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Traffic backs up on the Canadian side Ambassador bridge between Windsor, Ont. and Detroit. (Jason Kryk/CP)
Traffic backs up on the Canadian side Ambassador bridge between Windsor, Ont. and Detroit. (Jason Kryk/CP)

FOREIGN POLICY

Canadians and Americans drift apart on border ties Add to ...

Canadians are losing their enthusiasm for close co-operation with the United States on border security, a new opinion poll suggests.

Last year, Prime Minister Stephen Harper and U.S. President Barack Obama announced sweeping plans to integrate security and ease cross-border trade. The two countries are working to standardize regulations that govern everything from food safety to pharmaceuticals and move security checks away from the border and toward ports and factories.

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It’s part of an ambitious effort observers say could take years to realize and will require ongoing, high-level support from officials in both countries.

But as governments move to increase co-operation at the border, public support for the strategy appears to have declined in both Canada and the U.S., according to the latest opinion polling by Nanos Research and the State University of New York at Buffalo.

About 61 per cent of Canadians favour close co-operation on the border today, a drop of 14 percentage points from 2005. At the same time, American support for border co-operation stands at 73 per cent, down 8 percentage points over the same time period.

“This is probably going to be the issue to watch,” said pollster Nik Nanos. “It’s kind of odd, because the government has been focusing on making the border an issue.”

The greatest decline in American support occurred between 2005 and 2008. Support among Americans has remained relatively consistent since that time, while the Canadian trend toward declining support has been somewhat more steady. Mr. Nanos suggested Canadians may view border co-operation with less urgency than they did in the years immediately following the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center towers.

“In the absence of that kind of threat, there’s just drift,” he said. “There isn’t a sense of urgency. How much co-operation do we really need? Everything seems fine.”

The survey also suggests a growing number of Canadians also believe the country should follow its own interests, even if doing so creates conflict with other nations. Nearly 18 per cent said they strongly agree with that sentiment, up from about 13 per cent in 2011.

In Abbotsford, B.C., a 10-minute drive north of the U.S. border, shoppers regularly take advantage of the high Canadian dollar to head south for basics like gas and groceries, and a new Nexus security lane has sped up border crossings.

“Our issue is not so much with cross-border security as it is with cross-border shopping,” said Allan Asaph, executive director of the Abbotsford Chamber of Commerce in British Columbia. “Our bigger concern is the amount of revenue we lose.”

Mr. Asaph said he’d prefer if Canadian officials focused on enforcing rules at the border to ensure shoppers are paying appropriate taxes on their way home.

Perrin Beatty, president of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, said he’s encouraged by a change in official thinking that favours North American perimeter security over running checks at the border. But he acknowledged that it could take years before people and businesses see more signficant results.

“Directionally, it’s very positive,” he said. “To me, it’s common sense. With cargo and individuals coming into North America you want to identify who [and what] they are before coming to our shores.”

The poll has surveyed 1,000 Canadians and 1,000 Americans each year since 2005 to track changes in peoples’ attitudes toward Canada-U.S. relations.

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