Betty Hinton MP Column
April 19, 2004
This week I have written a letter to Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Anne McLellan and Prime Minister Paul Martin asking them for an explanation of why our community is being asked to pay for additional custom services needed in regard to our growing airport traffic.
I’d like to share with you some of the reasons why I believe these people have to be held accountable to us, the taxpayers of B.C.
We all knew that 9-11 would change the world forever. Canadians were told by the governing Liberals that steps would be taken to ensure all safety and emergency preparedness possible would be undertaken. Since then they’ve rolled out a number of programs – accompanied by press releases, photo ops, handshakes and flag-waving. One would think we should be congratulating them.
Companies working the docks in Prince Rupert aren’t patting Liberal backs after an announced $10 (per container) fee for customs services. Here in Kamloops they’ve given us the privilege of paying twice, once through taxes and second, through user fee. Ms. McLellan is the minister responsible for the newly formed Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA/ December, 2003) as part of her role as minister of public safety. I have to ask, “why is your agency charging Kamloops Airport $80,000 for customs services when the Liberal government in 2003 dedicated $443 million for a six year period to strengthening border safety, custom services, and easier access for people and goods across the U.S./Canada border?”
That $443 million comes from tax dollars you and I have given to the federal Liberals to run customs service for us, so why is it suddenly considered a “cost-recovery” program.
Once again, we have to ask, where is the money going that the Canadian taxpayers are being told was set aside to provide these services?
Our airport is doing quite nicely thanks to renewed interest from the community and the work of the committee that persuaded Horizon to come to town. Some changes Fred Legace and the staff are making in their management of the space at the facility have added to the progress. We need to build on those positive initiatives, and we need the federal Liberals to do the job they said they would do – one being manage customs services. As a member of the Air Task Force and the federal representative, I’ve worked with regional customs managers for the past year and managed to get the fee dropped by $40,000 (from $120,000 to $80,000) but I am still not happy with the final number, especially when I keep hearing about the Liberals’ commitment to facilitating cross-border programs with the U.S.
In his Throne speech the Prime Minister said “The Government of Canada must play a fundamental role in securing the public health and safety of Canadians, while ensuring all Canadians continue to enjoy the benefits of an open society.” He went on to say some of the changes he’d be making to his caucus included the formation of the new CBSA. He said the formation of CBSA would be to build upon the Smart Border initiative (an agreement signed with the U.S. following 9-11 to review all security issues concerning flow between the borders) and went on to point out it’s role is in …expediting trade and travel while enhancing security with respect to high risk arrivals, and continue to work in close collaboration with business, labour, immigrant and refugee groups, and other important stakeholders in pursuing these changes.” I believe we are “stakeholders” who need a viable airport for our own pleasure, our business community, and our economic development, much of which depends on tourists.
On the CBSA’s website one finds a further explanation of its role. “CBSA brings together all major players involved in facilitating legitimate cross-border traffic and supporting economic development while stopping people and goods that pose a potential risk to Canada.” Another paragraph states, “CBSA’s mandate is to manage the nation’s borders by administering and enforcing about 75 domestic laws that govern trade and travel, as well as international agreements and conventions.”
Nowhere have I been able to find anything that says this will all be accomplished by charging exorbitant fees to the users.
Yes, it’s a fact that the Kelowna airport does not pay customs fees for Horizon’s service from the U.S. into their airport. Kelowna was alert and apparently managed to sneak in under the wire when all these “conventions’ were signed with the U.S. Was the local Airport Authority asleep in the cockpit or is Kamloops just not seen by Ottawa as a place worthy of investment? Either way, it’s time to move forward.
Since becoming Prime Minister, Martin has logged over 51,000 kilometers, criss-crossing the country in government jets on his pre-election “Mad as Hell” tour. This tour has stuck Canadians with a bill for at least $470,000 in flying time and the meter is still ticking.
At a local Airport committee this week I will be asking other community leaders to join with me in sending letters to the Liberal minister responsible for this service asking for an explanation. My message to our Prime Minister is “put our money where your mouth is.”
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