Border of pain

The lead paragraph of a story in the Boston Globe earlier this week read as follows:
“HALIFAX, Nova Scotia—Legislators from eastern Canada and the United States are calling on the U.S. government to scrap a plan that would require passports to enter the U.S. and instead look at less intrusive alternatives.”
At a strategic planning meeting in Rainy River last Wednesday evening, one of the largest threats expressed by the community was the loss of freedom to pass back and forth across the Canada/U.S. border there.
The community of Rainy River is not alone in its worry. St. Stephens in New Brunswick, a border crossing into Maine, also is worried about the requirement that Americans will need passports to return home beginning in 2008.
Back on April 15, U.S. President George W. Bush wondered aloud why passports would be needed by Canadians to enter the U.S. or for U.S. residents to return home.
Now it appears others finally are wondering the same. Representatives from 15 northeastern states, as well as Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Quebec, at their meeting in Halifax last weekend called upon the Bush administration to delay the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative.
The unanimous feeling of the politicians of the Council of State Governments’ Eastern Regional Conference was that the passport issue would jeopardize the $20 billion in trade that passes between our two countries in the Atlantic region.
It is a growing cry on both sides along the Canada/U.S. border.
And for Canadians, it is none too soon. Tourism Canada noted recently that the number of U.S. travellers to Canada had dropped to its lowest level in 26 years.
Those numbers are being felt from Vancouver Island to St. John’s, Nfld.
And with Tourism Canada predicting a 12 percent decline in visits to Canada by Americans when the passport requirement comes into place, the call from politicians on both sides of the border to delay—or cancel—the legislation is welcome.
Our next-door premier, Gary Doer, who has vacationed with his family on Rainy Lake, joined North Dakota Gov. John Hoeven in calling for a delay of the passport requirements.
Close to home, it may be that someone travelling from Baudette to the bakery in Rainy River to pick up a wonderful cinnamon bun, or a loaf of crispy rye, may be discouraged.
Similarly, the passport requirement will discourage Fort Frances residents from cross the bridge to see a movie.
This issue is a threat to all the economies of Northwestern Ontario—not just those on the border.
The message is being carried to Washington by our ambassador, Frank McKenna, and the senator from New York, Hillary Rodham Clinton, as well as the governor of New York.
The issue also was raised by Paul Martin to U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice during her visit to Ottawa earlier this week.
On Monday night, MPs debated the passport issue with Ms. Rice present.
In Ontario, we call on the McGuinty government to also raise the issue with U.S. governors of the states that border our province to join the debate and call for the elimination of the passport requirement, which will become a barrier to trade.

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