Although Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall is calling a Council of Federation visit to Washington this weekend a "huge success," it may take some time to see tangible benefits from premiers chumming it up with U.S. officials.
Seven of Canada's premiers spent the weekend wooing U.S. governors, Washington-based think-tanks and senior White House officials in environment, agriculture and finance in an attempt to plant Canadian concerns in their minds.
Wall, who currently chairs the Council of Federation, says both Canada and the U.S. at times take for granted their trading relationship -- the largest in the world.
"Sometimes, it's hard to get attention in a country as big as the United States with all of their distractions and very real concerns they have internationally," Wall said in a Sunday conference call from Washington. "We have to tend the relationship. We have to take care of it. We have to make sure we are making the case for Canada, (and) for our businesses that create jobs for Canadians back home."
In addition to a jocular meeting and consulate party with American governors on Saturday, the premiers attempted to inject Canada onto the American agenda from all possible angles, including roundtable meetings on trade, the environment and energy concerns with influential think-tanks.
"Those were very valuable," Wall said. "We need to take whatever steps we can, whatever action we can, to make sure that Canada's case is well-known."
Of particular concern to Wall are potential moves by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to regulate greenhouse gas emissions that could prompt punishing trade barriers on Canadian exports of oil and other carbon-rich products.
EPA administrator Lisa Jackson appeared to understand that concern, Wall said, and he was heartened to hear governors say how important Canadian oil imports are to them -- particularly in states such as Utah, Montana and Minnesota, where jobs rely on refining Canadian oil.
"I've heard Gov. (Brian) Schweitzer (of Montana) actually take to task some of those who refer to our energy exports as 'dirty Canadian oil' on this side of the border," Wall said. "It's been a U.S. governor who's done that, because he has a great understanding of the fact that we're working hard to reduce the environmental footprint around our oil production and we are a safe, reliable source of energy for (the) economy of the U.S."
Wall may have also convinced the EPA's Jackson to follow several U.S. senators' footsteps and visit the carbon capture and sequestration project near Weyburn, where 17 million tonnes of carbon dioxide from a coal gasification plant in North Dakota have been captured and stored underground. Wall is seeking $100 million from the U.S. government to support a joint agreement between Saskatchewan and Montana to pump carbon dioxide from SaskPower's southern coal-fired power plants to underground storage sites in the U.S.
"It's not the solution (to producing energy without harming the environment), obviously, but it's one of the arrows in our quiver that we're going to need to deal with this, and again, Saskatchewan's well-positioned, because of our technological leadership here," Wall said.
The premiers also met Sunday morning with U.S. secretary of agriculture Tom Vilsack to discuss the effects of country-of-origin labelling rules on Canadian exports of pork and beef. The law has sharply reduced Canadian hog and cattle exports to the U.S. Some Canadian producers feel the rules are a result of effective lobbying by select U.S. producers attempting to protect their own livelihood, rather than a result of concerns about the meat's safety.
Canada has already appealed this measure to the World Trade Organization, Wall said.
"That doesn't prevent the governments from sitting down and trying to make this thing a little bit better, in terms of our producers wanting to ship animals," he added.
Wall said he also spoke to Vilsack on the issue of Canadian canola meal being stopped at the U.S. border numerous times in 2009, thanks to U.S. Food and Drug Administration concerns about salmonella in the animal feed. Canada's agriculture minister panned the move as protectionist, and the Canadian Oilseed Processors Association said the FDA's restrictions on salmonella in the meal were "impractical," because the bacteria is ubiquitous.
After Canadian canola meal was turned back at the border 23 times between November 2008 and October 2009, both Cargill's Clavet plant and the Bunge Ltd. plant in Nipawin temporarily shut down. Cargill's Clavet plant has since reopened, and the FDA is accepting its canola meal again, but the Nipawin plant remains closed. The effects linger, as the processors' association said last week canola crushing was four per cent behind last year's pace.
The premiers didn't achieve any instantaneous resolutions to these issues, Wall said, but he feels optimistic about the longer-term.
As for whether the 30-plus governors at Saturday's events were making any strides on their pronunciation of the word "Saskatchewan," Wall says the results are mixed.
Wall's co-host at the National Governors Association meeting, Vermont Gov. Jim Douglas, pronounced the province's tongue-twisting name perfectly, he said.
"You know, the further south you get, the pronunciation gets longer, and longer, and longer," Wall quipped. "And you know what? It's to our advantage, because everybody understands the name."
Source: The Vancouver Sun