Steelcitygrit [in exile]

Ruminating on all things Canadian and political.


Tuesday, April 18, 2006

tight border better than no border

With our Public Safety minister headed south (is Stockwell Day really a cabinet minister in Canada's Federal Government, or did I dream that?), this question of border ID cards warrants some depth of thought.

Requiring all sorts of documentation to cross the border would be a sad abandonment of history. It would be indicative of a changing relationship that needs not be changed. It would just be a pain. As such, it's incumbent upon our federal and provincial governments to kick up a fuss.

Those who know me know that I'm not cut out for diplomacy - I dislike compromise because in a US-Canada context it is usually only a one-way street.

HOWEVER - if compromise we must, then tightening our border is the best route to take. We mustn't lose sight of the reality of our situation, and the alternatives we face. A change in the management of our border is moderately inevitable in the post-9/11 world. There is, however, nothing near a consensus on what shape this change should take. Two dominant schools of thought for border management reform have emerged. One prescribes a simple tightening of traditional security measures. The other is an argument for a near-obliteration of the border in an effort to establish a continental security perimeter. Both approaches have their merits and shortcomings. However, the latter proposal offers some very serious threats to Canadian policy-making autonomy on a range of issues.

Our two dominant options can be typified as a border re-emphasis approach and a border elimination approach. The former would entail a further legislating of border traffic, more requirements for citizens traveling back and forth, and a commitment of resources to developing new secure technologies at our existing border crossings. The ID card requirement falls under this category. The latter and perhaps more startling camp subscribes instead to envisioning security as a common continental initiative. This is popularly described as “Fortress North America.” The expression is both hyperbolic and sensationalist, but it serves a purpose.

The major failing of border re-emphasis is its economic fallout. We witnessed on September 11th, with the suspension of various fasttrack services, just how damaging border wait times can be for Ontarian industry. This is why any step in this direction must have built in processes by which truckers, etc. can circumvent the system.

Boder elimination, I would argue, carries far more serious complications. Any move in this direction would implicate immigration, foreign policy, and numerous other legistlative compounds. The requisite harmonization needed in various policy fields would not result from negotiation and compromise. Rather, the greater would consume the lesser. In its most abstract form, border elimination’s downfall is that it can undermine Canadian soverignty. This argument is of a clearly emotional nature. As such, it should not be taken at face value. Instead, the practical implications of a continentally constructed security network should be examined. If the 49th parallel loses its significance, than Canadian and American immigration policies would necessarily have to be brought in line to some extent. This has begun on a small scale. Closer bilateral military ties would be required. This we have avoided - but will be unable to in the future.

I hope my point has not been buried. I'm no fan of new border ID requirements. However, they would not represent a worst case scenario. These days we are certain of only one thing – our border will not survive unchanged. This is simply impractical. As such, we should dedicate much careful deliberation to the direction we wish border management to take. The continentalist deep-integration approach seeks to strip the border of its significance. In doing so, we open our country up to a litany of threats. Instead, resources and creativity should be invested in our existing border institutions. With security and economic efficiency in mind, we should reinvent our border – not tear it down. If change is necessary, the future of border management lies in reinforcement.


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