Seamanship Quotation

“In political activity, then, men sail a boundless and bottomless sea; there is neither harbour for shelter nor floor for anchorage, neither starting-place nor appointed destination.”
— from Michael Oakeshott's
Political Education” (1951)

Monday, December 6, 2010

A necessary bridge doesn’t get built

Canada and the United States are winding up the biggest public capital-spending boom since the Great Depression. Yet, the most important strategic project for both countries—a new bridge between Windsor, Ontario and Detroit, Michigan—didn’t even get started. Ironically, being in the interest of both countries, rather than wholly in the interests of one, may be the problem.
Today, the old Ambassador Bridge conveys $150 billion, or one-quarter of Canada-US annual trade. It is congested, old, and stands alone. It adds to the costs and risks of cross-border trade. If it was obstructed, bombed, or shut down, hours, if not days, would be added to the movement of vital industrial goods and components.
Despite unanimous support in Canada and a Canadian government offer of financial assistance, Michigan still hasn’t agreed to support a second bridge. Barrie McKenna neatly spells out one of the causes of delay: Manuel (Matty) Moroun, the owner of the Ambassador Bridge, who wants to keep his commercial monopoly. 
Moroun’s importance, however, doesn’t dramatize the power of one citizen as much as he does the low priority that American decision-makers assign to building a more integrated (and therefore more world-competitive) North American manufacturing heartland. Free trade is still a good progressive idea, but not that persuasive when American governments are busy creating American jobs.
American automotive and other large manufacturers likely favour and certainly would benefit from the proposed $5.3 billion (US) Detroit River International Crossing project (DRIC). However, in politics, local spending trumps international spending even if it would generate benefits on both sides of the border.
This impasse isn’t another precious example of anti-Canadianism or American protectionism per se. It is a simple illustration of political arithmetic: a $billion spent in Detroit on its infrastructure will be seen as a $billion benefit to American voters. The Ontario Government made the same me-first calculation when it set a strict buy-Ontario procurement requirement for subsidized renewable energy projects.
Public money is relatively scarce, and so the existence of the border—and, consequently, separate electorates—will continue to militate against this strategic investment and other ideas to make our economies work more effectively together.

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