Alex Atamanenko, MP for BC Southern Interior, has learned that four border crossings in southern B.C. are earmarked for closure or reduced services as part of the recently announced Canada-U.S. perimeter security deal.
A leaked document obtained by Atamanenko from NDP International Trade and US-Canada Border Services Critic Brian Masse lists Nelway (south of Salmo), Cascade (south of Christina Lake), Midway and Chopaka (south of Keremeos and Osoyoos) as all slated for closure or reduction in services. In total, 52 crossings across Canada will be affected by closures, reduced operations or sharing of facilities.
“These crossings are the lifeblood of communities across the country,” said NDP International Trade critic, Brian Masse. “Details of the border deal negotiated behind closed doors are just leaking out now, and it is not good news for border communities and their families. Clearly the government has not done its due diligence with respect to these proposed changes to border administration at small land ports of entry. That these negotiations were being conducted in secret for over a year is unacceptable, why weren’t these communities consulted? Where is the business case? What are the risks? The NDP categorically opposes any ill conceived border schemes that compromise our economy, sovereignty and security.”
“The reduction in border services will affect people and businesses in the Southern Interior by making it more difficult to enter and do business with the U.S.,” said Atamanenko.
Midway Mayor Randy Kappes sees the move as another blow for the town of Midway. “After all the work we have done to turn the direction of our community around, this would be a slap in the face,” said Kappes. “In large centres cutbacks like this (in staffing and cost-savings) can be made with little effect to the community as a whole, but in a small town it is things like this that can make the difference between a thriving community and a ghost town.”
Ann Henderson, Mayor of Salmo, has also expressed major concern about the proposal. “An unmanned crossing at Nelway will be difficult to police, result in lost jobs at the border and a reduction in tourism for the area. All in all, I wonder at what cost these changes will be made.”
“The Conservative government has been less than transparent in letting communities know about how and when the decisions to close border crossings were made,” said Atamanenko. The government’s report and action plan Beyond the Border: A Shared Vision for Perimeter Security and Economic Competitiveness was released on December 6 and mentions establishing a Small and Remote Port Working Group to evaluate “a bi-national approach to operational alignment.”
“In reality, it is clear from the leaked document that the Small Port Working Group has already been meeting since last January”, added Atamanenko. “The proposed closures would be especially devastating for Midway which has worked hard to re-open their sawmill. Lumber that is cut and dried is shipped directly across the border, and Vaagen Brothers, the mill operator, has invested millions in state-of-the-art technology. We must not allow the closure of our border crossings,”
Atamanenko is contacting Public Safety Minister Vic Toews, who is responsible for Canada Border Services, to express his outrage and dissatisfaction with the decision to close the border crossing and reduce services at others.
“This action is yet another set-back to rural Canadian communities brought to them by this federal government. Hopefully this is not a final decision, and the minister will be open to discussing the repercussions of their secretive planning process,” Atamanenko concluded.
The Small Port Working Group report recommends that the Chopaka crossing be closed on the Canadian side and border facilities be shared with the Americans. The port of entry at Nighthawk, on the American side, has been undergoing extensive upgrades in the past year.
– Alex Atamanenko, with Review files