Although the annual cross-border tug-of-war had to be cancelled this year due to the high water levels and strong current on the upper Rainy River, the idea hasn’t gone unnoticed by those in Washington, says Canada’s ambassador to the United States.
In fact, Gary Doer cited the friendly cross-border relationship between Fort Frances and International Falls as a standard for both countries.
The idea was one of many Doer addressed during a dinner meeting with community leaders from both sides of the border last Thursday at the Thunderbird Lodge east of International Falls.
With members of Fort Frances and International Falls councils on hand, along with local Chamber of Commerce, business, and other representatives, the former Manitoba premier touched on a number of topics.
“We use International Falls as an early-warning system of what’s going right on the border and what areas we’ve got to look at,” Doer noted.
“An issue was raised with me about how this exit-entry is working and how things are being calculated,” he added.
“I am not going to commit to being able to do anything, but I am committed to raising it with our people.”
Doer said although the situation isn’t ideal, its purpose is to track those entering both countries to ensure individuals are not “disappearing.”
“That one-in-a-million represents a risk to your person or your business or your communities,” he stressed.
“This is not perfect but I am aware of the [unique] situation here.”
Doer said some 25 million Canadians visit the U.S. every year and a million people from Minnesota visit Canada each year.
“We want that trade to keep going, and you know this better than anyone here in Fort Frances and International Falls,” he remarked.
After boasting the “shoulder-to-shoulder” relationship shared between the two countries, Doer thanked those on hand for their input, which has allowed him to “go back and ask the questions” in years past.
“We can’t promise to resolve things,” he conceded. “But some of the things we’ve raised before, we have a better way of dealing with them today than the last time we were here.”
Co-operation between the two border communities was cited for a number of topics addressed by Doer during his speech.
The most notable being his stance on ending dependence on the Middle Eastern oil that North America has relied on for 40 years.
“I am one that believes that we have the opportunity to have energy independence in this neighbourhood of North America if we have the right plan, the right objectives, and the right co-operation in our countries,” he noted.
Doer deemed the “plan” to be feasible because of a mutual interest in energy efficiency and commitment to reducing emissions under the Copenhagen Accord.
“It’s not just one strategy on energy,” he stressed. “It includes cleaner air, cleaner water, and more reliable energy.”
Doer said pipelines are more energy-efficient, explaining there is more risk and higher costs associated with traditional transportation methods–an argument he hopes will pave the way for U.S. President Barack Obama to approve the Keystone XL pipeline.
“When people vote against the pipeline, they are actually voting for more oil on rail and trucks,” Doer reiterated, noting this method also crowds out the export of other products like paper and minerals.
“Some people in the environmental industry will sincerely say that if you don’t approve a pipeline, the oil will stay in the ground,” he added.
“But unfortunately they are wrong.”
According to Doer, there’s been a 600 percent increase in oil extraction over the course of the past five years—despite the delay on the Keystone pipeline.
“I don’t know how this has become an environmental issue,” he admitted, citing two reports from Minnesota and the U.S. State Department which suggested that there were higher emissions and a “higher risk to life and death” caused by transporting oil by rail.
“I believe that our decisions in Canada and the United States should be based on science, not on hyperbole,” he reasoned.
International Falls Coun. Cynthia Jaksa was quick to chime in during the time set aside for questions and concerns after Doer spoke.
“I feel that argument about energy independence is short-sighted,” she remarked.
“I think in the long run, given the fact that we all share the globe, that energy independence is an illusion.
“We all share the pollution and the cost to health from whatever resources we take from the globe,” Coun. Jaksa argued.
Doer was quick to respond, agreeing with some aspects of her critique while outlining that in order for her opinion to become a reality, there is a need for a global agreement.
“We are all one world but only some countries have signed on to reduce emissions,” he noted.
“Unfortunately, we do not have one OPEC country that has joined in on the agreement and, in fact, [many have] fought against an international agreement on reducing carbon.”
“I very strongly agree with your point about being part of one world, but how we are going to get there is with one world agreement where everyone throws the bone,” he said.
Fort Frances Times’ publisher Jim Cumming guided the discussion back to cross-border issues relevant to Rainy River District, having inquired about the realities of the IRS and the taxation of registered savings plans unrecognized by the U.S. government for dual citizens.
“We are quite concerned about this and it has been raised at the highest levels,” Doer replied, admitting that although the situation has gotten better, it’s not where it should be.
“The IRS hired a lot of people to go after companies and individuals that were not paying their fair share of taxes and storing their money [elsewhere],” he noted.
“We do not believe that this is the case with the people you have described or this border, and other people that are across this country.”
Doer reiterated there are legal ways to disclose this information and not be subject to unnecessary taxes, citing, for instance, the ability to declare that you are not making income in the U.S. on a Canadian income tax form.
He then addressed issues pertaining to pension plans and mutual funds here in Canada by outlining the intent of implementing a new Dodd-Frank Bill to assert some authority over banking in Canada should there be involvement between the two countries.
“Right now, the American IRS system is one-size-fits-all,” Doer said.
“We would argue that Canada is not the Grand Cayman Islands and we should be treated accordingly.”
International Falls Administrator Ken Anderson, who moved into his role just three months ago, commented on the program, stating he was impressed with the area’s contact with higher levels of government.
“I’ve worked in other cities but it doesn’t even compare to the things we are able to do here,” he remarked.
“This whole area had done a good job of bringing in people to have these important discussions, so having the ambassador here with Canadians and Americans is great,” Anderson added.
“They will be talking about [medical] NAFTA next week, which will be another example of forward-thinking to break down barriers and make it work for citizens on both sides of the border,” he said.