Southbound vehicles heading into the U.S. at Blaine.

U.S. senators torpedo idea of new fee to cross border

Extra charge was proposed on land crossings into States from Canada, Mexico

U.S. law makers have scrapped a proposal to slap a new fee on Canadians crossing the border.

The Department of Homeland Security had wanted the toll applied at land crossings into the U.S. from Canada and Mexico, but the U.S. Senate judiciary committee voted  Thursday to block the idea, at least for this year.

Business leaders on both sides of the border opposed the idea, warning it could create much longer border wait time and hamper trade and commerce.

The fee on vehicles and pedestrians was proposed for further study as a way to generate new revenue for Homeland Security, which has been forced by arbitrary U.S. budget cuts to reduce customs staffing.

Bellingham Chamber of Commerce president Ken Oplinger had predicted the new border-crossing fee would never be implemented, noting similar schemes have been proposed and rejected before.

“We were pretty sure this was what the outcome was going to be,” he said, noting there was broad political opposition in the U.S., not just from border communities.

He noted the Senate vote merely blocks funding to study the idea for the next fiscal year.

“We’ll see what happens in future years,” Oplinger said. “It’s something to keep an eye on but we don’t need to worry about it for right now.”

The amount of the fee was never specified, but Canadians who go to the U.S. by air or sea already pay a $5.50 customs fee, usually built into airline ticket prices.

The Surrey Board of Trade also welcomed the decision, saying the fees would have been damaging to the economy.

While the focus today is on Canadian cross-border shoppers heading south, Oplinger noted Canada could also have lost out if the loonie falls against the U.S. dollar in the coming years.

“In 10 years who knows, the Canadian economy could be just as reliant on Americans coming north and not getting them because of the fee as well.”

Photo: Ken Oplinger