In the 12 years since 9-11, security along the northern border has been tightened forcing travelers, who once easily passed between Canada and the United States, to comply with more and more restrictions on their shopping trip, visit to a friend or night out for dinner. Now, the Department of Homeland Security wants to add one more inconvenience to cross-border travel and commerce.
The agency is seeking funds to study the feasibility of a crossing fee for pedestrians and passenger vehicles. Its an idea that has been proposed in one fashion or another for more than 20 years, but has been blocked for good reasons.
A fee is contrary to the spirit of openness and intent of the international agreements and treaties meant to encourage friendly relations and improve the flow of trade and tourism between the two countries.
According to Statistics Canada, Canadians made more than 2.8 million same-day car trips into the United States in February. Canadians are already subject to a $5.50 passenger inspection fee for entering by air or sea that was imposed two years ago, although Canada had been exempt from the fee under the North American Free Trade Agreement.
Another expense might cause Canadians to rethink whether they want to bother coming over to attend a concert or take advantage of favorable exchange rates and boost the regional economy by shopping in Clayton or Alexandria Bay or Watertown, where retailers depend on Canadian shoppers. Then there are those crossing less frequently such as the Canadian snowbirds headed farther south to their winter home. Any new fee will certainly affect, by Canadian accounts, a $1.6 billion daily cross-border trade between the two countries. A fee will be bad for travelers and for the north country economy.
Taking time collecting a fee will likely slow passage and add to delays particularly during peak travel times. There is also concern that Canada might reciprocate with a fee for American visitors.
Rep. William L. Owens and regional tourism leaders are being joined by Canadian counterparts in registering their opposition to the shortsighted plan.
A bad idea, plain and simple, Rep. Owens called it. Sen. Charles E. Schumer has declared the proposal dead on arrival in the Senate. To the north, Perrin Beatty, president of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, said, Building the walls higher and making the borders stickier and thicker is exactly the wrong way to go.
The fee plan should be dropped. Travel between the two countries should be encouraged not discouraged by another barrier.