Excluding Parliament, Congress, and Mexico from border process a mistake: DC think tank

No one in Washington gives more careful and nuanced thought to Canada-US relations than Chris Sands at the Hudson Institute. So when Chris comes out with a new paper on the border strategy, it’s worth reading.

The Canada Gambit: Will it Revive North America? [Hudson Institute Security & Foreign Affairs Briefing Paper by Chis Sands]

This is a long paper that covers a lot of ground: a step-by-step granular back story to how the perimeter security declarations came to be including a lot of context about the evolution of thinking at the Department of Homeland Security under Obama and Napolitano.

Sands notes that the the declarations mark a departure from the trilateral – Canada, US, and Mexico — approach of years past. (I have written about the demise of the three amigos approach as well, see: The End of North American Trilateralism.)

Unlike many commentators in Canada who argued that Canada needed to drop the continental approach in favor of a bilateral “special relationship”, Sands argues that this is a mistake:

Without a North American dialogue on regulation and inspection, both Canadian and Mexican concerns will potentially be overshadowed by U.S. dialogue with China and the European Union, as well as by multilateral initiatives within the G-20 and other forums. One reason for this is that the United States presently has substantial market access in both the Canadian and Mexican markets, and in bilateral negotiations with either partner the asymmetries of power favor the United States, which therefore is normally able to get what it wants from its neighbor to the extent that the neighbor can deliver. Market access in Europe and Asia is more problematic, and Washington can not always get its way without a sustained effort and significant concessions.  The Washington Declarations reflect Canada’s desire to re-bilateralize its relationship with the United States, which many Canadians believe will allow talks with the United States to progress further because the countries are similarly developed and sophisticated. Some Canadians hanker for the return of a supposed golden age of bilateral partnership, and believe that the exclusion of Mexico will benefit its restoration. The benefit of re-bilateralization for the United States is less clear. While there is ample justification for approaching the borders separately to respond to local conditions, in the past this has been done with the understanding that the U.S.-Mexican border would catch up eventually, and that Mexico would have the chance to observe U.S.-Canadian talks in order to anticipate future changes; in effect, a North America at two speeds. This balancing act kept the political coalition in support of economic integration in North America together in Congress, and within Democratic and Republican administrations. This coalition was not always sufficient for progress, but it was always necessary for dialogue. The exclusion of the Mexicans through the Canada Gambit also increases the likelihood that U.S. domestic regulatory reform and border security debates will overshadow the bilateral initiatives launched in the Washington Declarations. By limiting the potential U.S. stakeholders in the process, the governments have also limited the appeal of concessions by the U.S. government on a bilateral basis. Canada will gain the chance to observe U.S. domestic debates in order to anticipate future changes; in effect, a North America at one speed, which will be the pace of Americanization.

Sands is also critical about the lack of transparency and the exclusion of Parliament and Congress in the process. I absolutely agree. I was quite stunned when shortly after the Obama-Harper meetings in Washington, I interviewed Candice Miller, chair of the border security subcommittee in the US House of Representatives, and a Republican from Michigan who is potentially Canada’s best ally on border issues in the US Congress because she really knows and cares about the northern border. Miller said what she had hear of the perimeter security plan was “vague” and she said:

I’m not quite certain who’s going to be on the working committee, and where they are going with their entire work product. We hope – not only myself, but I’m sure other members of this committee and other members of Congress –  will want to have some input into what they’re putting together.

If anyone should be kept in the loop, it’s Miller.

I agree with Sands when he writes:

The Washington Declarations on the U.S.-Canadian border and regulatory cooperation make no mention of the U.S. Congress or the Canadian Parliament. Like the Bush administration, the Obama administration appears to be intent on restricting talks with Canada to areas within the statutory authority of administrative departments and agencies so that it is not necessary to seek prior congressional approval for negotiations.  Frustrated U.S. stakeholders frozen out of the new discussions on border and regulatory cooperation will inevitably complain to Congress, and seek congressional oversight of bilateral talks with Canada. This will both politicize the process and make concessions harder. It will also force the Obama administration to spend additional political capital to rescue bilateral talks when problems arise.

As mentioned, the full paper is here.


You can follow me on Twitter at luizachsavage

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