US, Canada plan to dismantle border

Ajit Jain in Toronto

July 28, 2001

Canada and the United States are considering dismantling their 4,800-kilometre border to allow for free movement of people and fewer immigration restrictions for workers.

A front-page report in Saturday's Toronto Star quotes Canadian government sources in the US and Canada as saying that "the 49th Parallel would become a 'Main Street North America' rather than a restrictive checkpoint for the 200 million people who cross it annually and $2 billion (Canadian) in goods that cross daily".

This report comes in the wake of an earlier report that Canada is heading towards adopting the US dollar as its national currency.

Canada will abandon the loonie (Canadian dollar) and become the US Federal Reserve's 13th district "within five years" unless the government changes its policies to prop up the eroding Canadian currency, Jeffrey Rubin, chief economist for the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce, is quoted as saying in a report in The Financial Times.

While other Canadian economists have begun forecasting a shift to the US dollar in 10 to 20 years or more, Rubin's is considered the most slender time frame in Canada opting for the US currency.

As the Canadian dollar is slowly becoming obsolete, government officials on both sides consider the border between the two countries also "obsolete". If at all, it will remain in symbolic terms.

The Canadian daily says that under a new concept of continental border enforcement, Canada and the US will defend their share of the North American 'perimeter'. Officials at entry points will question new arrivals to weed out illegal immigrants and potential terrorists. Once inside, people will be able to travel freely.

Elinor Caplan, Canadian immigration minister, has reportedly supported this notion: "Modernising the border is something the [immigration] department has been looking at as a longer-term project and the perimeter strategy is something that's being looked at," Caplan's spokesman Alain Laurencelle is quoted as saying.

"In the 21st century, in the case of Canada and the United States, the traditional concept of an international border has lost its relevance," Michael Kergin, Canada's ambassador in Washington, is quoted as observing. "I believe we should think of the border not as a frontier but as a meeting place," said US Ambassador in Ottawa Paul Cellucci, who's a former governor of Massachusetts and a personal friend of President George W Bush.

"A 'main street' is where people meet, traffic moves and business gets done," he reportedly said.

"The more user-friendly it becomes, the more it can facilitate the commerce that enriches our societies. That's where Washington and Ottawa need help from each of your provinces, from interested businesses and stakeholders and from concerned citizens," Cellucci added.

According to official statistics, around $700 billion a year worth of goods move across the Canada-US border, which is considered the world's largest trading relationship.

The free flow of these goods and services could result in 6 per cent saving in prices to consumers. Canada's export to the United States is worth $359 billion while it imports goods worth $230 billion from its southern neighbour.

All these reports about the dismantling of the US-Canada border and a common currency is an omen of two countries becoming more and more integrated as one entity when 32 million Canadians will join 280 million Americans in singing The Star-spangled Banner on July 4.