WASHINGTON — Seven Canadian premiers wrapped up a three-day visit to the U.S. capital Sunday, some of them heralding a new era in Canada-U.S. relations following their moment in the spotlight at an influential conference of American governors.
The premiers of Ontario, Quebec, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island were warmly welcomed by U.S. power brokers throughout their time in D.C., including by three top-level figures in President Barack Obama’s administration.
But the highlight of their trip was their participation in the winter meeting of the National Governors Association, with about 20 U.S. governors, mostly from border states, joining them for a round table entitled “Common Border, Common Ground.”
The good will was in such abundance that Pennsylvania’s Edward Rendell was easily nudged to warble a chorus of O Canada after he was overheard boasting to his Michigan colleague, Jennifer Granholm, that he knew the words.
“I’ve turned what I think are the best lyrics into one verse. I can’t sing; I sound like a sick squirrel, but I will try my best,” Rendell said before raspily launching into an almost-accurate rendition as Canadian reporters cheered him on.
Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour raved about the relationship between the two countries.
“The Canadians are not just our closest neighbours, they’re our best friends,” he said. “There’s hardly any place in the world where you could have an open border of this distance. It’s breathtaking; what a wonderful relationship.”
Official business ended Sunday as the premiers sat down with Obama’s agriculture secretary, the third high-level administration official to meet with them in as many days.
On Friday, they met at the White House with his economics czar, Larry Summers, and Lisa Jackson, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency. They raised concerns with Jackson 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.
Despite all the good will on display toward Canada during the premiers’ visit, there are fears that Canadian manufacturers and energy providers who produce carbon-intensive goods will suffer under tough EPA regulations, something that is shaping up to be a hot spot in Canada-U.S. trade relations.
America’s controversial country-of-origin labelling by the U.S. was the dominant topic of discussion between Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and the premiers during the meeting on a brilliantly sunny morning in the U.S. capital. Canada and Mexico have complained to the World Trade Organization about the measures, saying they violate NAFTA.
Later Sunday, Ambassador Gary Doer was hosting a reception at the Canadian Embassy for governors, premiers and their staff to watch the Canada-U.S. Olympic hockey game. PEI’s Robert Ghiz was among the premiers slated to take in the game.
At the roundtable on Saturday, premiers and governors alike weighed in to discuss issues of mutual concern between the U.S. and Canada that included efforts to clean up the Great Lakes, the need for free and easy trade between both countries and the prospect of Canadian oil being subjected to restrictions from the Environmental Protection Agency.
“There is a very large need for Canadian crude in Minnesota,” said Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who’s considered a Republican bright light and someone who will likely make a run for the party’s presidential nomination in 2012.
He added that any move to penalize Canadian oil producers “is very ill-advised from my standpoint.”
Granholm thanked Ontario for its help in battling the invasive Asian carp that is threatening Great Lakes ecosystems. Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle discussed efforts to clean up the lakes, calling it an “enormous undertaking.”