Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's official visit to the White House this week should result in a new border pact that will remove a series of barriers hindering the flow of travellers and trade while improving security, says Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale.
Mr. Goodale told The Globe and Mail that officials from both countries are working on an agreement that includes an entry/exit record-sharing system between law-enforcement agencies and measures to reduce red tape for shippers, such as preclearance at manufacturing plants in Canada.
Canada's Privacy Commissioner, Daniel Therrien, has raised concerns that sharing information on Canadian citizens with U.S. security agencies could infringe their civil liberties, but Mr. Goodale said any such agreement would include appropriate confidentiality provisions.
"We have been very careful since we came into office to make sure we are talking to the Office of the Privacy Commissioner on a regular basis to make sure we fully understand their views and principles that they want to adhere," Mr. Goodale said.
"From the officials, who have been doing a lot of the hard spade work in terms of the consultations across the border, that point seems to be well-recognized on the American side."
President Barack Obama invited Mr. Trudeau to visit the White House where the two leaders are expected on Thursday to announce a continental climate-change strategy and plans for smoother and more efficient cross-border trade. One proposal under discussion is U.S. Customs preinspections at manufacturing facilities in Canada so trains and trucks are not held up at border crossings. "We have work to do on that issue. I am encouraged from what I hear from my counterparts across the border," Mr. Goodale said. "All of those conversations have been very encouraging."
The big announcement out of the White House talks will involve a wide-ranging energy and climate-change strategy involving everything from regulating methane gases that come from fracking to vehicle fuel and emissions, which account for 80 per cent of greenhouse-gas emissions in North America.
"They [auto emissions] are a significant source of greenhouse-gas emissions, and so we've had really good conversations," Environment Minister Catherine McKenna told CTV's Question Period with The Globe and Mail's Robert Fife. "I was in Washington meeting with the head of the EPA [Environmental Protection Agency], meeting at the White House to talk about … how do you move forward, and we're looking at a variety of areas."
International Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland said the negotiations on climate change, border security and trade have been helped by the fact the President is holding a state dinner in Mr. Trudeau's honour.
"It sends a message through the entire U.S. political system. This is the first state dinner Canada has had in Washington in 19 years," she said in an interview on the CTV program. "It just sends this wonderful impetus. It says to everyone in the U.S. government, Canada matters to the United States."
Asked whether the Prime Minister would extend an invitation to the President to visit Canada before Mr. Obama's term expires on Jan. 20, 2017, Ms. Freeland said: "It would be great to welcome President Obama to our wonderful country, and maybe that's one of the things we can talk about when we're there."
The U.S. media have become fascinated with Mr. Trudeau and his glamorous wife, Sophie Grégoire-Trudeau. Vogue has run a photo spread of the couple while the Washington Post and New York Times have written profiles.
Millions of Americans watched Mr. Trudeau being interviewed on CBS's 60 Minutes Sunday night, where the Prime Minister defended Canada's decision to resettle 25,000 Syrian refugees, even though some U.S. politicians and commentators have raised security concerns.
"Every time a tourist or an immigrant or a refugee shows up in another country, there is a security risk. And I am more than comfortable that doing what we've done, accepting 25,000 Syrian refugees, does right by both the safety of Canadians and by the values that define us as a nation," he told CBS correspondent Lara Logan.
In the interview with The Globe, Mr. Goodale said the Obama administration was comfortable with Canada resettling Syrian refugees because their names and biometrics were run through the data bases of U.S. security agencies.
The Canada-U.S. border has become bogged down by security measures since the 9/11 terror attacks. In 2000, 90 million cars and 7.1 million trucks crossed the border compared with 59.6 million cars and 5.8 million trucks in 2014.
"So obviously between 2000 and 2014 there has been a significant thickening of the border. … So there is clearly work to be done to make the border more efficient," Mr. Goodale said.