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NEWS: Perimeter security agreement risks being overwhelmed by US actions

Globe and Mail journalist Barrie McKenna writes that the perimeter security agreement risks being overwhelmed as “Prime Minister Stephen Harper and President Barack Obama prepare to unveil their much-anticipated Beyond the Border action plan to create a more seamless boundary.” Why? Because, “every few days, it seems, Canadians wake up to news of another affront to their continental pride, and their wallets.” McKenna writes, “All the good things that (could) ultimately flow from the Beyond the Border deal risk being overwhelmed by powerful, isolationist tendencies in the United States.”

His examples include:

1. “Talk of more fences and drones along the 49th parallel. …A bill now gaining traction in the House of Representatives, for example, would cede control of all U.S. federal lands within 160 kilometres of the Canadian border to U.S. Customs and Border Protection, including iconic areas such as the Great Lakes, Montana’s Glacier National Park, and the Boundary Waters Wilderness in Minnesota. The National Security and Federal Lands Protection Act would allow border agents to build fences and deploy more equipment and staff in these tourist havens, even though there’s no evidence of significant illegal activity.”

2. “Stiffening opposition to a crucial conduit for Alberta’s oil. …Blocking the Keystone XL pipeline, as many Democrats are urging Mr. Obama to do, would similarly be an economic blow to both countries. The pipeline, tapped to carry Alberta oil to underused refineries on the U.S. Gulf Coast, is clearly in the economic and geopolitical interests of both countries. It would cut U.S. dependence on oil from unsavoury offshore sources and open new markets for Canadian crude, much of which is exploited by U.S. companies.”

3. “A new round of ‘Buy American’ government purchasing restrictions.”

4. “A proposed U.S. tariff on Canadian freight. …The proposed tariff on U.S.-bound rail freight is a classic example of two countries working at cross purposes. Prominent West Coast lawmakers, led by Democratic senators Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell of Washington state, are upset that Canadian ports such as Prince Rupert, B.C., have been stealing container traffic from U.S. ports, which charge a harbour maintenance tax. A U.S. federal agency is now investigating their suggestion of a $140 (U.S.) charge per container on cargo entering the U.S. from Canada to ‘level the playing field’. Shippers are migrating to Prince Rupert because it’s several days closer to Asia, where most traffic originates. That means Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and other major U.S. retailers can deliver products quicker to customers in both the U.S. and Canada. Instead of levelling the playing field, a tariff makes both economies less efficient.”

5. “A tax crackdown on Americans living in Canada. …The intent is to hunt wealthy tax cheats. Caught up in the sweep, however, is a much larger group of tax-paying dual Canadian-American citizens – the very people who help forge bonds between neighbouring countries.”

McKenna adds, “No wonder Mr. Harper and Mr. Obama are reportedly struggling to agree on a good time and place to unveil the border pact.”

In December 2010, Toronto Star columnist Thomas Walkom wrote, “The latest government attempt to create a common security perimeter around North America is another bad deal for Canada. …The worst part of this proposed deal is that it almost certainly won’t achieve what Ottawa wants — a virtually hassle-free border between Canada and the U.S. …If the Americans could control who and what got into Canada from abroad, it was thought, they would once again let our trucks breeze through from Windsor to Detroit. And if we gave away more of our sovereignty in the process, the argument went, well so what? Yet even if this trade-off is deemed acceptable, it faces an insurmountable problem: In real life it won’t work. The U.S. would be happy to control Canada’s borders to the outside world. But no U.S. politician who wants to get re-elected would ever agree to weakening America’s northern border with Canada. …So the upshot of any perimeter deal will be to give the U.S two borders — an outer one around North America and an inner one at the 49th parallel.”

In January of this year, Council of Canadians chairperson Maude Barlow commented that, “This security perimeter plan sounds like a whole new set of hassles at the border. It sounds like more border security, longer entry/exit lines at the Canada US border, new screening processes for anyone leaving Canada, and more security guards and border personnel.”

The full article by Barrie McKenna is at http://www.theglobeandmail.com/report-on-business/commentary/barrie-mckenna/washington-talks-about-neighbourliness-then-builds-a-higher-wall/article2196178/.