“Pres Obama & Canadian PM to make statement any moment” .. is new Canada-US border deal worth it?

Dec 8th, 2011 | By | Category: In Brief

Susan Bonner on CBC TV, reporting from Washington, had just said that the new Canada-US border deal (aka US-Canada border deal ) just wasn’t on anyone’s radar in the USA. No one there was paying attention.

So I was a little surprised when, flipping to my favourite US political TV channel, MSNBC, I saw the legend “Pres Obama & Canadian PM to make statement any moment” at the bottom of the screen.

The MSNBC picture at this point showed two lecterns on an empty stage, surrounded by US and Canadian flags. A disembodied voice was reviewing other news from other places. Soon enough the two men came on, and stood behind their lecterns. President Obama started talking. The MSNBC coverage focussed exclusively on his remarks. The legend on the screen switched to “Pres Obama and PM Harper announce border deal.”

US President Barack Obama and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper speak to reporters following their meeting at the White House in Washington, December 7, 2011. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque.

It is true enough that, as soon as President Obama stopped talking, and Prime Minister Harper started, the MSNBC coverage promptly switched to still more other news, without missing a beat. I had to switch back to CBC TV, to hear what Mr. Harper had to say. (Ultimately, Susan Bonner was right, of course.)

So … just what is involved?  PM Harper has alluded to “the most significant step forward in Canada-US co-operation since the North American Free Trade Agreement.” This may be true in the end (for better or worse?). But it seems we are still some distance from that in the real world.

What we have at the moment is “a two-part ‘action plan’ that maps out efforts to harmonize regulations across a spectrum of trade goods while increasing the amount of information shared between the two countries about both legitimate and suspect travellers … The reforms — many of them involving pilot projects that might not see full implementation for years — aim to integrate programs for Canada-US perimeter security and to streamline the flow of goods between the two countries through pre-inspection and pre-clearance … The success of the new strategy will hinge on the results of the pilot projects that are rolled out over the next two years, and the action plan also concedes that progress on many initiatives will depend on ‘the availability of funding.’”

A report on the MSNBC website, headlined “Keystone overshadows US-Canada border deal,” notes as well that timelines “for implementing the two accords — one about border management and infrastructure and one about regulations — were not immediately clear, though they contained benchmarks for progress in the next six months … Both deals would have to be approved by Congress and Parliament, which may be especially difficult for Obama …”

Prime Minister Stephen Harper walks with US President Barack Obama after a bilateral meeting at the APEC Summit in Honolulu, Hawaii, November 13, 2011. Larry Downing/REUTERS.

I am not sure just what to make of all this just yet myself. All I feel able to do is point to half a dozen recent interpretive analyses from the mainstream media — some of which contradict others, but all of which seem worth thinking about: “Border deal a hard barrier for Harper’s critics to cross” (John Ibbitson);“Border agreement is all about building trust” ; “Canada a willing patsy in one-sided border deal” (Thomas Walkom) ; “New US-Canada border deal aims to cut bottlenecks, but at a price” ; “Don’t expect a border pact backlash” (Lawrence Martin) ; and “The Fast Lane to Prosperity: Border Deal Gives New Hope to Made in North America.”

Beyond this — and as with much else the new Stephen Harper Conservative majority government in Ottawa seems to be trying to do these days — the only current deep wisdom would appear to be, one way or the other, for better or worse, etc, etc, etc, “time will tell.”

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