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Democracy at its Very Worst

Posted: August 1, 2014 by Rolf Lockwood

Our American friends are going to the polls in a week or so, and I can’t resist commenting. Not about the Obama-vs-Romney battle, compelling as it is, but about a pair of ridiculous proposals that somehow made it onto the Michigan ballot. Because they involve my country and my province directly, they’re fair game for comment. They speak to the true nature of power and politics, and it ain’t a pretty picture.

It’s all about the building of a new bridge connecting Windsor with Detroit, Ontario with Michigan, Canada with the U.S. Dubbed the New International Trade Crossing (NITC) in a first-rate example of uninspired project-naming, it would add to the capacity that’s been supplied by the tired old Ambassador Bridge since 1929. And it would divert masses of truck traffic out of downtown Windsor.

Proposal 5 would require either a two-thirds vote of the Legislature or public approval by way of a statewide referendum before any new taxes could be levied. Outrageous, of course.

Proposal 6 would also demand a two-thirds vote or a public referendum before any new bridge or tunnel could be built. Outrageous again.

And guess who’s behind getting these on the ballot? Yep, Matty Moroun, owner of the Ambassador and strident foe of the new bridge proposal. He’s spent upwards of $30 million on this battle, first to get these proposals on the ballot and now to get Michiganders to vote ‘yes’ to them.

He calls it democracy in action, and I certainly have nothing against the idea of a man or a company lobbying to get his way. In principle. But the only possible benefactor here is himself — it’s about saving the monopoly his own bridge enjoys, along with the substantial revenue from tolls and duty-free fuel he sells there. Michigan would not benefit, only Matty.

This ain’t democracy. It’s about tricking the voter to get your own way. And using gobs of money to do it.

Moroun managed to prevent a bridge vote in the state legislature by buying support, though it’s dominated by Tea Party Republicans who seem to hate anything that smacks of common sense anyway.

Ironically, Michigan Governor Rick Snyder is himself a Republican, though he’s the one pushing for the second span, knowing it’s good for his state in terms of business and jobs and security in a post-9/11 world. He has the support of the Big Three, the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, and of industry in general, as well as that of neighbouring Ohio.

Snyder engineered a deal with Canada, doing an oddly legal — and necessary — end-around to bypass the impossible legislature, a deal that would see Ottawa foot the entire bill for the NITC, to be repaid out of toll revenue. Michigan is on the hook for nothing here. Nothing.

But Moroun’s anti-NITC campaign — mainly expensive TV ads that seemingly run non-stop — is full of lies and little else. It aims to fool the voters. As Snyder commented in a recent TV interview, the only true elements in these ads are the words ‘bridge’ and ‘Michigan’.

They claim the new bridge would indeed put Michigan on the financial hook and ask voters if they’d rather spend money on a bridge that nobody needs or on teachers and cops and firefighters. The average voter, in Michigan or anywhere else, doesn’t dig very deep into issues of any sort and so he’s likely to be swayed in the face of such a media onslaught. Even if it’s a lie.

While Moroun has spent many millions on this campaign, the only pro-bridge lobbying group has collected less than a million bucks — a third of it from General Motors — and apparently hasn’t actually used any of it.

So what we have is at least a strong possibility that voters will approve both proposals 5 and 6, and thereby apply a stranglehold to the state legislature that will make it near impossible to do much of anything in the future. Including the building of a bridge that is needed to solidify and protect essential trade between Canada and the U.S.

This is absurd. This is truly nuts. This is about greed and the power of money, nothing else. Democracy, yes, but democracy at its very worst.

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