Will Canada start listening now? With border backups attracting attention across the country and pressure rising at all levels of government, perhaps Ottawa will finally act to defuse a problem that poses economic perils on both sides of the border.
The problem, which has been evident at various times all summer, repeated itself late last month as Canadians returning home from the Kanye West concert in Buffalo encountered not only long lines at the border crossing in Fort Erie, but the additional insult of watching booths closing as agents packed up for the night. An unnecessarily long wait was thoughtlessly extended.
Canadian authorities have been made aware of the problem. Yet nothing improves.
Now, though, the complaints are becoming more organized. Ron Rienas, general manager of the Peace Bridge Authority, has reached out to other northern border crossing officials through his role as president of the Public Border Operators Association.
Rienas and Sam Hoyt, chairman of the Peace Bridge Authority, plan to enlist the aid of Ontario’s provincial leaders in dealing with Ottawa. Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., plans to speak to the Canadian ambassador about the matter. Leaders in Fort Erie are taking their complaints to the top, protesting to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
They have reason to be concerned, as do Canadian business leaders in the Niagara region. This is prime time for them. With exchange rates so favorable for Americans visiting Canada – a U.S. dollar was worth about $1.30 Canadian last week – shoppers, diners and vacationers have additional reasons to find Canada an attractive destination.
But the prospect of extended waits at the border could easily overwhelm any but the most compelling urge to chance the crossing. Is it worth the savings to wait an hour or more at the border? For many drivers, the answer will be no.
It’s a problem in the United States, too. Even though the exchange rate is unfavorable to them, Canadian shoppers are still attracted by lower prices and a smaller sales tax. In addition, the business models of organizations such as the Buffalo Bills, the Buffalo Sabres, the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra and Shea’s Performing Arts Center factor in the attendance of Canadian customers.
Indeed, from Toronto to Rochester, the economy of the “Golden Horseshoe” will fare better if it acts as a single region, at least as much as national concerns allow. But an efficient border crossing is the linchpin and adequate staffing is key to that efficiency.
Americans have caused their own problems with border crossings in the recent past. It wasn’t that long ago that four- and five-hour waits were being reported at especially busy times. Improved staffing and better planning helped to fix that problem.
But fixing half the problem still leaves it wholly unresolved. Unless the door swings well in both directions, travelers are likely to think twice before crossing the border. That’s why the efforts of Canadian and American leaders, business and government, are important.
The Trudeau government needs to understand the importance of this problem, not just in Buffalo, but at crossings all along a border that stretches nearly 4,000 miles. It’s bad business when customers are kept waiting and it’s especially bad when service lines are shut down while drivers tap their steering wheels and steam.