As Trade Tensions Build, New England Governors And Canadian Premiers Stress Regional Ties

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Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard, left, and Vermont Gov. Phil Scott Sunday signed a bilateral agreement pledging continuing cooperation on a host of cross-border issues. (John Dillon/VPR)
Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard, left, and Vermont Gov. Phil Scott Sunday signed a bilateral agreement pledging continuing cooperation on a host of cross-border issues. (John Dillon/VPR)

New England governors and premiers from eastern Canadian provinces plan to stress cross-border cooperation, not confrontation when they gather this week in Stowe.

The 42nd annual conference of New England governors and eastern Canadian premiers comes at a time of increasing trade tensions between Washington and Ottawa.

But the regional leaders will consider several resolutions that stress the need to work together on issues such as greenhouse gas reduction, energy security and the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Gov. Phil Scott raced stock cars before becoming a politician full time. And he had many successful seasons in a circuit that took him up to northern Quebec, to a race track in the Saguenay-Lac St. Jean region, which happens to be the home district of Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard. Scott said his familiarity with the region gives him a common bond with his Quebec counterpart.

“So we traveled up there a lot. So [I] knew a lot of the same places, so it breaks down some of the barriers, when you talk about understanding their region, and maybe some of the challenges, but the opportunities, and how friendly and open they are,” Scott said.

As governor, Scott has met Couillard several times during trips to Quebec and the two leaders say they have a warm friendship. That relationship may be more important than ever as a trade war ramps up between Washington and Ottawa.

In June, President Trump imposed tariffs on imports of Canadian aluminum and steel. Canada retaliated by levying a host of tariffs on American imports of manufactured steel, along with maple syrup, yogurt, lobsters and whiskey.

Scott, who is hosting this year’s meeting, said the session will focus on the need to continue strong regional bonds.

“We need to temper this rhetoric that we’re hearing on a national level,” he said. “From the governors’ perspective, as well as the premiers, I think they understand that we need each other. It’s not just about selling to each other. It’s about building things together, working together as a region.”

And Premier Couillard made the same point Sunday after he and Scott signed a bilateral agreement pledging continued cooperation on energy, environment, transportation, education and tourism issues.

"We haven’t stopped talking to each other; we haven’t stopped trading with one another. We haven’t stopped meeting with one another since the recent months, in spite of, let’s say, the federal situation. And that’s an important thing," he said.

In an interview last month on VPR’s Vermont Edition, Couillard said tariffs help no one.

“And this is affecting the economy on both sides of the border. The economies are so deeply linked," he said. “It’s impossible, when you do this, that you’re not going to injure both sides of the border.”

Communities across New England and eastern Canada share family, cultural and business connections. Quebec is a major exporter of hydropower to Vermont and southern New England – exports that will get even larger as the region tries to meet carbon-free energy goals.

And Couillard said, despite the rhetoric from Washington, these ties must continue.

“You have in Vermont 30 Quebec-based companies that create more than 2,400 jobs in in Vermont. And there are 1.5 million tourist visits annually in Vermont spending over $100 million,” he said. "I don’t think this is going to stop; people love going to Vermont.”

The conference leaders at their 42nd annual meeting are expected to sign a number of joint resolutions, affirming their commitment to greenhouse gas reduction goals, energy security and economic cooperation.

Resolutions like these don’t have the force of law. But Jeff Ayres, a St. Michaels College professor who focuses on U.S.-Canadian relations, said there’s much more than handshakes and joint resolutions that come out of these cross-border meetings.

“Traditionally it’s important, but now I think it has even more importance, because it’s way of showing that business, economic, environmental issues, trade, energy cultural, education – all these issues that concern peoples on both sides of the border are still being focused on and work’s being done despite what it looks like which is that a lot at the federal level is being held up and stuck because of this trade dispute,” he said.

And it’s not all work at the conference. A dinner Monday night will be followed with music by a local rockabilly band. And for those who want to linger in the Green Mountains, a Tuesday morning hike is planned through Smuggler’s Notch.

This article was originally published by Vermont Public Radio.

This segment aired on August 14, 2018.


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