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Duelling opinion polls heat up Windsor-Detroit bridge debate

An artist rendering of the Detroit River International Crossing project

Handout photo/Handout photo

The long-simmering conflict over a proposed new bridge from Ontario to Detroit flared up again this week as the span's champions and opponents whacked each other with duelling public opinion polls that purport to show Michigan residents support their side in the tussle.

The Canadian and United States federal governments, along with Ontario and Michigan, have long planned the Detroit River International Crossing to relieve bottlenecks at the existing Ambassador Bridge, the busiest land trade route between the two countries, and allow a direct connection from Highway 401 to the U.S. without the need to pass through traffic lights in Windsor. Canada wants the bridge so badly it has even offered to spend $550-million to cover Michigan's portion of the project, a sum that would eventually be repaid through toll revenues.

Detroit businessman Manuel (Matty) Moroun and his family, who own the Ambassador, are no fans of a competing bridge. They argue there isn't enough traffic to share and the tolls won't be lucrative enough to pay Canada back, which could leave Michigan taxpayers to make up the difference.

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Earlier this week, the pro-bridge group Business Leaders for Michigan came out with a poll of 600 Michiganers, in which 61.5 per cent were in favour of the project, provided Canada and the U.S. federal government paid for it.

Late Thursday, Mr. Moroun's company busted out a poll of its own with a diametrically opposite result: it had 64.5 per cent of 500 Michigan residents opposing a bridge "financed by the governments of Michigan and Canada."

Bridge proponents have accused Mr. Moroun's pollster, political consultant Dick Morris, of "push-polling" – phrasing questions in such a way as to create a negative opinion of the DRIC. Mr. Morris hit back in kind, arguing that the Business Leaders poll, which told respondents Michigan taxpayers would not pay for the bridge, used loaded language.

"If we had asked the question the same way they did, we would have got the exact same result," he said.

Public opinion polls aren't the only weapon in the Ambassador's arsenal: over the summer, a company that owns the Canadian side of the bridge ran an ad attacking Dalton McGuinty's Liberal government for building a highway to the proposed site of the DRIC. The Liberals slammed the advertisement as an attempt by the Morouns to interfere in Ontario politics; their company said they were merely raising an important public issue.

In Michigan, meanwhile, a campaign finance advocacy group estimates the family has spent an estimated $4.7-million on anti-bridge ad buys so far this year, exhorting voters to pressure the governor to end the project. Mr. Morris said that strategy will continue, as the state government is due to consider the proposal this fall.

So will the ads keep airing on the Canadian side?

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"No, I think your laws preclude it," he said. "It's too close to the election."

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