Wisconsin Governor and potential presidential candidate Scott Walker apparently thinks it is not an unreasonable idea to consider building a wall between Canada and the United States in order to secure his country’s borders from security threats. Now, to be fair, he did not say that a wall should be built along the 5,525 mile long border – only that it was an issue worth looking into. According to Walker: “Some people have asked us about that in New Hampshire.” This of course comes on the tail of Donald Trump and his call to build a wall on the US-Mexico border – and have Mexico pay for it.
Well, it is summer silly season and on a warm summer day, contemplating all this over a nice cold Canadian beer certainly has its pleasures. I suppose building the Great Wall of Canada would certainly be the infrastructure project of the century. I wonder if Paul Krugman somehow put Walker up to this with his recent talk of ‘moveable gluts’ and too many savings chasing too few goods? Is this the kind of deficit financed infrastructure spending Justin Trudeau would support? And of course, given that Governor Walker is from Wisconsin, I would be curious about how he proposes to deal with Lake Superior (or Lakes Huron, Erie and Ontario for that matter). Pontoon fences?
Good fences do make for good neighbours and of course, being a practical northern Ontarian my first thought is what kind of ‘fence’ should this be? Chain link? Barbed wire? Treated wood? Concrete slabs? How about an ice wall as done on the northern border of the kingdoms of Westeros in Game of Thrones? Or perhaps, what is in mind is a variant of the Israel-Gaza border barrier? The Israel-Gaza security barrier apparently costs about 2 million dollars per kilometer and the original route was to be over 450 miles (about 725 kilometers). Our border with the USA is 8,891 kilometres of which 2,477 is shared with Alaska alone. There are also 119 border crossing which I guess means that alot of fence gates will have to be built.
At 2 million dollars per kilometer (Israel-Gaza pricing), you are probably looking at about 18 billion dollars. Of course, there are cheaper alternatives. According to this Government of Saskatchewan web site (and they know lots about fencing on the prairies), you can build a four-wire electric 6-foot high fence with treated wood posts for about $4,216 per mile. This would run to only about 23.2 million dollars but I suspect the maintenance costs would be quite high. However, I suppose the fence could be "green" and use wind and solar power to electrify the barrier.
Then of course, there is the issue of who should pay for the fence. I suppose if we invoke the Coase Theorem, then it does not matter as efficiency is restored no matter who pays as the externalities are internalized. In many Canadian municipalities, the convention is that property fences are shared when it comes to expenses. Hopefully, if the fence is built, it will spark a large demand for Canadian resource commodities needed as construction inputs on the US side and hence beef up our currency a bit.
Seriously. As amusing as this is, this is a very important border in terms of trade and travel as this link illustrates. Over one billion dollars a day in trade crosses the Canada-US border and Canadians and Americans make nearly 70 million cross-border trips a year. I am not going to sit on the fence on this one. Honestly, we should be building bridges, not fences.