OTTAWA—The United States has shrugged off Conservative government appeals and will plow ahead with what Prime Minister Stephen Harper last year called a cash grab from Canadian travellers.
The U.S. will charge Canadian air and sea travellers $5.50 to enter the country even as the two governments have pledged to drop barriers to cross-border traffic.
In the Commons, the New Democrats railed against the surcharge and said it made a mockery of Conservative efforts to work with the U.S., noting the latest border irritant comes on top of Buy America provisions in U.S. President Barack Obama’s latest job stimulus package.
Gerald Keddy, parliamentary secretary for international trade, said the Conservative government is “disappointed” and hopes the U.S. “will recognize the error of their ways and that free and open trade is the way out of this economic depression, not into it.”
U.S. ambassador to Canada, David Jacobson, swiftly tried damage control, suggesting the fee was “not a new fee” and that Canadians had long benefitted, as did citizens of Mexico and the Caribbean, from an exemption that every other country in the world doesn’t get.
The Harper government had lobbied to retain the exemption ever since the 2012 budget signalled the surcharge would be applied.
“I think it’s clear the U.S. government is casting around for ways to raise revenue,” Harper said in February. “I think that this is not a useful way to do that.”
Jacobsen claimed the U.S move was “necessitated by the budget situation in my country.”
“It is paid by American citizens and foreign nationals alike, just like Canadian citizens and non-Canadian citizens pay fees at Canadian airports.”
He said “our relationship continues to be the greatest in the world; whether either country charges travel fees won’t affect that. This fee is not in any way an action against Canada and will not have any effect on the progress of the ongoing discussions surrounding the Beyond the Border initiative.”
The NDP’s Robert Chisholm (Dartmouth—Cole Harbour) said later that “the United States is not taking Canada seriously when it comes to these negotiations.”
NDP MP Pat Martin (Winnipeg Centre) was more blunt.
“It’s absurd,” he said. “We don’t charge them a fee to come and visit Banff. Why are we paying five and a half bucks for the honour of visiting the United States? It makes my blood boil as a Canadian Member of Parliament, frankly.”
Martin said the Conservative government “should stand up on their hind legs and frankly tell the Americans, what for?
“This is a provocative insult to Canadians and I expect our foreign affairs diplomats and representatives to push back and push back hard.