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Border delays a concern to B.C. government

VANCOUVER, B.C. -- The Canadian and US federal governments need to move faster to fix the delays truckers face at b...

VANCOUVER, B.C. — The Canadian and US federal governments need to move faster to fix the delays truckers face at border crossings, according to John van Dongen, B.C.’s Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor-General, a story published by the Vancouver Sun states.

At a major intergovernmental conference on July 21, van Dongen said that while governments have moved to implement programs that expedite the passage of “trusted travellers” across the border, he still sees long lineups at the Fraser Valley’s Pacific border crossing. He contends that those lineups result in fewer vehicles taking more time to get across, “which represents huge lost dollars.”

The situation has improved over the past four years, according to other speakers at the breakout session of the Pacific North West Economic Region (PNWER) conference in Vancouver, a government-funded advocacy group representing eight states and provinces in the northwest. Van Dongen said that while things are moving in the right direction, “Rome is burning while we’re trying to get this stuff implemented.”

The issue of the border, which has become a stickier line to cross in the security-conscious 9/11 era, was a key topic of discussion at the PNWER annual meeting, which brings together top government and business representatives to talk about common issues. Van Dongen serves as one of PNWER’s vice-presidents.

The potential for visitors to Vancouver and Whistler’s Olympics in 2010 to face delays dominated a morning session on border issues. Premier Gordon Campbell reprised that theme as part of his keynote address during lunch. Recalling an uncomfortably long wait for transportation at the 2004 Athens Olympics that still sticks out in his memory, Campbell said he wants to make sure the thing that people don’t remember about the 2010 Games, is a long wait at the border to get into Canada.

Campbell credited PNWER with advancing the border delay issue with both the Canadian and US federal governments, and pushing for innovative solutions, such as enhanced drivers’ licences, which are being piloted by Washington and B.C. as acceptable border identification.

Cargo crossing the border was the afternoon topic, when it was mentioned strides have been made towards improving the two-way flow. Kelly Johnston, vice-president of government affairs for the food conglomerate Campbell’s Soup Co., said the big problems – where trucks could face eight-hour delays at the border – are gone.

“(Crossing the border) has gotten better,” he said. “But is it better than before 9/11? No. Definitely we’ve added more fees, more complexities and more programs,” he added.

The Canada Border Services Agency is in the midst of implementing a $396-million pre-arrival notification program aimed at streamlining truck and rail shipments coming into Canada. It’s called eManifest. Under the program, shippers will be required to notify Canada Border Services electronically that they are sending trucks or rail cars to the border, tell them what freight is in the containers, who the driver or crew is, and how they will be crossing at least an hour before the containers arrive at the crossing. Feniak said it will be an extension of the pre-arrival notification programs that ship borne and airborne cargo is subjected to now.

The idea is to give border officials time to review documentation for shipments, conduct risk assessments and make decisions about clearing shipments or flagging them for secondary inspection before vehicles arrive. Feniak added that it should reduce the time it takes for a truck to get past the crossing to about 30 seconds from the one to three minutes it takes now, which should help reduce border lineups.

“It rewards compliance with predictability at the border,” Feniak said.

He added that the program will be phased in over three years. The first phase, this fall, will be to educate shippers on the steps they will need to take to comply.

Van Dongen said anything, like e-Manifest, that moves checking loads or decisions on which shipments need secondary inspection away from the border point are good strategies, but they just need to be put in place faster.

“I know they feel they’re moving quickly with a three-year implementation,” van Dongen added. “But we’ve got to work harder to shorten that up.”

However, a senior Canadian border official dismissed B.C. politicians’ concerns that the Canada-US border will experience long delays during the 2010 Olympics, in a separate story published by the Vancouver Sun.

Blake Delgaty, regional director-general for the Canada Border Services Agency, told government and business delegates at the same PNWER summit, that he didn’t see a problem getting people across the border in 2010.

“I am not expecting major problems for the Olympics,” Delgaty told politicians attending a panel discussion on cross-border issues during the 2010 Games.

“We don’t expect major delays at the land border or at the Vancouver airport. We’ll have volumes essentially like a busy summer Saturday.”

However, van Dongen and several other B.C. politicians serving provincial and federal interests – including Lake Country Conservative MP Ron Cannan and Surrey Newton NDP MLA Harry Bains – questioned Delgaty’s assertions, as did a number of legislators from Washington, Idaho and Oregon.

“The ability of people to cross the border in a timely fashion during the Olympics is indeed an issue for us,” said van Dongen, who noted that the issue was to be discussed in a subsequent closed-door PNWER meeting, with federal Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day and 2010 Olympics Minister James Moore, after which a “border charter” aimed at resolving cross-border issues, will be made public.

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