So, little snowbird, take me with you when you go.
To that land of gentle breezes where the peaceful waters flow
-Gene MacClellan, “Snowbird,” sung by Anne Murray
In the song Snowbird, Anne Murray (a Canadian) sings about the millions of birds that migrate from Canada to the United States and Mexico each fall in order to escape a cold winter. A few months later, a different breed of Snowbird packs up and heads south too – the human kind. These temporary migrants, numbering in the millions, anchor the population. They are joined by Snowflakes, short-term visitors looking for a few warm weeks of holidays.
Canada had a population of almost 34 million people in 2009. In the same year, 16 million Canadians flew into the United States. Another 10 million drove there and stayed for at least a day. That is equivalent to 76% of the Canadian population visiting the USA in a single year. For the most part, Canadians all come home again. They aren’t inclined to illegally sneak into the USA and pick Idaho potatoes or establish Poutine Restaurants. No, Canadians are pretty law abiding. And willing to spend money, too. In 2007, they spent $11.5 billion in the USA.
You would think that the American government would want to encourage these visitors, so it was surprising when the American Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI) of 2004 was passed. It requires all travelers to present a valid passport or other approved secure document when entering the United States. The WHTI was meant to strengthen border security, supposedly in response to 9-11 . It was suspected that some of the terrorists came in to the USA via Canada. However, the 2004 9-11 commission reported that “all of the 9-11 terrorists arrived in the United States from outside North America. They flew to major U.S. airports. They entered the U.S. with documents issued by the United States government and no 9-11 terrorists came from Canada.” So you would have to wonder what the purpose was of making it more difficult for Canadians and Americans to travel back and forth, when the biggest hole in security isn’t at the USA-Canada border.
Of course, there is a cost to securing this border, and President Obama has come up with a new plan to pay for it. Tax the Canadians. The President has proposed, in his 2012 budget, a passenger inspection fee of $5.50 for each Canadian flying into the USA. This would bring $90 million into the United States coffers.