Feb 02, 2011 12:21 AM GMT
OTTAWA — Prime Minister Stephen Harper, heading to Washington Friday for a meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama, is being urged by his political rivals to not surrender Canadian sovereignty on a border security deal being quietly negotiated with the United States.
Harper's meeting with Obama is also expected to touch on at least two other issues: the political unrest that has paralyzed Egypt; and the next steps in Canada-U.S. plans for a "Clean Energy Dialogue" — a process that dates back to Obama's visit to Ottawa two years ago.
Senior government officials say they expect the focus of the meeting to be on bilateral efforts to move forward on clean energy. The plan is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by developing "clean energy technology" and a "more efficient energy grid" based on clean and renewable energy, according to government documents.
However, on Parliament Hill Tuesday, the focus from Opposition parties was on the border security discussions.
In question period, Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff accused Harper of keeping the details of the security perimeter talks secret.
He urged Harper to promise that any deal would be brought "back to the House for an open debate before he surrenders Canadian sovereignty."
In response, Harper insisted he will not give up this country's sovereignty.
"On this side of the House, we are Canadians first and only," said Harper to applause from the Tory benches.
Beyond that, all Harper would say is that the relationship with the U.S. is highly important and that he would discuss a "range of issues" with Obama.
Later, NDP leader Jack Layton told reporters that Harper needs to be more forthcoming.
"It's absolutely vital that any discussions that could affect Canadian sovereignty be open and public and transparent. Secret deals being cut in the backrooms are not going to cut it."
The existence of the talks only became public because federal government documents were leaked to the media in December.
The documents suggested the two countries were negotiating a security perimeter deal supposedly to be signed by Harper and Obama in Washington in January.
The idea is to build a security perimeter which protects both countries from threats such as terrorism.
In return, the Americans would ease up on controls at the Canada-U.S. border, thereby reducing congestion and increasing the flow of two-way trade.
In late December, Harper confirmed that Canada was holding "discussions'' with the United States on a deal that would tighten security against external terrorist threats and improve two-way trade between the countries by reducing congestion at the border. However, he said no agreement had yet been reached and the talks were continuing.
In an interview in January with Postmedia News, Harper said the governing Tories are "strong defenders of Canadian sovereignty."
"That said, we're operating a continental economy and in a continental security space terrorist threats to the United States are equally targeted at this country," he added.
"That is a reality Canadians must understand and I think Canadians understand full well that problems in the American economy or limited access of Canada to a growing American economy is a pretty serious threat to Canada."
Harper said his government intends to restore the "special bilateral relationship" with the U.S, but assured: "We aren't going to necessarily adopt American policy."
Opposition parties, however, are concerned such a deal might give the U.S. government more influence over Canada's border security and immigration controls and private information on Canadians would be given to American law-enforcement agencies.
Read more: http://www.canada.com/news/Border+security+Egypt+likely+agenda+Harper+visits+Obama/4204027/story.html#ixzz1CkvdddcM