Boshcoff vows to ease border-crossing for tourists

In an effort to reduce problems tourists might have crossing the border here, Thunder Bay-Rainy River MP Ken Boshcoff said last week that he’ll try to get the federal government to make updated information regarding such regulations easily available on the Internet.
This issue was discussed during a meeting Friday morning with Jerry Fisher, vice-principal of the North Western Ontario Tourism Association, Harold Lohn, president of the Kenora District Campowners Association, Greg Mercure, chief of operations for Canada Border Services Agency-Fort Frances, Rainy River Future Development Corp. EDO Geoff Gillon, Fort Frances Mayor Dan Onichuk, and Coun. Tannis Drysdale.
At the meeting, Fisher noted one of several detriments to tourism in the area is the difficulty in providing a means to provide accurate and up-to-date information (regarding food, firearms, criminal records, etc.) to U.S. citizens wanting to cross the border here and visit Canada, particularly those going to camps and resorts.
He noted NWOTA, with the help of the federal government, is looking to get a “Question and Answer” link on its website to answer frequently asked questions for tourists.
NWOTA would see its members send the “Q&A” information in any correspondence they had with U.S. customers.
But Boshcoff said the federal government should be responsible for letting visitors to Canada know the rules as to what they can and cannot bring into the country.
Fisher noted independent groups like NWOTA and the KDCA strive to be up-to-date and already inform their own members about regulations changes.
Having that information on their website would quickly address the need for Northwestern Ontario and put the onus on the customer, not the camp owner, he added.
Mercure said no single federal government website seems to have all the information when it comes to what people can and cannot bring across the border.
Mayor Onichuk noted that when travelling in Europe, for instance, it’s easy to go a computer, get on the Internet, access a government website, and find out exactly what you need to know about customs and immigration policies.
It should be the same way here, he added.
“The Government of Canada websites are way too complicated,” said Coun. Drysdale. “Why would a U.S. citizen know what a ministry is?”
Fisher agreed, saying there has to be a very simple way for U.S. tourists to get the information they need on the Internet without getting caught up in the details.
“Most tourists don’t recognize Ontario as Ontario, but Ontario as Canada,” he remarked.
“Put it in layman’s terms,” echoed Mayor Onichuk.
Gillon said there’s also sometimes problems within the government and agencies not letting other agencies know about regulation changes, such as if a certain agricultural product can be transported across the border.
“What we’re discussing here is something that would help every border crossing in Canada,” said Boshcoff. “We’re breaking ground here.
“We’ve probably set ourselves a monumental, difficult goal. But the important thing is we know there is a need,” he added. “I’m willing to take this one on.”
Boshcoff said he would go back to the various federal departments and ask them individually what they could do to help gather and convey the relevant information to the public, and make it easily-accessible.
“We’ve essentially launched the rock at the hornet’s nest,” he noted. “Believe it or not, I don’t think anyone else in the country is trying to do what we’re doing here.”
Fisher said NWOTA has been trying to get a regularly-updated means of getting Canadian border regulations in place since 2001, and only recently things “have gone light years in a short while.”
Another issue brought up here Friday was proposed American legislation that would make it mandatory for those entering the U.S. to have passports as identification.
“I’m really concerned,” said Coun. Drysdale. “At a bare minimum, my hope would be someone in the Prime Minister’s Office would begin communications with the president’s office.
She stressed Ottawa has to try and get this issue off table at least a year before it’s due to take effect, or else reps from the region are going to have to go to sports shows in the U.S. to tell tourists how to get passports.
Compared to Canadians, Fisher said a majority Americans do not have passports—to which several others agreed that if the changes go through, many U.S. citizens won’t bother to get one and simply won’t come to Canada.
Boshcoff noted the process to get a passport in the U.S. is more expensive than in Canada, which could further dissuade American tourists from getting them at all.
“That’s another thing on my checklist of things to do,” he pledged.
Another thing hindering tourism, said Fisher, is how U.S. tourists can be prevented from entering Canada due to their criminal background—even if its for offences committed long ago that are only considered misdemeanours in the States.
He added there’s been a loss of an estimated $14 million in Sunset Country due to these restrictions.
Boshcoff noted that in this case, it perhaps would be best if NWOTA expressed its concern over this issue directly to the government.
This meeting was one of an ongoing series Boshcoff has been having with representatives from various groups affected by border-crossing issues.