Government Relations Report Issue 66

Spring 2008 CSANews Issue 66  |  Posted date : May 24, 2008.Back to list

I am honoured and pleased to have been elected as first vice-president and chair of the Government Relations Committee. I am looking forward to writing the first of what I hope will be many columns for CSANews.

As you can read in the President's message, our battle with the Ontario government over out-of-country reimbursement rates is shaping up to be one of our biggest initiatives on the government relations front in 2008. The ultimate goal of our case against the Ontario government is to establish a precedent in the courts that will force provincial and territorial governments from coast to coast to comply with the portability criterion of the Canada Health Act. The corresponding reduction in travel medical insurance premiums would be a benefit for all travelling Canadians.

In order to undertake this kind of important lobbying initiative, we established a Special Action Fund which is used solely for government advocacy work. This fund relies entirely on your generous donations. If you agree that this is a worthwhile goal and you are able, I would ask you to make a donation to the Special Action Fund by contacting the CSA office in Toronto. Even a few dollars from each of our members would be a tremendous help.

Good news on the passport front. The CSA has always recommended that our members carry a passport, even before one was required for air travel to the United States. It is the one internationally accepted travel document that proves an individual's identity, as well as citizenship. A major flaw in the current system is that Canadian passports are only valid for five years. The United States, United Kingdom, Australia and most European Union countries have passport validity of 10 years.

Canadian citizens are required to present a passport to enter the United States when arriving by air. Although not strictly required to carry a passport at this time, Canadians entering the U.S. by land and sea are required to present proof of identity and citizenship, such as a driver's licence combined with an original birth certificate.

The Canadian Snowbird Association does have a concern, along with the other tens of thousands of Canadians who wish to travel to the United States for shorter-duration holidays - possibly to visit their parents, grandparents, etc. - who are already at their secondary winter residence, as well as the millions of Canadians who live within close proximity to the Canada/U.S. border.

Many of these Canadians wish to visit the United States, sometimes with very little advance planning, to attend family functions, worship services, sporting events, or even for casual shopping. While the Canadian Passport Office has now streamlined the speed with which it can process a passport application, there is a financial burden, especially for a typical family of four, to obtain a full passport for only short-term random travel to the U.S.

In 2006, the CSA asked Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day to consider extending the lifespan of the Canadian passport to 10 years. In the February budget, the Stephen Harper government announced that it will do just that. Starting in 2011, Canadian travellers will be issued a higher-security electronic passport that will be valid for 10 years instead of the current five.

We are also pleased that the federal government is acting on another of our recommendations and will develop an alternative secure travel document for short-term travel to the United States. Ottawa will spend $6 million over two years to support enhanced provincial driver's licences that will, for the first time, list a driver's citizenship. This new licence will help people living in border communities conform to the U.S. Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, which requires the use of a secure travel document at land crossings by June, 2009.

We lobbied hard for these changes and it's encouraging to see that the federal government has listened and that our hard work has paid off.