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Border Challenges and Regional Solutions: 2010 Olympics and the Pacific Northwest Experience

The Canada Institute co-hosted a conference exploring how Northern border states and Canadian provinces are developing regional solutions to meet federal border mandates. Washington State Governor Christine Gregoire delivered the keynote address during the conference's luncheon.

Date & Time

Feb. 24, 2009
7:30am – 3:00pm

Border Challenges and Regional Solutions: 2010 Olympics and the Pacific Northwest Experience

Image removed.The Woodrow Wilson Center's Canada Institute, in collaboration with the Pacific NorthWest Economic Region (PNWER), the Canadian American Business Council, and Western Washington University's Border Policy Research Institute, held a conference on February 24, 2009, exploring how Northern border states and Canadian provinces are developing regional solutions to meet federal border mandates in a manner that balances efficiency, economic, and security objectives. One of the primary focuses of the conference was to assess whether both the U.S. and Canadian governments have taken sufficient measures to handle peak cross-border traffic flows during the 2010 Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver in a safe and timely manner. Washington State Governor Christine Gregoire delivered the keynote address during the conference's luncheon. She pointed out that the 2010 Olympics have helped strengthen an already close relationship between agencies in Washington State and British Columbia.

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The conference also featured opening remarks from Congressman Rick Larsen (D-WA) and the Honourable Gary Lunn, Canada's Minister of State for Sport. Larsen echoed Gregiore's remarks noting that the preparation for the Olympic Games helped foster increased bilateral cooperation between British Columbia and Washington State officials, cooperation that will likely be sustained long after the games are over. Such cooperation should be remembered as part of the legacy of the 2010 Olympics, he said. Minister Lunn stressed that the games must balance security aims while maintaining a welcoming image, noting that the Olympics represent an excellent opportunity to showcase Canadian culture to the world. Image removed.He also emphasized the importance of the Canada-U.S. economic relationship and reminded participants that the integrated nature of the North American market will ensure that the Canadian and U.S. economies will succeed or fail together. Consequently, it is imperative that both countries continue to work together to create a northern border that is both safe and efficient.

Making the Most of an Opportunity

The Olympics have served as a catalytic moment to enhance bilateral connections between the State of Washington and the province of British Columbia, said Sukumar Periwal of the Government of British Columbia's Intergovernmental Relations Secretariat. A prominent example of this effort, noted Periwal, was the launch of the Joint Border Action Plan. This bilateral initiative, led by B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell and Washington State Governor Christine Gregoire, aimed to streamline cross-border trade and travel in an effort to avert long delays at the border in advance of the 2010 Olympics. Periwal stressed that effective border policies must focus on ensuring that citizens and their needs are met in addition to meeting security objectives.

The International Mobility and Trade Corridor Project (IMTC) was highlighted as a potential model to enhance regional cooperation in an effort to improve border efficiency. Hugh Conroy, project manager of the IMTC, explained that the Project is a regional binational planning coalition led by the Whatcom Council of Governments and is comprised of U.S. and Canadian transportation agencies, as well as representatives from other border jurisdictions, and members of the private sector. The coalition's objective is to improve data planning and data collection efforts, and promote infrastructure, operations, policy, and staffing improvements along the Cascade Gateway. Conroy maintained that the 2010 Olympics have helped attract a higher level of attention throughout the Pacific Northwest region to the work and structure of the IMTC, which may help foster greater cross-border collaboration on border issues in the region in the future.

From Regional to National Innovation?

Image removed.An understanding of which border policies have worked well in the past may be crucial in developing a more secure and efficient northern border, said Christopher Sands of the Hudson Institute. Sands gave a brief history of recent border policy in the United States beginning with The Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996. According to Sands, it was the passing of this Act that policymakers decided that what was implemented on the U.S. southern border had to be implemented on its northern border for fear of being accused of racial discrimination if it treated the northern border differently. In addition, the legislation greatly raised awareness among border communities of how federal policy affected their economies.

This led to an increased dialogue among a diverse range of stakeholders along the northern border that would eventually serve as a blueprint for the Canada-U.S. Smart Border Declaration, which was drafted and implemented following 9/11. He maintained that the primary reasons why the Smart Border framework was successful was because it focused solely on the northern border and numerous stakeholders took part in its development. Building on this success will require policymakers to recognize the importance of empowering regions to develop border polices that meet their specific needs, as well as creating a shared long-term vision of what type of northern border Canada and the United States are striving to create, said Sands.

Edward Alden of the Council on Foreign Relations said that establishing trust between the U.S. and Canadian governments on security matters will be crucial to prevent an ongoing thickening of the northern border. According to information obtained from U.S. Northern Command, Alden pointed out that the United States still views drug trafficking, illegal aliens entering the United States, and intelligence gaps in some areas as threats associated with the country's northern border. Alden maintained that his research indicated that the United States still views border control as the primary means of managing a diverse array of threats. As long as this is the case, said Alden, Canada should expect more tightening and stricter controls at the border.

Image removed.Efforts are being made to make the northern border more efficient, particularly in the Pacific Northwest region, said Michele James of U.S. Customs and Border Protection. James stated that the Olympics have served as a catalyst for many of the border initiatives currently underway along B.C.-Washington State border crossings, including the installation of RFID scanners which enable Enhanced Drivers Licenses to be read. At the national level, James stated that the expected 700 million dollars in the stimulus package allocated for border infrastructure projects will be used to build a smarter and more efficient border.

Despite progress being made, significant challenges remain to facilitate cross-border trade between Canada and the United States, said Kelly Johnston of the Campbell Soup Company. He reminded participants that North America is an integrated market and remarked that his company alone makes 8000 shipments across the Canada-U.S. border annually. Johnston stressed that Campbell Soup, like other companies, is experiencing considerable financial hardship as a result of increased regulations to export products to the United States. Johnston said that the current complexity of paperwork required every time Campbell Soup needs to ship product across the border has cost his company millions of dollars. In addition, the implementation of new border crossing fees have led trucking companies to either charge Campbell Soup a 15-25 percent surcharge to make shipments across the border or simply refuse to make the shipments at all. One method of alleviating border congestion and costs, said Johnston, would be to allow activities frequently conducted at border crossings—such as confirming paperwork and sealing trucks—to be completed away from the border.

Improving border performance will require Canadian and U.S. officials to move beyond conventional "security vs. economy" thinking when developing border policies, maintained Kathryn Bryk Freidman, of the University at Buffalo Regional Institute. She said that officials should view the border as a "membrane," an entity that at times is flexible, fluid, and can be moved through easily, but can also harden and prevent passage when necessary.

In addition to new thinking, improving border management will require the development of new indicators to measure the efficiency of cross-border flows. David Davidson of the Border Policy Research Institute said that there is a strong correlation between infrastructure at the border and border wait times. Data suggest, for instance, that border wait times for those in a standard lane vs. a Nexus lane is 65 seconds to 26 seconds respectively. Thus, ensuring that border crossings are equipped with the technology necessary to utilize Nexus cards and Enhanced Drivers Licenses (EDLs) will be crucial to improve border performance. Davidson maintained that more effort should be put forth to promote and measure the enrollment in programs such as Nexus and EDLs as a way of assessing border performance. Additionally, noted Davidson, a ratio of the number of booths available to the level of traffic is another metric that could be used to predict wait times at border crossings.

Measuring Border Performance
One of the most significant barriers to ensuring EDLs can be used at border crossings are privacy concerns associated with RFID technology, said Kathleen Carroll of HID Global. RFID technology is used to read a computer chip contained within EDLs. Though privacy associations have cautioned policymakers and the public that personal information is at risk of exposure every time an EDL card is scanned, this is simply inaccurate, said Carroll. She explained that there is no personal data transferred from EDLs when it is scanned at a border crossing. Instead, the EDL contains a reference number which is scanned and points to a file in a secure database maintained by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Countering misperceptions of privacy concerns related to the use of EDLs will be essential to move forward with plans to develop a smarter and more efficient border.

The Government of Canada is actively trying to improve its capacity to build a smarter border, said Tony Shallow of Transport Canada. To this end, Transport Canada has been conducting a major border wait time project in Ontario. Working in collaboration with trucking associations, the project aims to estimate commercial border crossing times by gathering data from 50 participating carriers at five Ontario border crossing locations. To date, noted Shallow, the project has gathered over 250,000 observations that will provide useful statistics to Canadian officials and agencies as they attempt to improve border efficiency.

Matt Morrison of the Pacific NorthWest Economic Region (PNWER) offered participants a list of specific border policy recommendations aimed at improving border performance. The first called for the development of more sophisticated border performance metrics, particularly during peak border crossing times. The second recommendation called for the more effective use of pre-screening and pre-clearance programs such as Nexus and Enhanced Drivers Licenses. Morrison stressed that creating a user friendly and secure border is not only possible, but essential to the economies of both Canada and the United States.

A webcast of this conference can be viewed at\Canada

Drafted by Ken Crist, Program Associate, Canada Institute
(202) 691-4270

Hosted By

Canada Institute

Bound by common geopolitical interests and strong economic and cultural ties, Canada and the United States enjoy the world's most successful bilateral relationship. The Wilson Center's Canada Institute is the only public policy forum in the world dedicated to the full spectrum of Canada-U.S. issues. The Canada Institute is a global leader for policymakers, academics and business leaders to engage in non-partisan, informed dialogue about the current and future state of the relationship.     Read more


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