A border security deal is good for Canada

TheGlobeandMail.com – news/commentary/opinion – Five Former Ambassadors
Published Wednesday, Dec. 15, 2010.   Derek Burney, Raymond Chrétien, Michael Kergin, Frank Mckenna and Michael Wilson

Rumours of a new border agreement between Canada and the United States have aroused concerns in some quarters, but let’s be clear: A deal to enhance border security while ensuring more open access for the movement of people, goods and services would be a timely assertion of sovereignty, consistent with decades of common cause on bilateral economic and security issues.

Ever since 9/11, security considerations have predominated border management, adding new requirements and new procedures and causing costly delays. We need a healthier balance.

At a time of slow economic growth, we need to ease restrictions at the border and facilitate an expansion of what is still the largest two-way trade relationship in the world. The best guarantee of job growth and prosperity for Canada and the U.S. is a more open border, consistent with the principles underpinning our free-trade agreement.

Finding the necessary balance to preserve free movement of job-creating goods and services while ensuring security is a fundamental aspect of our shared values as democracies and is in sharp contrast to authoritarian regimes that use security to stifle freedom.

The openness of our societies should never become a source of weakness. Nor should our openness make us vulnerable to attack from those determined to destabilize our way of life.

The concerns about security threats are understandable, but the huge volume of trade between us, and the integrated nature of sectors as vital as energy, oblige the Canadian and U.S. governments to search for ways to bolster both prosperity and mutual security. To that end, discussions on new arrangements for border management are most welcome, indeed.

It’s a matter of common sense and mutual interest that we work with the Americans to make our border more secure and more open. There’s much more for Canada to gain from working with the U.S., as opposed to working in isolation or at cross purposes. Continuously modernizing the border means managing it less as a barrier dividing our two countries and more as a bridge to enhance the security and economic integrity that is central to our future stability and prosperity.

Geography ensures that Canada will always occupy a unique position in U.S. security considerations. That is the essence of NORAD and our shared intelligence arrangements. The basis for a more productive partnership in solving economic problems is linked to Canada’s readiness to be a reliable security partner. Our history attests to the value of that linkage.

Yes, the usual critics will bellyache. But let’s remember that they complained when the historic free-trade agreement was being negotiated between our two countries in the 1980s. Let’s also remember that history has proved that deal to have been of unparalleled benefit to Canada.

Knee-jerk anti-Americanism is an indulgence without purpose in today’s interconnected, interdependent world. Our future economic prosperity relies on an efficient border, and we should welcome any agreement that smoothes the way for jobs and growth while toughening up our borders to security threats against both our countries.

Derek Burney, Raymond Chrétien, Michael Kergin, Frank McKenna and Michael Wilson were ambassadors to Washington between 1989 and 2009.

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