Canadians bristle as U.S. reimposes entry fee on air, water travellers

Steve Mertl
National Affairs Contributor
Daily Brew

I guess you could look on the bright side. Yes, you'll now have to pay an admission fee to enter the United States by air or water.

But, hey, at least there's no height requirement to get into this amusement park. No sign at the boarding gate saying "You must be this tall to get on the rides."

The $5.50 entry tax, approved by Congress and President Barack Obama as a rider on a bill ratifying the U.S.-Columbia free trade agreement, has nosed out of joint north of the border from sea to shining sea.

Canada and Mexico had been exempt from the fee since 1997 under provisions of the North American Free Trade Agreement.

"We did it because of the budget," explained U.S. Ambassador David Jacobson in an interview with the Globe and Mail, referring to efforts to put a dent in the U.S. government's trillion-dollar deficit.

"I wish we were not in the situation where things like this are necessary, but they are. We've got to pay for the government, somehow, and one of the ways that we're doing it is through user fees."

About seven million Canadians fly to the U.S. annually, with thousands arriving by boat aboard ferries along the coasts and in the Great Lake region, CTV reports.

Even though the fee amounts to the price of a fancy coffee, critics are already complaining the fee undermines efforts to make cross-border trade and travel easier.

"Vacationers and business people, heading to the U.S. to spend money, will have to pay for the honour of doing so," Kelly McParland blogged in the National Post. "Maybe Washington could also set up boxes at the border and beg for donations, like they do at the coffee shop where you throw your extra pennies into the tip box."

The levy won't bankrupt anyone, McParland pointed out, but it leaves a bad taste.

"Jacobson says the fee isn't targeted at Canadians, it's targeted at everyone, and we've just been getting favourable treatment until now. Great, so now we don't deserve the favour any more. Remind me — didn't we just spend 10 years in Afghanistan to help out the U.S.?"

"The new expense probably isn't big enough to deter much travel, but it has irked Canadian officials at a time of other recent trade wrangles," writes the Wall St. Journal, reflecting opinion in Canadian trade and political circles.

The Conservative government's failure to get the exemption continued came on the heels of its inability to prevent Canadian firms from being shut out of the U.S. government's massive stimulus program under a "Buy America" clause. Demands have also surfaced for tariffs against Canadian cargo arriving in U.S. West Coast ports in retaliation for Ottawa's funding of port upgrades in Vancouver and Prince Rupert, B.C.

Some Canadians are taking the new fee, which will likely show up on airline and ferry tickets along with other taxes, personally.

"Why not just tell us we are not welcome and to take our money elsewhere, because that's what I'm doing," Alberta Lad commented on a CBC story. "What an unfriendly neighbour America has become."

But others point out the fee's a drop in the bucket compared with the other surcharges attached to those tickets.

"That's nothing compared to the $25 fee that is charged by Toronto Airport when you fly out of there," Lisa comments on the CTV article

"When I get a 'free' points ticket to Florida I have to pay $132 for each person in airport Improvement Fees at Pearson (7 Billion dollar moneypit) and other taxes etc.," someone with the handle Skitty commented.

(Reuters photo)