Monday, November 5, 2007

Clearing up the border wait; cigs on reserves

Two thoughts today. First ...

With the loonie hitting $1.07 US, more and more Canadians are crossing the border to do their shopping and scoop up bargains. And the return trip at the crossings can be up to five hours. What's the hold-up? Once again, it's customs agents who are playing by the book looking for contraband liquor and cigarettes instead of terrorists and phony refugee claimants.

This may have made sense in an age when customs duties made up 80% of the federal treasury. Today, it's 0.17%. For a government collecting $200 billion per year in revenues that works out to ... $340 million. And that's on everything, including raw materials imported by manufacturers. Duties paid by ordinary Canadians make up -- wait for it -- only 10% of that.

Nearly a year ago, the Senate's committee that deals with national security issues issued a unanimous report that suggested increasing the exemption for out of country trips up -- way up -- to $2000 per trip. It's a good idea. It's not like the feds are going to miss less than a dollar per Canadian, and it'll free up the border guards for more important tasks.

Of course it would be better if Canadians spent their money in Canada. But they have the right to leave and re-enter Canada whenever they want so that right should be facilitated.

Second ...

Some provincial politicians are calling for a crackdown on people going onto reserves for no-tax cigarettes. This after a study showed about 1/4 of sales in Ontario -- all sales -- are on reserves or Natives selling tobacco to non-Natives. Up North, it's well over 50%.

Not like my family was totally innocent -- my mom went to Haudenasonee quite regularly for her stash while she was alive. So did my dad while he was still smoking -- before he smartened up. But that was during the nineties.

This is not an issue that's going to go away any time soon. Short of setting up border posts at the edge of native territories there is no effective way of cracking down on illegal sales without raising the ire of the First Nations, especially bands with their own police forces.

What is required here is respect for the law. Reserves know well enough to make sure only those with federal status cards get cut-rate gasoline. I would urge them to apply a similar firm hand when it comes to those who want to cheap out on that "other" sin. In return, the provincial government should allow bands to keep a greater share of the taxes that would otherwise go to Queen's Park and Parliament Hill. This would be a positive step towards self-sufficiency.

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