(WINDSOR, ON) – Windsor’s mayor, Drew Dilkens, continues to view relations with the Ambassador Bridge Company as an “us versus them” scenario. His attack of the local chamber of commerce over an issue regarding the opening of unused customs inspection booths belies his claim of working cooperatively with the ABC, as he’s been told to by the Canadian government.
The Windsor-Essex Regional Chamber of Commerce recently forwarded a letter to Ralph Goodale, the federal minister responsible for public safety. In the letter, chamber president, Matt Marchand, factually described the border crossing issues faced at the Ambassador Bridge and the significance of the delays to the Canadian and local economies.
In aid of acting as a good neighbour and cutting the heavy costs transportation, Marchand also asked Goodale to consider opening six customs inspection booths which were constructed in 2007, but which have never been used.
“It is worth noting that Canada’s competitive position vis-à-vis the US states is deteriorating significantly,” Marchand wrote. “Our cost structure is significantly higher, our regulatory environment is more expansive and expensive and our tax advantage has been essentially eliminated. We don’t wish to add border uncertainty to a growing list of obstacles Canadian business has to overcome to keep, maintain and expand here in Canada.”
Dilkens takes offense at the request, saying that the chamber is “siding” with the bridge company “to the detriment of the City of Windsor.” He claims that opening the booths would hamper the city’s position while negotiating with the ABC. The city already knows it has to close Huron Line from north of College Avenue, though, as per the government’s order in council.
Dilkens now appears to prefer to string out the talks and to delay the start of construction on the replacement span of the Ambassador Bridge. He uses words like “collaboration,” “end run,” “offside,” and “circumvent” to describe the chamber’s position.
Dilkens says the chamber has taken sides and that the bridge company is “using” the chamber.
In his own letter to Goodale, Dilkens advises the minister that the city and the bridge company had scheduled a meeting for April 3 to “commence negotiations in respect of the [Order in Council] conditions.” What the mayor refuses to acknowledge, however, is that there is more support in Windsor for the chamber’s position and less for continuing the failed strategies of the Francis era.
Barry Zekelman, in private industry as chairman and CEO of a large manufacturing concern, described the truck backlog into Canada as “an absolute disaster.”
“I’ve been complaining about this for 15 years,” he told the Windsor Star. “It limits our ability to be competitive, it limits our ability to draw truckers to come over to pick up loads. It’s hurt our city. It’s hurt tourism. It’s hurt business. It’s an absolute catastrophe.”
Marchand’s letter, which was also sent to provincial and national chamber CEOs, the Detroit and Sarnia chambers, and to area MPs, Tracey Ramsey and Brian Masse, was an attempt to organize a “collaborative” regional solution to the issue. Dilkens is refusing to play nicely in the sandbox.
Just as trucks back up onto Huron Line because of computer crashes and lack of inspectors on the US side of the border, the unused CBSA infrastructure at the bridge produces the same traffic congestion on the connecting I-75 in Detroit. It is really a very easy fix.
There were no back-ups when traffic surged at the bridge during the 10-day closure of the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel. Extra staff were added to the usual CBSA complement at the bridge.
It seems the federal government is adverse to the extra costs involved with manning the unused booths while Dilkens is content to play political football with border delays that costs businesses in the city millions of dollars.
One way to ensure delays is to continue to fight a costly, losing battle. That is not in the best interests of the residents of Windsor.