PM opens new crossing - Jan. 12, 2010
Veterans Affairs Minister and NB Southwest MP Greg Thompson (right) recognizes the efforts of Jim Purcell (seated) in making the new third bridge between St. Stephen and Calais a reality. Purcell, who was accompanied by his son, Rick (centre), was presented with a plaque in honour of his work by Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
By KATHY BOCKUS
ST. STEPHEN – Continued friendship and prosperity was the common theme during speeches at the official ceremony attended by Prime Minister Stephen Harper to officially open the third international bridge between St. Stephen and Calais.
The ceremony Friday, Jan. 8, also marked the official opening of the state-of-the art Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) facility.
“One does not build a border crossing like this one to exclude neighbours,” the prime minister told politicians, dignitaries and community leaders from both sides of the border who attended.
“It is the kind of border crossing you build to welcome friends and to foster greater trade between them, for friends we are and friends our two peoples shall always be.”
The prime minister said Canada and the United States are the world’s two largest trading partners in history, and that each day more than $1.5 billion in goods and services cross the border between the two countries.
“This steady flow of trade is the life blood of our national economies, so when trucks idle on one side of the border economic activities slow on both,” the PM said.
“Now more than ever we must work to ease the flow of trade through North America’s lanes of commerce. That’s why I’m so pleased today to officially open this facility, the region’s first new border crossing in 30 years.”
The two communities of St. Stephen and Calais have relied on each other over the years as neighbours and friends and depend on the stream of commercial traffic that crosses the border every day, he said
“In this sense, as in so many others, St. Stephen and Calais are a microcosm of the larger Canada-U.S. relation.
“Here at the busiest crossing point between Atlantic Canada and New England, state-of –the-art security features will keep our borders secure without unduly slowing the flow of traffic. And I’m proud to report that the new crossing is already proving a big success. Since the new bridge opened local traffic flow has greatly improved while at the same time commercial traffic has increased by 20 per cent.”
The prime minister thanked the Government of New Brunswick for what he described as “its significant contribution to this important project, which once again illustrates what can be accomplished when governments work together.”
A total of $93.4 million was invested through two federal and provincial highway agreements toward the construction of the Canadian half of the international bridge and the 23 kilometres of four-lane highway between Waweig and St. Stephen. The provincial government invested $60.5 million while the federal government invested the other $32.9 million.
Harper welcomed U.S. ambassador to Canada, David Jacobson, to the proceedings.
“It is always a great pleasure to welcome an American friend to our home, the truth north, strong and free.”
Harper shared an anecdote involving the late U.S. president, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who had a summer cottage on Campobello Island in New Brunswick.
A 1936 newspaper report on a planned state visit by the president said Roosevelt would be received in Canada with all the honours customarily accorded to a “foreign ruler.”
The PM said that while Roosevelt was greatly honoured, he was somewhat taken aback because he had never considered himself a foreigner when in Canada, nor did he feel that Canadians considered him to be one.
“I’ve never heard a Canadian refer to an American as a foreigner; he is just an American, and the same way in the United States – Canadians are not foreigners, they are Canadians,” Roosevelt is quoted to have said.
The prime minister said that simple distinction illustrates the relationship between the two countries as peaceful neighbours and enduring allies.
“Canada and the United States are the best of friends. But I would go farther,” said the prime minister. “No two nations on Earth have worried less about the line on the map that divides them and more on how to build goodwill across it.
“This relationship is exemplified by border communities like St. Stephen and Calais. For more than 200 years these two towns have enjoyed peaceful coexistence on opposite banks of the beautiful St. Croix River.
“So harmonious have been the relations that,” – the prime minister then chuckled “This is a great story” – “that even on the one occasion that our two countries came to blows beginning in the summer of 1812, St. Stephen actually gave Calais gun powder to bolster its Independence Day celebrations.”
Jacobson told the prime minister he was touched by the story about Roosevelt, and assured those gathered that the feeling of brotherhood and camaraderie between the two countries was also felt by the people on his side of the border.
The ambassador attended the American official opening of the bridge and its border facility in November. He joked about being glad to be back in St. Stephen – “Some things are important enough you can do them twice’ – and admitted that Ganong Chocolates was another reason he decided to come back, saying he loves “those chicken bones,” a trademark cinnamon and chocolate candy produced by the St. Stephen candy company.
On a more serious note, Jacobson said a terrorist attempt on Christmas Day to blow up a plane had rekindled a debate about the proper balance of security and efficiency at the border.
“If we’re smart, if we’re efficient, if we invest in infrastructure and technology, we can have both more security and more efficiency,” he said. “And where we’re standing here today is a perfect example of how we can make that happen.”
Much of the infrastructure between the two countries dates back to the Second World War and is inadequate for today’s needs, he said.
“Calais and St. Stephen with twin state-of-the-art facilities should be the model for a border system which allows for the legitimate transit of people and goods while ensuring the safety of the people in both countries.”
He said that on behalf of President Barack Obama and the American people he wanted to come back to the region to say “thank-you for working to ensure the safety of North America.”
Veterans Affairs Minister Greg Thompson, the MP for NB Southwest, was the master of ceremonies for the event. He thanked the prime minister for attending what he described as “truly a special day for this community, for this province, a historic day for our region, for two of the world’s greatest nations and trading partners.
“I truly believe years from now historians will look back at this as a truly defining moment, a turning point for Atlantic Canada and for the northeastern seaboard of the United States,” Thompson said.
“It is an honour for our community to have our prime minister here to celebrate this very important occasion. He understands how it’s going to create new opportunities, new jobs and hope for our future and, most of all, he knows when Atlantic Canadians are competing on a level playing field, we can succeed and will succeed against the best in the world.”
Thompson also thanked the various American government departments for their participation in “this adventure of building a bridge” and singled out former chair of the New Brunswick Trade Corridor Committee, Jim Purcell, for a special honour for all his work in making the third bridge become a reality.
Purcell, 75, who has suffered from a neurological disorder for the past five years, attended the ceremony in a wheelchair and was presented by the prime minister with a plaque commemorating his dedication to the project.
“There wasn’t a dry eye in the house” when the presentation was made following a glowing tribute from Thompson, said Purcell’s brother, St. Stephen Mayor Jed Purcell.
Harper also led the audience in a round of applause for Thompson for his hard work over the years to see the project to fruition to make the third border crossing facility a reality, and for Thompson’s long career and “solid contribution to Parliament, to our caucus and to our government.”
Premier Shawn Graham echoed comments made by the prime minister and Thompson, saying the project succeeded because the federal and provincial governments worked together.
Graham pointed out former transportation minister Sheldon Lee, who was in attendance, started the project 20 years ago with the mayor and council of the time.
The new bridge was the result of more than 10 years of collaboration between New Brunswick and Maine, beginning in June of 1999 when the process began to choose a preferred corridor and border crossing location, Graham said.
“Everyone recognized how important it was for St. Stephen and Calais to continue to function smoothly,” said the premier, noting that most of New Brunswick’s exports go by truck to the United States.
“Now we have a stronger and safer link between our two jurisdictions,” one that would help to ensure the efficient movement of goods, allowing truckers to save fuel, and improving the quality of life in the two border communities.
“This crossing will foster the already excellent relationship we have as neighbours, friends and trading partners,” the premier said. “This is a truly historic day.”
The premier also paid tribute to the CBSA staff members, who, he said, play a role facilitating traffic and safety.