Expect long lineups at the border if U.S. Congress goes through with a plan for massive spending cuts, known as sequestration.
WASHINGTON—Lengthy lineups at the Canada-U.S. border. Long flight delays. A loss of lucrative American business contracts. The much-heralded Beyond the Border initiatives placed on the back burner indefinitely.
Canada will feel the sting if U.S. Congress fails this week to avert what’s known as sequestration, an array of massive, mandated spending cuts to a host of federal departments and agencies aimed at slashing America’s $16-trillion national debt. When sequestration takes place (and it will happen) it will lead to the lay-offs and elimination of thousands of U.S. border control employees on the ground at borders and at airports.
On Thursday, $85 billion in cuts for this fiscal year alone are slated to kick in. All told, sequestration would amount to $1.2 trillion in budget reductions by 2021.
For Canadians, that means quick shopping trips to nearby border communities will become a hassle as they’re confronted with waits of several hours at some entry points. They’ll also feel the long hand of sequestration when they fly given there will be a ripple effect across North America as U.S. officials cancel flights and shutter some control towers and airports.
Canadian exporters will face longer cargo processing times at border entries as well. Business travellers will be ensnared in long lines at the border.
And Beyond the Border, the Canada-U.S. plan aimed at intelligence-sharing, easing and streamlining cross-border trade and harmonizing regulations, could be shelved with U.S. Customs and Border Protection poised to cut the equivalent of almost 8,000 positions.
“This is such a large reduction in spending that nothing is going to go untouched, and things that are not really essential as far as the U.S. government is concerned will be on the chopping block,” John Manley, head of the Canadian Council of Chief Executives, said in an interview Sunday.
“It’s worrying for Beyond the Border and whether we’ll continue to get the attention from the U.S. in terms of border issues.”
Manley also suspects pre-clearance U.S. customs facilities at several Canadian airports could be in jeopardy.
“It’s an expense for the U.S. government,” he said. “Canada doesn’t have them at U.S. airports, after all, and it’s always easier to cut programs that impact other countries rather than your own.”
The Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters organization is warning of grim and swift repercussions.
In a memo sent to its members this weekend, the CME noted there’s no evidence that any border contingency plan has been worked out between the U.S. and Canada as sequestration looms, even as officials continue to hammer out a two-year Beyond the Border action plan.
“If they’re not talking, that’s not good, and I can’t get anyone to tell me whether they’re working out a contingency plan,” Birgit Matthiesen, the CME’s Washington-based senior adviser, said Sunday.
Matthiesen says she fears both Republicans and Democrats might be willing this time to allow the spending cuts to kick in during the latest crisis to push Americans to the brink of a fiscal precipice.
“The loss of federal contracts will be huge,” she said. “Canadian businesses participate in a lot of bidding for lucrative federal government contracts in the U.S., so there will be that shrinking of business.”
Two years ago, U.S. President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced a “shared vision” for the Canada-U.S. border. But both Canadian and American stakeholders have complained that progress has moved at a glacial pace as the U.S. grapples with its budget woes.