Address by Minister Baird to the Canadian Club of Toronto

January 18, 2012 - Toronto, Ontario

Check Against Delivery

It’s always a pleasure to be back in Toronto.

This time, not only do I get to gloat about the number of Sens [Ottawa Senators] versus the number of Leafs [Toronto Maple Leafs] on this year’s NHL All-Star Team, but I also get to see some good friends and relive some good memories from my time at Queen’s Park.

Quick story: When I entered provincial politics in the mid-90s, the economy here in Toronto was not great. In fact, when I first reported for duty at the legislature, there was not a single crane in downtown Toronto. The market was dead. Nothing was being built.

What a turnaround there has been—just last week, Toronto ranked as the number one city in all of North America for high-rise skyscraper construction.

Those cranes we see today will soon give rise to many more glittering towers of steel and glass, making Toronto’s already impressive skyline even more dynamic and compelling. It’s great to see. Because this type of construction activity is the foundation for more than just a hot real estate market: it’s about jobs, hope and opportunity.

From one bit of history to another, one further back: This year marks the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812. This was one of the few wars ever fought on our soil.

It pitted the United States against what is now Canada.

It included what you might call the original Occupy Toronto movement—way back in April 1813.

American soldiers stormed what was then York and stayed until our troops pushed them back a couple of weeks later.

The deadly strife of that bloody, two-year conflict is all the more unimaginable given the current—and very warm—state of Canada’s bilateral relations with the United States.

Nowhere in the world today—or in history, for that matter—is there a more successful partnership between two friendly neighbours. Ours is a shining example to the world.

In fact, if we could replicate the Canada-United States relationship elsewhere, and repeatedly, the world would be a much better place.

Last month [on December 7, 2011] in Washington, D.C., we marked the start of the next chapter in our important relationship.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper and President Barack Obama announced ambitious agreements to increase and improve legitimate trade and travel, while keeping our two nations safe and our perimeter more secure.

These agreements create a new, modern border for a new century. And a “thinning” of the border to create opportunity, prosperity and jobs.

They make trade and travel easier and break down regulatory barriers without compromising security.

In the 90 or so minutes that we will be together as a group, $180 million in goods and services will be exchanged by Canada and the United States.

That’s $1.2 million every minute of every day.

That’s $1.8 billion every day.

It’s a mind-boggling statistic. And, in real terms, it’s why one in seven Canadian jobs depends on that trade with the United States.

As good as things are between our two countries, however, things at the border are not perfect.

We all know someone who has a story.

A family that waited for hours in a border lineup just as they were starting their vacation—because of a pileup of post-9/11 measures.

Would-be entrepreneurs who got so bogged down in red tape or regulations they gave up on their own business.

Even large importer-exporters who’ve had shipments delayed for days by multiple security screening requirements—and a whole bunch of paperwork.

There are too many stories like these.

Often they’re the result of decisions on one side of the border—or both—that were intended to make things better or safer.

But instead have resulted in a thicker border, slowing trade and growth, and killing jobs.

In fact, a thickened border costs the Canadian economy about $16 billion a year.

Last month’s agreements will reduce that cost and pose a real opportunity for Toronto, for Ontario and for Canada as a whole.

The key that locks the door against terrorists also opens a wider gate to cross-border trade and travel.

Every day, Canadians and Americans will benefit.

Heading to the United States out of Pearson [airport]? We’re talking about a beefed-up NEXUS program providing additional benefits, including expedited security screening. We’ll also be looking at eliminating duplicate baggage screening so that your bags won’t have to be rescreened at a U.S. transit point before being loaded on to your onward flight—reducing connecting times, as well as costs. Regular business travellers, like many of you here in this room today, have told me that they love this proposal.

Taking a road trip to the United States? We’ll have a new border wait-time tracker to help you decide where to cross and when. We’re also implementing a new entry-exit system. For everyday folks—legitimate travellers—no worries. You won’t likely see any changes. But this system will help us to keep track of people who overstay visas and catch people trying to evade eviction rules. This will be a no fuss way to make our country more secure and our immigration system more efficient. And most people won’t notice any disruption at all.

Industry benefits, too.

Take the auto industry.

Some car parts cross the border six, seven or even eight times before a finished product rolls off a dealership lot. Even slight delays at any of those crossings are costly.

We’ve got a number of things in the works to make this kind of cross-border business easier—and that can mean only good things for plant workers in Oshawa, Oakville and Brampton [Ontario], to name a few.

There will be fewer duplicative tests, for instance. So prototypes will be cheaper, supply chains will be more efficient and integrated, and the industry as a whole will be more competitive.

In other industries, regulatory changes will reduce unnecessary duplication and cut red tape in areas—and this is key—where it makes sense to do so.

Here is an example. I saw an interview with David Jacobson, the U.S. ambassador to Canada, on CTV recently. He was telling a story about how much he likes Cheerios cereal for breakfast. He eats Cheerios every morning, apparently.

The Cheerios he buys in the United States, though, go through a different manufacturing process from those produced in Canada. The fortifying process is different. Not better or worse, just different. And that increases cost to the consumer for no good reason.

We will align standards where it makes sense and without compromising the health and safety of Canadians.

So for makers of health and beauty products or car seats— to use just a couple of examples—less red tape, less duplication.

This will mean big things for companies across the GTA [Greater Toronto Area].

Bay Street, Main Street—job creators big and small will benefit; so will Canadians and Americans.

As Prime Minister Harper said, “Canada has no friend among America’s enemies. What threatens the security and well-being of the United States threatens the security and well-being of Canada.”

That’s why we are taking practical steps to thin the border—without compromising security.

Smarter systems will reduce the inconvenience of multiple freight and baggage inspections, for example. Goods will be screened once, twice accepted. That makes economic sense and security sense, too.

Some commentators have said this border action plan would compromise sovereignty; I can tell you that is absolutely false. Neither country is in that business.

As Ambassador Jacobson has said, “Americans value individual liberties just as much as Canadians do.”

Other commentators have questioned the current state of Canada-U.S. relations.

Are there issues between us that still need to be resolved on the trade front? Absolutely. This speech would not be complete without mentioning that our government wants to see the approval of the Keystone XL pipeline. 

There are thousands of good, paying jobs on both sides of the border that depend on the approval of the pipeline. And a process that normally takes 12 to 15 months has now carried on for more than 35 months. It’s time to move forward for the good of both our nations. But, friends, while Keystone XL is important, it’s not the only important issue that exists between Canada and the United States.

To those who doubt our sincerity or our ability to get things done, I say, the Beyond the Border agreements are proof our government is working with the Obama administration on advancing our common goals and respective interests with a focus that is absolutely clear.

I honestly believe that the agreements of last month constitute the most important steps forward in cooperation between our two countries since the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Together, they form a practical road map aimed at getting real results with concrete timelines to improve border efficiency and security.

In the coming weeks and months, we will be working with our American friends to “thin” the border.

To put in place real improvements.

And to take the necessary steps to protect jobs, grow our economy and keep our citizens safe.

Thank you.