Opposition MPs urged the Conservative government Wednesday to openly discuss its new perimeter security deal with the United States.
The government plans to slice money from existing programs to fund the $1-billion pact intended to bolster North American security while easing congestion at the 49th parallel.
The deal, as described to The Canadian Press by several sources, will bolster information sharing on security threats, better align the countries' food and auto industries, and ensure consultation on land-border crossings.
It is a scaled-down version of the sweeping vision to fortify the continent announced eight months ago, steering clear of contentious ideas about harmonizing Canadian and U.S. immigration systems.
The so-called Beyond the Border action plan will include as many as three dozen items the governments plan to pursue together over the next five years, said the sources who spoke on condition of anonymity because details of the deal have not yet been publicly announced.
In the House of Commons, New Democrat MP Brian Masse asked how Canadians could trust the Tories given their poor track record as negotiators. “Why won't this government come clean on the secret security deal?”
Liberal Leader Bob Rae demanded the government table the pact in Parliament so it is “open to parliamentary scrutiny and debate” before signing.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper said discussions with Washington continue.
However, sources say a press release to announce the deal has been drafted and the only uncertainty is when and where the announcement will come.
Meetings on how to unveil the pact are taking place, which means an announcement is drawing closer, one source said. “The issue is who is going to announce it and what are they going to say.”
The Prime Minister's Office has not been able to persuade the White House to have a joint event featuring Mr. Harper and U.S. President Barack Obama.
Washington sees the deal as more of an incremental development than a landmark agreement and therefore doesn't see the need to have Obama appear in public for a splashy announcement, sources say.
Instead, the United States would prefer a high-level cabinet minister from each country handle the chore.
Canadian officials planned to head to Washington this weekend to renew their pitch for a Harper-Obama signing ceremony.
Such an event may help persuade Canadians that spending money on the perimeter arrangement is a good idea, one source said.
“Part of this is the Harper government trying to craft something to build support in Canada to do what they want to do.”
Mr. Rae wondered why the government would sign a deal when the Obama administration was actively promoting “Buy America” provisions and mulling a port tax – provisions that will hinder Canadian interests.
Mr. Harper said only a former leader of the Ontario NDP would say that “when we face American protectionism the solution to that is to cut our own access off to the American market.”