Travelling to the USA: Would you pay a cross-border fee?

Thomas Bink
Pulse of Canada
Investigators continue to comb through evidence following the fatal explosions at the Boston Marathon. This week on Pulse of Canada, we asked Canadians if they think we need more security at public sporting events.

The American Department of Homeland Security has vowed to look into charging a border fee for every Canadian vehicle and pedestrian crossing into the U.S.

Canada's government has said it will lobby against the proposal, and even American border cities are opposing the idea, saying it will discourage tourism and be bad for their local economies.

We hit the streets to ask what you thought about paying to enter the U.S., and here's what you said:

Here's what our panel of experts had to say:

Thomas Bink: I’ll take a stab that we’ll all agree that having to pay to travel to the U.S. is a bad thing. So allow me to add an extra twist ­– if they implement this fee, will it be a boon or bust for the States? There are arguments on both sides – one is that charging a fee will reduce the number of Canadians going over the border, and cut into American tourism revenues from their biggest partner. On the other hand, a small fee like $5 wouldn’t be enough of a discouragement for Canadians pouring over the border, and it would essentially be found money for them. What do you guys think?

Andy Radia: It would definitely suck to have to pay an extra fee to go to the United States but I wouldn't begrudge them for it. I think reports suggesting that the number of Canadians going to the U.S. would drop dramatically are exaggerated. A lot of the vehicle traffic going into the United States is families going grocery shopping or to fill up their gas tanks. If a family is saving $40 per visit, a $5 levy isn't likely to affect their behaviour. The United States has significant financial challenges and will for many years to come. They need to implement policies such as these to boost revenues.

Matthew Coutts: I find it hard to believe that a small fee will change the habits of most Canadians. They will complain about it, but that’s about it. A family going on vacation in the States will consider it a cost of doing business. Folks who jump the border to go grocery shopping will factor it into their budget. That said, maybe it should change the way we think. We are well past the days of those unguarded borders, crossing into the U.S. shouldn’t be taken for granted anymore. People who jump into the U.S. to buy groceries – you are going to another country. You shouldn’t expect it to be cheap and easy. I think the border states are right to be concerned, a hardened border hurts them the most. But in the end, the difference will be negligible.

Bink: Yeah, I suspect the fee would be small enough that it won’t curb Canadians’ enthusiasm to jump the border for bargains. But at the same time, it would be a pretty petty move – sort of like those “airport improvement” fees we seem to pay whenever travelling by plane. Come on, we’re good partners and Canadians are contributing billions to the U.S. economy. If the U.S. does this, I’d recommend Canada do the same thing. Hey, we could use that $5 a person, too. Then watch our American friends freak out with threats of boycotts and economic sanctions.

Radia: I don't think the economics work with your argument, Tom. Americans aren't coming to Canada to fill up their gas tanks or to go grocery shopping because things cost a lot more here. So essentially, we'd be cutting off our collective nose to spite our face. But I'm sure there's going to be that sentiment.

Bink: It’s not the economics, it’s the principle of the thing. What’s good for the goose is good for the gander.

Coutts: I agree with Tom. Even if it has no effect on the bottom line, Canada should impose the exact same charge. And we should make our reason clear. “You want to charge us a fee? Well, now this is happening.” And we should get moving on that now, while the U.S. is weighing the pros and cons of introducing this fee. That all said, if this happens, Canadians should consider what message the U.S. is sending us. It may be worth paying the toll to go on a three-day trip to New York, but is it worth conceding to this shakedown to go to a Michigan SuperFoods and buy a jumbo pack of toilet paper for two-thirds of what it would cost at home?

What do you think? Have your say in the comments area below.