Further harmonization of Canada’s policies with the United States must be informed by an evidence-based public discussion.
When Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper met with U.S. President Barack Obama and Mexican President Felipe Calderon at the White House earlier this month, harmonization with the U.S. on security and trade was on the agenda.
For its part, Canada is showing co-operation on such matters through the Beyond the Border Accord. Harper has described the accord, which was signed in December, as the “most important undertaking” with the Americans since the Free-Trade Agreement of 1988.
As soon as this summer, a pilot program may allow U.S. officials to cross the land border into Canada as part of joint law-enforcement teams. This builds on the success of a similar program currently operating along our maritime boundaries called “Shiprider.”
While these initiatives are not without merit, it is worth questioning whether this type of policy towards the U.S. will be evidence-based, given the government’s ideologically driven track record, on full display in the recent crime bill. When our current national government gloms onto an idea that is consistent with its worldview, watch out.
While all issues of public policy are significant, those that impact our relationship with the United States are particularly important. Our American partners have been coming to us with security concerns ever since 9/11, and the Beyond the Border Accord is the current manifestation of our ongoing attempt at a response.
Part of the challenge, though, is in harmonizing policies. In some cases, doing so may endanger the sanctity of Canadians’ personal information. This, of course, raises serious concerns in civil society and the offices of our privacy commissioners.
Under the current agreement, when a Canadian carrier flies over the United States, we are required to share our flight lists with the Americans. At the moment, if an airplane flies from Winnipeg to Toronto and does not cross into American airspace, we don’t need to share any information (even though such flights could just as easily be hijacked and flown into the Willis Tower in Chicago). However, as the Beyond the Border Accord comes into effect, the sharing of this kind of sensitive personal information may expand. Is this what Canadians want? There is a debate here that needs to take place.
There is no doubt that relations with the United States shape our national life. In fact, the government has indicated a willingness to give up not only sovereignty as it relates to our border and the sharing of personal information, but also our agricultural marketing boards. The Wheat Board has already been cast aside. Are dairy and poultry next?
Perhaps. Harper is very interested in joining the Americans in the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a kind of new regional free-trade agreement. To become a party to these negotiations, Canada is leaning heavily on its neighbour to the south. The price of admission is rethinking agricultural subsidies. While this may not be a bad thing for Canada, there is nevertheless a danger that, driven by ideology, our government will latch onto harmonized security policies with the U.S., and to ending agricultural marketing boards, without having an evidence-based public discussion.
Is there a clear and present possibility that law and order of the economic marketplace will be justification enough to nix agricultural marketing boards and further harmonize our security? With a majority government in place, and a lot of time until the next federal election, ideology based policymaking could again prevail.
As we engage the Americans in discussion and consider these issues, we have an opportunity – and an obligation – to sift through the facts, wary of ideology, and look for evidence to inform the best way forward.