OTTAWA - The Harper government should take advantage of a lame-duck President George W. Bush by pushing for new treaties that would open the Canada-U.S. border to greater trade and entrench deeper military integration, a new report released Wednesday says.
The study by the right-wing Fraser Institute argues that the Harper government should capitalize on "a window of opportunity" resulting from the apparent waning of Bush's political clout and personal popularity. In particular, Canada should seek a comprehensive border treaty to boost trade, while also working toward an unprecedented level of military integration, including a joint North American military command.
"The newly elected Democratic majority in Congress ended President Bush's domestic agenda," writes analyst Alexander Moens, a political science professor at British Columbia's Simon Fraser University. He points to two political trends on both sides of the 49th parallel in 2006 that could prod Ottawa and Washington to break new ground on border and military co-operation.
Two-thirds of Americans now oppose the Iraq war, "further eroding Bush's political capital," he notes. Meanwhile, Prime Minster Stephen Harper has largely repaired "chilled" relations with Washington, replacing "the acrimonious tone with constructive engagement."
The study singles out the new deal on softwood lumber, greater defence spending, and Canada's commitment of troops to Afghanistan until 2009 as major factors in the warming relations.
"Given the goodwill in Ottawa and the need for the Bush administration to score success in a foreign area outside Iraq, a window of opportunity has opened for a new deal with Canada," Moens says.
This latest study follows a similar one published by the Vancouver-based think-tank earlier this week. That one, by former Ontario premier Mike Harris and Reform party founder Preston Manning, also urged closer ties with the U.S.
Moens's paper calls for "a comprehensive new treaty to create a secure border that permits the free flow of trade and people." This would include a customs union to remove unnecessary tariffs, regulatory harmonization, and better security and screening to deal with crime, smuggling and terrorist threats.
On the military front, the study calls for "a new binational defence treaty" that goes beyond the current Norad military agreement. The new treaty would integrate U.S. Northern Command and Canada Command, and would fully expand co-operation to land, sea and even space.
Canada and the U.S. have signed an expanded Norad agreement that now includes maritime surveillance along with its traditional role of monitoring the airspace above North America for threats.
The report is sure to enrage critics of Canada's military buildup in Afghanistan and of deeper economic integration with the U.S. However, it dovetails with the Security and Prosperity Partnership, a joint Canada, U.S. and Mexican government initiative to move beyond the North American Free Trade Agreement to harmonize regulations. The intent is to ease the flow of goods while still protecting the security of the continent.
Moens says Canada can capitalize on the divisions plaguing Congress as it tries to pass a new immigration bill that would deal with massive influx of undocumented migrant workers from Mexico.
"Such a new measure would take Congress's focus off the southern border and create an opportunity for Canada to engage the administration and Congress on new ways to streamline the movement of trade and people across the northern border."
Â© CanWest News Service 2007