REVIEW: Article

The Road Ahead for the United States and Canada: How Best Friends Face Change

For most Americans, it has become a sacred date in our history, a solemn day of remembrance.  This year marked five years since the September 11, 2001 terror attacks, and on this special anniversary, United States (US) Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice spent the day in Canada thanking a friend. 

Perhaps more than anything, this gesture speaks to the state of the relationship between Canada and the United States.  We have long enjoyed the most peaceful and productive relationship the world has ever known.  But in the last few months, I have noticed a new, fresh and exciting dynamic to this friendship of ours. On both sides of the border, we have truly entered into an era of cooperation, looking at problems as a shared responsibility. We’re focused on fixing the problem instead of fixing the blame. Examples of this abound. 

At the same time Secretary Rice was departing Canada on September 12, our US Trade Representative Susan Schwab was meeting with her Canadian counterpart in Ottawa to sign the historic softwood lumber deal between our two countries. 

For more than two decades, finding a compromise on this divisive issue proved to be elusive. In fact, when I was appointed Ambassador more than 18 months ago, I was told by many it was the one file on my watch which would not be resolved. A few months into my appointment, I began to think perhaps the cynics were right.  While representing roughly two percent of our overall $1.4 billion-per-day trade partnership, softwood lumber was used by some to define the entire US-Canada bond, and as a result of this negative overtone, our bilateral relationship suffered. 

But in March, the stalemate gave way to progress when President Bush and Prime Minister Harper met in Mexico for the second round of the Security and Prosperity Partnership Meetings.  I personally witnessed the President and the Prime Minister engage in the softwood lumber issue in a very tangible way. And thanks to their leadership and the heavy lifting by so many on both sides of the border, our two countries have reached what is truly a prolific agreement.

As Secretary Rice said to applause from the Canadian audience to which she was speaking, our two nations will have disagreements, but they are disagreements “discussed in friendship and respect.” Respect, cooperation and patience are what we will need in large reserve as we face our next mutual challenge—implementation of the United States’ passport plan known as the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative or “WHTI.”

Ultimately under WHTI, all travelers entering the United States will have to present a passport or other equivalent secure document.  The initiative will be implemented in phases.  For air and sea travelers, the plan goes into effect January 8, 2007—and only passports will be accepted. 

The land border crossing phase of WHTI goes into effect the following year, on January 1, 2008.  Recognizing our special relationship with Canada and the frequency and ease in which American citizens travel back and forth across the border, Congress built a provision into the law that allows the US Departments of State and Homeland Security to develop a more practical, cost effective alternative to a passport.  The “Pass Card” is now a work in progress.  It will be smaller than a passport, less expensive, easier to carry, but still contain all the security features of a passport. 

There is much concern on both sides of the border over this initiative and its impact on trade and tourism. Those concerns have been heard at the highest level and no one in the US government wants to impede our economic success. But you cannot have prosperity without security, and they are not mutually exclusive.  I remain confident that, as President Bush has said, once a unified system is in place it will benefit us all and facilitate trade and travel—not encumber it.

As we work to promulgate these new rules and meet the proposed deadlines, we have not been working in a vacuum. We have been and will continue to work with Canada.  It is unrealistic to expect that this passport requirement change will be seamless, but if the end result is a more secure, more efficient border, it is well worth the time and resources we are investing now to adapt in this post-September 11 world. 

Since those terror attacks of five years ago, the cooperation between our countries has dramatically increased. Canada and the United States have 15 Integrated Border Enforcement Teams with law enforcement officers from both countries working side by side along the border to share information and assist each other with law enforcement cases. There is a constant flow of law enforcement intelligence, information, data, resources and technology between our nations with very positive results. When Canadian law enforcement and government officials made terror arrests in Toronto earlier this summer, our integrated efforts helped link two suspects in Atlanta to these arrests. In this case, seamless information sharing helped prevent an attack. Indeed, it was that kind of cooperation on two continents that thwarted what terrorists in Britain hoped would be an even more deadly plan than September 11 to blow planes out of the skies and target thousands of innocent and defenseless victims. 

Some people argue that we are less safe than we were before September 11, but I think this past summer’s events disproves that notion.  There is no number less than zero—and that is the number of times we have been attacked in North America since September 11. Our vigilance, cooperation and attention to detail have helped prevent many terror attacks, and we must remain ever on guard.

With more than 35 other nations, both Canada and the United States remain committed to fighting the war on terror in Afghanistan.  Much progress has been made and the fight continues.  We must not and cannot accept a world led by those who brought us September 11. 

And so we persevere. 

In her remarks to those gathered at Halifax airport in Canada on September 11, 2006, Secretary Rice said of Canada and the United States, “We share values and we share ties of kinship. And occasionally, when tragedy strikes, we share compassion. And perhaps it is not a bad thing that when the dark and ugly side of human behavior is exposed that we are reminded of the good and that we are reminded that there is nothing like a friend in a time of a need.”

These are monumental times and Americans and Canadians will no doubt face important, perhaps agonizing decisions, in the months and years ahead as we negotiate how best to continue waging this war on terror and protecting our homeland.  We are two unique and independent sovereignties and leaders for both will make decisions accordingly. 

But in a world of unrest, it is indeed a good thing to know that our closest ally is also our best friend next door. 

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United States Ambassador to Canada