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Canadian, U.S. and Mexican officials held secretive meeting on integration

CanWest News Service | February 8, 2007
Kelly Patterson

Canadian, U.S. and Mexican politicians discussed using "stealth" to overcome public resistance to the integration of the three countries at a confidential meeting last year, according to documents just released under U.S. Freedom of Information laws.

08/02/07 "Ottawa Citizen" -- -- Top military brass, corporate executives and diplomats also attended the meeting in Banff, Alta., where participants discussed everything from the harmonization of food and drug standards, to common immigration policies, and the pooling of energy resources.
The secret guest list of the North American Forum included then-U.S. secretary of defence Donald Rumsfeld, Canadian Chief of Defence Staff Gen. Rick Hillier, Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day, Pengrowth Corp. CEO James Kinnear and Lockheed Martin executive Ron Covais.

Presentation outlines for the forum acknowledge that the concept of North American integration - which some call a "North American Union" - is unpopular, and note that it might be tough to sell as a concept.
"While a vision is appealing, working on the infrastructure might yield more benefit and bring more people on board ('evolution by stealth')," the notes said.

"Evolution by stealth" means using regulatory changes, such as food- and drug-safety benchmarks, which don't require parliamentary approval, to lay the infrastructure for North American integration. This allows for change with little or no public debate, critics say.

Media were excluded from the September forum, and Day, who gave a speech at the event, declined to reveal the contents of his talk.
"It was meant as a private meeting," said Melisa Leclerc, a spokeswoman from Day's office, although she conceded he attended "in his capacity as minister for public security."

"It is not encouraging to see the phrase 'evolution by stealth' in reference to important policy debates such as North American integration," said Tom Fitton, president of Judicial Watch, a Washington-based conservative watchdog group that obtained the documents last week.

But, former finance minister John Manley, who attended the meeting, said the forum was "not part of a nefarious plan to yield sovereignty to the U.S. .... It was just some informed private citizens and government officials having a conversation" on how best to co-operate to ensure their citizens enjoyed a safe and prosperous future.

In fact, he said, Canada comes out stronger than ever from such meetings, which force "some senior American officials to think about Canada for a few days."

However, Maude Barlow of the Council of Canadians said the reference to stealth is "a very telling and important statement."

Many of the politicians who attended the forum have been pursuing "integration by stealth" for the past two years, she said, pointing to a little-known but top-priority agreement called the Security and Prosperity Partnership.

The accord, kickstarted by U.S. President George W. Bush, then-prime minister Paul Martin and former Mexican president Vicente Fox at a 2005 meeting in Waco, Texas, is designed to streamline everything from food and drug safety standards to counter-terrorism measures.

Government officials from the three countries are expected to meet in Ottawa later this month. However, Foreign Affairs spokespeople said they did not yet know when it would be held or who would attend.

The partnership's stated goal is to protect North America from security threats such as terrorism and flu pandemics as well as economic threats from new global-market giants such as China.

Many of the accord's measures are not contentious, such as plans to improve water quality, reduce sulphur in fuels, and co-ordinate efforts to fight pandemics and avian flu. But it also covers a host of hot-button issues such as plans to enhance data-sharing on high-risk travellers, revamp safety and environmental regulations, centralize the assessment of new chemicals and rework food safety standards.

Most of the 300 policy recommendations within the accord may not require legislative changes, the Council of Canadians said.

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