"A Tightening Border Has Canadians Worried," by Ian Austin - the New York Times, 15 April 2006
NIAGARA FALLS, Ontario — As theater, the "Oh Canada Eh?" dinner show and the Shaw Festival, whose current season includes an Ibsen play, have little in common. But while their productions may appeal to different kinds of audiences, the organizations behind the two theaters have the same worries about a relatively recent American law that will require anyone crossing the United States-Canadian border to show a passport or a still undetermined equivalent.
"It's become the war on tourism, not the war on terrorism," said J. Ross S. Robinson, the president of Canadiana Productions, owner of the "Oh Canada Eh?" revue. He said the new rules had already led to cancellations from the United States even though they do not go into effect for land travelers until the end of 2007.
Nor are owners of tourist destinations the only critics of the new rules, part of the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act approved by Congress in 2004. Manufacturers who ship parts and finished products across the border worry about further slowdowns at already congested crossings.
While museums, professional sports teams and store owners in Western New York all rely on Canadian visitors who may stay home in the future, it appears that the Canadian tourism industry will bear the brunt of the new regulations.
At the moment, a smaller percentage of Americans (about 24 percent) than Canadians (about 39 percent) hold passports. The rules are expected to prompt a rise in applications. But Mr. Robinson said he was concerned that relatively few people in the United States would spend the $97 and complete the passport paperwork simply to travel to Canada.
As the oversize spaces in the "Oh Canada Eh?" parking lot suggest, the show relies heavily on bus tour operators for business. Such travelers, Mr. Robinson said, are often elderly and price conscious.
"A huge majority don't have passports and won't get them," Mr. Robinson said, as he sat in his theater, which is lined with hockey mementoes and stuffed wildlife. "We'll never replace the loss of a large number of Americans with tourists from Australia or England."
While the legislation allows the American government to create a new border crossing card, it is expected to cost about $50, involve paperwork similar to a passport and, in the view of Mr. Robinson and others, be equally unattractive to casual travelers.
While there is less of a panic at the Shaw Festival, in Niagara-on-the-Lake, a prosperous tourist town, Odette Yazbeck, a spokeswoman for the theater, said there was nevertheless concern. Last year, 39 percent of the festival's 295,559 tickets were purchased by Americans. Ms. Yazbeck said the festival's research showed that Americans who are repeat visitors either own a passport or have the financial means and inclination to acquire one.
But, she said, the increasing tendency of Americans to make last-minute travel plans through the Internet does not fit well with a passport requirement. In addition, she said, the festival has already heard from Americans who are confused about the new legislation's timing and requirements.
As of now, travelers returning by air or water from Canada will need passports or the proposed border card at the end of this year. The rule will extend to motorists at the end of 2007....
Jim Bradley, Ontario's minister of tourism, has been emphasizing in meetings with his American counterparts that Canadians made about 36 million nonbusiness visits to the United States in 2004, the equivalent of more than one visit a year by every single resident of that country, while American trips north totaled 34 million.
"So much of this is done on a casual basis," Mr. Bradley said. "We're going to see a huge decline on both sides of the border."
Representative Don Manzullo, Republican of Illinois, and chairman of the House Small Business Committee, which held hearings on the plan last year, said he was concerned that the European and Asian companies that have kept many factories operating in his district will have less interest in investing in a North America with tighter borders.
"We're taking our closest trading partner and slapping them in the face," Mr. Manzullo said. "It's a constant fight down here not to treat Canadians like terrorists."
Although many truck drivers now carry special border crossing cards, Perrin Beatty, the president of Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters, said his association, based in Ottawa, is concerned that tighter border controls would disrupt the tight parts delivery schedules now common in factories.
"We have visions of severe bottlenecks at the border," Mr. Beatty said. Like many in Canada, he would prefer that the United States require an improved, more secure form of driver's license, an idea that has been rejected by the Bush administration.
But Mr. Beatty, a former Conservative member of Canada's Parliament and cabinet, said that he objected to the American plan for more than business reasons.
"Do we want to put barriers between our two people that prevent them from getting to know each other?" he said. "I would think post-Sept. 11th, building North American unity should be priority No. 1."
I spent the first twenty years of my life in Michigan and Maine, never far from the Canadian border. It's strange and sad to think of a world where Americans and Canadians don't travel back and forth freely, comfortably, and amiably.
Americans' desire for stricter border controls after 9/11 is natural; so is public aversion to what is arguably a rather misdirected approach to increasing border security. (I've never understood the faith that we put in ID requirements as a security measure. Can't the bad guys get fake IDs? For that matter, can't they just take a small boat down the Atlantic or Pacific coast, or across Lake Superior in the middle of the night? Or just walk across the border somewhere in the backcountry?)
That said, the law requiring people to show a passport or border crossing card to enter the US from Canada is a done deal, and it will be years before Americans feel ready to re-visit the issue. The question now isn't the law itself but the way it is being implemented. And this strikes me as a case where a vigorous, forward-looking public information and diplomacy campaign would eliminate (or have eliminated) a lot of anxiety and friction.
At a minimum, Americans and Canadians should have ready information on what is going to be required of them, when. It's not clear from this article how well that's been communicated. It would be even smarter for US officials and/or business people with an interest in cross-border travel to help people get the passports or border-crossing IDs they'll need in the future -- by making presentations and bringing fact sheets and application forms to retirement communities, rec centers, etc.; by helping people get passport photographs and submit their applications; and perhaps by giving some kind of grant or discount to help people with money issues afford the cost of applying for a passport.
People seldom like change, and they never like bureaucracy. There's no way to introduce a law like this without creating some friction. But a good public communication program can go a long way in minimizing bad feelings and enhancing the effectiveness of new requirements and procedures.