“Former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney) says he believes a new security perimeter arrangement with the United States would represent no threat to sovereignty but does offer a necessary insurance policy for the Canadian economy.”
—The Globe and Mail, "Perimeter deal with U.S. good for Canada, Mulroney says," December 22, 2010
“So here we have the federal government proposing a perimeter around North America to facilitate the flow of goods and services, and prevent further thickening of the Canada-U.S. border, while, inside Canada, manifestations of Little Canada – the securities regulator being only one – are everywhere apparent.”
—Jeffrey Simpson, national columnist, The Globe and Mail, December 17, 2010
Earlier this month, Canadian officials were spreading the news: the governments of Canada and the United States were negotiating a continental security perimeter in exchange for lowering the Canada-US border. Canada would look more like America to the rest of the world, while Canadians would be treated more like Americans at the border. As pundits prepare to stick their necks out about next year’s big story, the Canadian government’s little media helpers now appear to be telling us not to expect anything very bad or very useful either.
Jeffrey Simpson sees Ottawa working to “prevent further thickening of the Canada-US border,” while Mulroney tells us not to get excited: the deal will only be an “insurance policy for the Canadian economy.”
Taking Brian Mulroney literally often understates what he’s getting at. “Insurance” against rising congressional protectionism was, in fact, his modest rationale for the Free Trade Agreement of 1988. That agreement did facilitate a meaningful expansion of trade and, for a while, an increase in Canadian productivity. At that time, as well, he also insisted that the FTA had nothing to do with Canadian sovereignty. Nevertheless, major compromises over Canada’s future economic flexibility were made, especially on the treatment of American investment.
The sovereignty issues today around security, however, are direct and immediate—not long-term and impersonal. They’d be very hard to fudge. Simpson reports, while Mulroney advises: Mr. Harper, don’t try something big.
Early in the New Year, Prime Minister Harper will have to settle for something very cosmetic and strictly at the executive level or he’ll have to invest serious political capital and time convincing US political leaders and Canadians that it’s time to take another step in integrating our two countries. That ultimately, erasing the border would be a good thing because it would allow us to be more effective as North Americans and problem-solvers.
It’s tempting to believe he will. Obama also needs something new to sell and both leaders seem temperamentally unexcited by borders and protectionist strains in the politics of both countries. (Furthermore, the issue in Washington would not divide automatically on partisan lines.) However, if the two of them go with prevailing insider opinion, they’ll say to themselves: I’m looking OK now and have enough to explain without asking people to re-think what they think of their neighbour.
Then again, both have undertaken big gambles before and neither one sees himself as an insurance agent.