NIAGARA FALLS, ONTARIO -- This summer, multiple elected officials at every level of American government have pleaded with their Canadian neighbors to fix long wait times at the international border.
These elected leaders include U.S. Senator Charles Schumer, State Assemblyman Sean Ryan and, most recently, the Niagara Falls City Council, which will vote on a resolution next week to formally ask the Canada Border Services Agency to add border guards at all four bridges into the Niagara Region. The city council specifically forwarded its resolution to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and other members of the Canadian federal government, citing wait times as long as an hour and a half throughout the summer. In the words of the city council, the back-up at the border "discourages visitors from attempting to come to Canada, hampers the movement of goods in both directions, (and) negatively affects commercial enterprises on both sides of the border."
American leaders have made their cases for solutions, but at the end of the day, there's nothing the American government can do to speed up Canada's border process.
But local leaders on the Canadian side of the border have been just as vocal, including Jim Diodati, the mayor of Niagara Falls, Ontario. Diodati is one of six mayors on both sides -- which also includes Niagara Falls, N.Y.'s Paul Dyster and Buffalo's Byron Brown -- who wrote a letter to the Canadian federal government requesting an increase in staff at the border.
"The fact is, half the booths remain closed. And that essentially turns the bridge into a parking lot. And that is not the message we want to send," Diodati said. "We want to let them know right now-- it's unacceptable, making someone wait 1 to 2 hours."
The Canada Border Services Agency was unable to provide exact statistics for wait times at the international borders this summer. In a statement to 2 On Your Side, a spokesperson said operational plans "are based on making the most effective use of all of the resources available, including the use of overtime to augment staffing numbers, applying flexibility in temporarily moving officers from one port of entry to another, and increasing the number of new officers as they become available to address service requirements." Earlier this summer, a CBSA spokesperson said the wait times at the Peace Bridge, Queenston Bridge and Rainbow Bridge had been adequate by their standards at least 85 percent of the time, as of mid-July.
What's the longest wait you've had at the Canadian border this summer, at any bridge? @WGRZ— Danny Spewak (@DannySpewakWGRZ) September 2, 2016
However, that hasn't been the experience of Diodati, who said he believes this summer has been worse than usual at the border (in an unscientific Twitter poll conducted Thursday night, the majority of respondents said they'd waited in line at least a half-hour this summer, with nearly 40 percent citing a wait of more than an hour).
Adding staff at the border crossings would require federal dollars, Diodati said, but he believes CBSA is listening to his concerns.
"Our idea is, hire more border guards, open more booths, and let's get that wait down, in the same way a department store opens extra checkout counters when the demand requires it," Diodati said.
Diodati said 2.5 billion dollars in GDP are directly related to tourism in the Niagara Region. The long waits at the border obviously affect the Canadian economy, but they also affect the Western New York economy.
"A lot of Canadians love to take in Bills games, Sabres games, Bisons games, and it's really frustrating, and it's a real deterrent, when you know, 'boy, when I come back, it could be an hour, two hour wait," Diodati said. "We want them to address it because it affects both our American guests and Canadians."
On the American side, a spokesperson for Schumer said the Senator will speak directly with the Canadian ambassador over the next couple of days.
A spokesperson for Assemblyman Ryan's office said he too has spoken with Canadian officials this summer, but no concrete plans have been formulated yet for border crossing improvement. Ryan's office called the Niagara Falls resolution, which appears on the Sept. 6 agenda, a "great move."