Harper touts Canada's emerging role in NYC address

Prime Minister Stephen Harper focused on Canada's emerging economic and global role in a speech Wednesday that could be a harbinger of his address to the UN.

Prime Minister Stephen Harperfocused on Canada's evolving economic and global role in aspeech Wednesday evening in New York tobusiness and political leaders, onethat could be a harbinger of his first address to the UN General Assembly.

After paying tribute to the sacrifice and heroism on both sides of the border during the Sept. 11attacks on the U.S., Harper said that while the Afghan mission was costly, it was necessary to ensure security both in North America and on a global scale.

"And we are taking real casualties," Harper said at the nearly century-old Economic Club of New York. "It is heart-breaking, but standing up for a more peaceful, more democratic world is a long tradition in both of our countries."

The prime minister will address the United Nations on Thursday,when heis expected to outline Canada's new role in the world, with an emphasis on the military's role in Afghanistan.

On Wednesday, the Conservative leader pointed to recent developments as proof ofan increased commitment to security. Theyinclude beefing up the Canadian Forces, renewing the Norad treaty, housing the headquarters of an agency fighting terrorist financing, and providing new technology and training for border workers.

Pushing for border initiative

Harper expressed concerns about the impact to the economy and tourism of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, whichwould require North Americans to have a passport or secure document at the beginning of 2008.

He urged those in attendance to help push for a border initiative that is pragmatic and not rushed.

"Our border must not be seen as a fence where one country's national security stops and the other's begins," said Harper. "It's not like that in the real world."

Harper's comments came on a day when a U.S. government official told the Associated Press that Boeing has been offered an $80-million US contract that will use high-tech means, including towers, to stop illegal immigrants from entering across the country's north and south borders.

The undertaking reportedly will occur in stages, beginning in Arizona.

On the economic front, Harper spoke with pride about the growing production from Alberta's oilsands and Canada's position as the largest exporter of energy to the United States.

Harper touted Canada as an "energy superpower," and then poked fun at the strong assertion.

"Normally, Canadians don't like to boast about their dominance in anything— except hockey."

Hesaid Canada's current levels of debt and unemployment, among other economic factors, provided an ideal environment for more foreign investment.

Mentions dispute areas too

Harper became the fifth prime minister to be a guest of honour at the club, following Pierre Trudeau, Brian Mulroney, Jean Chrétien and Paul Martin.

While Harper painted a mostly rosy picture of co-operation, he did mention two areas of dispute — one recently resolved, and the other ongoing.

He referred to last week's resolution of "the softwood lumber dispute that has been poisoning our trade relationship," as well as taking a strong position on the thorny issue of Arctic sovereignty.

"We will defend our sovereignty over all our territory — including over the islands, waterways and resources of the High Arctic — even if that conflicts with American claims," he said.

While speaking in general terms about efforts to ensure the country is not a haven for would-be terrorists, Harper did not specifically mention Canada's immigration and refugee system, which many American politicians believe is too lenient.

As well, he made no mention of the conclusions of the Maher Arar report, which has spurred articles in influential newspapers such as the Washington Post and New York Times on thehandling of terrorism suspects by both Canadian and U.S. law enforcement officials.

Among those hearing Harper speak were Michael Wilson, Canada's ambassador in Washington, and Pamela Wallin, the former consul general in New York.

Harper said a successor to Wallin will be named in the near future.

Other guests of honour at the club have included nine U.S. presidents and dozens of world leaders, including Winston Churchill, Mikhail Gorbachev and Anwar Sadat.