Premiers lobby U.S. on passport alternatives
Published Wednesday, February 28, 2007 10:50AM EST
Three Canadian premiers will wrap up their visit to Washington today after lobbying hard for a breakthrough in the impasse over new U.S. border controls.
Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty, Manitoba Premier Gary Doer and New Brunswick Premier Shawn Graham have been in the U.S. capitol since Monday.
The premiers have found support for high-tech licences as an alternative to passports. Doer told a Washington news conference the provinces are perfectly capable of developing the secure cards, but it has to be done right the first time.
"We believe we have the technology to get that done, we believe the ability to have some time to get it right will allow us to get it right for all cities on either side of the border and we believe it is important we don't proceed with one technology and then have to change it a year from now," Doer said.
The first phase of the plan, known as the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, has already been put into place, requiring Canadians flying to the U.S. to carry passports.
The full implementation of the initiative will require people travelling by land between the two countries to also carry passports.
The premiers received a boost Tuesday when New York legislator Louise Slaughter came on board, saying Homeland Security and State Department officials are being unreasonable and ignorant towards their northern neighbour.
"(Canadians) are the best friends we've ever had and now what they're saying is: 'We're not going to trust you over there. We're going to make everybody have passports."
Slaughter, who leads a powerful committee of the House of Representatives, wants to push through a bill she introduced this month that would force U.S. officials to take all the time Congress gave them to implement the plan -- until 2009.
And on Tuesday, the National Governors Association adopted a resolution that supports a delay in passport use, passport substitutes and a program for frequent travellers. The group's endorsement is seen as a key step toward getting legislators on Capitol Hill to support delaying the passport plans.
New Brunswick Premier Shawn Graham reminded U.S. legislators that the economies of many border towns on both the Canadian and U.S. side are co-dependant.
"We believe that a common sense approach to managing traffic at the northern border will fulfill the goals of enhancing our security and also expedite the legitimate flow of people, goods and services," Graham said.
"We need to recognize that there are a number of towns and cities on both sides of our borders that act as one community, with frequent movement across the border in both directions."
Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty said that in addition to the effects on diplomacy, there are economic reasons to hold off on the plan.
"This is about jobs, it's about dollars and it's about our ability to maintain an absolutely wonderful friendship," McGuinty said.
"It is a false choice to presume we somehow have to choose between a border that is secure and a border that permits the flow of people and goods."