The Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative originally adopted in 2004 is
a US policy requiring everyone entering or re-entering the United States
to present a valid passport or other secure identity document. This article
outlines steps taken by the province of British Columbia and the state
of Washington to implement provisions of the WHTI by use of specially designed
enhanced drivers license thereby facilitating trade and other relations
between these neighbouring jurisdictions.
The United States and Canada are longstanding allies and friends. We share
social and cultural ties, transportation links, cultural references and
ecosystems. Our countries have developed side by side, along similar but
unique paths: two experiments in democracy and development unlike any other
two nations on earth.
The similarity in the relative strength and influence of our provincial
and state governments also contributes to the opportunity for unique relations
when we have the vision to seize them. Relations that between British Columbia
and the State of Washington have never been stronger.
British Columbia and Washington share a combined population of 10 million
people, a GDP of almost $450 billion, and approximately $10 billion in
bilateral trade. We also share close personal and family ties, with social
and business connections that travel regularly across the border.
Our governments have taken this close connection even further, and since
2005, Washington and British Columbia have worked to forge what is arguably
the most successful formalized cross-border partnership network in North
America, both multilateral and bilateral, with partners across our borders.
These relationships help us identify and respond to common concerns and
take advantage of common opportunities.
Both British Columbia and Washington are strong supporters of and active
participants in the Pacific NorthWest Economic Region. This bi-national,
multilateral public-private partnership brings together legislators, private
sector leaders and communities from the region to discuss how we can work
together on shared priorities, such as open and secure borders, economic
development, energy, environment, and trade. Member jurisdictions also
include Alberta, Yukon, Alaska, Idaho, Montana, and Oregon.
The Pacific NorthWest Economic Region's 2008 annual summit will take place
in Vancouver, July 20-24. This occasion will showcase British Columbia
and highlight top international priorities of jurisdictions in this region,
including how we can strengthen security at the Canada-US border while
ensuring smooth and open legitimate travel and trade; the challenges of
labour mobility across borders in the face of aging workforces; the regions
role as gateway to the Asia Pacific, not only for North America, but also
for western Europe; and the imperative of action on climate change, as
climate change and greenhouse gas emissions respect no border.
Through our involvement in the PNWER, Washington and British Columbia have
successfully pursued priorities and achieved actionable results that span
borders, build partnerships, and have driven national agendasparticularly
to help support borders that are secure, but open to legitimate travel
Washington and British Columbia have also established an important bilateral
partnership through High Level Dialogues between the Governor and Premier
and senior cabinet members. Over the past two years, our governments have
reached agreements to collaborate to take action on climate change and
Pacific Ocean conservation, to cap and significantly reduce greenhouse
gas emissions, and collaborate on the innovation and implementation of
clean technologies. We have improved passenger rail service between Vancouver,
Washington, and Vancouver, B.C. And we are cooperating on border security
and cross-border transportation, and are working to improve the marketing
and physical infrastructure at the border for the NEXUS and FAST programs.
We have jointly conceived, developed and implemented Enhanced Drivers
Licences as a valid alternative to passports at land and sea border crossings,
which both our jurisdictions formally launched the week of January 21,
The Enhanced Drivers Licence project is not only an innovative response
to a significant and potentially damaging federal policy change, it is
also a paradigm of action by sub-national jurisdictions that can drive
a national agenda through bilateral and multilateral cooperation and advocacy.
This project was driven by the changing nature of our international border;
conceived in a bilateral, cross-border forum; advocated and advanced in
a cross-border partnership; and will benefit citizens by helping make our
border more effective and efficient for them as they cross it.
Beginning as early as January 2008, under requirements established by the
U.S. Department of Homeland Security and Department of State, all U.S.
citizens and foreign nationals will be required to present a passport or
other documents that denote identity and citizenship when entering the
United States by land or sea. The Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative
(WHTI) is the Administrations plan to implement this mandate.
The potential impact of WHTI is significant. Up until recently, to cross
the border by land, a traveller only required an oral declaration of citizenship.
Since September 11, 2001, however, control at the border has tightened,
constraining tourism, spontaneous travel, and contributing to a general
thickening of the border that threatens to constrict trade, development
and the growth of regional economies.
With only an estimated 23 per cent of Americans and perhaps 55 per cent
of Canadians holding passports, tourism and cross border travel was already
down because of confusion surrounding passport requirements. Given the
deep cultural ties, trade and tourism between Washington and British Columbia,
we saw the need to create a boarder crossing card that met federal security
requirements specified by WHTI, but was more cost effective for families
than a passport. We felt this was especially important in light of the
upcoming 2009 World Police and Fire Games in Washington and the 2010 Olympic
and Paralympic Winter Games in Vancouver, B.C.
The Peace Arch border crossing, between Surrey, B.C., and Blaine, Washington,
is among the busiest border-crossings between Canada and the U.S. More
than 32,000 vehicles pass cross the B.C.-Washington border every day, and
more than 1.3 million trucks cross the B.C.-U.S. border each year. Moreover,
a recent survey of B.C. and Washington truckers estimates border crossing
congestion costs operators $60 million a year.
In October, 2005, B.C. and Washington signed a Memorandum of Understanding
to enhance trade opportunities and create stronger ties between the two
jurisdictions. The Memorandum pledged that the two governments would work
co-operatively on common goals in the areas of trade, the 2010 Olympic
and Paralympic Winter Games, the environment, tourism, technology, education,
and transportation. It also set out our intention to meet regularly to
address issues of mutual importance.
The first such meeting was held in June, 2006, as B.C. and Washington held
our first High Level Dialogue: a full-day meeting of the Premier and Governor
and our respective Cabinets. At that meeting, we co-signed a letter to
President George W. Bush and Prime Minister Stephen Harper expressing concerns
about the impact of WHTI on cross-border tourism.
We stated clearly that while we supported ensuring our border is secure
from threats, B.C. and Washington depend on the free flow of goods and
people across the border and the continued uncertainty over the passport
requirements was already having a negative impact on cross-border tourism.
We expressed our belief there are more effective ways to ensure security,
and we invited both federal governments to work with us to pursue those
Starting from this first High Level Dialogue, B.C. and Washington have
been working together on a range of issues to support secure borders open
to legitimate trade and travel, and it was at this meeting that the Enhanced
Drivers Licence was first proposed as a joint initiative to address the
potential impact of WHTI.
WHTI specifically states U.S. Canada, Mexico and Bermuda citizens must
have a passport or other secure document in order to cross the border.
Since most Washington and B.C. residents carry a valid driver license,
our goal was to find a way to increase security of our driver licenses
so they could double as boarder crossing documents.
Since that first High Level Dialogue in Vancouver in 2006and subsequently
at the second in Seattle in 2007 B.C. and Washington have collaborated
on the development of our respective programs
We compared the Washington drivers license security features with British
Columbias and discovered we both referred to the American Association
of Motor Vehicles Administrators Security Framework as a standard to incorporate
in our issuance policies, card security features, appearance and card stock.
Working together, we developed Enhanced Driver Licenses to keep the British
Columbia-Washington border crossings secure, fast, and convenient for our
The Enhanced Drivers Licence is a voluntary program. For issuance, applicants
bring documentation to their jurisdictions licensing authority that proves
their citizenship, residency and identity. Each Enhanced Drivers Licence
is embedded with a Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) chip inside the
license. RFID is a wireless technology that retrieves data remotely.
This information technology solution allows the U.S. Customs and Border
Protection Agency to electronically scan Washington state and British Columbia
driver licenses and identification cards when entering the U.S. from Canada.
This technology also allows border agents to scan machine readable information
on the license and obtain instant verification of the cards authenticity
Our two jurisdictions have also worked in tandem to advocate with the US
and Canadian federal governments through organizations such as PNWER to
advance development and acceptance of the Enhanced Drivers Licence.
The Edmonton PNWER summit in July 2006 included Homeland Security Secretary
Michael Chertoff and Canadas Minister of Public Safety Stockwell Day.
Border issues and the impact of WHTI were roundly discussed and the proposal
of Enhanced Drivers Licences as a potential solution was advanced. Both
federal representatives returned from Edmonton to their respective capitals
with clear messaging that governments need to address the impact of WHTI,
that PNWER jurisdictions were pressing for action, and that two jurisdictionsBritish
Columbia and Washingtonwere driving ahead towards a pilot project.
In November of that year, at the PNWER winter meeting, we continued our
advocacy with US diplomatic staff and federal officials. The winter of
2007, as PNWER leaders tour the provincial and state capitals as well as
the federal capitals, was a further opportunity to press state governments
for support and federal governments for agreement and action.
By March 2007, Washington State had signed an agreement with the U.S. Department
of Homeland Security for a project to enable the Enhanced Drivers Licence
in the state. This agreement was the decisive moment in the pursuit of
the Enhanced Drivers Licence as a potential solution to border congestion.
It was a clear signal the enhanced drivers licence was more than a concept
or wish: It was a legitimate contender in a new, responsive approach to
effective border management.
In July 2007, at the PNWER annual summit, border issues were again a policy
priority at PNWER and both Washington and B.C. used the forum to press
for further action on Enhanced Drivers Licences and a more responsive,
citizen-centred approach to border management.
Now, by January 2008, both BC and Washington have launched the first Enhanced
Drivers Licence programs in North America. British Columbias pilot project
was over-subscribed within just over 48 hours, and Washington received
some 4,000 applications and had issued 400 EDLs within about one week of
This powerful public response may have surprised some, though both Washington
and B.C. anticipated it would be welcome by a general public that is accustomed
to seeing the border as little more than a formality in most cases.
But the appeal of the enhanced drivers licence does not stop in B.C. and
Washington. Ontario, Quebec, Yukon and Manitoba in Canada are also working
actively to develop their own enhanced drivers licences. In the U.S.,
Arizona, Vermont, and New York have signed agreements with the Department
of Homeland Security similar to Washingtons.
This one idea, from a bilateral, cross-border meeting, advocated and developed
through bilateral and multilateral cross-border engagement, has spread
and set an agenda in two nations, and driven national action. It has also
tapped into a fundamental need of our citizenry: that our borders should
not be an impermeable, thick barrier that separates and constricts our
lives and our livelihoods, but an effective tool that addresses our mutual
security concerns and that is responsive to our citizens, open to legitimate
travel and trade.
Through programs like the enhanced drivers licence and other cross-border
initiatives, we are not only building a better future for Washington and
British Columbia families, but we are sharing our successes with other
premiers and governors who may also choose to make their state a great
place to live and ensure their residents may continue to enjoy the freedoms
to which they are accustomed.
That demonstrates what border regions can achieve when they identify mutual
priorities and collaborate across the border to achieve objectives of national
importance. We need to recognize the strength that is present in our midst,
and the symbolic strength of collaborating across borders.