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Time to take over the Ambassador Bridge

Over the years I’ve spoken to a lot of Eastern Europeans, who are in love with freedom, capitalism, and the free enterprise system.

They remember what life was like under Soviet-style Communism, and think being able to own one’s own business is the greatest thing there is. However, they do recognize that you do need a thriving, healthy public sector of the economy.

They know we need cops and courts and decent schools. They think not raising taxes for necessary road repair is somewhere between immature and insane.

And they are flabbergasted that we allow one man to own an international border crossing, let alone the most economically important one between the United States and Canada.

I’m talking, of course, about MattyMoroun, the 88-year-old billionaire who owns the 86-year-old Ambassador Bridge, which carries more than $130 billion a year in trade between the United States and Canada. Much of this consists of heavy manufacturing components.

There’s no other affordable way to get them across the river. Our economies are vulnerable and at the mercy of the Moroun family until the proposed Gordie Howe International Bridge opens, something that won’t happen for at least five years.

This might be tolerable if the Morouns were benevolent civic-minded leaders like Warren Buffett, who, ironically, also tried to buy the Ambassador Bridge when Moroun did, in 1979. But the Morouns are anything but. They’ve done everything they could to prevent a second bridge from being built, corrupting our politics in the process.

They have caused governments to spend precious millions defending themselves against silly Moroun lawsuits.  Windsor, Ontario has already spent nearly $3 million, and will soon have to spend more.  And their ancient creaky bridge now may be falling apart. 

Last week, Windsor had to shut down three streets after pieces of rotting concrete came raining down from the Ambassador Bridge. You might have expected the owners to respond with fervent apologies and promises to make things right. But that’s not how the Morouns operate.

Instead, Matthew Moroun, the owner’s son and heir apparent, held a press conference to claim that the bridge was “not crumbling,” and challenged anyone to prove it was.

Up to now, this was difficult, because the Morouns have been allowed to prevent anyone from really inspecting their bridge. But when confronted with the evidence, Moroun claimed  Windsor was preventing his company from making repairs. It later turned out that the Morouns have actually failed to make repairs to the bridge ordered by Canada in June.

Well, we’ve all put up with this outrage way too long. Last week, the Liberal Party won a smashing landslide victory in Canada, in part by pledging to put the interests of the people first and make the one percent pay their fair share.

They should start by conferring with officials in this country, invoking national security and eminent domain, and force Moroun to sell his bridge to both nations. That’s what governments do to anyone whose private house stands in the way of a federal highway.

The Morouns have stood in the way of our safety and trade security too long. Some will say ending their irresponsible ownership of an international trade crossing is communism. What it really would be is common sense.

Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio's political analyst. Views expressed in his essays are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.

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