Much like a fast approaching freight-train the deadline is looming and it's now probably too late to avoid the nightmare about to strike.
Small, medium and large communities from St.Stephen, New Brunswick in the east, to the "Peace Arch" border crossing south of Vancouver are about to be economically devastated by the one-size fits-all affects of the "Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative" when it kicks-in on June the first.
Depending on whose numbers one believes...the Prime-Minister, who says 75% of Canadians are document ready...or Passport Canada's claim that the actual number is closer to 54%: It is our 300-million plus American neighbours who are not ready. Will not be ready...and their lack of preparedness is about to reek havoc across the Canadian border.
As of the first of June, it is not only Canadians who require Passports to enter the USA by land. Americans returning to their home country from Canada and Mexico will need a Passport to re-enter their own country. Prime-Minister Stephen Harper told a southwestern Ontario audience a few days ago that Canadians are ready for the new initiative. For the most part figures available through Passport Canada seem to confirm our willingness to comply. From 18 to 20-thousand Canadian Passports are being issued monthly. That demand has been pretty much steady since 2007.
Figures available from the United-States though are far less comforting. At most, 23% of U.S. citizens have a valid passport. A growth of less than 4% since the terms of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiatives were made public several years ago. Businesses from restaurants through the local Wal-Mart store in small Canadian communities such as my hometown, Edmundston, New Brunswick, through Cornwall,Ontario and many others scattered along our mutual 5000 kilometers of border depend on the daily traffic flow between the two nations. It risks grinding to a halt on June first.
As much as 60% of the tourists flowing into Niagara Falls come from the United-States, including half of the day-trip travellers to Casino Niagara. In the already economically stressed Windsor area, fully 80% of the multi-million dollar daily gambling business at Casino Windsor travels across the American border via the Ambassador Bridge or the Detroit/Windsor tunnel. From the sublime to the ridiculous: The clubhouse of the Tobique Valley Golf course in Perth-Andover, New Brunswick is in one country. Its parking lot, across the border in the other country. The same also holds true in Quebec's eastern townships where not only farms and golf courses are divided, but a couple of towns are actually split in half by the International Border.
Critics of Mr. Harper's comments that Canada is ready say he is..."dreaming in technicolor" if he believes that at this most difficult economic time in a century the affect on cross-border trade of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative will not devastate the battered economy. Unprepared and unaware Americans are about to stop piling into their cars and do a sharp U-turn at the border just as Canada desperately need to boost its summer tourism business.