Mayors prepare for border summit

A group of 60 mayors and officials from Canada and the United States were preparing for a meeting in Windsor today to see if they can brainstorm an alternative to the controversial passport requirement.
Windsor Mayor Eddie Francis will be joined by the likes of Halifax Mayor Peter Kelly, Toronto Mayor David Miller, Chicago’s Consulate General of Canada James Lynch, and Quebec International Affairs representative Michel Lafleur to draft a “practical solution” to satisfy the needs of cities as well as the U.S. government, which wants to keep a more watchful eye on who enters the country.
“We’re talking about some form of ID that’s readily available . . . that doesn’t become a burden for [travellers] or factor into their decision-making whether they’re going to visit Toronto or Chicago,” Francis said.
Under the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, all Canadian and U.S. travellers will be required to have passports or a high-technology identification card for air and sea travel by January, 2007, and for land crossings by January, 2008.
The Windsor summit will focus specifically on helping the travel industry and the mayors hope to have a joint statement to present to the U.S. government by day’s end.
With only 23 percent of Americans and 40 percent of Canadians holding valid passports, officials fear the plan will have a devastating effect on cross-border tourism.
Matt Allen, press secretary for Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, said people who live in border cities frequently zip across for dinner, sports games, entertainment, and even church events without thinking they’re going to a “foreign country.”
He said Detroit is concerned that families won’t jump through all the required hoops just to watch a hockey game or movie.
“For a family of four to get a U.S. passport for every member of the family, you’re looking at over $400 and a week’s worth of waiting to get things processed,” said Allen.
He said that while business and trade also is a concern, many think the changes will hurt the tourism industry most.
“It’s understood the persons who cross on a Monday through Friday basis for work or employment purposes, they’re going to go through the steps,” said Allen.
“But it’s the tourism, travel, and leisure business that would really be hurt.”
Editor’s note: Fort Frances Mayor Dan Onichuk is attending this meeting.