Tim Leeds Havre Daily News firstname.lastname@example.org
The Canadian agency that oversees operations on the U.S.-Canadian border says it is considering extending summer hours of operation at the Port of Wild Horse. Turmoil within the Canadian federal government, however, has at least one member of the committee who is pushing to open the port to 24-hour commercial status concerned about delays. “We’re in a terrible mess,” said Garth Vallely, former mayor of Medicine Hat and co-chair of the Wild Horse Border Committee. A coalition of minority parties in the Canadian Parliament signed a pact Monday agreeing to vote Monday, Dec. 8, to try to oust Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservative party government. The international committee, cochaired by Vallely and Havre Mayor Bob Rice, has been pushing to upgrade the Port of Wild Horse, north of Havre on the Montana-Alberta border, to a full-time commercial port. U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., last year introduced legislation directing the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to do just that. The committee has been trying to extend the hours the Port of Sweetgrass north of Shelby is now the only 24-hour commercial port between Montana and Alberta to increase connections between the United States and the economy of Alberta, which has been one of the strongest in North America. That would increase traffic and economic activity in north-central Montana, the committee says. The port has historically been a part-time permit port, requiring commercial vehicles to receive a permit before they can be driven through the port. Its hours were 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. from Oct. 1 through May 14, with extended hours 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. from May 15 to Sept. 30. Last month, U.S. Customs a n d Bo r d e r Pr o t e c t i o n announced it was extending the duration of those summer hours, to start on March 1 and run through Oct. 31 next year. Customs and Border Protection said in a press release the increased summer hours would allow it to see if the longer hours would result in increased commercial traffic that would enhance trade and benefit the local community. Canada Border Services Agency spokeswoman Lisa White said Wednesday that the agency is looking into mirroring the U.S. hours on the Canadian side of the border. “We’re currently reviewing the possibility of extending seasonal hours at the port of Wild Horse,” she said. Alberta’s Member of the Legislat ive Assembly Len Mitzel, who represents Cypress- Medicine Hat in Alberta’s legislature, said he thinks the hours need to be extended on the Canadian side to mirror the U.S. hours of operation, as did Vallely. “What happens, if it’s not, is just confusion,” said Mitzel, also a member of the Wild Horse Border Committee. He added that having different hours would be a problem for people trying to cross the border from both directions. Mitzel said that although the attempted ouster of Harper as prime minister raises some questions, he doesn’t think it will cause any additional problems for the effort to upgrade Wild Horse. “The only thing for me as an MLA, I may not know who I’ll be dealing with,” Mitzel said. “It may be a new face.” Harper’s Conservative party was re-elected Oct. 14, with a strengthened minority leadership, but must rely on the opposition parties to approve legislation. The minority parties, consisting of the separatist party Bloc Quebecois and the Liberals and New Democrats, this week called for a vote of confidence on Harper to be held next Monday, saying Harper has not advanced a plan to deal with the problems of the global economic meltdown. The action was also pushed by a proposal by Harper’s government to end public subsidies for political parties in Canada, which are used more by the opposition parties than the Conservative party. That proposal has been withdrawn. Harper is expected today to ask Canadian Governor General Michaelle Jean to suspend Parliament until January, giving him time to draft a budget that would include an economic stimulus package. Jean, the representative of England’s Queen Elizabeth II as the head of state in Canada, holds a mostly ceremonial position in Canada, but would make the decision on whether to act on a request by Harper to suspend Parliament. Mitzel said that if the summer hours are extended on both sides of the border, it could also add some strength to the move to upgrade the port to commercial, 24-hour status. “I don’t know if that would be the impetus required,” he said. Tester and several members of the committee, including Rice, said the extended hours is just a step. Upgrading the status to a full commercial port is the key, they said, and Tester said he would reintroduce his legislation at the start of the next Congress to keep the drive moving. Mitzel said the key to upgrading the port is receiving a commitment from the business industry that they would use Wild Horse if it is upgraded. Companies now often detour to Sweetgrass because of the delays and problems involved in using Wild Horse, the committee has said. Wi th recessions hi t t ing throughout the world and a sharp drop in oil prices, the economy of Alberta largely driven by oil and gas in recent years is not booming as much as it was a year ago, Mitzel said, but investment in the economy should continue. That is especially true for investments in the oil sands in northeastern Alberta, he said. “It certainly is cyclical, it goes up and down,” Mitzel said. “It’s not as low as it was 10 years ago. Where the bottom is, I don’t know.” He said he is continuing to work on upgrading Wild Horse, including strengthening a partnership with the Ports-to-Plains Trade Corridor, which is trying to build a trade corridor from Texas into Canada.Vallely said he also is continuing to work on the issue, and is meeting with Mitzel Friday about Wild Horse. I n fo rma t i o n f rom Th e Associated Press was used in this story.