-backed crossing makes no sense now because it would beggar both. Annual traffic on the Ambassador Bridge is down more than 40 per cent in the past decade, he said, falling to 7.5 million vehicle crossings in 2010 from more than 12.5 million in the years just preceding the September, 2001, terrorist attacks.
He acknowledged Ambassador has spent a "significant amount" to fight the project but said it's necessary to counter what he characterizes as disinformation from politicians bent on building a rival crossing that would steal customers.
Jay Myers, president of Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters, said bridge supporters must now win over public opinion in the state. Political observers add that Mr. Snyder must also woo additional Michigan legislators from his own Republican party.
"In my view it's the people of Michigan, their constituents, that kind of need to be convinced," Mr. Myers said. "That's going to be the focus for most of the summer."
The Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters president said he remains optimistic that Michigan politicians will approve the project.
"It's not going to happen until legislators think there's adequate grassroots support for it."
The Detroit Chamber's Mr. Williams said he believes the "votes will be there" by the time Mr. Snyder needs them to pass the bridge legislation in the state House of Representatives and Senate.