Government Report

Summer 2011 CSANews Issue 79  |  Posted date : Jul 08, 2011.Back to list

As I sit down to write my column for the summer edition of CSANews, CSA President Bob Slack and staff are just days away from a five-day visit to Washington, D.C. to continue our fight for a Retired Persons' Visa. As regular readers are aware, this would potentially allow Canadians over the age of 55 to spend even more time each year in the United States. So how is this going to happen?

Obviously, a large component is to sit down with federal lawmakers in both the United States House of Representatives and the Senate and make our case face to face. This is happening and let me assure you, we have a very strong case to make. The Canada-U.S. economic relationship is by far the largest in the world. Trade between Canada and the U.S. dwarfs that of any other bilateral trade relationship. Trade in goods and services between our two countries totalled $645 billion in 2010 - more than $1.7 billion in goods and services each day. 

Canadian tourists spent $5 billion last year alone, just in the states of Florida, Arizona, Texas and California. As we are aware, the United States is currently in grave economic shape. On June 13, President Obama's own Jobs and Competitiveness Council, comprised of 26 of the nation's most influential CEOs, identified easing restrictions on visa processes as one of the most important things that the government can do to boost tourism and create jobs. 

This is good news for Canadian snowbirds, as we are swimming with the political current in Washington and it ties in nicely with the second component of our plan - securing third-party stakeholder support.

Essentially, third-party stakeholders are other groups that would directly benefit from the U.S. government adopting a program such as the Retired Persons' Visa. When approaching government, it's always beneficial to have some of these groups on side, as there is definitely political strength in numbers. 

Fortunately for us, there are many of these and some of them are very heavy political hitters.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, U.S. Travel Association, National Retail Federation, National Restaurant Association, American Hotel & Lodging Association and the Service Employees International Union are all dedicated to boosting tourism by bringing more flexibility to the U.S. visa process. These are hugely influential lobby groups and we need to have as many of them as possible stand up and tell the United States Congress that the CSA's retiree visa is a good idea which will bring jobs and much-needed tax revenue to the U.S. economy. We are in the process of securing those endorsements. We already sat down with many of the presidents of Florida's largest chambers of commerce and convention & visitors' bureaus and they are behind this 100 per cent.

The third component of our plan is to enlist the support of the governors of our four biggest snowbird states - Florida, Arizona, Texas and California. On June 9, CSA President Bob Slack and Executive Director Michael MacKenzie met with Florida Governor Rick Scott in Toronto to discuss this issue, and he was very supportive. The bottom line is that, as the governor of a state whose top economic-development partner is Canada, he "gets it." Although state governors may not be able to sign legislation that will make the retiree visa a reality, they are well-connected and know how to get things done in Washington. Governor Scott has already reached out and helped us secure meetings with some prominent politicians on Capitol Hill and his support is invaluable. We are now in the process of arranging meetings with the three other governors of the traditional snowbird states.

The fourth component of our plan involves the media, in both Canada and the United States. Obviously, the more media interest we generate, the more politicians pay attention. Look for a media blitz on this front in the fall, the traditional time at which reporters are actively seeking out "snowbird stories."

The fifth, and arguably the most important, component of our plan is that we need money to pay for all of this. Effective lobbying costs money and every penny donated to our Special Action Fund goes directly to fund this activity. To those of you who have already made generous contributions, we sincerely thank you. If you have not yet donated, if you are able and if you find this to be a worthy cause, I would ask you to consider making a contribution. No amount is too small and, as I said, every penny goes towards advocacy issues such as this.

Some might stop and say that we are missing a critical component, i.e. what about getting our own federal and provincial politicians on side? It's a fair point and there are issues to be worked out, but we are convinced that if we can get the United States to open their doors even wider for Canadians, the discussion will become a much easier one to have. 

Simply put, we have a plan that involves mobilizing many groups to help us get our message across to the United States federal government. More Canadians spending more time and money in their country won't solve all of their economic problems, but it will certainly give them a much-needed shot in the arm.

We are going to have a very busy summer on the government relations front and hopefully, we'll have some encouraging news for you in the fall.

Have a safe and relaxing summer.