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Harper & Obama to outline border security pact

Prime Minister Stephen Harper is headed to the White House today to announce the details of a long-awaited border security agreement with U.S. President Barack Obama.

The Beyond The Border initiative is intended to foster the sharing of intelligence and the streamlining of cross-border trade.

It kicks in more than 10 years after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, resulted in American officials — fearful of a terrorist threat from Canada — beefing up security at the Canada-U.S. border.

Among other measures, the deal aims to better track travellers, to implement better cyber-security protections, to establish joint government facilities and to improve the monitoring of overseas cargo shipped to both Canada and the United States.

One expert says the deal means lineups, delays and hassles at the border may soon be a thing of the past for trusted travellers and exporters.

Laura Dawson, a policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, says the pact will mean more intelligent, efficient security for those travelling between the two countries.

“What Canadians will see right away is that things are easier for travellers and businesses as they go across the border,” Dawson said.

“That doesn’t mean they have less information, but they’re going to be a lot more intelligent about how they compile and share it. They’re looking for the bad guys, and if you’re a legitimate traveller or manufacturer, the situation at the border should be noticeably better for you.”

Harper’s visit nonetheless comes at a particularly tense moment in Canada-U.S. relations as TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline saga rages on.

The $7 billion project, shelved at least temporarily by the Obama administration just a month ago, is being resurrected as a front-burner issue on Capitol Hill this week thanks to congressional Republicans.

They’re determined to see the project win federal approval before, not after, next November’s presidential election.

Colin Robertson, a former Canadian diplomat who spent time in Washington forging ties with top U.S. lawmakers as a Canadian embassy official, predicts the prime minister will likely repeat his usual pitch on Keystone to Obama.

“I think he’ll reiterate it’s a no-brainer, you need this stuff, and then ask the president how he thinks the whole thing is going to play out in the end.”

Harper, a veteran of two minority governments, understands the politics behind punting the Keystone XL decision until after the presidential election, Robertson added.

The controversial project was at the centre of high-profile anti-pipeline protests outside the White House for weeks this past summer and fall, resulting in the arrests of movie stars and leading environmentalists.

“They didn’t like that noise, that ring around the White House, and they wanted to change the channel, which they have,” he said.

Republicans in the House of Representatives are attempting to box Obama into a corner on Keystone XL. They’re attaching to their payroll tax cut legislation — clamoured for by both the White House and Democrats — a provision that would take the Keystone decision out of the president’s control by handing it to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

The aim is to force a speedy approval for Keystone XL. The House bill is expected to pass in the next two weeks; it will then head to the Democratic-controlled Senate, where it will face a tough fight.