Onichuk to meet with Minnesota senator

They’ve met only once, but the recently-formed “Border Sister Cities Task Force” is wasting no time tackling a big issue.
By virtue of an invitation from International Falls Mayor Shawn Mason, Fort Frances Mayor Dan Onichuk will be part of a group meeting with Minnesota Sen. Norm Coleman this coming weekend.
The topic of discussion? A proposal that would require any person entering the United States to show a passport at their port of entry—and Mayor Onichuk already is armed with plenty of questions.
“When it comes to the passport issue, it’s ‘Why and what is it supposed to do?’” said the mayor, pointing out the legislation could have an adverse impact on tourism throughout the Borderland region.
“I don’t get it. I’m really missing something,” he added.
Back in April, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security announced the new passport requirement, which is slated to take effect Jan. 1, 2008.
At present, Canadians can cross into the U.S. with only a driver’s licence or birth certificate as identification while citizens of other nations already are required to produce a passport.
Under the new rules, even American citizens will need a passport to re-enter their country.
Sen. Coleman, a Republican who was mayor of St. Paul, Mn. for five years, has been outspoken in his opposition of the passport proposal.
“We need to be vigilant of terrorists, but we cannot give them the victory of making us twist ourselves into a pretzel in the name of security,” he told the Associated Press in early June.
Given the senator’s stance, Mayor Onichuk’s focus this weekend will be not on convincing Coleman to oppose the proposal, but rather on providing some insight on how the regulation might impact tourism on this side of the international bridge.
“Any ammunition we can load him with to go back to the Senate is absolutely a good thing,” the mayor said.
When reached last week, Mayor Mason said inviting Mayor Onichuk to join her for the weekend meetings was a no-brainer.
“I would like very much for our sister city to be part of the discussion regarding passports,” she said. “I feel this is truly a natural discussion point for the task force.
“I just think it has so much more importance when there are people from both sides of the border that are impacted by the proposed regulation to be communicating with the senator,” she added.
Mayor Onichuk agreed whole-heartedly.
“You can get a lot more accomplished if you get everybody on the same page,” he remarked. “Because we live in a border community, both Mayor Mason and myself acknowledge that what happens here affects the Falls and what happens in the Falls affects us here.
“The more we stick together, the more we’ll be able to get accomplished, at least at getting the message out,” he stressed.
The cross-border task force held its first meeting, what Fort Frances CAO Mark McCaig dubbed “just an informal get-together,” on June 27.
The group’s first official order of business was to design a dual letterhead, which will be used for letters or other documents drafted on behalf on both municipalities.
“We’re going to use that to lobby jointly with Washington and Ottawa and, if we have to, the state and the province,” Mayor Onichuk said.
He noted the first meeting simply was an opportunity for the eight-member committee to begin to explore issues they might be able to address.
“We talked about lots of things that are the same, what is different, and where we can move forward,” Mayor Onichuk said.
“We’re just in the infancy stages,” he added. “We’re moving forward.”
Mayor Onichuk also revealed the cross-border task force is exploring the possibility of jointly hosting a border communities summit—an event they hope will attract leaders from border towns from coast to coast.
“A lot of our issues are the same,” he reasoned. “[The federal governments] make the decisions and they don’t consider the border communities that they’re affecting.
“I was surprised to find out there was no such thing,” he added.
After the City of International Falls first made a move to create the task force, an extension of the twinning agreement signed back in September, 2002, Fort Frances council appointed Mayor Onichuk, McCaig, and Couns. Rick Wiedenhoeft and Roy Avis (alternate) to the committee at its June 13 meeting.
The task force has decided to meet on an as-necessary basis only, so the next get-together has yet to be scheduled.