North America: States, Provinces and Territories

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Why we shouldn’t put provinces in the corner

Later this week, Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper will host the first-ever summit of North American governors and premiers in Colorado Springs.

Mexican governors will have the best attendance, reflecting that, for now, Mexico is the most enthusiastic about North American collaboration. Yukon Premier Darrell Pasloski and Ambassador Gary Doer will lead the Canadians.

The summit agenda focuses on trade and economics with sessions on innovative infrastructure investment, economic innovation, jobs and investment.

Knowing governors matters. Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto previously served as a governor. This year’s American presidential aspirants include Governor John Kasich and former governor Jeb Bush. Presidents Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush all served as governors.

Regional collaboration with governors is well developed. Atlantic premiers have met regularly with their New England counterparts since 1973. The Council of the Great Lakes Region, formed in 2011, focuses on the economy and ecosystem. Western governors and premiers attend each others’ annual meetings. As Manitoba premier, Gary Doer included U.S. and Mexican governors at a 2006 Gimli Western Premiers Conference. They joined in the ultimately successful push to use “smart” drivers’ licences for cross-border travel.

Constitutions vest provinces, states and territories with responsibility for schooling, health care, roads and infrastructure. In Canada, the provinces own their natural resources. They share responsibility for trade and immigration with the national government.

Budgetary pressures oblige innovation by provinces, states and territories. They have become the incubators and outliers on policies and programs, good and bad. Medicare was pioneered in Saskatchewan. Current emissions standards on Canadian and U.S. cars and trucks began in California.

Collaboration in practical environmental management is long-standing. Bombardier “Super Scoopers” are shared during forest fire season. Line workers from state and provincial utilities help each other out when ice storms and hurricanes put out the lights.

During the past decade, most Canadian innovation on climate change occurred at the provincial level. When prime-minister-designate Justin Trudeau meets with the premiers, in anticipation of next month’s Paris climate summit, provincial achievements inevitably will form the basis for a constructive Canadian position on carbon pricing and innovation.

British Columbia’s carbon tax, now seven years old, works. Ontario has joined Quebec in a cap-and-trade system for carbon emissions which is also aligned with California. Alberta plans to double its current carbon levy. Last year, Saskatchewan launched the first commercial carbon capture-and-storage project at a coal-fired plant in Estevan.

Hydropower utilities in Quebec, Manitoba and British Columbia provide 63 per cent of Canadian electricity and they are world leaders in this renewable resource. Oil-sands companies now share 814 technologies worth almost $13-billion. Mining companies used 30 per cent less water from the Athabasca River in 2014 compared with 2012. Alberta’s energy regulator is sharing its best practices with Mexico.

During the years when the Harper government put China in the ice-box, the premiers kept alive the vital official ties necessary for Asian business. Jean Chrétien recognized the value of including the premiers in Team Canada trade missions. It’s a practice that Mr. Trudeau should revive, starting with Mexico, our third-largest trading partner.

President Pena Nieto was the first international leader to congratulate Mr. Trudeau, tweeting “let’s start a new chapter.” In June, Mr. Trudeau spoke of Mexico’s “fundamental impact” on Canada-U.S. relations and called for lifting the visa requirement imposed by the Harper government.

Lifting the visa should be Mr. Trudeau’s first initiative. Seeing Mr. Pena Nieto in Mexico City, before meeting President Barack Obama in Washington, will underline Mr. Trudeau’s personal commitment to a “new chapter” with Mexico. Mexican Foreign Minister Claudia Ruiz Massieu is ready to visit Ottawa. Talking about climate and competitiveness will also demonstrate to the White House that Mr. Trudeau appreciates the North American neighbourhood.

With the Trans-Pacific Partnership and separate trade deals with the European Union coming together, trilateral co-operation can make North America a competitive platform. The practicalities of getting our goods to market – roads, rail and bridges, ports and terminals, grids and pipelines – must involve premiers and governors. This week’s Colorado Springs meeting can advance this agenda.

The premiers’ and governors’ summit should become a regular event with NASCO, the trilateral network for North American trade competitiveness, as its secretariat.

Provinces, states and territories are often dismissed, inaccurately, as a secondary, inferior level of government. Yet it is their work that most affects the everyday life of citizens.

More Related to this Story

Pasloski lone premier to attend North American leaders summit in Colorado What if they held a summit and no one came?

National Governors Association Photo
Yukon Premier Darrell Pasloski at the Summit of North American Governors and Premiers, Oct. 31.

Peter Mazereeuw
Published: Wednesday, 11/04/2015 12:00 am EST

Canada’s premiers may have missed the memo from incoming prime minister Justin Trudeau about boosting ties with Canada’s southern neighbours.

Just one provincial leader attended the first-ever summit for the premiers and governors of Canada, the United States and Mexico on Oct. 30 and 31.

Six governors from each of Canada’s North American neighbours attended the summit in Colorado Springs, Colorado, according to the National Governors Association, which represents US governors.

The summit was announced in February by the associations representing state and provincial leaders in each country, and was the first designed to include sub-national leaders from across all three countries.

Co-operation on the economy was the official focus of the summit, which did not produce any binding commitments, said Yukon Premier Darrell Pasloski, the only Canadian premier to attend.

The leaders mostly used the summit—which included breakfasts, lunches, dinners, receptions and a few panel discussions—for networking and sharing ideas, said Mr. Pasloski.

“It was a chance to build relationships amongst the leaders in all three countries,” he said.

Prime minister-designate Justin Trudeau promised in his campaign platform to improve relations with Mexico and the United States. That included commitments to work with those countries towards a “continent-wide clean energy and environment agreement,” to host a summit for the three federal leaders and to “work to reduce the barriers that limit trade.”

Liberal Party spokesperson Dan Lauzon declined to comment on the premiers and governors summit, saying in an emailed statement that “our efforts are entirely focused on ensuring an orderly transition and on swearing-in the cabinet on November 4th.”

Yukon premier attends on behalf of Canada

The sub-federal leaders discussed infrastructure, broadband internet access, skills and training and international trade, and took in panel discussions on several of those subjects, said Mr. Pasloski.

The Yukon premier—who is taking over as chair of the Council of the Federation next year—will report on the summit to Canada’s other premiers during a meeting this winter, he said.

“What I heard across the table from everyone is that the number one focus was jobs, in all three countries,” he said.

The leaders who attended the summit in Colorado discussed planning another for 2017, though no details have yet been determined, he said.

The summit came at a difficult time of the year for most premiers, as most provincial legislatures are now in session, Mr. Pasloski said when asked why more premiers didn’t attend.

Canada’s Council of the Federation announced the summit in February alongside the NGA and Mexico’s National Conference of Governors.

The summit’s host, Colorado governor John Hickenlooper, likely played a big role in determining the timing of the summit, Mr. Pasloski said.

Mr. Hickenlooper’s staff declined to accept an interview request.

Gary Doer, Canada’s outgoing ambassador to the United States, New Brunswick deputy premier Stephen Horsman and officials from across Canada also attended the governors and premiers summit, said Mr. Pasloski.

No ‘critical mass’ to draw attendance

The summit was a missed opportunity for Canada’s premiers to build upon their relationships with Mexico’s governors, said Laura Dawson, director of the Canada Institute at the Wilson Center in Washington.

Federal leaders have handled most of the relationship between Canada and Mexico, she said.

“It would have been much better for Canada to have had a strong showing,” she said.

However, Canadian premiers and US governors often meet each other at regional gatherings, she said.

Quebec premier Philippe Couillard hosted a summit of state and provincial leaders from the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence area in June, which was also attended by Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne and governors from eight states.

Ms. Wynne and Mr. Couillard also attended a summit of Great Lakes leaders in April 2014, as did then-federal transport minister Lisa Raitt.

Co-operation between US governors and Canadian premiers will be important as the Liberal government rolls out its infrastructure stimulus plan over the next couple of years, said Colin Robertson, a former Canadian diplomat who served in the United States.

States and provinces need to work together to ensure infrastructure projects designed to boost cross-border trade in Canada and the US complement each other, he said. 

Canada’s relations with Mexico and the United States likely won’t suffer from the poor attendance, said Mr. Robertson. The NGA, Council of the Federation and National Conference of Governors likely made each other aware of the planned attendance well in advance of the summit, avoiding any surprise no-shows that are more damaging to relations, he said.

The Council of the Federation identified Mr. Pasloski as the representative of Canada’s premiers in an Oct. 21 press release.

The relatively poor attendance for the summit was likely a result of failing to achieve a “critical mass” of leaders, said Mr. Robertson. Premiers and governors are more likely to make time for well-attended events where they can hash out issues with many of their counterparts at once, he said.

The governors and premiers may be wise to plan the next summit to coincide with the NGA winter meeting in Washington, which will guarantee attendance by a substantial number of US governors, he said. 

BC premier overseas

BC premier Christy Clark took part in a trade mission to China instead of attending the summit, her office confirmed. The mission was scheduled to run from Oct. 30 until Nov. 7.

Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Paul Davis, the current Council of the Federation Chair, did not attend due to the election scheduled in that province at the end of November, council spokesperson Lindsay de Leeuw wrote in an emailed statement.

The Northwest Territories also have an election scheduled later this month.

Nunavut Premier Peter Taptuna did not attend the summit because the Nunavut legislature is currently in session, and the premier of Nunavut does not travel during that time, said spokesperson Yasmina Pepa.

Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger did not attend the summit “due to the fact our House is in session and the premier is required to attend Question Period and Estimates,” spokesperson Naline Rampersad wrote in an emailed statement.

Ms. Wynne—perhaps Mr. Trudeau’s closest provincial ally—announced that she planned to attend the summit in a July press release. Ms. Wynne’s office confirmed that she would not be attending in the days before the summit, but did not respond when asked why.

Mr. Couillard did not attend the summit because of a scheduling conflict, wrote spokesperson Harold Fortin in an emailed statement.  The premier’s office declined to say what Mr. Couillard would be doing instead.

Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil did not attend the summit because of his crowded schedule and preperations for the opening of the legislature next week, spokesperson Laurel Munroe said in an emailed statement.