Canadian Consul General Roy Norton, left, stands with Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder as they offer remarks at the Southern Wayne County Regional Chamber Legislative Forum in October 2012. (Carlos Osorio / AP)
One of the key players in the effort to construct a new international crossing over the Detroit River is headed for a new position.
Canadian Consul General Roy Norton has been appointed by the Department of Foreign Affairs to become Canada’s new Consul General in Chicago.
As the voice of Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Norton teamed with Gov. Rick Snyder in an effort to secure support for the new $1 billion, six-lane New International Trade Crossing (NITC), which would span the river between Delray and a rural section of Windsor.
According to the governments of Michigan and Canada, the NITC would supplement the aging Ambassador Bridge and would alleviate bridge backups — as well as heavy truck traffic in Windsor —by linking Interstates 75 and 94 with the new Windsor-Essex Parkway, which connects directly to Highway 401 in Ontario.
“We appreciate everything that Roy has done not only for the NITC, but on behalf of Michigan-Canada relations overall,” Snyder said. “Roy was instrumental in moving the NITC forward and his involvement will continue in his new posting. The NITC is Canada’s top infrastructure project, so we’re confident that the nation’s commitment remains strong, even with the change in consuls general. We wish him well.”
In March, Norton will resume his new duties in Chicago. He will be replaced in Detroit by Douglas George, Canada’s ambassador to Kuwait since 2011.
According to Snyder’s office, the NITC continues to move forward with the recent permit approval by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality; the submission of an application for a U.S. Coast Guard navigational permit, geotechnical drill in Canada and the commencement of property title searches.
Over the past 10 years, efforts to build the NITC has been a tough battle due to fierce legal and political opposition from Manuel “Matty” Moroun, billionaire owner of the Ambassador Bridge, which carries much of the international commercial traffic between Detroit and Canada.
Moroun — who has said the NITC would take up to 75 percent of the commercial traffic that now uses the 85-year-old Ambassador Bridge — has said the NITC was unnecessary due to declining truck traffic and would ultimately be a burden to taxpayers.
Moroun has proposed building a twin span to the Ambassador Bridge but has faced opposition from the Canadian government as well as Windsor officials worried about increased truck traffic.
Working with both the Obama and Snyder administrations, Norton traveled across Michigan and the U.S. in support of the crossing, chairing meetings, giving speeches and working behind the scenes in both Ottawa and Washington, D.C.
Although he was a highly placed official in the Canadian government, Norton was unique amongst diplomats for his ready availability to reporters, returning phone calls and making himself available for interviews.
Known for his seriousness, Norton showed another side in January 2010 Norton when he appeared in a tongue-in-cheek skit on “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” which poked fun at “slick talking Canadians” Ottawa’s offer to pay up to $550 million to cover Michigan’s cost of the bridge.
The efforts of Snyder and Norton culminated in a bi-national agreement to build the span, which was signed by Harper and Snyder in June 2012 in Windsor.
In a story in the Windsor Star, Norton said “this has been the greatest opportunity of my professional career. It’s not often as a public servant you can work on something so central to the government’s priorities. The government of Canada has said (DRIC) is the highest priority to get done.”