Border fees

Border crossing fee a bad idea

Proposal by U.S.
to recoup security costs would simply create more obstacles at border
A proposal being floated by the United States to hit travellers with a new crossing fee at U.S. land border crossings is, not surprisingly, coming under attack on both sides of the 49th parallel.
The new levy is being proposed as a way to help the cash-strapped U.S. cover increased security costs. But the problems it will cause – not to mention the bad PR with Canadians who travel to the U.S. for either business or pleasure – is going to make any such fee more trouble than it’s worth.
As the executive director of the Canadian Snowbird Association and its 70,000 members suggested in a Canadian Press story in Tuesday’s Herald, U.S. officials are reaching into Canadians’ pockets in their effort to ease the country’s financial plight.
“While we appreciate the fiscal challenges faced by our friends in the United States, we would prefer the U.S. government focus on ways to reduce obstacles at the border that hinder trade and tourism,” said Michael MacKenzie. “People feel like maybe they’re being nickel and dimed a little bit and politicians are taxing people who can’t vote, which makes sense politically but it just sends the wrong message.”
Air passengers already pay a fee to enter the U.S. but it is included in the price of the plane ticket. Hitting up travellers crossing the border by land presents a greater logistical problem. There are an estimated 140,000 vehicles and 400,000 people traversing the Canada-U.S. border every day, accounting for roughly $1.6 billion in trade daily between the two countries. Throwing an extra fee into the mix would cause delays when the focus should be on reducing obstacles to cross-border traffic, not creating new ones.
As a commentary piece by Colin Robertson in Wednesday’s Globe and Mail asked, “Does the U.S. really want to slow down traffic and turn the border agents into toll collectors when their primary task is to look for bad guys?”
The answer, of course, is no, not if they’re smart.
The Canadian Chamber of Commerce says the proposed fee would be a “serious mistake” and is promising to lobby against the proposal.
“Any fee on travellers crossing the border is bad for individuals and for the economy,” the chamber said.
The U.S. government might not be concerned about a fee being bad for individuals, but it might want to think again before doing something that will hurt the economy. Such an outcome would ultimately come back to bite Washington in the pocket by eroding any fiscal gains from the new fee.
Newton’s Third Law of Motion refers to an action creating an equal and opposite reaction. In this case, putting into motion a new crossing fee on land travellers would surely produce a negative reaction. In fact, the mere suggestion already has.

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Border tolls, Windsor-Detroit Bridge, Digital Diplomacy

A border-crossing fee is exactly what the U.S. and Canada do not need

Colin Robertson  Special to The Globe and Mail Wednesday, Apr. 24 2013

Margaret Atwood once remarked that if the national mental illness of the United States is megalomania, that of Canada is paranoid schizophrenia.

But is paranoia towards the United States justified? Not usually. Take a closer look at reports of a new border-crossing fee that are creating a lot of noise.

This is not protectionism. Rather, the across-the-board budget cuts mandated by U.S. laws (the “sequester”) have obliged all departments to become more creative in funding. Within the 2014 Department of Homeland Security budget is a recommendation to conduct a study on whether to collect a fee from pedestrians and vehicles crossing between the United States and Canada by land.

The new revenue, Secretary Janet Napolitano told Congress, would pay for the hiring of new customs and border officers. There might be something for us in the scheme as without new staff, the chances of getting pre-clearance at Toronto’s Island Airport are slim. But the first call will be to staff the southern border because enforcement will be a key part of any new immigration deal.

Unlike budgets in Canada, however, what goes into the congressional legislative process bears little resemblance to what comes out the other end. This is why the U.S. legislative process has famously been compared to sausage-making.

The checks and balances inherent in the U.S. system mean that regional and sectoral interests can also be counted on to block such initiatives.

A new toll “is the absolute last thing we should be doing if we want to grow the economies of Western New York and the U.S.,” warned Buffalo Congressman Brian Higgins. “To slap travellers here with onerous fees is a bad idea,” argued New York Senator Chuck Schumer. “We don’t need a study to tell us that.”

There is also the practical problem.

An estimated 400,000 people and 140,000 cars cross our border daily. Does the U.S. really want to slow down traffic and turn the border agents into toll collectors when their primary task is to look for bad guys?

We need to distinguish between what is noise – the Homeland Security proposal – and what is important.

What is important is that the biggest infrastructure project at our largest border gateway – the new Detroit-Windsor bridge – was recently given a Presidential permit with the backing of nine D.C. agencies.

The bridge odyssey has taken 14 years and constant effort by our Detroit consulate and the Ontario and Canadian governments. We are fronting a half-billion dollars for its construction, which is also the estimated daily value of the goods that cross this vital gateway. There will be more bumps before the traffic flows, but we are at the beginning of the end.

The lesson we can draw from both the DHS kerfuffle and the bridge saga is that we need to wage a permanent campaign in the United States on behalf of Canadian interests.

We need a thousand points of contact to complement our embassy and our consulates. This means taking our game to the States because by the time a problem reaches Congress we are fire-fighting.

Recent budget paring in Canada has reduced our consulates in the United States to fifteen. Yet, what we need is representation in every state. We can do it, within budget, by doing diplomacy differently.

Recruit talent from the Canadian expatriates who are already living in each state. Let them practice digital-age diplomacy. Drop the black tie for a BlackBerry and a working knowledge of new media.

With some exceptions – our embassy’s prime location on Pennsylvania Avenue is crucial, and the Los Angeles consul-general’s residence is a second home for Canada’s entertainment industry – these diplomats can work from their homes or incubator offices to spot opportunities for trade and investment.

As U.S. Ambassador David Jacobson repeatedly reminds us, the most important thing the United States can do to help the Canadian economy is to get the U.S. economy back on track. For 35 American states, their principal export market is Canada.

This trade supports nearly eight million U.S. jobs, a fact not lost on President Barack Obama, who has promised to ‘export’ the U.S. back into prosperity. Last year U.S. exports to Canada exceeded total U.S. exports to China, Japan, South Korea and Singapore combined.

Canadian exports to the United States were almost three times greater than our combined total to the rest of the world. Trade with the United States represents almost half of our GDP.

A half century ago, Minister of Trade and Industry George Hees encouraged members of Canada’s Trade Commissioner Service to ‘bust your ass’ for Canada. The instruction stands.

A former diplomat, Colin Robertson is senior advisor to McKenna, Long and Aldridge LLP and vice president of the Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute.


Sen. Leahy wins ban on border fee as Senate Judiciary marks up immigration bill

Posted on May 9, 2013 by Nancy Remsen

Here’s the latest from Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., on the immigration bill being worked on in the Senate Judiciary Committee.
A news release from his office reads as follows:

On a bipartisan voice vote, Thursday approved legislation authored by Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and cosponsored by Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) that blocks the creation of a land border crossing fee.

The amendment was Leahy’s first to file and be offered to the Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act, which the Judiciary Committee is currently considering. The amendment responds to a request by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in the Obama Administration’s budget to study charging admission for pedestrians and passenger vehicles crossing land borders into the United States.

Leahy, who represents one of the ten states that border Canada, said such a fee would deflate thriving commerce that is important to all the Northern Border states, and it would limit cultural interchange.

“Canada is the United States’ number one trading partner. Some 300,000 Canadians cross into our country every day and spend nearly $235 million,” said Leahy, who earlier this week released a guest column on the issue. “Our nation has always had strong cultural and commercial ties to our neighboring countries, and my amendment would protect these important relationships.”

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Ballistic Missile Defence under review

Excerpted from Michael Woods in the Ottawa Citizen April 22, 2013

U.S. reportedly asks Canada to join missile shield

OTTAWA — The United States has reportedly asked Canada to join an anti-ballistic missile shield, resurrecting a potentially thorny political issue in this country.

The request, as reported Sunday by CTV, comes amid heightened concerns over North Korea, which has been levelling bellicose rhetoric at the United States of late…

A spokesman for Defence Minister Peter MacKay would neither confirm nor deny the report that the U.S. had approached Canada about participating in a missile-defence shield.

“Canada has declined to participate in ballistic missile defence in the past. We constantly review the security situation internationally,” spokesman Jay Paxton said in an email to Postmedia News on Sunday.

Appearing on CTV’s Question Period on Sunday, Public Safety Minister Vic Toews also declined to confirm or deny the report.

“I think we need to have a broader discussion about that, and I’m not prepared to venture an opinion at this time,” he said.

“What I can say is co-operation with our allies, especially in relation to a terrorism-related threat, is absolutely essential to keeping Canadians safe.”

In 2005, Paul Martin’s Liberal government declined to join the United States’ missile defence program, prompting ire from the Bush administration.

Colin Robertson, a former Canadian diplomat, said it’s now in Canada’s best interests to participate in an anti-ballistic missile shield with its southern counterpart, in light of changing global security considerations and improved technology.

“To me, it’s an insurance policy,” said Robertson, vice-president and senior research fellow at the Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute. “You hope you never have to use it, but you want to be sure that you’re protected.”

Robertson, who is also a distinguished senior fellow at Carleton University’s Norman Paterson School of International Affairs, said although North Korea’s actions have been garnering attention, the larger long-term threat could come from Iran, whose nuclear program is continuing despite strict international sanctions.

“The Americans are reasonably comfortable that they have the capacity to head off anything (from North Korea),” he said. “But if something came over the pole from Iran, that’s a different dimension, and that would also potentially be a more serious threat to Canada.”

NDP foreign affairs critic Paul Dewar, speaking on CTV, said Canada should “not act as if we’re going to have missiles sent at us tomorrow” and instead should press China, North Korea’s foremost ally, to pressure the isolated dictatorship into changing course.

“In 2005, it was not just Paul Martin that said no. Canadians overwhelmingly said no to this approach,” he said.

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On Diplomatic Appointments

Former diplomat Colin Robertson addresses reports that the prime minister is sending the head of his personal security detail to Jordan with  Powerplay’s Don Martin April 18, 2013

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Ballistic Missile Defence

It’s time for Canada to join ballistic missile defence: former diplomat  April 7, 2013 11:54 am Global TV

As nuclear-armed North Korea continues to threaten war, a former Canadian diplomat says it is time for Canada to reconsider its decision to not join a ballistic missile defence program.

“You can’t be sure whether something aimed at the United States isn’t going to strike Canada. Our interest is in protecting Canadians, ” Colin Robertson said in an interview on the Global News program The West Block with Tom Clark.

Robertson’s call comes as North Korean leader Kim Jong-un began mobilizing long range missiles and cleared his army to launch a nuclear attack on North America. Diplomats in the North Korean capital of Pyongyang have also received warning that their safety will not be guaranteed past Wednesday and have been urged to leave.

Although no one is absolutely convinced Kim has the capability to follow through with his threats, the United States has sent a land-based missile defence weapon to Guam, where it has a base. The weapon would detect any attacks and could likely keep Canada safe — even though both the Stephen Harper Conservatives and the Liberal government before that have both refused to endorse the protective umbrella.

“The circumstances have changed and it’s probably time to reconsider that decision,” Roberston said. “Why wouldn’t we be part of this, particularly because conditions are changed and now our homeland is threatened?”

If Canada joined ballistic missile defence, Robertson said, it wouldn’t mean putting weapons on Canadian soil.

Instead, Canada’s main contribution would be satellite technology to track missiles coming over the North Pole.

“This takes us back to Canada’s geography and our critical placement as kind of the backdoor, or the screen, towards America,” Robertson said.

While there’s an open invitation for Canada to join ballistic missile defence, Robertson said he doesn’t expect U.S. officials to pressure their Canadian counterparts into making a decision.

“They understand the Canadian position,” he said. “They do not want to be George Bush … Eisenhower or Kennedy – don’t push Canada because you create such a reaction in Canada, that becomes the issue. It becomes Canada versus the United States, and that’s not where they want this to be.”


Tom Clark:
Welcome back. The world continues to watch in disbelief as a sociopathic madman with nuclear weapons threatens war, urging foreign embassies to evacuate by this Wednesday; a warming that so far most countries have ignored. Kim Jong-Un has mobilized his long range missiles while clearing his army to launch a nuclear attack on North America. Now while no one is absolutely convinced that he has the capability to carry out its threats, the United States has sent a land-based missile defence weapon to Guam. Now should North Korean missiles be launched, the American defence system would keep Canada safe, even though both Liberal and Conservative governments in the past have refused to endorse the protective umbrella.And one of the people who is calling on Canada to join Ballistic Missile Defence is Colin Robertson, a former senior diplomat in Canada’s Foreign Service. Thanks very much for being here Colin.

Colin Robertson:
Good to be here Tom.

Tom Clark:
First of all, make the case why Canada should be involved? Why is that in our self-interest to be involved in ballistic missile defence?

Colin Robertson:
Governments have three general purposes: sound currency, keep law and order and our safety net at home, and external defence. This is external defence. We are potentially threatened now by recent developments in North Korea and Iran so that if they were to launch inter-ballistic missiles aimed at the United States, we can’t be sure that they wouldn’t land in Canada. And for that reason, we should protect Canadians.

Tom Clark:
When we talk about ballistic missile defence, are we talking about putting missiles on Canadian soil? What’s our involvement in that?

Colin Robertson:
That’s a good question. Less likely now they put interceptors in Canada although they could. More what they really want is to the use the technology that we already have, satellite technology, to track the missiles, particularly anything coming over the Poles; stuff coming across the Pacific, the Americans feel reasonably confident they can get from their various tracking stations: Hawaii, Guam, Alaska, California. But we could make a useful contribution from what we have in places like Goose Bay and across the country.

Tom Clark:
So this is like an extension of NORAD in a sense.

Colin Robertson:
This takes us back to the DEW Line. This takes us back to Canada’s geography and our critical placement as kind of the back door or the screen towards America which was the whole purpose behind our earlier involvement in things like the DEW Line, that led to the creation of NORAD, which protects North America, because you can’t be sure whether something aimed at the United States isn’t going to strike Canada. So our interest is in protecting Canadians.

Tom Clark:
In an article you wrote recently, you revealed that last year, Defence Minister
Peter MacKay and Foreign Minister John Baird went to Stephen Harper and laid out the case for Canada joining Ballistic Missile Defence. He turned it down. What do you know about that?

Colin Robertson:
My understanding is that the prime minister judged the timing wasn’t right.

Tom Clark:

Colin Robertson:
Meaning, the timing was not right to participate…

Tom Clark:

Colin Robertson:
I would think politically, yes, at the time. My view is that the circumstances have changed and it is probably time to reconsider that decision. The rest of the alliance is part of missile defence. We, as members of NATO, support what the alliance is doing to provide ballistic missile defence within NATO in Europe but we have a kind of exemption, a cone, if you will, around Canada. Frankly we should be part of that. The Australians, the Koreans, the Japanese all see value in ballistic missile defence.

Tom Clark:
And the Europeans as well.

Colin Robertson:
Of course.

Tom Clark:
We’re sort of the outlier in this case by not being part of it. But when you take a look at the decision of two Canadian governments – Liberal and Conservatives. In 2005, Pierre Pettigrew, then the foreign minister, said no to ballistic missile defence – basically Paul Martin saying no. Now we have Stephen Harper saying no. So what is the Canadian political case for not joining in? Because Liberals and Conservatives have both now said no?

Colin Robertson:
The Canadian case is essentially that we’re protected anyways and that we don’t really need to participate because the Americans will include us in their umbrella as it is. But my view on that is do we want the Americans always providing our defence? A fundamental principle of Canadian security is collective security. We were the architects of NORAD. We went into NATO for that very reason; protection of the collective and it also gives us leverage. Why wouldn’t we be part of this particularly because conditions have changed and now our homeland is threatened? That’s the argument. The argument is this is in the Canadian interest.

Tom Clark:
In the minute or so that we’ve got left, I want to ask you what you’re hearing from the Americans on this because while we, as you correctly say, feel that we’re protected anyway, we’re just not going to join the automobile club because we’re going to get a tow if we break down. But what are the Americans telling you?

Colin Robertson:
The invitation is there. They are not, however, pushing us. They understand the Canadian position. They do not want to be George Bush, and if you go back to Eisenhower and others, Kennedy … Don’t push Canada because you create such a reaction in Canada that that becomes the issue. That is, it becomes a Canada versus the United States, and that’s not where they want this to be. They have what they need. It would be useful if Canada would joined, but they’re not going to put any pressure on us to join.

Tom Clark:
And very quickly in 10 seconds, when we turned it down in 2005, George W. Bush was in the White House. Was that the real reason why he said no to ballistic missile defence do you think? We didn’t want to be seen to be siding with George Bush?

Colin Robertson:
I think that the political calculation of that relationship with the United States, it’s the old Goldilocks’ rule, don’t get too close but don’t get too far away. It’s trying to find that fine balance that every prime minister has to try and find.

Tom Clark:
Colin Robertson thanks very much for being here today. Good discussion.

Colin Robertson:
Thank you Tom.

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Canada, North Korea and Ballistic Missile Defence

North Korea’s threats show that Canada needs to be part of U.S. missile defence pact

Special to The Globe and Mail Published Wednesday, Apr. 03 2013, 9:27 AM EDT

(see also Andy Radia’s Canada Politics report and CTV report on Minister Toews  Question Period interview .)

Canadian prime ministers have three files with a permanent place on their desks: national security, national unity and the U.S. relationship. When those files intersect, they require special attention.

Sooner rather than later, Prime Minister Stephen Harper is going to reconsider the Canadian decision to stay out of Ballistic Missile Defence.

The catalyst is North Korea.

Kim Jong-Un is the third in his family to lead the Hermit Kingdom, and this month has all but declared war – including threats to target North America. Normally, sabre rattling by tinpot dictators can be managed or contained. But not when the sabres are ballistic missiles.

“Nuclear threats are not a game,” United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warned on Tuesday: “Aggressive rhetoric and military posturing only result in counter-actions, and fuel fear and instability.”

Coupled with the improvements that Iran is making to its own ballistic missile capacity, the threat to North America is now clear and present. The United States has moved aircraft and warships to the area and announced that it will increase its ground-based interceptors in California and Alaska.

Canada has a conflicted history when it comes to nuclear weapons and domestic defence from them. Though we were present at the creation – nuclear-energy research during the Second World War in Canada was vital – we eschewed the development of nuclear arms for ourselves. Instead, we opted to develop nuclear power for peaceful purposes through the CANDU reactor.  (We were later deceived by the Indians, who developed their own nuclear weaponry using plutonium derived from a research reactor provided by Canada.)

Placement of nuclear warheads on Canadian soil, as part of our alliance commitment, tormented John Diefenbaker and the resulting BOMARC controversy contributed to his government’s undoing. Lester B. Pearson, who succeeded Mr. Diefenbaker as prime minister, faced similar dissent but concluded that our obligations to NORAD and NATO required participation. Mr. Pearson, who had won the Nobel Peace Prize over the Suez crisis, was derisively labelled the ‘defrocked prince of peace’ by a young Pierre Trudeau.

Two decades later, prime minister Trudeau faced similar divisions in his own cabinet over testing of cruise missiles on Canadian soil. Mr. Trudeau allowed the testing, arguing that “it is hardly fair to rely on the Americans to protect the West, but to refuse to lend them a hand when the going gets rough.”

In good company (with Australia, France et al), prime minister Brian Mulroney rejected participation in the U.S. “Star Wars” missile-defence program because Canada “would not be able to call the shots.”

When Ballistic Missile Defence was developed under George W. Bush, prime minister Paul Martin opted out, to the confusion of his new defence chief and ambassador to the United States, both of whom thought that he was going to sign on.

A divided Liberal caucus, especially the opposition from Quebec, had helped change Mr. Martin’s mind.

Mr. Bush was advised that newly-elected Prime Minister Stephen Harper would not welcome a renewed request. Mr. Bush found this puzzling, reportedly asking what would happen if a North Korean missile, aimed at Los Angeles or Seattle, wound up heading towards Vancouver or Calgary.

The rest of the alliance, as well as Australia, Japan and South Korea, have signed onto missile defence. The Israelis’ Iron Dome recently demonstrated the defensive worth of anti-missile technology.

Critics see Ballistic Missile Defence as a latter-day Maginot Line – costly, unreliable, and provocative. If you want to detonate a nuclear bomb in the United States you would not send it by missile. NORAD, they argue, provides sufficient defence. But continental defence has been integral to Canadian national security since MacKenzie King and Franklin Roosevelt parleyed at Kingston in 1938. We were architects of NATO because of our belief in collective security.

The U.S. defence umbrella has guaranteed the peace since 1945, and has coincided with the greatest growth in trade in world history. Canada has been a principal beneficiary, with marginal premiums. Some Canadians, wrote Mr. Trudeau during the cruise missile debate, “are eager to take refuge under the U.S. umbrella, but don’t want to help hold it.”

Membership in the alliance entails obligations. But it also brings great benefits that serve our national interests.

Incorporating our satellite and land-based tracking facilities into Ballistic Missile Defence could make a difference in shielding Canadians should the missiles be launched. A Senate report in 2006 concluded that an effective BMD “could save hundreds of thousands of Canadian lives.”

Protecting Canadians (and Americans) was the logic of the original DEW line and NORAD, our bi-national aerospace defence agreement that has served us since 1958 and now includes aspects of maritime defence.

Last summer, ministers John Baird and Peter McKay prepared a memorandum for Mr. Harper presenting Ballistic Missile Defence options. The Prime Minister decided the timing was not right. Circumstances have changed. BMD should now be incorporated into our ‘Canada First’ defence strategy.

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