Border security declaration likely to be major election issue

Re-posted from national office email alert:

The Globe and Mail reports that, “Stephen Harper’s decision to move Canada toward a continental security perimeter as part of new border agreements with the United States has launched a debate over sovereignty that may be resolved only with a federal election. …The agreement is big on promises, although short of specifics. It said the two sides would work ‘together within, at, and away from the borders of our two countries’ to toughen security and promote trade.”

What might the agreement mean?

1- “(It could) include creating a single border surveillance agency that transmits data on people entering the United States or Canada to both countries.” (National Post columnist John Ivison adds that, “On migration policy — possibly the biggest sticking point — the declaration states that the two countries will work together ‘to establish and verify the identities of travellers and conduct screening at the earliest opportunity’. The intention is that fingerprints and retinal scans will become routine, leading to the evolution of an integrated entry-exit system, where entry into one country serves to verify exit from the other. This would require an unprecedented exchange of personal information.”)

2- “It could mean joint pre-screening of cargo in European ports before it is sent to North America, or the ability to clear a container from abroad when it arrives in Halifax and send it to the United States without a border check there.”

3- “A new agency (will) seek to streamline (and harmonize) regulations governing product safety and quality, making it easier to make goods in one country and sell them in the other.”

4- “Both sides promised they would jointly design, build and manage new bridges, roads and customs facilities at Canada’s busiest crossings.”

5- Ivison also notes it will mean, “Increased cooperation across ‘air, land and maritime domains, as well as space and cyberspace’. This suggests that the NORAD joint air defence model may be adopted on land and sea. One practical example may be the emergence of joint customs facilities.”

A FEDERAL ELECTION ISSUE?

“Even before Friday’s announcement, speculation was rampant that the opposition parties would defeat the Conservative budget, to be presented in March, and force an election. If that happens, the proposed security perimeter and improved trade ties would be a key issue in the campaign.”

Globe and Mail columnist John Ibbitson writes today that, “The Conservatives will make expanding trade and security ties with the United States a central plank of their election platform. After all, protecting jobs and keeping people safe are the two overriding priorities of this government, or so the Conservatives like to tell us. And Mr. Harper knows he’s putting Michael Ignatieff in a tough spot. The Liberal Leader must either (a) oppose the talks, and risk driving away voters in southern Ontario where the economy stands or falls on trade with the United States; (b) support them, and give up hope of wooing voters away from the NDP; or (c) refuse to commit until we know the specifics, and look weak. Canadians deserve an open debate about whether and under what conditions Canada and the United States should further integrate their economies and their security regimes. We may soon get that debate, in the shape of an election campaign.”

WHERE DO THE OPPOSITION PARTIES STAND ON THIS ISSUE?

Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff says, “We’re a country that has prided itself on welcoming immigrants and refugees from other countries. We have different standards, the Americans, on these questions. We have a right to do so. And if we get into a security perimeter deal that weakens Canadian sovereignty, we may end up betraying Canadian values.”

The Globe and Mail adds, “NDP foreign affairs critic Paul Dewar said his party will strongly oppose the talks because they raise a wide range of concerns over issues such as food safety and privacy.” Dewar has also commented, “the question is what is the cost and what effects will it have on Canadian sovereignty.”

And, “Bloc Quebecois house leader Pierre Paquette said, “We are in favour of a security perimeter. We believe we need something like this to facilitate the mobility of people and goods, but we want it to be done through a transparent debate where there is a balance between security, trade and fundamental freedom.”

CRITICISMS

The Toronto Star reports that, “‘It could mean the wholesale adoption of U.S. security, surveillance, immigration and military practices in return for a hollow promise of a thinner border for trade,’ the Ottawa-based Council of Canadians said. ‘The result will be two borders: one U.S. patrolled around the perimeter, the other a persistent irritant along the 49th parallel.’”

The Toronto Sun reports, “Left wing lobby group the Council of Canadians denounced the deal. ‘We’ve gone down this road before — it was called the security and prosperity partnership — and North Americans rejected it,’ said Stuart Trew, trade campaigner with the council.”

Earlier this week, the Toronto Star reported, “‘It seems to be giving up way too much for getting hardly anything in return,’ said Stuart Trew, trade campaigner with the Council of Canadians. ‘There’s no guarantee the border’s going to become thinner,’ he said in an interview. ‘This is potentially huge for Canada,’ Trew added. ‘And regardless of what people think about free trade, I think the alarm bells go off when you start talking about sensitive policy issues such as immigration, refugee policy and privacy.'”

There is also continued secrecy on actions following the signing of this deal. The Globe and Mail notes, “U.S. Ambassador David Jacobson…could not provide details on the Beyond Borders Working Group, which will be established to come up with concrete proposals, or name anyone who might be on it. But he said the group will be jointly managed by the Privy Council Office in Ottawa and the National Security Council in Washington and will be expected to submit recommendations in a matter of months.”

WEB-LINKS

News reports can be read at http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/politics/integrated-border-proposal-looms-as-key-election-issue/article1895710/, http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/politics/ottawa-notebook/with-border-deal-harper-nails-down-key-election-plank/article1895315/, http://www.nationalpost.com/opinion/columnists/Canada+could+very+different+place/4230233/story.html, http://www.thestar.com/news/world/article/933327–border-deal-not-about-sovereignty-harper-says, http://www.torontosun.com/news/canada/2011/02/04/17154106.html, and http://www.thestar.com/news/canada/article/932575–harper-obama-expected-to-authorize-sweeping-overhaul-of-canada-u-s-security, and http://www.montrealgazette.com/business/Harper+Obama+announce+vision+border/4225641/story.html.

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