WORLD

CLOGGED ARTERY

Higher costs and new irritants lead to calls for a Canadian border czar

LUIZA CH. SAVAGE March 19 2007
WORLD

CLOGGED ARTERY

Higher costs and new irritants lead to calls for a Canadian border czar

LUIZA CH. SAVAGE March 19 2007

CLOGGED ARTERY

Higher costs and new irritants lead to calls for a Canadian border czar

WORLD

BY LUIZA CH. SAVAGE • In the five years since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, corked up the Canada-U.S. border, there have been agreements about “smart” and “fast” borders, and a summit in the Yucatán where the leaders of Mexico, the U.S. and Canada stood before the Mayan pyramids and promised to balance “security” along with “prosperity.” Yet at the same time, the U.S. Con-

gress has decided to build a fence along the Mexican border, and the Canadian border has become a breeding ground for new rules and regulations, from a looming passport requirement to inspections of truckers’ lunch meats. Where once U.S. agencies would plan and test new border measures, “now there seems to be a race on to see how many programs we can get out there,” complains David Bradley, the CEO of the Canadian Trucking Alliance, whose members face more than a dozen new hurdles since 2001.

The people who make their livings crossing the border say it’s time for Ottawa

to overhaul the way it deals with Washington. Unexpected measures pop up from a variety of U.S. government agencies, and it’s often unclear who in Canada is responsible for beating them back. The minister of public safety and emergency preparedness, Stockwell Day, deals with Michael Chertoff, the head of the powerful Department of Homeland Security. But some new regulations fall to other departments with fewer Washington contacts and less entree with security-obsessed U.S. lawmakers and bureaucrats.

For example, Canadian industry is livid about an obscure new agriculture inspection fee of US$5.25 that will hit all border-crossing businesses—from airlines to automakers— to the tune of $75 million. The U.S. Animal Plant Health Inspection Service fee was to take effect in November but has been delayed until June for trucks and railcars, although some truckers have already prepaid the fee for 2007. Business groups predict that this new and little-noticed bit of red tape will undermine the work and money that has gone into speeding up border crossings. “This comes totally from left field, and it goes to the corner with [the department of] Agriculture duking it out—but it has a huge impact on the cost of air travel and other cross-border travel,” says the head of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, Nancy Hughes Anthony.

Other similar red-tape issues have been dispersed across departments such as Transportation or Industry, leaving businesses scrambling to figure out who is in charge. “We are not structured to react quickly enough to all the various measures. It’s a very diffi-

cult process to get several departments and several ministers to focus on one of our issues,” says Bradley.

There are currently eight cabinet ministers with responsibility for some part of the

border; Bradley says that’s seven too many. He wants Ottawa to create a “border czar,” whose full-time job would be making the border work, not just for public safety but for the four-fifths of Canada’s exports that head to the U.S. and account for 52 per cent of Canada’s GDP. “This issue is so important that it requires a person with a grasp of all the issues to come up with a strategy,” he says. “Clearly, you can’t displace all those ministers, but you can isolate an issue.” Someone in cabinet needs to conceptualize the border as a “process”—part of the North American supply chain that needs to flow smoothly, he said. Otherwise, any inefficiency at the border has to be made up for elsewhere by industry—by squeezing costs or speeding up production.

Hughes Anthony says Canada needs to stop playing defence. “We have to have an overall vision and a coordinated plan on the Canadian side to push the kind of border we want, to advance constructive ideas about mutually readable technology and the maximum co-operation. We need someone who is going to be proactive,” she says. One challenge is that Homeland Security, the U.S. agency that calls the shots on border issues, is focused on security and not facilitation of trade. “Whether it’s an agency or a coordinating mechanism, we have to create a Canadian front that is as big and powerful as the DHS,” says Hughes Anthony.

Bradley says Day is doing a fine job in his role, but points out that Stephen Harper’s

predecessors moved more toward centralization. Under the Martin government, Anne McLellan held Day’s portfolio but was also deputy prime minister, giving the job more clout. She also chaired a cabinet committee relating to border issues. Bradley says he’d like to see the Harper government go even further. But McLellan told Maclean’s that she doubted a border czar could solve the problem. “All governments are challenged with

how they deal with horizontal issues that cut across departments. There is a certain degree of turf protection, a desire to keep information to yourself and so on, but I think things like that cabinet committee help,” she said.

A spokeswoman for Day, Melissa Leclerc, said there is adequate coordination regarding the border. “There is no formal, official, specifically dedicated cabinet meeting, but minister Day, when needed, has many forums to talk to his cabinet colleagues.” She added that her office hears frequent suggestions for including other things in the department’s powers—from domestic airport security, currently under Transport Canada, to the security certificate process now shared with Immigration. “Where do you draw the line?” she said. M