Politics & Government

Canada fee plan vexes Gregoire

Washington state's relations with China and Vietnam have warmed considerably over the past month, but things are becoming strained with the state's "best friend" to the north, Gov. Chris Gregoire said Tuesday.

Gregoire and more than 80 state government, business and agricultural leaders spent 10 days last month in the Asian countries plugging Washington products and opportunities. She said the biggest benefits of the trip will not be immediate, because there’s “a trial of opportunity that comes behind a trip like this.”

Closer to home, however, Gregoire said she couldn’t understand why the Canadian government wants to charge a $550,000 fee starting Nov. 1 to pay for border staffing for the nighttime Amtrak Cascades train between Portland and Vancouver, B.C.

Doing so would force Washington to cancel a second train that started running across the border last year, she said.

Since the second train started, ridership to Vancouver has doubled to 70,000 passengers a year and spending by those visitors has gone from $16 million to $31 million, she said. Amtrak runs the trains in partnership with Oregon and Washington.

In a letter sent Friday to Canada’s minister of public safety, she said “we don’t charge you. America doesn’t charge you, so why now are you charging us?”

There’s the possibility that Canada might adopt similar fees on state ferries or flights into that country, and for it to spread to crossings along the entire U.S.-Canada border, Gregoire said.

“I don’t think you treat best friends like this,” she added.

Gregoire has contacted a number of Canadian officials and asked the state’s congressional delegation and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano to intervene. She said she’s relying on diplomacy and doesn’t plan any tougher retaliation.