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Liberals question Harper’s border guard plan

As promised, Prime Minister Stephen Harper will arm Canadian border guards — including those at 10 border locations in the Yukon — with…

As promised, Prime Minister Stephen Harper will arm Canadian border guards — including those at 10 border locations in the Yukon — with pistols.

But the federal Liberals fear he has bypassed oversight procedures and misled Canadians about the real cost of the plan in the process.

Last week, Harper announced that 4,400 Canadian border guards will receive sidearms, and that 400 new permanent border officers will be hired to prevent smaller border posts from being staffed by only one person.

“A safe, secure and efficient border is important for Canada, and for all Canadians,” Harper said in a release.

“Arming CBSA officers and eliminating situations where these officers work alone will allow them to do their job better and more effectively.”

The plan to arm guards and hire new staff will take about 10 years to complete and will cost more than $100 million in its first two years, Harper said.

After that there is no budgeted cost or estimate from the government.

Harper made the promise to arm border guards during the 2006 election campaign.

The Liberals are not fully against arming border guards.

But they are pushing Harper to bring the policy before an already established committee “so that they can look at the ramifications, the alternatives and the costs,” said Yukon MP Larry Bagnell.

Harper has budgeted only two years of the program’s cost, even though it is expected to take a decade to complete.

That’s raising flags, Bagnell said.

“They made it sound like it would be done overnight, during the election campaign,” he said.

“And now they won’t even provide the total price it’s going to cost.”

Once armed with pistols, guards will have to be paid substantially more than they make now, which will increase costs, Bagnell added.

“It’s obviously a lot of money that they hadn’t counted on spending,” he said, pointing out that after the first two years of the program, “they won’t even provide the cost estimate.”

Liberal MP and critic for the Canada border services agency, Mark Holland, is going further in his criticism of Harper’s plan.

Holland accused Harper of “misleading” the public about arming border guards.

“They now admit that this is a 10-year process and not the short-term solution they pretended it was when they made up this promise on the fly during the campaign,” Holland said in a release.

Previous studies have argued arming border guards is “unnecessary” and have recommended using RCMP officers instead, Holland added in the release.

“This is typical of the Conservatives: They promise simplistic solutions to hot-button issues, but fail to consider how they would be implemented, or their consequences,” he said in the release.

While his colleague wants to use RCMP officers for heavy backup at border, Bagnell is aware the Yukon may be a different story.

“Down south the RCMP may be very close, whereas at Happy Camp they’re miles and miles and hours away,” he said.

“It’s harder to depend on them when they’re farther away.”