WASHINGTON - Stephen Harper and Barack Obama are calling it the dawning of a new day in Canada-U.S. relations: a border security pact that includes a controversial new entry-exit system for crossing the 49th parallel.
The two world leaders shared the stage in the U.S. capital Wednesday after a closed-door White House meeting where they discussed a host of topics, including the recent move by the Obama administration to defer a decision on TransCanada's proposed Keystone XL pipeline until after next November's presidential election.
Obama denied suggestions that the Keystone move was political, saying Harper understood "it's important for us to make sure that all the questions regarding the project are properly understood, especially its impact on our environment and the health and safety of the American people."
The president described his ties to Harper, after they sat down for the 11th time since he was elected to the White House three years ago, as a "close personal friendship."
Not only that, Obama added, but Canada is going to help him achieve his political objectives thanks to the $1 billion border perimeter deal aimed at streamlining trade while protecting the continent from the type of terrorist attacks that still haunt Americans 10 years after Sept. 11, 2001.
The deal will not only improve screening procedures for travellers and passengers before they arrive in North America, it will also create domestic jobs, the president said.
"Canada is key to achieving my goal of doubling American exports and putting folks back to work," Obama said.
"Put simply, we're going to make it easier to conduct the trade and travel that creates jobs, and we're going to make it harder for those who would do us harm and threaten our security."
He added: "We're agreeing to a series of concrete steps to bring our economies even closer and to improve the security of our citizens."
Speaking in French, Harper said the deal, in the works for months between officials in both the U.S. and Canada, marks a "historic day" for the world's two biggest trading partners.
"These agreements create a new modern order for a new century," the prime minister said.
"Together, they represent the most significant steps forward in Canada- U.S. co-operation since the North American Free Trade Agreement."
Nonetheless, key features of the 29-point deal