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Harper, Obama announce plan to co-operate on trade, border security

U.S. President Barack Obama says he has no doubt Stephen Harper will safeguard Canadian sovereignty in a new
Stephen Harper, Barack Obama
Prime Minister Stephen Harper takes part in a joint press conference with United States President Barack Obama at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building across from the White House in Washington

WASHINGTON — U.S. President Barack Obama says he has no doubt Stephen Harper will safeguard Canadian sovereignty in a new Canada-U.S. border security agreement that has raised the hackles of opposition politicians and privacy watchdogs.

“I have great confidence that Prime Minister Harper’s going to be very protective of certain core values of Canada, just as I would be very protective of the core values of the United States,” Obama told a news conference following a long-awaited White House meeting with Harper.

It would be unrealistic to expect Canada and the U.S. to march in lockstep on every element of border security, he added.

“But we match up more than probably any country on Earth,” Obama said. “So the goal here is to make sure that we are co-ordinating closely and that, as we are taking steps and measures to ensure both openness and security, we’re doing so in ways that enhance the relationship, as opposed to create tensions in the relationship.”

The perimeter security agreement announced Friday will see the U.S. and Canada co-operate on finding ways to use modern technologies to design a smarter border, cracking down on security risks while easing obstacles to the free flow of goods and services.

But it has raised concerns about privacy and sovereignty in Canada. Sources have told The Canadian Press that Friday’s meeting was postponed twice because Ottawa felt U.S. Homeland Security was demanding too much information about Canadian travellers.

Even as Harper and Obama spoke to reporters in the U.S. capital, the debate raged on in the House of Commons as opposition MPs accused the government of keeping the perimeter security negotiations under wraps.

“Today in Washington, the prime minister is continuing a pattern of talking to American officials about a perimeter security deal he won’t even admit exists,” Liberal MP Brian Murphy said.

“Why won’t the Conservatives tell us about this deal? Is it because every other time they’ve negotiated with the Americans on softwood lumber, on ’Buy America,’ on $16-billion fighter jets, Canadians have gotten a bad deal?”

On Friday, Harper dismissed such concerns.

“This declaration is not about sovereignty,” he said as Obama looked on solemnly. “We share an integrated economic space where it doesn’t make sense to constantly, you know, check the same cargo over and over again. If we can do that at a perimeter, if we can de-congest the border, that’s what we should be doing.

“If we can harmonize regulations in ways that avoid unnecessary duplication and red tape for business, these are things that we need to do.”

Harper also talked tough when asked by an American reporter about the TransCanada Keystone XL pipeline, which — if approved — will transport oil from Alberta’s controversial oilsands into the U.S.

“The need of the United States for fossil fuels — far in excess of its ability to produce such energy — will be the reality for some time to come,” he said. “The choice that the United States faces in all of these matters is whether to increase its capacity to accept such energy from the most secure, most stable and friendliest location it can possibly get that energy, which is Canada, or from other places that are not as secure, stable or friendly to the interests and values of the United States.”

In an occasionally jocular news conference in which both men referred to each other by their first names, Obama and Harper spoke of the closeness of the Canada-U.S. relationship.