Gary Doer was a very successful and deft Canadian premier. Living in the midst of an American election and not being able to exercise his considerable political skills must be painful. This week, he felt and exercised that phantom limb. Doer scolded Nevada Republican candidate Sharron Angle, insisting in a public letter that “We do not have a ‘porous border’ but rather one of the more secure borders in the world,” (“Among US politicians, claim that terrorists use Canada as base dies hard” The Globe and Mail, Oct. 19: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/politics/SOMNIA/article1763054/ )
His letter won a pleasing headline in Toronto but is of no use to Canadian interests in Washington.
Both governments and both economies are now paying billions for security systems along the Canada-US border. The border is hardly a sieve. However, it literally is America’s “most porous border.” Neil Reynolds, economics columnist for The Globe and Mail, calculated that to bring all America’s borders, including 49th parallel, up to the standards of most of the US-Mexico border would cost up to 30 billion dollars! That was written in 2007 and used data published by the US General Accounting Office. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, a Democrat, continues to promise Americans that all its borders will receive the same high degree of attention.
It is true but not reassuring to boast that Canada has one of the “more secure borders in the world,” as Doer asserted. Canada is known, and praised, for being one of the most cosmopolitan, open societies in the world. In that context, to Americans, Canada is, in all its glory, the world next door. As long as Americans can only feel relatively secure, pressure will continue to weigh in favour of doing more to secure that border, not less.
So long as the United States is hated in many quarters and Canada is open and sovereign, with its own home-grown potential terrorists, the President of the United States must keep in place a seamless American security parameter for Americans.
Of course, the United States wouldn’t need the 49th parallel as a border if the security that border provides could be guaranteed on Canadian soil and at all Canadian points of entry. Logically, this would mean that American security services could also ignore the border and operate in Canada as they operate at home. Unavoidably, this would offend Canadians who care about Canadian sovereignty—the unqualified accountability of the Canadian government to Canadians for the actions of security officials operating in Canada. Yet, the President of the United States cannot delegate responsibility for American security, no strings attached, to any foreign power—even one as well regarded, brave, and empathetic as Canada. After another terrorist attack, Obama can fire his Secretary of Homeland Security but he can’t fire Canada’s Prime Minister.