U.S. President Donald Trump promised to build a "big, beautiful" wall on the border with Mexico. Now some companies in Canada are hoping to make that pledge a reality.
A handful of firms have expressed interest in helping fulfill Mr. Trump's signature campaign pledge, including an Ottawa-based maker of detection sensors and a steel producer headquartered in Alberta. Together with hundreds of other companies, they responded to a preliminary call for vendors issued by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
For businesses, the wall is at once irresistible and risky. It is the largest infrastructure project under consideration by the U.S. government, with a price tag estimated at anywhere from $8-billion (U.S.) to $21-billion. From a public relations standpoint, however, it could be 2,000 miles – or 3,200 kilometres – of trouble.
The companies say they are undeterred. "I'm aware of the concern, of course, but this is our business, this is what we do," said Brian Rich, president of Senstar Corp., a 36-year-old Ottawa-based maker of "perimeter-detection" sensors. Its sensors are used at borders, airports, pipelines, prisons, and even celebrity residences.
In Senstar's field, Mr. Trump's wall is a major opportunity. "This is probably the largest project in this business that's being considered these days," said Mr. Rich. "There are other borders that we're involved in currently, but they're not 2,000 miles [long]."
Senstar is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Magal Security Systems Ltd., a publicly traded Israeli company that played a significant role in building a barrier on Israel's West Bank. Mr. Rich cited that wall – started in 2002 – as an effective example of the genre. "Migration across a border can be addressed with a barrier and technology," he said.
Senstar is currently entering into collaborations with larger vendors on the next stage of the project: a request for design proposals for two versions of the wall (one design will involve concrete and another will use other materials, an acknowledgment that the "wall" may be more like a fence in places). The deadline for such proposals is April 4, after which it will take months of further winnowing to arrive at the selection of contractors.
Large multinational companies which have expressed interest in building the border wall have been wary of discussing their potential involvement due to the highly charged nature of the project. Last month, France's Foreign Minister issued an unusual caution to LafargeHolcim, the French-Swiss building-materials giant, urging the company to "think carefully" before supplying materials for the wall.
Mexico's Secretary of Economy went further, warning that the reputation of Mexican firms would suffer if they participated. In California, the city governments of Oakland and Berkeley adopted measures to deny municipal contracts to firms that work on the wall. Other municipalities and states are considering similar measures.
"Cooler minds will prevail over time, I think," said Brian Schuldt, a territory manager in the U.S. for Varsteel Ltd., a Canadian firm based in Lethbridge, Alta. Mr. Schuldt works for the company's Dominion Pipe and Piling unit which supplies steel pilings. He said he is not concerned by the potential fallout from being involved in building the wall.
"This is on everybody's book," said Mr. Schuldt. "If the funding is found, it's a big opportunity."
Depending on how high the wall is and where it is built, the barrier may need foundations to stay in place – which is where Mr. Schuldt's company could play a role, albeit a modest one. "It's a smaller percentage, but it can be a very nice percentage, if you know what I mean," said Mr. Schuldt.
StrongKor Building Solutions Inc., a company registered in Vancouver, also indicated it was interested in participating in the wall. According to its website, it offers "modular building technology" but provides no examples of past projects. A representative of the company wrote in an e-mail that the wall was an opportunity to produce "renewable power" and "sustainable vertical agriculture."
In another sign of the unusual nature of the project, the call for vendors also attracted a different kind of submission from Canada: a biting parody proposal from a small group who work in Toronto's architectural community.
The group submitted a vendor listing under the name "Albert Speer" – the architect who designed major monuments for Adolf Hitler – and called their firm "Trump Wall Solutions." In the renderings they submitted to the Department of Homeland Security, the wall is composed of giant columns hung with red banners bearing the letter "T" and patrolled by agents driving all-terrain vehicles.
To their astonishment, they have received inquiries from other vendors looking to sell them supplies. "It's amazing how ahistorical these contractors are," said one person behind the parody, who spoke on condition of anonymity. "We're just trying to highlight the absurdity of this wall."
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