When Phillip Chicola packs his belongings and returns to his home south of the border in August, he said he plans to be an unofficial ambassador of everything Canadian.
After 33 years in the United States diplomatic corps – including the past three years as consul general at the U.S. Consulate General in Vancouver – Chicola retires in August.
During a recent farewell media tour in Victoria, he said he won’t have to tell incoming consul general Ann Callaghan about issues facing Victoria’s Belleville Street ferry terminal.
“I have yet to hear any complaints about the ferry terminal,” he said of the Canadian facility, which is staffed by Americans. “(U.S. Customs and Board Protection staff) are very happy with it.”
That is good news because the bustling customs clearance terminal sees about one million passengers every year, serving as a vital gateway for cross-border trade and tourism.
“Maintaining that service is incredibly important and maintaining that link is incredibly important,” said Bruce Carter, CEO of the Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce.
“We want to keep that service, we don’t want it to be in jeopardy,” he said. “It does require funding from the U.S. to keep it up there because they pay their own customs agents.”
That pre-clearance service is highly coveted by officials with the Victoria International Airport, and could become a reality if the number of passengers between Canada and the U.S. can be doubled from 150,000 to 300,000 a year.
That would make travel to the States far more efficient for tourists and business people, said Carter.
But it’s pricey for the U.S. government because Customs and Board Protection staff require bonus allowances for living aboard, as well as housing, said Chicola.
But until that ridership goal is achieved “no one is even going to talk about it,” Chicola said. “That’s a very expensive proposition for us.”
A large chunk of Chicola’s portfolio was the Olympic Games, but he has spent considerable time keeping his finger on the pulse of border issues and Canada-U.S. relations.
While Americans are now able to get their passports more quickly in about two weeks, benefitting tourism and business, relations between the two countries, though good, can be improved, he said.
“We in the States need to do a much better job telling people in the States about Canada,” said Chicola, who will spend his retirement teaching international relations at Florida State University.
More university exchange programs, in which American and Canadian students could switch schools for a semester, would help, he said.
“That small group of (students) would come away far more cognisant how the place where they are at works,” said Chicola.