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President Barack Obama and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper shake hands after speaking in White House in Washington, Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2011. (Carolyn Kaster/AP)
President Barack Obama and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper shake hands after speaking in White House in Washington, Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2011. (Carolyn Kaster/AP)

Globe Editorial

Canada-US border plan benefits Canadian trade and security Add to ...

The new Canada-United States border agreement is not a blow to Canadian sovereignty, as some critics are suggesting. Just the opposite. It is an affirmation of Canadian independence, because it so clearly benefits Canada, Canadian trade and Canadian security. The fact that it also benefits the interests of the United States is welcome, but incidental.

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Canada’s sovereignty is increased by its global competitiveness, its ability to trade, and also by its fundamental security. Canada is a safe harbour in the world. It is a safe place for people, and it is a safe place in which to do business.

The agreement has emerged out of the recognition that commerce and security are not mutually exclusive, but instead complementary. The deal provides for the sharing of information about who is entering and leaving the two countries, and the building of electronic and physical infrastructure to relieve commercial congestion and strengthen immigration policies. Trade should be enhanced – in the interests of both countries – by faster border crossings. Goods can be screened away from border checkpoints. Trusted shippers can avoid lineups. The economic competitiveness of North America will be enhanced in a global economy.

At this point, the border plans are embryonic. They include target dates for large numbers of tasks for working groups and pilot projects. These goals appear realistic – the schedules imply the time required has been estimated with some care. On the other hand, the regulation-harmonization plan is comparatively vague – “working groups will provide periodic updates on their progress.”

For regulatory “alignment” – a word chosen to accommodate Canadian sensibilities, as U.S. Ambassador David Jacobson wryly acknowledged when he met with The Globe’s editorial board – the countries’ policies would need to be nearly the same. But the agreement does not require harmonization, when there are real differences of opinion on policies.

The objections to the agreement from the federal Privacy Commissioner, Jennifer Stoddart, have been short on specifics. To be fair, though, the border plan is at its vaguest, when it calls for the development of a statement of privacy principles.

Mr. Jacobson, for his part, rightly points out that Americans care about their own privacy. But the deal’s references to the collection of biometric data, for the prevention of identity fraud, suggest that the keeping of exit and entry records may well involve much more than a mere waving of passports or “trusted traveller” documents at border officials.

One conspicuously missing element is a better connection across the Detroit River, between Detroit and Windsor, Ont., where an alternative to the Ambassador Bridge is badly needed, and is being frustrated by Michigan state politics.

The U.S. ambassador has said more than once that the Canadian and American peoples must “hold our feet to the fire” – the feet of politicians and civil servants, that is – to make sure that the agreement is actually carried out, to the mutual benefit of both countries. That will be a hard job for the general public. In the end, it is this country that needs to work hard to hold on to the attention to the United States, a vast and occasionally self-absorbed nation, because this ambitious agreement is so much in the interests of Canada.

Editor's Note: The Detroit River separates Windsor and Detroit, not the St. Clair River, as incorrectly stated in an earlier version of this article in print and online.

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