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Canada’s consul-general in Detroit, Ray Norton, has travelled around the state drumming up support for the proposal. (GEOFF ROBINS For The Globe and Mail)
Canada’s consul-general in Detroit, Ray Norton, has travelled around the state drumming up support for the proposal. (GEOFF ROBINS For The Globe and Mail)

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Bridge backers eye Michigan vote closely Add to ...

Buried on the Michigan ballot for the U.S. election on Tuesday – after the choice for drain commissioner, sheriff and, oh yes, president – is a proposal being watched intently by the Canadian government.

It’s Proposal 6, which, if approved, would throw up a roadblock to one of the federal government’s cherished initiatives, the plan to pay for and build a new bridge over the Detroit River between Windsor, Ont., and Detroit.

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The proposal calls for amending the state’s constitution so that approval of a majority of Michigan voters is required before the state can spend a dime to acquire land, construct, finance or have almost anything to do with a new international bridge.

Such an amendment would stop dead in its tracks the New International Trade Crossing, a six-lane span that won’t cost Michigan voters a cent because Canada has offered to finance the Great Lake State’s $550-million share of the $4-billion project.

Support for the proposal is financed by Manuel (Matty) Moroun, who owns the Ambassador Bridge and has raised about $32-million (U.S.) to flood the television airwaves with pro-Proposal 6 ads.

That’s a record amount for one side of a ballot proposal in Michigan, said Rich Robinson, executive director of Michigan Campaign Finance Network, a public policy research group based in Lansing, the state capital.

Proponents of the new bridge have raised less than $1-million, but Governor Rick Snyder – for whom this is also a key issue – and Canada’s consul-general in Detroit, Roy Norton, have criss-crossed the state disputing claims by Mr. Moroun and his family in a bid to convince Michigan voters to reject the proposal.

Gary Doer, Canada’s ambassador to Washington, weighed in this week with a message on the federal government’s Connect2Canada website, urging support for the second bridge.

“The only real opposition comes from one company trying to protect its current monopoly on the Ambassador Bridge,” Mr. Doer wrote.

One of Canada’s biggest companies, auto parts giant Magna International Inc., has sent memos to its Michigan employees pointing out the benefits a new bridge would bring to the company, the auto industry and the economy generally.

For Magna and others in the auto industry, the main benefit is the likely elimination of long delays that trucks full of parts and finished vehicles endure as they try to cross the Ambassador Bridge, which was built in 1929.

The value of two-way trade amounted to about $120-billion last year, or about 25 per cent of all Canada-U.S. trade in goods.

Ballot proposals are volatile, but the most recent poll on the issue suggests the backers of the new bridge may be able to breathe a sigh of relief late Tuesday night.

About 47 per cent of Michigan voters will cast ballots against the proposal and 42 per cent will vote in favour, according to a Detroit Free Press-WXYZ poll of 600 voters.

“People are often skeptical of voting in favour of these things,” noted John Clark, chair of the political science department of Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo.

But Prof. Clark also pointed that Mr. Moroun and his family “have done a pretty good job of convincing people that this is really about out-of-control politicians that we’re all suspicious of rather than about the bridge in particular.”

But whether the ballot proposal is a bridge too far for Michigan voters may come down to their attention span when they get in the voting booth on Tuesday.

“It’s a long ballot in Michigan,” Prof. Clark said, “and there are a lot of people who probably aren’t going to make it to the last page.”

Follow on Twitter: @gregkeenanglobe

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