New Customs facility in ‘last phase’: Nault

Local MP Robert Nault doesn’t see any “insurmountable” challenges left in completing the new Canada Customs facility here, predicting construction could begin early this summer and be completed by fall.
“I believe it will cause us a lot of revenue,” Nault, who’s also the minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development, told delegates attending the Rainy River District Municipal Association’s annual meeting Saturday in Rainy River.
“I am still one of those people that if I wait in line for an hour once, you will never see me at that port again.
“If we’re going to compete in the global economy, we need the best infrastructure, not the worst infrastructure,” he stressed.
Nault said some details still needed to be hammered out, including finding the last bit of financing for the project and finalizing where the Ontario Tourist Information Centre will go.
But he said none of these details were anything he would call “deal-breakers,” adding completion of the project has been long overdue.
“I started talking about it 10 years ago,” Nault said. “I’ve been actively working on this for the last six or seven years.”
Fort Frances CAO Bill Naturkach said he was “glad to hear” Nault’s statement although he noted the town still has a list of items that need to be resolved.
“They should not slow down any time schedules but they do have to be pursued and concluded,” he noted.
A big issue for the town will be establishing “connecting link” status for the new traffic route into Canada the new facility will cause. Both Revenue Canada and Abitibi-Consolidated have discussed the subject with the Ministry of Transportation but no solid resolution has come from the province so far.
“Going to the next council meeting will be the formalization of the ‘connecting link’ changes as a result of the project,” Naturkach said.
Meanwhile, Nault is pushing for an early start of a “Smart Card” program which would make it easier for local residents to cross the border here.
To be part of a border crossing agreement with the U.S., local residents would obtain a “Smart Card,” swipe it through an automated checkpoint, and then proceed without having to stop at Customs.
“What I’m trying to do at the border is create a seamless entry point,” Nault said. “We should entice people to keep coming across the border.”
Eventually, Nault would like to see a border accord struck between Rainy River District and northern Minnesota much like the one southern Alberta has with Montana.
Nault stressed both areas have a lot to gain by working together.
“As you recall, when we did some announcements with our mural [in Fort Frances], it had a great impact on the other side,” Nault said. “It’s not much good to deal with Rainy River on our side if the Americans aren’t with us.
“[Working together] will not only improve where we live but give us an opportunity to be successful,” he argued.