These days, the Secretary of Homeland Security is arguably the most important cabinet position these days for the Canada-US relationship. After 9/11, many issues relating to the border and relationship with Canada that once had previously been run out of economic and trade-focused departments where put in the hands of DHS, a mega-department created in 2002, whose mandate was security and whose personnel came from law enforcement, not economic, backgrounds. This transformation added to the “security trumps trade” pressures of the post-9/11 years and, in some ways, the two countries are still adapting to the consequences. The standing-up of the Department of Public Safety in 2003 allowed for the creation of a DH counterpart in Canada to deal with issues of border management, information exchanges, and other nuts-and-bolts issues that undergird the massive economic relationship between the two countries.
Today Janet Napolitano, who ran DHS since the beginning of the Obama administration, announced she is stepping down. She will leave in September to run the University of California. Along with the recently announced resignation of Public Safety Minister Vic Toews, this leaves a question mark over one of the most important working relationships between Ottawa and Washington.
Though Napolitano had a rough start in her first Canadian interview, the Beyond the Border agreements to facilitate border crossings had made progress during her tenure. Napolitano and Toews were reputed to have a particularly good personal rapport. Both were former prosecutors with a similar world view. They met at the Vancouver Olympics and attended a curling match. At a later meeting, Toews took the opportunity to teach the former Arizona governor how to curl.
Who will replace each of them is a development worth watching.