By Luiza Ch. Savage - Friday, December 14, 2012 - 0 Comments
Today the Canadian and U.S. governments reported back on their first year of progress on the “Beyond the Border” Action Plan launched by Stephen Harper and Barack Obama in December 2011, and on their effort on “Regulatory Cooperation.” This is the attempt to erect a “perimeter” of security around North American while easing trade and travel between Canada and the U.S.
Alongside their accomplishments, the governments admit that progress has been slow in some areas. A few examples from the report on regulatory cooperation:
- On consultations with stakeholders: “Initial feedback indicates that – stakeholders have been encouraged by the outreach, but that there is considerable room for additional engagement”
- On achieving “Equivalence of Meat Safety Systems”: “Due to a range of issues, progress on the underlying equivalence project has been slower than anticipated.”
- On meat and poultry export certification: “Work on this front is still in its initial stages and has not advanced as quickly as anticipated.”
This is complicated stuff and no one expects overnight changes. But timing matters, too. For example, the governments reported progress on a pilot projects for harmonizing cargo screening for North-America-bound cargo at the ports of Prince Rupert and Montreal. There is a risk that quick progress on such “perimeter” elements coupled with slow progress on expediting the land border between Canada and the U.S. could inadvertently disadvantage North American manufacturers relative to exporters from, say, Asia or Europe.
Says Birgit Matthiesen, the Washington representative for the Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters:
“With the increased competition from third countries in the last few years, and what is anticipated from the TPP and Canada-EU trade agreement, manufacturers in Canada and the U.S., and their business partners, are going to be looking for real relief from transactional costs and compliance burdens at the land border. If not, the North American supply chain could be at a competitive disadvantage.”
She has drawn up a comparison of what the leaders promised in the Action Plan, and what they have delivered so far, on the items of interest to manufacturers. I have posted it here.
In an interview today, U.S. Ambassador David Jacobson conceded that while the majority of deadlines were met, there are many items on the action plan that have not been completed, and added this is a “complex” problem with “years of work” ahead. “Our work is not yet done,” he said.
Jacobson highlighted the expansion of the NEXUS card system, and the agreement signed yesterday on sharing information on visa applicants from third countries as two important accomplishments to date.
On NEXUS, Jacobson said:
“We’ve done two things: significantly increased number of people participating, and at the same time, we have increased the benefits people get form participating. When you fly from Reagan to somewhere in U.S., you go through a pre-check lane for anyone with a NEXUS card. The lane has far fewer people in it. You don’t take off your shoes, you don’t take your computer out, you don’t take your liquids out of your suitcase, you don’t take off your coat. You whiz through. It makes it easier for you, and it makes it easier for everyone else without a NEXUS card because time not spent on you can be spent on [them]. And it makes us all more secure, because they aren’t spending time on someone who doesn’t need to be screened.”
On the new security procedures for air cargo screening:
“When you fly from Toronto to Minneapolis and change planes and continue to Kansas City, historically, [your baggage] had to be screened twice. Now you check it once, and you don’t have to be screened again.”
On the agreement on information-sharing on visa applicants from third countries:
“If someone applied for a visa to the U.S. and was turned down, historically, we didn’t tell Canada about that and vice-versa. What happens all too frequently is someone is turned down in one country, and applies to the country. Now, if someone is rejected or overstays their visa, we will make that information available to the other country. It doesn’t mean the other country has to make one decision or another [about admitting the applicant], but they make their own decision with the benefit of knowledge.”
By John Geddes - Thursday, March 29, 2012 at 6:34 PM - 0 Comments
Thomas Mulcair sounded sure of himself reacting to today’s federal budget for the first time as NDP leader. But Mulcair’s main line of attack, his claim that the budget contains “reckless cuts” to Old Age Security and health care, could be difficult to sustain. While Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s speech in Davos led to speculation that OAS was in for deep, wrenching cuts, the 2012 budget announces that the age of eligibility for the benefit will be gradually raised to 67 from the current 65 starting in 2023. As for health care, Flaherty told the provinces late last year he’ll be trimming annual growth in health transfers to about four per cent from the current six per cent year hike, but not until 2017-18. So those are two modest restraint measures that won’t be imposed for a long time. Even Mulcair will have trouble keeping up political pressure on changes so far off.
Bob Rae, the interim (at least for now) Liberal leader, directed his fire first and foremost on the budget’s failure to stimulate employment. “After Canada experienced zero job growth during the last six months, we expected this budget to have one focus – jobs,” Rae said. Again, it’s hard to see this as an easy political winner. While the budget isn’t big on jobs, Flaherty can point to a handful of moves—$205 million to extend a hiring tax credit for small business, another $50 million over two years for youth employment, and $74 million for a pilot project to make sure Employment Insurance recipients who accept work while on EI won’t see their benefits cut by as much as they earn. These are niche programs, but not negligible ones, and will make it harder for Rae to claim the government is doing absolutely zilch on the job front.
Beyond the House of Commons, reaction on specific budget measures included the Canadian Media Guild protesting the move to cut CBC’s budget by 10 per cent, or $115 million less for the public broadcaster in 2015, down from the $1.1 billion it got from the government this year.
From quite a different perspective, the Canadian Taxpayers Federation complains that Flaherty’s spending cuts “are a drop in the bucket.” The federation says the budget will not balance the budget by 2014-15, as Harper once promised. Indeed, the budget cautiously projects no surplus until 2015-16, although RBC Economics, among other private forecasters, suggests the deficit is on track to be eliminated a year earlier, consistent with Harper’s previous pledge.
The Sierra Club of Canada protests that the budget’s plan to speed up environmental reviews of resource projects—including the controversial Northern Gateway pipeline through British Columbia—will “result in weaker environmental assessments and projects being approved without a full understanding of the social, economic and environmental impacts they will have.” There’s little chance the Harper government, increasingly defined by the way it champions the energy sector, will be open to persuasion on this one. But the budget took note of “overlapping federal and provincial regulatory requirements and processes that require a high degree of coordination.” So how far can Ottawa go to streamline reviews without coaxing the provinces on-side? Officials in the budget lock-up for journalists flatly declined to discuss that very pertinent issue.
The Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters, a key business lobby group, was sharply critical of the budget’s plan for changing Scientific Research and Experimental Development tax credits. The credit is going to be enriched for smaller companies, but overall the changes will, according to the CME, cut $1.3 billion out of tax support for business innovation from 2014 to 2016. Flaherty seems determined to shift emphasis from the broadly available tax credits to more targeted government support for innovative companies, a thrust recommended in software executive Tom Jenkins’ report on the issue for the government last year.