Sunday, February 21, 2010

Mostly sweetness and light as US governors meet with Canadian Premiers

Since the deal on the Buy American policy no doubt the atmosphere in US Canada relations has improved considerably. But there are still some irritants remaining as the article notes. Not too surprising that Brad Wall should impress the Americans, since he is both right win and able to quote famous Americans in keeping with the context! Gary Doer seems to be keeping a relatively low profile as Harper's ambassador to the U.S. Maybe that is the way Harper likes it!

Sunday, February 21, 2010

U.S. governors sing the praises of Canada
Sheldon Alberts, Washington Correspondent, Canwest News Service

WASHINGTON -- Canadian politicians have long complained about the challenges of getting their voices heard in America's halls of power. But for seven Canadian premiers, there's no longer any reason to complain.

Armed with arguments and statistics in favour of free trade, and employing a bit of Canuck charm, Canada's provincial leaders got an enthusiastic welcome this weekend from U.S. state governors who generally endorsed calls for stronger cross-border ties and commerce.

By the end of the premiers' first-ever meeting Saturday with the National Governors Association, Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell was singing a gravelly voiced rendition of O Canada. Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour proclaimed the Canada-U.S. relationship as "breathtaking" and unique to the world.

And yet another governor, Minnesota Republican Tim Pawlenty, stressed the importance of Canadian crude oil to his state's economy.

Mr. Pawlenty, touted as a potential Republican presidential candidate in 2012, said it would be "very ill-advised" for the U.S. to impose any sort of barriers to Canadian oil.

That was music to the ears of western premiers who worry U.S. state and federal lawmakers will pursue environmental and trade measures to curb Canadian petroleum exports.

"Today's meeting with the National Governors Association was a huge step forward," said New Brunswick Premier Shawn Graham, whose province supplies about 60% of refined petroleum products into the Northeastern U.S. states.

"Security of supply of energy is critical for the U.S. economy to recover."

The recent resolution of Canada's dispute over Buy American provisions in the U.S. stimulus package contributed to the positive tone of the hour-long session at a downtown Washington hotel.

Mr. Rendell, a Democrat, was coaxed by a Canadian reporter into singing a verse from O Canada.

"I can't sing. I sound like a sick squirrel, but I will try my best," Mr. Rendell said.

Improvising his own lyrics, Mr. Rendell sang: "O Canada, proud, brave and free. O Canada, we stand on guard for thee."

Mr. Barbour, a Republican, said he was impressed with Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall, who cited a famous quote by president John F. Kennedy on the strength of the Canada-U.S. relationship.

During a 1961 visit to Canada, Mr. Kennedy told Parliament "geography has made us neighbours. History has made us friends."

Mr. Wall "spoke to what every one of us here feels," Mr. Barbour said.

"The Canadians are not just our closest neighbours, they are our best friends," Mr. Barbour said. "There is hardly any place in the world where you could have an open border of this distance."

The premiers also met Sunday with U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to raise ongoing complaints over country-of-origin labelling rules that Canada says unfairly damage exports of meat and food products to the United States.

The Buy American agreement saw 37 states sign onto World Trade Organization rules that will allow Canadian companies to bid on U.S. procurement projects, in exchange for American access to the Canadian market.

The premiers' meeting with the governors followed two high-level meetings on Friday with senior White House officials, including Larry Summers, economic czar, and Environmental Protection Agency administrator Lisa Jackson.

Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty said he pressed U.S. leaders about the depth of protectionist sentiment caused by the recent recession.

"I have been reassured that, while it always has some seductive appeal, there is a new awareness ... that we have to guard against protectionism and keep our trade linkages strong," Mr. McGuinty said.

Premiers now hope Canada will get a permanent exemption from future Buy American measures.

"I think there is a good possibility they [will] recognize the need for a preferential treatment for Canada," said Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger.

"I don't think any of what they have tried to do . . . was intended to side-swipe Canada. But now we have to be there so they think about us when they make these kinds of decisions."

Gary Doer, Canada's ambassador to the U.S. and a former Manitoba premier, said the governors' relationship with the premiers can serve as model for how Ottawa and Washington get along.

Several premiers and governors, for example, had already developed close ties over the years through cross-border meetings at the regional level.

As premier of Manitoba, Mr. Doer negotiated the Western Climate Initiative with several states that set regional greenhouse gas emissions goals.

Deals struck between some provinces and states on tailpipe emissions are now being used as a model for national standards planned by Ottawa and Washington.

"It's a visible example of how premiers and governors are working on issues that could be left for international discussions, but rather can be solved in a more practical way," Mr. Doer said.

"All the work that states produce will be helpful to the U.S. government and all the work that provinces are able to achieve helps the government of Canada."

Alberta's Ed Stelmach, British Columbia's Gordon Campbell and Newfoundland and Labrador's Danny Williams were the only premiers who did not make the trip to Washington.

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