Canada is a trading nation. And while we look to develop other trading partners, we musn’t forget that America remains our main dance partner.
But while Canadians clearly support diversifying the markets we do business in, they also know that this country’s fate will forever be tied geographically, economically and culturally to the United States. Parliament should remain focused, first and foremost, on our southern neighbour — from tightening ties to breaking barriers, in ways both big and small.
In 2015, the Obama and Harper governments struck a deal on one way to further that mutually beneficial objective. They agreed to expand an existing policy of setting up pre-clearance facilities on both sides of the border. Bill C-23, which I’m currently sponsoring in the Senate, seeks to entrench this agreement into Canadian law so that implementing this easy and effective program can begin.
Canadians are already quite familiar with this process.
Most major airports in Canada have pre-clearance for travellers heading to the United States. American customs officers operate on this end of flights going south to speed up the process, allowing Canadians to land in the U.S. and simply walk out of the airport en route to their business meetings, vacations or family reunions. It works.
This bill will simply expand that already-functioning system with additional benefits to new routes and modes of transportation.
To name names, Billy Bishop airport in downtown Toronto and Jean Lesage airport in Quebec City would get pre-clearance facilities, in addition to Montreal’s central train station and the Rocky Mountaineer rail line in Western Canada. The benefits of easing mobility from Canada’s urban centres, either by air or by rail, to their counterparts in the U.S. would do much to continue advancing the person-to-person relationships shared across our two borders and to enhance trade and business.
Under the terms of the legislation, preclearance facilities can also be expanded to American airports as far south as Los Angeles and Phoenix so as to further enhance the mobility of Canadians coming home. This means shortening the time Canadians would have to wait in our own airports after a long flight home from down south. It also gives greater economic incentive for airlines to expand the routes they offer to North American air travellers.
Moreover, this bill has extensive economic potential for the many businesses that operate across the border.
It includes marine crossings, which would bolster the movement of both commercial vessels and tourist cruises in the Great Lakes or the waters connecting Vancouver and Seattle, for instance.
Canada and the U.S. signed the agreement two years ago. The U.S. Congress has already approved it and now it’s time for us to act.
Considering the current climate of trade negotiations between our two countries, we don’t want this agreement to stall. The door may close. In truth, we simply wouldn’t get a better deal than what’s on offer now. And on the contrary, its passage through Parliament, although belated, would be a reminder to our American neighbours of our ongoing commitment to advancing this prosperous relationship.
Some people have expressed concern over the potential civil rights implications associated with preclearance. In the spirit of sober second thought, senators will study these issues thoroughly.
But from where I stand, it seems this bill is overwhelmingly in the best interest of the people of this country. I invite Canadians to get in touch with their senators to share their support for this initiative.
Now is the time to build bridges, not walls.
Doug Black is an elected senator representing Alberta. He is chair of the Senate Committee on Banking, Trade and Commerce and a member of the Senate Committee on National Finance.
This article appeared in the November 17, 2017 edition of The Calgary Herald.