Government Report

Spring 2011 CSANews Issue 78  |  Posted date : May 06, 2011.Back to list

By the time you read this, Canada's 41st general election will have come to a close and we will know which party will form our new federal government. To ensure that our concerns received the attention they deserved, the CSA sent letters to the party leaders asking them to clarify their position on the issues that are important to our members. Although the day-to-day provision of most health-care services is the responsibility of our provincial and territorial governments, the Canada Health Act is federal legislation. The vast majority of the provinces are not meeting their funding obligations under the portability principle of the Act. Therefore, it is up to the federal government to take action and enforce the Act. Once we received the replies from each party which took the time to respond, we posted them on our website at www.snowbirds.org so that everyone could see where the party leaders stood before casting their vote.

We also sent our members a copy of our latest federal election handbook. The handbook included the aforementioned questions which we sent to the various party leaders. The purpose of all of the election handbooks that we produce -both federal and provincial/territorial - is to give you the tools you need to effectively question your local candidates when they knock on your door seeking your vote. The handbooks include a great deal of useful voting information, including dates of advance polls, identification requirements and voter registration requirements. In short, they are handy, one-stop shopping tools which ensure (we hope) that you cast an informed and effective vote with respect to "snowbird issues."

Have you heard about the "passenger inspection fee" that the United States is proposing to charge Canadian travellers arriving by air and sea? This would require Canadian and Mexican air and sea travellers to pay a $5.50 fee every time they travel to the United States. This is not a new fee; it is already being levied against international visitors, however Canadians have been exempt from paying it since 1997. As you know, the United States is still mired in the depths of a severe recession and is dealing with a US$14-trillion national debt and annual deficits in excess of US$1-trillion. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security estimates that ending this exemption would raise approximately US$110 million in revenue. When you look at the magnitude of the economic malaise, it seems like a drop in the bucket and yes, every dollar does count, but this strikes me as short-sighted and very counter-productive. 

Will Canadians stop visiting the United States because of an additional $5.50 fee? I don't believe so, but the message that it sends is not a positive one. Canadian air and sea travellers spend billions of dollars in the United States each and every year. We stay in their hotels, eat in their restaurants and shop in their stores. That $5.50 is money that now won't be spent supporting local restaurants in Florida, merchants in Texas or public golf courses in Arizona. You would think that, given the current economic situation, the government would be rolling out the red carpet for us. 

There's a strong sense that the Obama administration sees this as an easy way to raise some quick money on the backs of people who can't vote in U.S. elections. It appears to be the same mindset that exists with respect to the two-tiered property tax situation which exists in Florida. If you need money, it's politically easier to raise taxes and fees on people who can't punish you at the ballot box. Currently, there is no plan to charge the fee to Canadians who arrive by car but, if they manage to pull this off, who knows?

The CSA is strongly opposed to this proposal and we came out of the gate swinging. We voiced our displeasure in more than 400 newspapers in North America. Our executive director, Michael MacKenzie spoke out against it on numerous radio programs and gave an in-studio interview on Canada AM, Canada's most-watched national morning news program. We are not alone in this fight. Prime Minister Stephen Harper, the Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters Organization and the Canadian Chamber of Commerce all spoke out against this proposal. Early online polling indicated that approximately eight out of 10 Canadians thought that this proposed fee was a bad idea. Hopefully, the intensity of the negative reaction here in Canada will have a positive effect and the Obama administration can start focusing on policies that will encourage more travel and tourism to the United States, not less.

In the last edition of CSANews, I promised you an update on our Retired Persons Visa proposal that would potentially allow Canadians to spend even more time in the United States each year. CSA representatives have made their initial visit to Washington, D.C. and this issue is now on the political agenda south of the border. Meetings were held with members of congress and staff from the offices of Rep. Connie Mack (R – FL), Rep. Rich Nugent (R – FL), Rep. Sandy Adams (R – FL), Rep. C.W. Bill Young (R – FL), Rep. Corrine Brown (D – FL), Rep. Bill Posey (R – FL) and Rep. John Conyers, Jr. (D – MI). We also met with staff from the office of Senator Bill Nelson (R – FL).

These discussions went very well and, after all, why wouldn't they? The thought of tens of thousands of Canadians visiting their districts, spending money and not taking jobs away from Americans is very appealing. We have made our initial round of presentations and we'll be back for more in May and June. Our next step is to secure sponsors in both Congress and the Senate. Canadian issues are not always top of mind in Washington, D.C., but we are off to a great start. We are on the radar. We'll keep you posted over the summer.