The problem with the enhanced perimeter security discussions that Prime Minister Harper and President Obama spoke of just about nine months ago is that we perceive things differently. Approaching the ten year anniversary of the 9/11 attacks on the United States, it's the "security" elements of the discussions which remain the focus of the American agenda. But as banks here on the northern side of the border lower growth forecasts for the Canadian economy, our agenda remains dominated by facilitating trade and easing the flow of goods and services across our "thickened" borders.
Mr. Harper has been mum on the subject since telling the Paris G-8 Summit back last spring that an action plan on this historic overhaul of Canada-U.S. Relations would be forthcoming this summer. In the ensuing months America's economic woes have worsened, the nation's $14+Trillion debt virtually brought the country (and the world) to its knees a few weeks back, and the Obama Administration has already engaged in a de-facto campaign to salvage the Presidential Election of November 2012. A significant measure of the opposition to Obama's agenda is fueled by a "Tea-Party" supported shift to more American protectionism.
Those who claim knowledge of and about the confidential and delayed (if not stalled) talks between our two countries say more than 30 significant files on, and aspects of, the cross-border relationship are being negotiated. And, there's ample anecdotal evidence to suggest that the political and economic climate south of the 49th parallel have slowed the forward movement on the talks. It's not just that everyone recalls Hillary Clinton's outburst: "Security trumps trade" in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. Despite expending significant political capital and promises of Canadian Government loans, Michigan Governor Rick Snyder remains unable to convince his Legisture to back the plan to build a second bridge between Detroit and Windsor. Well financed opponents of the bridge project have said that it..."stands in the way of American capitalism."
Though so far Canada seems to be making little perceivable gains on facilitating trade, just this week it appeared to bend on additional border security aspects. It's creating a new 50 officer RCMP contingent of experts in combatting illicit trade who will be deployed along the St. Lawrence River islands which form the international border east of Lake Ontario. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security already flies stealth un-manned observation aircraft along much of the Great Lakes basin and along the land border west of Ontario. It's believed that radar and sensor feeds along the border are a part of the perimeter security negotiations. With a Presidential election looming, the Obama Administration is unlikely to acquiesce easily to Canada's trade "wish list" when American politicians back home believe Canada has a porous border which leaves the United-States vulnerable to terrorists slipping across the border to wreak havoc. Lest I digress: Lord knows; Obama had enough of an issue over his Quebec manufactured bus during his recent mid-western tour.
Canada's Public Safety Minister Vic Toews has already made it abundantly clear that these negotiations aren't going to be made in public. But the political vacuum in Parliament as a result of the recent death of Opposition Leader Jack Layton may very well mean that the secretive nature of the entire process undertaken to revamp Canada - U.S. relations by the Harper Government remains "under the radar" far too long.