Anger over proposed fee for Canadians entering U.S.
Published Monday, April 22, 2013 11:21AM EDT
Last Updated Monday, April 22, 2013 9:37PM EDT
A proposal to charge travellers a fee for entering the U.S. by land has sparked anger in both countries, with opponents citing fears it will hinder border crossings and hurt the economy.
The proposal to study the new fee is included in the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s 2014 budget.
In its proposal, the department urges a study examining the effect of collecting a crossing fee for both pedestrians and passenger vehicles along the Canadian and Mexican borders. Proponents say the fee is being considered as a way to cover increasing security costs.
U.S. Ambassador to Canada David Jacobson explained the study to reporters on Monday.
“There’s a proposal for some money for a study. We’ll wait to see what happens,” he said.
But opponents of the proposed fee already lashed out against it on Monday, saying it will complicate trade between the U.S. and Canada. It is estimated that nearly $1.6 billion in trade takes place every day along the U.S.-Canada border.
The Department of Foreign Affairs said it would "vigorously lobby” against the proposal.
The Canadian Chamber of Commerce called the fee a "serious mistake” and promised to fight it.
Chamber President Perrin Beatty told CTV News Channel the proposed fee unfairly punishes travellers.
“The decision they’ve made is to study sticking it to the beleaguered traveller one more time,” Beatty said.
He said that if the fee is being used to cover security costs, it should be paid from general tax revenue and not charged to travellers.
“What you have is a disconnect here. They’ve gone, set up their plan for what sort of spending they want to do, and now they’re saying ‘Where are we going to find money to pay for it?’”
Beatty also said the fee will have negative consequences for border towns -- many who benefit on revenues from cross-border tourism.
“Anything that makes the border more of a hassle to cross, more costly to cross, it’s going to discourage people from coming,” he said.
Beatty said the chamber has already notified U.S. politicians, the U.S. Chamber of Congress and the Canadian Embassy in Washington, D.C. to protest the proposed fee.
He said the fee goes directly against the agendas of Prime Minister Stephen Harper and President Barack Obama, who have both made the free flow of goods across the border a priority.
“Our hope is that common sense will prevail,” he said.
Meanwhile, Canadian residents had mixed views on the proposed fee.
Michael MacKenzie, executive director of the Canadian Snowbird Association, said Monday that the U.S. is trying to ease its "desperate financial situation" on the backs of travellers. He said the U.S. government should focus on ways to reduce obstacles at the border rather than charge travellers.
Manitoba-based truck driver Jack Penner crosses often into the U.S. via the Emerson-Pembina border crossing in Manitoba. He told CTV Winnipeg that he doesn’t agree with the idea of a crossing fee.
“I don’t think I’d be very much in favour of that,” he said.
But fellow truck driver Frank Elias said he wouldn’t mind.
“Look at the cheap gas we’re getting there, (and) cheap cigarettes and cheap beer,” he said.
While travellers entering the U.S. by air already pay a fee -- included in the price of a plane ticket -- those entering the U.S. at land crossings do not pay. Drivers do, however, face tolls, as they cross bridges spanning the border.
The study would examine the feasibility of collecting the proposed fee from existing operators on the land border. The proposal is in its early stages, and details on how much the fee would be and how it would be collected are not clear.
Janet Napolitano, head of the Department of Homeland Security, said that many of the fees -- which help to process the estimated 350 million travellers who cross the U.S. border each year -- have not been adjusted in more than a decade.
"As the complexity of our operations continues to expand, the gap between fee collections and the operations they support is growing, and the number of workforce-hours fees support decreases each year," she said.
Congressman Brian Higgins from Buffalo wrote to Napolitano to lobby against the fee, according to the Buffalo News.
"At a time when we are looking to increase economic activity at our northern border, we should not be authoring proposals that would do the reverse," Higgins said.
With files from CTV Winnipeg and The Canadian Press