Flaherty resists U.S. overtures to up border exemptions – Editorial

MARKE MILKE/The Fraser Institute

Anyone over the age of 30 will remember how a trip to the United States was once a painful experience for the wallet. Think back to how often the Canadian dollar was low relative to the U.S. currency. For much of the 1980s and 1990s, the Canadian buck often traded at a substantialdiscount to its American counterpart. The alltime low came in the new millennium. In early 2002, one Canadian dollar could buy just 62 ½ American cents.

Our currency has been better off as of late. One reason is our relatively more prudent federal budgets since the mid-1990s. (I say only relative because budgets are still stuffed with unnecessary and wasteful spending). It also helps we had no banking crisis, have better control of our debt, and Canada’s natural resources are highly sought after. The loonie hit an all-time high in November 2007, at U.S. $1.10, or now as I write, about U.S.$1.04.

U.S. trip more pleasant now

Shopping and vacationing south of the border is far more pleasant when it comes to cost for Canadians but the caveat is that such bliss only lasts until you return to the border.

That is when the long lineups and eventual interrogations over how many bottles of beer and other purchases begin. Free trade at the macrolevel between Canada and the United States began officially in 1989 but, 22 years later, consumers at the border still get hassled on the smallest of purchases.

For Canadians, any time we cross the 49th parallel and return within 24 hours, we can be dinged for duties and taxes right away because the federal government has no exemption for short visits, unlike Americans who, in the first two days, can buy and bring back $200 worth of Canadian goods before they must hand over their credit card to U.S. customs. Over two days, the exemption is $800.

It’s a different border experience for us. Not only do Canadians get hit with duties and taxes on same-day trips, we’re also subject to lower exemption limits on longer stints abroad. After one day, our “exemption” at the border is a mere $50; between two and seven days, Canadians can bring back $400 worth of goods before the customs cash register begins to ring.

After one week, Canadians have a $750 exemption on most goods. (The exception, as always, is for beer, wine and spirits where different rules apply; Ottawa and the provinces insist on their pound of tax and duty flesh for anything beyond a few bottles of wine and slightly more beer.)

Even American policymakers have noticed how badly Canadians are treated on these miserly exemptions. When I last wrote on this in January, I suggested both the U.S. and Canadian governments stop hassling shoppers for total purchases of less than $1,000. (It would be nice to have an unlimited exemption but perhaps we should expect the government to start with baby steps.) Moreover, that tax-and-duty free amount should apply regardless of the time spent abroad.

In a wonderful coincidence, someone down south was already thinking the same thing.

Two American politicians, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand and Congressman Bill Owens wrote to federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty last July requesting a $1,000 exemption for consumers on both side of the border.

Gillibrand and Owens promise to press the U.S. government to let visiting Americans buy $1,000 worth of Canadian “stuff” duty and tax-free if Ottawa does the same for Canadians. But the hold-up is Flaherty, who resists and cites “competitiveness issues.”

That’s weak. Two decades after Ottawa and Washington signed a free trade agreement, it’s long overdue to bring consumers directly in on the deal. Ottawa can start by not engaging in penny-pinching border protectionism. Canadian retailers can and will survive and compete. It’s not as if they didn’t benefit from American shoppers when the Canadian dollar was low.

End the protectionism

It’s always a bad idea for governments to dampen trade by getting protectionist with consumers via pesky and chintzy border exemptions. It’s a tad ironic the best advocates for Canadian consumers are two American politicians and not Canada’s own federal finance minister. Conservatives in Ottawa preach competition and free trade around the world; they might step up to the policy plate at home and respond positively to the American overture.

There’s one last and not inconsequential angle to all this: border security. The point of border guards in 2011, on both sides of the 49th parallel, should be to focus on threats to both countries, and not on my 80-year-old mother’s minor purchases in Bellingham, Wash. Or someone’s six-pack.

Mark Milke directs the Alberta office of The Fraser Institute

Troy Media

Just Posted

Ponoka’s on the CP Holiday Train stop coming in December

The train starts up Nov. 27 featuring performers Terri Clark, Sierra Noble and Kelly Prescott

Ponoka County fire crews handle second baler fire in 12 hours

Fire crews handled a baler fire just west of Gull Lake

Red Deer RCMP ask for assistance to ID suspect in indecent acts

The suspect exposed himself to a woman and made sexual comments to her

WCPS uses cannabis legislation to fully review drug, alcohol and tobacco policies

Cannabis is not permitted in schools; WCPS focused on providing education and support

Puff, puff, pass: Cannabis is officially legal across Canada

Alberta readies itself for cannabis sales with 17 stores (for now) and a new provincial website

Singer k.d. lang receives Alberta’s highest honour

Celebrated singer-songwriter k.d. lang received the Alberta Order of Excellence in Edmonton

One of Taiwan’s fastest trains derails, killing at least 18

The train was carrying more than 360 people

Scheer marks one-year countdown to federal election with campaign-style speech

Conservative Leader insists that it will be Justin Trudeau who ‘makes it personal’

Canada Post union announces rotating strikes in four Canadian cities

Mail will still be delivered but it will be delayed

Canada condemns killing of journalist in Saudi Arabia consulate in Turkey

The Saudi government claimed Jamal Khashoggi was killed in a ‘fistfight’

One year to election: Trudeau Liberals gear up for tussles on climate, premiers

Analysts say that the Liberals have reason to be ‘fairly confident’

Payette invites critics to ‘come and spend a few days’ with her

Governor General Julie Payette made her first official to B.C. back in March

Police say suspicious death of B.C. artist ruled a homicide

Patrick Zube Aylward’s body was found in a residence on a rural road outside of Seton Portage, west of Lillooet, B.C.

Temporary roads being built in areas affected by landslide in northern B.C.

Emergency Management BC news release says Disaster Financial Assistance is available to eligible residents of the Peace River Regional District who may have been affected by the landslides

Most Read