Last week in Halifax, the New England Governors and Eastern Canadian Premiers met for their 35th annual gathering. Connecticut Governor Dannel Patrick Malloy, Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chafee, and Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin met with host Premier Darrell Dexter of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick Premier David Alward, Prince Edward Island Premier Robert Ghiz, and Newfoundland & Labrador Premier Kathy Dunderdale – pressing business kept Maine Governor Paul LePage, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, New Hampshire Governor John Lynch, and Quebec Premier Jean Charest away, but most sent senior representatives (New Hampshire faces a budget crisis, and could not participate this year).
Along the U.S.-Canadian border, from the Pacific to the Atlantic, no region has a longer history of cultural and personal exchanges, but at the same time there is no cross-border region with weaker infrastructural connections. Highways, rail links, and regular air service between the metropolitan areas of New England and the Maritimes exist, but are quite limited. Pipelines and powerlines also crisscross the border here, but with limited capacity and not much room for growth. Overall U.S.-Canada bilateral trade is a major contributor to the economy of these states and provinces, but Atlantic Canada trades less with the United States than any other Canadian region except for the northern territories.
Given the struggling global economy, the potential to increase crossborder trade, investment, tourism and service flows was the dominant topic of discussion among the premiers and governors in Halifax. They heard from several experts about the ineluctable ways in which the two countries are connected by shared problems: former Clerk of the Privy Council Kevin Lynch (now with BMO Financial Group) and Pamela Prah of the PEW Center on the States spoke about the fiscal crisis facing the United States federally and at the state and local level. Jim Prentice, recently Canada’s Environment minister and now vice chairman at the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce spoke about the state of global and North American efforts to confront climate change. Scotty Greenwood of McKenna Long and Aldridge provided a Washington, DC perspective on the role that states and provinces can have in influencing the way federal leaders manage the U.S.-Canada bilateral relationship, and how they can contribute to solutions for regional, continental and even global concerns. Somehow this all managed to be encouraging, despite the scope of these challenges.
Energy and transportation infrastructure were the focus of several briefings for the governors and premiers. Meeting the future energy needs of this region, and expanding bilateral energy trade in renewable electricity was discussed by Ian Forsyth of Nissan Canada, Professor Chul Hee Jo of South Korea’s Inha University, Steven Rourke of ISO New England, Ed Martin of Nalcor Energy, and Chris Huskilson of Emera. There was particular interest in the development of hydroelectric dams on the Lower Churchill River in Labrador, and a proposed undersea connection to Nova Scotia that could link this project to New England. The potential for improved commercial transportation linkages through short-sea shipping was discussed by Karen Oldfield of the Halifax Port Authority, John Henshaw of the Maine Port Authority, Michael Leone of Massport, and Percy Pyne of American Feeder Lines. Taken together, these experts offered concrete recommendations for improvements that the premiers and governors could pursue, and they were well-received.
It was fascinating to be a fly on the wall for these discussions and learn about these issues, and also to contribute a briefing of my own. When U.S. President Barak Obama and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper met in Washington on February 4th they inaugurated two negotiations, one on border security and the other on regulatory cooperation. These initiatives were to be carried forward by a new Beyond the Border Working Group and a new Regulatory Cooperation Council, respectively. John Manley, head of the Canadian Council of Chief Executives and Perrin Beatty, head of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce – both distinguished Canadian public servants and former cabinet ministers – spoke to the priorities of Canadian businesses, large and small, for greater bilateral progress in addressing barriers to trade and job-creation caused by inefficient border inspection and infrastructure as well as duplicative and burdensome regulatory processes. U.S. Ambassador to Canada David Jacobson and Canada’s Ambassador to the United States Gary Doer gave a sense of the importance that President Obama and Prime Minister Harper placed on these concerns, and their conviction that greater border and regulatory cooperation would help to create and sustain jobs in both countries. These distinguished speakers made a very compelling case that the success of these two initiatives was vital to the future of North American competitiveness, Canadian economic growth, and the prosperity of Eastern Canada and the New England states.
In my short presentation, I urged the premiers and governors to get involved. The Canadian and U.S. governments have called for ideas and input from stakeholders to help set the agendas for the Beyond the Border Working Group and the Regulatory Cooperation Council. Many businesses and communities are unaware of these initiatives, and their concerns as stakeholders have not yet found a voice. Provincial and state governments can and should hold hearings a solicit comments from their citizens and convey these to federal officials through the good offices of the two ambassadors. There is time, but it is short.
Premiers and governors in the Great Lakes region, and in the Pacific Northwest, have contributed significantly to the growth of economic ties between Canada and the United States within their regions.
As they begin their 36th year of meeting and working together, the provinces and states of New England and Eastern Canada appeared committed to doing more and becoming stronger advocates for better bilateral relations.