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Border deal a hard barrier for Harper's critics to cross

The new Canada-U.S. border agreement will be unveiled at the White House by Barack Obama and Stephen Harper in early December. When they read it, some people will go ballistic.

That's because the Beyond the Border action plan, according to those who have watched the negotiations closely, is expected to include a new entry-exit system that will track everyone coming into or leaving Canada by land, sea or air. It will be part of the continental security perimeter that is one of the key elements of the accord.

Colin Robertson, the former trade diplomat, argues in an article to be published next month in Policy Options magazine that an entry-exit system will enable the federal government to, among other things, ensure that landed immigrants are actually living in Canada.

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But the proposal will play to fears that the Conservatives are selling out this country's sovereignty and undermining privacy rights in exchange for some illusory access to American markets.

The anti-American crowd will be looking for something to bash. This should do nicely.

Those who worked on hammering out the agreement over the past nine months are proud of it. They say it lives up to the mandate the President and Prime Minister gave them last February to make the continent safer and the border easier to cross.

A planned September rollout was delayed in part because of a hitch negotiating a pre-clearance agreement, which will make it possible to inspect some trucks at the factory rather than at the border.

But the problems were sorted out and the final agreement is robust. It will harmonize a plethora of regulations and safety standards in the automobile, food and other industries. It will make it easier to obtain temporary work permits and a trusted-traveller document that will allow frequent crossers to skip the lineup at Customs.

Air, land and maritime inspections will be more fully integrated, and both sides will be able to more easily detect and deter cyber threats.

Though it will begin more with pilots than with full programs, the accord will offer both countries a blueprint for greater economic and security integration.

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If, that is, it ever sees the light of day. The Americans are much distracted with economic woes and next year's elections.

Up here, many will balk at the iris scans or other biometric measures that doubtless will come with the new entry-exit controls, while others will fight the idea of sharing more data on Canadian citizens with the Americans.

At the root of much of the criticism will lie the notion, common to far too many Canadians, that the United States is an empire in decline – and good riddance – and that the faster this country forges new ties with Asia and elsewhere, the better.

But those who would write off the United States should remember that, Buy American and pipeline cancellations notwithstanding, it remains a great power and a great economy. Canada's security and prosperity will always depend on America's, however much we increase trade with the Asian tigers.

Beyond the Border is the indispensible next step in a long, complex but richly rewarding relationship. We know Mr. Harper is solidly behind it. Here's hoping Mr. Obama also finds the will and the way to see it through.

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About the Author
Writer-at-large

John Ibbitson started at The Globe in 1999 and has been Queen's Park columnist and Ottawa political affairs correspondent.Most recently, he was a correspondent and columnist in Washington, where he wrote Open and Shut: Why America has Barack Obama and Canada has Stephen Harper. He returned to Ottawa as bureau chief in 2009. More

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