Monday, July 4, 2011

An independence for North America

This weekend signifies to the world the independence of two of the nations of North America. On July 1st, Canada celebrated the moment when the founders of the Confederation met and agreed to unite New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Quebec and Ontario into the Dominion of Canada in 1867. It was a testament to the resolve of the Canadian leaders to stand on their own two feet in the wake of the U.S. Civil War (although it would not be until Canadian Constitution Act of 1982 that Canada would be fully emancipated from Great Britain.)

Ninety-one years earlier, in July, the founding fathers – representing the varying political and economic interests of thirteen independent colonies – agreed, after much debate, to a declaration of their independence. The political deal brokers of their time put their names on a document that, as British subjects, would possibly result in their hanging. Today, both Canada and the United States remember these founding moments with mass public celebrations across the continent. This weekend (regardless of the border) celebrates the breaking of past rules and norms, and lays out a new and uncertain path. Since the founding and consolidation of these two nations, there has been little forward motion towards advancing the freedom of movement for people. It would almost seem natural that two nations - born of the same womb – would strive for a stronger, and friendlier, relationship.

On February 4th of this year, President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Stephen Harper met at the White House to try and advance the relationship. In the text released on their meeting, Obama and Harper announced that: “To preserve and extend the benefits our close relationship has helped bring to Canadians and Americans alike, we intend to pursue a perimeter approach to security, working together within, at, and away fromthe borders of our two countries to enhance our security and accelerate the legitimate flow of people, goods, and services between our two countries. We intend to do so in partnership, and in ways that support economic competitiveness, job creation, and prosperity.”

Throughout the Obama – Harper Declaration, the two governments agree to further the harmonization of border and customs standards, information sharing, and improving cross-border commercial trade. The document falls way short of any meaningful forward motion in the U.S. – Canada relationship. While there has been progress in allowing labor to move across the border easier, it does not share in the same spirit of the documents being celebrated in Canada (British North American Act) and the United States (Declaration of Independence). Those two documents advanced the public discourse and took innovative and bold steps. Although their have been efforts to streamline security after 9/11, the process could still be described as “Byzantine.” The two nations should work to stop terrorists, drug smugglers and illegal aliens at port of entries into North America, and less focus on the border. The continental security approach would allow for the freeing of manpower and resources that are currently being used to police the world’s longest and most peaceful border. A truly continental approach would eventually lead to the dismantling of border crossings between the two countries. This approach would mirror the approach laid out by the European Union. On continental Europe, nations have retained their political independence while streamlining customs and trade standards.

Canadian Anxieties

Canadians may be rightfully intimidated by such a security and trade arrangement. Many Canadians are consciously and subconsciously intimidated by the cultural, political, economic and military dominance of the United States. The opening of borders and the “harmonizing of policies” will inevitably make a Canadian wince. For such a process to move forward, everyone in both countries needs to get active in this debate. A truly integrated approach to continental security will not succeed unless the public is entirely engaged in the debate from the bottom up. The President and Prime Minister cannot carry this on their backs alone. A top-down approach failed with regards to the Security and Prosperity partnership (SPP). State and provincial legislators need to carry the debate, along with the media and public discourse.

This Independence Day weekend could be the start of the next leap forward in thinking of continental security and the movement of people and goods. The next Independence Day weekend could be the start of a new way of thinking of the North American relationship. 

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