Emerson calls for Project North America

Posted by admin on May 7th, 2009

By Barbara Yaffe, Vancouver Sun May 7, 2009
Influential former federal minister and leading business executive David Emerson is calling on Canada to lead a new charge on continental integration. He calls his idea Project North America. Says Emerson: “I think the process of integration has to begin with the two leaders, perhaps three,” outlining a joint vision for closer collaboration.

“Probably from there to a high level emissaries model to put meat on the bones.”

Canada’s former international trade and foreign affairs minister in the Harper government, is among a rising tide of voices in recent months expressing concern about a thickening border and growing protectionism in the U.S., despite the smiling face of Barack Obama.

But even as Emerson is urging greater coordination between Canada and the U.S., and secondarily Mexico, the trend line is going in the opposite direction.

Labelling provisions in the U.S., a buy-America strategy domestically and a tough-sounding homeland security secretary all are making integration appear less, rather than more, likely.

Obama has not moved, nearly four months after his inauguration, to appoint a U.S. ambassador to Canada.

And Canada now is about to focus considerable effort on a Canada-EU trade agreement.

So, Emerson’s clarion call is timely.

The former politician outlined his views in a speech to a Vancouver business group this week, warning that that, globally, Canada is a middle power looking for influence in a multipolar world replete these days with middle powers.

This country cannot afford marginalization, either within North America or the world community.

Emerson says Canada needs to more closely coordinate strategy with Americans in three specific areas: Trade; energy and the environment, and continental security.

Newly appointed as chair of the B.C. Premier’s Economic Advisory Council, Emerson is particularly calling for “smarter, thinner borders with security focus at [the] perimeter.”

But instead of greater continental integration, the U.S. lately been going its own way.

Canada has been wrongly blamed for security lapses on the 49th parallel and Americans are blaming both Canada and Mexico for job losses in their manufacturing sector.

Some Canada-U.S. border impediments, Emerson says, are “blatantly protectionist, some are more insidious and are protectionism behind a thin veil of security or product safety concerns.”

Meanwhile, Canadians’ attitude toward deeper North American integration is “at best ambivalent.”

Laborious Canada/U.S. border measures now in place are “misplaced and damaging … damaging economically and ultimately damaging to our close friendship.”

Emerson, whose name has been floated to succeed Michael Wilson as Canada’s next ambassador to Washington, insists, “The bottom line is, the North American partnership needs repair.”

The last effort to kick-start more continental integration came in 2005 with the Security and Prosperity Partnership.

Under the SPP, private sector working groups in Canada, the U.S. and Mexico tried to achieve greater standardization of regulations for smoother border flows across the continent.

Emerson says the group, which has not been active since Obama was elected, should not be revitalized.

The SPP “has become code for some kind of conspiracy to destroy the sovereignty of the participating countries. Hokum for the most part but [the notion] has received a fair amount of media play.”

It will be interesting to see whether Stephen Harper or Michael Ignatieff pick up on Emerson’s big idea.

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