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NEWS: Columnists attack Council’s concerns about border deal to be announced today

Prime Minister Stephen Harper is in Washington today to announce alongside US President Barack Obama a 32-point border action plan, a plan that has not yet been seen by the Canadian public.

At this time, it’s important to remember that one year ago, on December 6, 2010, the Globe and Mail reported, “The Harper government is bracing for a backlash over a border security agreement it is negotiating with the United States, anticipating it will spark worries about eroding sovereignty and privacy rights. The communications strategy (developed by the prime minister’s office) for the perimeter security declaration anticipates criticism from civil rights groups and others such as Council of Canadians chairwoman Maude Barlow.” By February the Toronto Star had reported, “The strategy paper suggested that cabinet ministers be made available to the media to counteract Barlow’s statements.”

Newspaper columnists appear to have been playing that role already. In early-December 2010, Globe and Mail columnist John Ibbitson wrote, “Joint surveillance and information-sharing will have Canada-firsters like Maude Barlow of the Council of Canadians howling.” That same day, National Post columnist John Ivison wrote, “Politics can be complicated but one time-saving way to arrive at an educated opinion is to find out what the Council of Canadians thinks and to then take the diametric opposite position. If Maude Barlow thinks the ‘secret Canada-U.S. perimeter security plan’ is an ‘outrageous attack on the rights of Canadians’, it follows it must be a good thing.”

Yesterday, National Post columnist Michael Den Tandt wrote, “The Council of Canadians will make vigorous attempts, as is its wont, to cast the Canada-U.S. border deal to be signed Wednesday in Washington as another in a long series of humiliating capitulations by Ottawa to big, bad Uncle Sam.” But he casually asserts, “The Harper government appears to have delivered a workmanlike plan, tuned to ease congestion while avoiding holus-bolus intrusions on either country’s sovereignty. They’ve done a decently good job.” And yesterday Colin Robertson, a former Canadian diplomat who has served in Washington, wrote in Policy Options, “There will be protests about a loss of ‘sovereignty’ – the perennial cause of the Council of Canadians and their allies in any trade deal.”

And National Post pundit Chris Selley writes, “The Council of Canadians and their newsletter-subscribers will freak out at the information sharing inherent in the project, of course — particularly when it comes to individuals’ coming and going from the continent. On principle, frankly, we’re not wild about the idea either. But as Michael Den Tandt says, ‘the reality is that ordinary Canadians need the border to be easy, not hard, just as Americans do.’ And it’s not as if people weren’t getting screwed over by Ottawa, in partnership with Washington, beforehand. It’s happening; might as well give it a fair chance to succeed.”

Despite all this, the federal government’s own on-line consultation found that nearly half of the people who submitted comments opposed greater integration of law enforcement between Canada and the US, and many voiced concerns about the impact on civil liberties and loss of sovereignty. In February, an Ipsos-Reid poll found that 68 percent of Canadians fear Harper will give up too much power over immigration, privacy and security to get a deal with the United States.

The Council of Canadians will be making statements on the content of the ‘action plan’ when it is released today. Barlow is scheduled to appear on both CTV and Global TV today on this issue. We have also issued a 12-point statement of principles we hope will guide public and parliamentary debate on this issue in the months to come. For overview commentary on the expected content of the deal by trade campaigner Stuart Trew, please see http://canadians.org/blog/?p=12355.