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Border Wars

Well, the worst snowstorm in recorded history turned out not to live up to its billing, and civilization seems likely to go on.

Funny, but every year we always seem to forget a basic fact of life in Michigan. Which is: it snows in the winter. We are pretty far north, you know. So much so, that a sizable chunk of Ontario is south of us. You remember Ontario, yes?

It is one province of a vast country called Canada which we know is there, but somehow, mostly forget to notice.

Canada is, by far, our biggest trading partner. The economies of Michigan and Ontario are tightly linked, so much so that if something happened to stifle trade between our two countries, we would instantly be plunged into the mother of all depressions.

Most of us know this, but we seem somehow to have an amazing sense of collective amnesia about Canada.

Incredibly, much of the debate in Michigan about whether or not to build a second bridge over the Detroit River has completely ignored that any proposal needs the willing participation of a completely independent foreign nation, known as Canada.

Keith Crain, owner of the publishing empire, has a column in this week’s Crain’s Detroit Business in which he argues in favor of letting Matty Moroun twin his Ambassador Bridge.

Amazingly, he seems unaware that Canada has emphatically said that Moroun can forget it, since a second bridge in the same spot would play havoc with traffic flow and present environmental drawbacks as well. He wouldn’t do that if it were France.

Yet somehow, we have a hard time showing Canada respect, Maybe this is because our nations have long been so close, geographically but also in many other ways.

But one group is acutely aware that Canada is a separate country: Businessmen. Ever since the 9-11 terrorist attacks a decade ago, new security precautions have made commerce an increasing nightmare of bureaucracy and bottlenecks.

You can frequently see this in the long lines of trucks waiting to get through customs on either side of the border. This is not only inconvenient, but stifles growth. These days, any American firm is going to think twice about establishing a Canadian subsidiary, and any Canadian firm is bound to do the same.

If we are serious about growing our economy, this has to change. As David Bradley, the head of the Canadian Trucking Alliance put it, “We need to restore principles of risk management at the border instead if checking everything and everyone all the time.” That’s what you might call common sense.

Tomorrow, President Obama and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper are meeting in Washington to hopefully discuss sweeping changes to border regulations. This meeting hasn’t gotten the publicity of yesterday’s snow, but is potentially far more important to all of us. For many years, it was nearly as easy to cross the border between Michigan and Ontario as it was to enter Ohio.

That’s something both nations should strive to restore as fully as possible.

There’s been no indication of terrorists using Canada as a base of operations.

There’s every sign, however, that anything that disrupts our economies leaves our enemies only too pleased.

And we certainly don’t need to do their work for them.

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