Manitoba business leaders have universally condemned a proposal that could lead to Canadian travellers being charged a fee to cross at U.S. land border crossings.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has asked the U.S. government to study the feasibility of introducing such a fee as a way of raising additional revenue to help defray the rising cost of providing heightened security at border crossings with Canada and Mexico.
The proposal has drawn fire from political leaders and business groups on both sides of the border, including the Manitoba and Winnipeg chambers of commerce, the Manitoba division of the Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters and the Manitoba Trucking Association.
"In our minds, this would be bad for travellers, bad for tourism, bad for business and bad for the economy," Chuck Davidson, vice-president of policy for the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce, said in an interview Monday. "Our hope is that this will die a quick death."
There hasn't been any indication how much the fee might be or if it would be charged on a per-person or per-vehicle basis when families are crossing the border, Davidson said.
"I think there are a lot of questions that need to be answered," he said.
He and Manitoba Chambers of Commerce president and CEO Graham Starmer said such a fee would undermine ongoing efforts to enhance Canada-U.S. trade relations and to make it easier for people and goods to move across the border.
Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters (Manitoba) vice-president Ron Koslowsky said not only could a fee harm trade between the two countries, it would mean an added cost for Manitoba manufacturers who export products to the United States.
If they pass on that cost to their U.S. customers, it makes their goods less competitive south of the border, he said, and if they don't pass it on, it comes off their own bottom line.
"And everything is already being run as thin as possible."
Manitoba Trucking Association executive director Bob Dolyniuk said trucking firms would have no choice but to pass on the cost to their customers. Although it wouldn't cost truckers money directly, it could cost them indirectly, because if exports to the U.S. decline, so do cross-border shipping volumes for truckers.
Davidson said it's not just Canadian business groups who are upset about the fee proposal.
"We're already hearing from a lot of chambers south of the border that they're opposed to this as well."
Some have suggested Canadian retailers might benefit, because such a fee and the likelihood of longer waits at the border could discourage some Canadians from cross-border shopping.
But Davidson said that could backfire if Canada retaliates by imposing a similar fee on Americans crossing the border to shop or vacation in Canada.
Michael MacKenzie, executive director of the 70,000-member Canadian Snowbird Association, said Washington is trying to ease its "desperate financial situation" on the backs of Canadian travellers.
"While we appreciate the fiscal challenges faced by our friends in the United States, we would prefer the U.S. government focus on ways to reduce obstacles at the border that hinder trade and tourism," he said.
Canadian airline passengers already pay a $5.50 "passenger inspection fee" to enter the U.S. It's included in the price of their plane ticket. Starmer said if the land border fee were for a similar amount, it would quickly add up for Canadian companies with trucks crossing the border every day.
"That's a massive fee for an entire year for each of those trucks..." he said. "And what do you think that would do for the likes of CentrePort and others setting up distribution centres in Canada?"
Canada's Department of Foreign Affairs said Monday it would "vigorously lobby against this proposal."
The Canadian Chamber of Commerce also weighed in, saying such a toll would be a "serious mistake" and pledged to lobby against the idea.
-- with files from The Canadian Press