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Customs may move new office to Falls

The Ridgeway Herald special web release May 19, 2011 edition

Federal cabinet ministers and bureaucrats with Canada Border Services Agency don’t seem to be on the same page about where an amalgamated customs office will be located.

exclusiveWhile the politicians say Fort Erie is the permanent location, CBSA officials say it is only temporary until new quarters are found in Niagara Falls.

Complicating matters is the fact that the agency was originally discussing with the Niagara Regional Police establishing an office in the new police headquarters in the Falls.

Senior ministers contradict bureaucrats

Regional councillor John Teal confirmed at a meeting of Fort Erie town council May 9 that CBSA is still involved with the NRP plan.

However, senior cabinet ministers seem to be in the dark about the CBSA’s long-range plan.

CBSA announced in January that border operations for Windsor, St. Clair and Niagara would be amalgamated into a single office to be located in Fort Erie on April 1.

In response to Windsor MP Brian Masse in the House of Commons Feb. 16, the minister responsible for the agency, Vic Toews, confirmed the location.

“The Canada Border Services Agency announced that merging its administrative services in southern Ontario would be done to increase efficiency and save taxpayer money. Fort Erie, Ontario has been chosen as the location for the new regional headquarters office. This was the decision that was made, and allow me to say I support the selection of Fort Erie.”

The director general of the CBSA Southern Ontario region, Rick Comerford, wrote Mayor Doug Martin April 5 and stated the “interim office is located in Fort Erie until we confirm a new permanent location in Niagara Falls.”

During the election, MP Rob Nicholson, the minister of justice and attorney general said he can “dispel” the “rumour” the office will move from Fort Erie.

“Fort Erie is the location and it is permanent,” he said, adding the decision was confirmed by the minister (Toews).

A CBSA spokesman in Ottawa, Patrizia Giolti, confirmed Comerford’s letter in an email April 21.

“Under the strategic review, the new Southern Ontario Region is relocated to Niagara Falls/Fort Erie region. The current location of the regional office resides in Fort Erie. However, once the new location is ready, the regional office will relocate to Niagara Falls.”

Martin said the issue of a new headquarters for Niagara Regional Police has added a twist, and further complicating matters, a different federal agency — Public Works Canada — is in charge of federal buildings and is only interested in leasing facilities.

He said the CBSA had been approached to partner with the NRP to share facilities, but since things were taking so long with the headquarters, CBSA went ahead with its amalgamation and set up in Fort Erie.

He said the RCMP was also identified as a potential partner.

Martin said if it’s true that Fort Erie is a temporary location, the Town will lobby to make it permanent.

There’s a lot of space where the agency can be accommodated and it would make sense to have the agency located near the more important border point at the Peace Bridge, he said.

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