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Canadian ambassador on building their "most important infrastructure project"

Oct 12, 2016

David MacNaughton, Canada’s relatively new ambassador to the United States, came to Detroit yesterday, to speak to an important but too-little known group, CUSBA, or the Canada-United States Business Association. Our relationship with Canada is, by far, the most important one there is for both countries.

Canadians always know that; Americans tend to forget.

Detroit-Windsor is also easily both countries’ most economically important border crossing. The Canadian consulate graciously invited me to lunch with the ambassador, a witty and urbane man who isn’t a typical career diplomat. After serving his nation briefly as a young man, he went on to build his own political PR firm, sold it, and went on to run two more. .

He’s long been close to the Liberal Party leadership, and was a natural choice after Justin Trudeau swept to victory a year ago.

Since then, however, there have been concerns about how long it has been taking to build the long-awaited Gordie Howe International Bridge. There were even rumors that the Liberals might not be as committed to the bridge as the previous government.

Ambassador MacNaughton, however, said that wasn’t true. .

"This is Canada's biggest and most important infrastructure project."

“This is Canada’s biggest and most important infrastructure project,” he said.

Preparations on the Canadian side have taken a little longer than expected, he said, because some of the land for the bridge’s footprint was too soft, and had to be filled in and shored up to bear the structure’s enormous weight.

However, he said he expected the Canadian government to finally release its RFP – request for proposals – very soon.

Wryly, in a clear allusion to our election campaign, he said, possibly facetiously, that when asked for advice about building a wall, he told someone “Don’t ask for advice from me – America already got us to pay for a bridge.”

Canada is, of course picking up our share of the costs, which they will be theoretically paid back someday from toll revenues.

Diplomats the world over know they can’t take sides in foreign elections. Before he could be asked, Ambassador MacNaughton said “We have full confidence in the American people and will work with whoever is elected – and that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.”

"We may have to build a bridge and a wall."

But he indicated later that it was wearisome to hear trade between our two countries constantly bashed, and said that depending on how the election came out, “we may have to build a bridge and a wall.”

Canadians tend to be rational and orderly, and it’s not hard to figure out who our northern neighbors would be more comfortable with.

MacNaughton indicated that both nations could be better communicators. “We need to speak more about trade and the benefits of trade,” he noted; “we need to find better ways to talk to people about trade.”

He also said something that to me makes perfect sense: “Our economies are intertwined to the point where we need a common regulatory process, especially in energy.”

The ambassador also quoted his boss, the prime minister, in words we ‘lower Americans’ might want to keep in mind. “Fear is easy,” Trudeau said. “Friendship – that takes work.”

MacNaughton added that working on our own, the United States and Canada have both made progress. And then he added, “but when we work together, we make history.”

Which is what building bridges should be all about.

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.