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Border office closure delayed after fierce local blowback

Closure pushed back to November

Oshawa Municipal Airport

Local officials were outraged when they found out that the federal government had plans to close the Canadian Border Services Agency office at the Oshawa Executive Airport. Mayor John Henry and regional chair Roger Anderson both claim they were given zero notice ahead of the closure. The backlash has caused the closure to be pushed back to November.

By Dave Flaherty/The Oshawa Express

The seemingly abrupt and unexpected decision by the Canadian Border Services Agency to close its office at the Oshawa Executive Airport has local politicians infuriated and seeking answers.

Oshawa Mayor John Henry says the city received a letter from the federal agency on Sept. 8 giving notice the airport office would close Sept. 29 with services to be moved to Billy Bishop Airport in Toronto and an office in Mississauga.

“I was incredibly upset,” Henry told The Express, adding there was “absolutely no dialogue with the city [or the Region of Durham] before that.”

Henry says insult was added to injury during the Sept. 29 Question Period in the House of Commons, when Ajax MP Mark Holland, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, responding to Oshawa MP Colin Carrie, stated, “Of course our officials did talk with the City of Oshawa, with the mayor and made it very clear that services are going to be improving, that, in fact, there are going to be more Canadian Border Services agents available to process goods and services and passengers. I am pleased to say that for Durham Region and Oshawa, this a material improvement and it is good news.”

Calling Holland’s comments “totally inaccurate,” Henry says he never had a conversation with the Ajax MP, and the city has written to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau asking for Holland to retract his statements.

A statement from the Canadian Border Services Agency’s website reads, “this change is keeping with the agency’s service delivery model – a model that harnesses technology to meet client needs. It supports our mandate to ensure the safety and security of our border while facilitating the legitimate movement of people and goods.”

In an interview with The Express, Carrie says he was very frustrated that local officials were not involved in the decision making process.

“To have this decided with no consultation and to give us barely two weeks notice was fairly outrageous. Every single investment we [the previous Conservative federal government] made was to increase the opportunities for Oshawa to be a transportation hub. Now for them to do this…it’s a big slap in the face.”

Since the original letter was sent, Henry says he has been notified the closure of the Oshawa office has been pushed back to November, however, a specific date has not been provided.

Beyond the lack of communication, the mayor is adamant closing the office will be of no benefit to any parties involved and it will negate previous investments in the airport.

Henry points out that customs services are a critical factor in maintaining the airport’s designation as an international border crossing.

“International arrivals are a key component of the Oshawa Executive Airport business plan and enables local businesses of all sizes to engage efficiently in international trade and tourism, especially with the U.S. market.”

Overall air traffic in Oshawa is expected to grow from 67,000 to 102,000 aircraft movements in the next five years, partly due to the pending closure of Buttonville Airport in Markham.

Durham regional chair Roger Anderson also fiercely criticized the decision.

“We market the Oshawa Airport and the port [of Oshawa] around the world – part of that is to bring in companies so they don’t have to go through Toronto to accommodate what they want to achieve.”

Anderson said no one from the Canadian Border Services Agency had called him, any of his staff or anyone at the Region of Durham as of Friday evening.

“If they don’t talk to the region, who markets the airport and the port around the world, they are missing out on 550,000 people.”

Politicians are not the only ones who should be involved in discussions, Anderson stated.

“They should be talking to everyone who does business at the airport, anyone who flies into the airport and companies who use the port.”

Even though the Oshawa office is slated for closure, both Anderson and Henry believe there is time for the federal government to rectify the situation.

“After they take a sober second thought on this, if they are really interested in making business more efficient and more accessible, they’ll realize their mistake and leave things the way they are right now,” Anderson said.

“For me, there has to be a process that allows the continuance of business as it is now without additional costs,” Henry added.