Monday, December 10 Online Edition, Posted at 7:23 PM EST
Ottawa With the calamity of Sept. 11 creating what Finance Minister Paul Martin calls a time of "global turbulence," the federal government is spending $7.7-billion over the next five years to beef up security but the plan comes with a new airport user fee that one economist is already calling a new tax.
Over all, Mr. Martin's security plan, unveiled in his first budget in almost two years, spends heavily on airport security and seeks to secure the border while making sure Canada's open for business.
Specifically, Ottawa has earmarked $6.5-billion for spending on security, emergency preparedness and the military and $1.2-billion to make over the Canada-U.S. border and ports of call that Mr. Martin hopes will keep Canada closed to terrorists but open to business.
To do that, Ottawa wants to create a $58-million frequent-traveller program that it hopes will help erase logjams at the Canada-U.S. border created by increased security since the Sept. 11 attacks that have stalled much of the $2-billion in trade that passes between Canada the United States each day.
To speed border crossings, the Canada Customs and Revenue Agency will partner with the United States to expand the current computer system used to screen land border check points. At airports, a new Expedited Passenger Processing System will allow pre-screened passengers to quickly pass through customs while giving full background checks to all applicants.
The budget commits $67-million to pay for a previously announced system to intercept high-risk travellers before they arrive in Canada. The plan calls for airlines to give federal officials basic information about all passengers from reservation systems, which officials will use to perform a risk assessment review before the plane lands. The Public Safety Act, which is currently before the House, contains amendments to enable the information-sharing plan.
Another $107-million will be used to buy X-ray equipment and ion scanners for customs officers to detect drugs, explosives and other contraband and land border crossings, airports and ports.
Ottawa will spend $1-billion over the next five years tightening refugee and immigration claimant screening. That involves tying Canadian police computer systems to those in the United States to help spot people with suspected links to terrorism. Another $287-million is earmarked for giving successful claimants fraud-proof documents.
Air travel is about to get safer, too. Ottawa will help airlines pay for installing stronger cockpit doors. A new, as-yet-named federal airport authority will be responsible for screening passengers and their baggage. The agency will also implement undercover, armed sky marshals for some flights originating in Canada. Currently, only one Air Canada flight to Washington is permitted to carry an air marshal, a condition imposed by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration as a result of the airport's close location to federal government buildings.
Transport Canada will also crack down on airport workers by creating so-called security zones at baggage handling areas and on the tarmac. Only approved, federally screened workers would be allowed near these zones.
However, Canadian air travellers will have to pony up to help defray the costs. In what chief economist of BMO Nesbitt Burns Sherry Cooper called a new tax, a one-way trip in North America will add an additional $12 to your airline ticket. A flight oversees will cost an additional $24 one-way. The user fees are expected to bring in $2.2-billion over five years, with $430-million being raised in the first year. The user fees kick in beginning April 1, 2002.
Ms. Cooper fears the user fees could cut deep into discretionary travel, which is already at a low and has resulted in thousands of layoffs in the airline industry.
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) will receive $1.6-billion over five years to train, equip and deploy more intelligence forces and front-line officers. Ottawa hopes the funds will allow the RCMP to better train officers to deal with terrorism and upgrade key technology systems to collect and disseminate intelligence. CSIS' share is the largest single infusion in its history and will be spent on upgrading technology and equipment for intelligence gathering and analysis.
Canada's elite team of anti-terrorist commandos, the Joint Task Force 2 (JTF2), will be doubled at a cost of $119-million over five years.
For Operation Apollo — Ottawa's codename for its contribution to the war on terrorism — Mr. Martin has set aside $510-million, about $300-million of which will be spent on "capital."
Rob Huebert, associate director of the University of Calgary's Centre for Military and Strategic Studies, told globeandmail.com's Allison Lawlor that there were some "promising budgetary commitments."
Mr. Huebert cited the $1.6-billion for intelligence and policing as a "significant" investment. "They definitely needed to hire more intelligence officers," he said.
The budget shows some signs that the government is moving toward developing a new defence policy, Prof. Huebert said.
"It looks as if we will be looking more at the protection of North American territory," he said.