JEFF JOHNSTON/ Special to Bullet News
NIAGARA – A new border-crossing fee being proposed by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security is running into opposition from politicans on both sides of the Niagara River.
Homeland Security has commissioned a study on the benefits a “land border crossing fee,” which has been factored into the agency’s budget for 2014.
While few details are known, the new fee would apparently be charged in addition to existing bridge and border tolls.
Niagara Falls, Ont. Mayor Jim Diodati thinks the fee is “not very well thought out”.
“Canada is the United States’ largest trade partner in the world,” says Diodati. “In other words, we’re their best customer. In a sense what they’re doing is asking us Canadians to subsidize” their security operations
Niagara Falls, NY., Mayor Paul Dyster agreed with Diodati’s opinion.
“I can’t image, whatever the result of the survey, it could convince me that this is a good idea,” says Dyster. “Our economies are so interwoven that the damage it would do would outweigh the benefit.”
Critics of the fee say that it will put constraints on trade, tourism and American-Canadian relations.
“Our goal should be to make the border seamless like it used to be,” says Diodati. “That’s all it was, a long time ago. Often times you didn’t need ID to cross.”
Canada and the United States have the world’s longest demilitarized border and the two countries trade with each other more than any others. More than $1 million in trade crosses the border every minute. However, the 9/11 terrorist attacks changed the political landscape of the Canada-U.S. Border.
Border security has become more of a concern with the threat of terrorism. The last recession, which began in 2008, has encouraged governments to focus inward on their own economies rather than mending ties with others.
“It’s becoming really protectionist,” says Diodati. “Putting up an ‘iron curtain’ would not encourage commerce – it would force us to look elsewhere for trading partners.”
Diodati and Dyster reflected back on a time when Canadians and Americans often did not require any identification to cross the border.
“I appreciated their need for security, but that’s what they (terrorists) would want,” says Diodati. “They want us to isolate each other, to spend more money, to feel threatened. If we keep this up, then they win.”
Diodati and Dyster value the Canadian and American relationship and said they believe the border is an important part of the Niagara region’s identity.
“Being on the border can be a great asset, but it can also be a great liability,” says Dyster. “Having goods, people, and ideas, flowing freely across the border, that turns it into an asset. We have to find ways to make it easier for people to cross the border, not make it harder.”
Dyster said he is unsure of the likelihood of the fee being put into effect, but he does expect it to get some “strong opposition” from border towns such as Niagara Falls.
“When our colleagues from Washington come here, they often leave shaking their heads and we find we have more in common with our Canadian partners,” says Dyster.