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Signs showing the way to the bridge to Canada on a highway leading to the Ambassador Bridge in Detroit, March 21, 2013.(Deborah Baic/The Globe and Mail)

Deborah Baic/The Globe and Mail

If only we'd held onto Fort Detroit until the end of the War of 1812. If both sides of the Detroit River were Canadian, the Obama administration would not be dragging its feet so as to induce Canada to pay for almost all, if not all, the cost of the new Detroit-Windsor crossing, including the U.S. government's own customs plaza. Canada has had to buy the Michigan real estate on which the plaza will be built, effectively a gift to the U.S. government. Mr. Obama's March budget is silent on the project.

The new U.S. ambassador to Canada, Bruce Heyman, is courteously vague on the $250-million for the customs plaza, out of $3.4-billion for the whole project. He says that he is "not aware of any promises," but welcomes "the opportunity to sit down with the Canadian government and understand their perspective."

There's no great mystery about the Canadian perspective. A new, wider bridge to the United States is vital for the Canadian economy. The sole existing bridge is the world's busiest international trade crossing. In a speech last month in Chicago, Lisa Raitt, the Minister of Transport, said that Canada "continues to await a decision," and she appealed to the two countries' "long history of co-operation and partnership." The Canadian government is already paying for the cost of the new bridge. This week she intimated that Canada would be willing to pay for the Americans' customs plaza, too.

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In the end, future bridge tolls will likely fully repay Canada for picking up the up-front cost of the bridge. The project, a public-private partnership, must move ahead. And though Canada will never recover sovereignty over Detroit, at this rate one small, expensive corner of Michigan will be very Canadian.

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