A Commentary by Doug Draper
Posted September 9th, 2016 on Niagara At Large
Well here we go again.
This past Tuesday, September 6th, after another one of those long weekends that almost always mean excruciatingly long waits for people crossing border bridges in our Greater Niagara Region, The Buffalo News published yet another well-justified rant on the issue.
In a lead editorial on its Opinion Pages, the newspaper again points out that Canada’s Border Security Agency (CBSA) is not employing enough officers to accommodate the amount of traffic crossing the Peace Bridge and other crossings along the Niagara River.
The result is backups on lanes heading into Canada that, at the busiest of times, that can have people waiting in their vehicles for an hour or two or even longer to get through.
It was only a week or so before this editorial that my wife and I were returning from visiting friends in Buffalo to when we encountered a situation on the Canadian side of the Peace Bridge that was not dissimilar to others we’ve experienced in recent years.
It was early evening and the traffic was already building up in front of the only four or five booths open when a gate suddenly went down and sign above one of the booths switched from “open” to “closed.” A young bridge employee began the unenviable task of routing four lines of vehicles into three – all while more vehicles crossing from the Buffalo side kept piling up behind.
Windows went down as some drivers directed angry words at the poor guy trying to untangle that bottleneck. “You’ve been given a hell of a lousy job,” I said to the guy. “Yes I know,’ he replied.
Of course he knew, but that wasn’t going to make the lines move any faster and it’s far more likely that some of the people in those lines are going to join the growing chorus of Buffalo area residents I now often hear say – “I used to like coming over to your side to shop or go to a restaurant but I don’t do it much anymore. It takes too damn long to get over the border.”
That certainly should not be music to the ears of retailers, tourist operators or anyone else on the Ontario side who are hoping that the lower Canadian dollar will attract more Americans to their venues.
In its September 6th editorial, The Buffalo News was generous enough to admit that “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,” the editorial goes on to say. “Unless the door swings well in both directions, travelers are likely to think twice before crossing the border (and) 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.
“Its 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.”
Neo-conservatives are dangerous people to leave in charge of economies. Going back at least as far as Ronald Reagan in the United States and Margaret Thatcher in England and then on to Mike Harris in Ontario and Stephen Harper at the federal level in Canada, they try to con themselves and the rest of us into thinking that you can make drastic cuts to spending and taxes, and at the same time balance the books and maintain essential services.
You can’t! And what we’ve seen happening at the border bridges in recent years proves it.
In 2012, when Canada’s axe-wielding Harper government cut the budget for border officers again – this time cutting another $143 million from CBSA’s $1.7 billion annual budget, causing in a loss of more than 1,000 border officers’ jobs, according to stories posted by The Globe and Mail and CBC – representatives for the border officers repeated their warning that the time it takes to inspect people crossing into the country would suffer.
Oh sure,” replied the eye-rolling neo-cons. “Those are the same old ‘union bosses’ trying to protect their jobs.
But when you are talking about millions of dollars for officers needed at crossings to oversee a flow of people and goods that contribute hundreds of billions of dollars to the economies of both countries each year (including an estimated $40 billion in goods annually at the Peace Bridge alone), cutting the budget for border officers is penny wise and pound foolish on steroids!
And that doesn’t take into account the responsibility these officers have to keep the country’s borders safe and security – a responsibility you would think Harper and company wouldn’t want to nickel and dime considering the amount of fear they stoked over terrorism.
Border congestion is far from the only mess the Trudeau government inherited when it took office t10 months ago. But unlike so many others like what to do about years of neglecting climate change and hundreds of billions of dollars in potential revenue ending up in off-shore tax havens, this one hardly seems as complicated to fix.
Just take some of that stimulus money, Justin, and start using it to hire the officers needed to operate, in a safe and timely way, the gateways to so much of Canada’s economic wealth – now!
To read the entire Buffalo News editorial, click on –http://www.buffalonews.com/opinion/buffalo-news-editorials/now-its-canadas-turn-to-correct-staffing-issues-that-discourage-cross-border-travel-20160906
To read a related story from CBC, click on the following two links— http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/border-agency-cuts-questioned-as-drug-busts-rise-1.1302411
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