Harper to meet Obama to discuss perimeter security, climate change
OTTAWA - Prime Minister Stephen Harper heads to Washington on Friday to talk about perimeter security, climate change and other weighty issues with U.S. President Barack Obama.
A senior Canadian official, speaking on background, said the next steps in the Clean Energy dialogue will be on the agenda. The two leaders started a conversation on bilateral efforts on climate change when Obama visited Ottawa in 2009.
Harper and Obama will also discuss a North American perimeter security pact, which has been in the works for years. The idea is to control who enters and leaves the continent in a consistent manner, allowing officials to ease security at the Canada-U.S. border, paving the way for a free-flowing passage of vehicles and cargo.
Critics warn that increased collaboration with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security would raise privacy and sovereignty concerns. When pressed on the issue in the House of Commons by Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff, Harper wasn't saying much.
"I look forward to having a discussion on a range of issues with President Obama," he said.
Immigration Minister Jason Kenney said the discussions are actually about protecting Canadian sovereignty.
"This is really about ensuring our sovereignty through common sense co-operation with the U.S. on a range of border security issues," he told reporters.
However, Liberal Foreign Affairs Critic Bob Rae said Canadians don't know enough about the potential deal.
"The prime minister has presented no information, nothing, to the House at all," Rae said. "He has shown a considerable contempt for Parliament and for the democratic process in Canada in not talking to us about what it is exactly he's going to be talking about with President Obama."
The discussions could be coloured by a U.S. congressional report released Tuesday, which found that only a scant few kilometres of the Canada-U.S. border are secure, even as it becomes an increasingly popular target for drug smugglers. The paper says U.S. border patrol officials control just 50 kilometres of the 6,400-kilometre boundary.
The report also warns that there is a far greater risk of terrorists coming into America from Canada, as opposed to Mexico, because of the northern border's sheer scope and well-travelled highways.
In releasing the report, U.S. Senator Joe Lieberman reiterated the long-held perception among many American officials, including homeland security czar Janet Napolitano, that Canada has softer immigration laws than the U.S.
"Canadians do have more lenient asylum and immigration laws than we do here and that potentially has an effect on us because of our border," he said.
But Kenney said U.S. officials know the Canadian government has improved immigration security.
"I can tell you Secretary Napolitano has been clear in expressing the gratitude of the U.S. administration for the fundamental reform of our asylum system that will allow us, for example, to do a better job of ensuring that people who may seek harm are not allowed in through the back door of the asylum system," he said.
"So I think in fact things have improved in terms of the attitude of the U.S. administration towards the continental security in Canada."
— With files from Washington correspondent Lee-Anne Goodman.
Last changed: February 01. 2011 9:20PM