Premiers meet U.S. governors in Washington
Canada's Prince Edward Island Premier Robert Ghiz, left, talks with Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick following the National Governors Association special session with Canadian Premiers in Washington, Saturday, Feb. 20, 2010. (AP / Cliff Owen)
The Canadian Press
Published Saturday, February 20, 2010 6:22PM EST
WASHINGTON - Seven of Canada's premiers were ready to take centre stage Saturday at a high-powered conference of American governors to discuss issues near and dear to politicians on both sides of the border -- including energy, the environment and trade.
The premiers of Ontario, Quebec, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island were scheduled to meet U.S. governors for an hourlong session entitled "Common Border, Common Ground" at the winter meeting of the National Governors Association, an influential get-together that often influences policy for both the White House and Congress.
It's the first-ever such meeting between the governors association and its Canadian counterpart, the Council of the Federation. It's taking place this weekend at a downtown Washington hotel just a couple of blocks from the White House.
At only the mid-way mark for the premiers' D.C. visit, several of them said President Barack Obama's administration seemed much more open to hearing about Canadian concerns. Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty said Friday he'd noticed Obama's people were more receptive than those in the George W. Bush administration; a day later, Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger agreed.
"There's a real willingless to solve problems. I think there's a greater recognition of the value of the relationship between Canada and the United States," he said, crediting David Jacobson, the U.S. ambassador to Canada who's a close Obama associate, for his efforts to get to know the country and its premiers.
"Obviously we want to maintain our identity, our culture and our traditions but on the economic level, I think we see that we have common interests that we need to further," Selinger said, predicting trade irritants between the two countries would likely ease under the Obama administration.
Later Saturday, Canada's premiers were to attend a round table devoted to finding strategies to promote green energy. Quebec Premier Jean Charest has been promoting his province's hydroelectricity projects during his visit to Washington, including during a meeting with the head of the Environmental Protection Agency on Friday.
The premiers met with two White House power brokers on Friday -- the EPA's Lisa Jackson and Larry Summers, President Barack Obama's economics czar.
Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall, who's leading the Canadian delegation as chairman of the Council of the Federation, said he and his counterparts raised concerns that Canadian manufacturers might be subject to punitive U.S. measures now that the EPA has warned it will start regulating carbon emissions.
The EPA made the threat in the absence of greenhouse gas laws from Congress. That legislation is stalled due to the Democrats' recent loss of their filibuster-proof majority in the Senate with the election of a Republican to the late Ted Kennedy's Massachusetts seat.
Fears that Canadian manufacturers and energy providers who produce carbon-intensive goods will suffer under tough EPA regulations are shaping up to be a simmering hot spot in Canada-U.S. relations.
Charest, for his part, urged Jackson to consider hydroelectric power a renewable resource that would be eligible for green energy subsidies in the United States.
"We would like recognition in American legislation of large-scale hydro," he said Friday, adding such recognition "would create an incentive to sell more energy and more renewable energy to the United States."
The premiers aren't exactly on the same page on environmental issues. Charest has criticized Ottawa for insisting that Canadian greenhouse gas policy must be in lockstep with the Americans, while Wall and other oil-producing provinces are in agreement with the feds that the U.S. and Canada must be in synch.
Trade issues will again dominate a Sunday meeting with U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. The premiers are expected to raise concerns about the U.S. country-of-origin labelling rules on Canadian meat and other food products.
Canada and Mexico have complained to the World Trade Organization about the practice, saying it violates NAFTA.