IN THE NEWS ~ Feds urged to assign border czar; Truckers, manufacturers lobby Harper to make cabinet-level appointment

PUBLICATION: The Windsor Star
DATE: 2009.04.01
BYLINE: David Akin
DUPLICATES: Times Colonist (Victoria), The Leader-Post (Regina)

Feds urged to assign border czar; Truckers, manufacturers lobby Harper to make cabinet-level appointment

Canada's truckers and manufacturers pressed Prime Minister Stephen Harper on Tuesday to appoint a cabinet-level border czar to preserve and enhance cross-border trade and traffic and to help avoid what one MP says could be a "tourism calamity" when new passport rules kick in later this year.

The Canadian Trucking Alliance, which represents the country's 400,000 truckers, and the Canadian Council of Chief Executives told a committee of MPs on Tuesday that border delays are likely to worsen, not improve, under the new U.S. administration.

They said the federal government needs to make someone politically responsible for co-ordinating a Canadian response to this threat to Canadian trade.

MP Peter Julian, a New Democrat from B.C.'s Lower Mainland, said he fears Canadian tourism is in for one of its toughest summers ever not only because of the recession but also because, as of June, Washington will require all those entering the U.S. from Canada, to provide a passport. Only about 30 per cent of Americans have one.

Canadian tourist operators fear that, in requiring Americans to have a passport to get back in their country, fewer Americans will travel here.

"I think we are facing a tough time in the tourism industry this year, but it won't just be because of the (passport issue). It's going to be because of the Canadian dollar and the state of the economy as well," said David Stewart-Patterson, executive vice-president of the council of chief executives, a lobby group that represents the country's biggest enterprises.

Stewart-Patterson and representatives of other business groups testified Tuesday at a meeting of the House of Commons committee on international trade.

David Bradley, chief executive officer of the Canadian Trucking Alliance, said the Canadian approach to sorting out border issues "has been too diffuse."

He said that even if Harper were unwilling to appoint a cabinet minister to oversee border trade and security issues, he ought at least to form a cabinet committee to better co-ordinate Canada's response.

"There are all kinds of processes underway, all kinds of (forums) where these things are discussed. The problem is in terms of the co-ordination," said Bradley. "At points in the last few years, I've had four or five ministers tell me they're the one responsible for the border, which means nobody really is, in my view. "

Stewart-Patterson said that should be Canada's top priority.

The public safety minister, for example, is in charge of border security, while the international trade minister is responsible for policies supporting exporters. Meanwhile, the transport minister is in charge of such border infrastructure as bridges, and the industry minister is supposed to manage what is known as the "security and prosperity partnership."

Business groups argue that if that's confusing to Canadians, it can be bewildering to U.S. lawmakers.