New England governors and the premiers of eastern Canadian provinces say the ties that bind the region transcend the trade war between Washington and Ottawa. At their annual meeting held in Stowe, the leaders called for a truce in the trade war.
Several sessions of the meeting focused on regional energy issues. But the backdrop was the increasing trade tension between the U.S. and Canada and the stalled negotiations on the North American Free Trade Agreement.
At the closing news conference, Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard said the two countries share a centuries old alliance that should not be undone by presidential tweets or retaliatory tariffs.
“This is something that we should underline,” he said. “What comes out of the White House is not the whole of the United States of America. It’s a great country. We admire America and Americans. We’ve always been friends, and neighbors and allies, and we should be that way again.”
Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy said there’s no doubt the U-S Canada relationship has suffered since June, when President Trump criticized Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and then slapped tariffs on imports of Canadian aluminum and steel. Canada retaliated with tariffs on manufactured steel, certain dairy products, whisky – even maple syrup.
“And of course, our relationship has been weakened. And of course, we should not speak to our counterparts as premiers or the head of federal governments the way that those conversations have played themselves out by tweet,” he said.
Malloy, who is a Democrat, pointed out that during one session a New England manufacturer of steel products said the tariffs make his company less competitive and his products more expensive for consumers.
“This is having a real impact. And the sooner it’s over, the better for all of us,” he said.
Vermont Gov. Phil Scott, a Republican, who hosted the meeting, said the regional partnership has tangible benefits, such as a series of electric vehicle charging stations that will stretch from Montreal through Vermont.
Scott said the region combined has the 14th largest economy in the world, between South Korea’s and Australia. He said the tensions over trade are counterproductive.
“I don’t believe trade wars work,” he said. “I think it leads to isolation amongst our countries, especially the way it’s being done right now, the retaliation on both sides leads to relationship damage and that’s nothing you can fix in a matter of a couple of years. It takes a long time.”
Security was high at the international conference, with dozens of uniformed state police patrolling the grounds, some accompanied by bomb-sniffing dogs. Outside the Stowe resort, a handful of protesters showed up to decry the region’s energy policies.
Activist Brian Tokar said natural gas and Quebec hydropower – the central sources of New England power – are environmentally damaging.
Tokar said natural gas extraction methods and emissions from burning it contribute to climate change. So does cutting forests to build massive reservoirs and hydropower dams, he said.
“While we’re hearing rhetoric from them suggesting support for renewable energy, which we’re all in favor of, we know they the actual policies being discussed inside really aren’t what we need for a renewable future,” he said.
But the premiers and governors disputed that charge. Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker said Quebec hydropower is a key part of the Bay State’s energy future. Utilities plan to import Quebec electricity through a new power line in Maine.
“We’ve been pursuing a series of initiatives to reduce our carbon footprint in Massachusetts and at the same time assure that our residents have a competitively priced set of energy solutions for them, and that our businesses do as well,” he said. “And some of the earliest conversations associated with the direction that we’ve been pursuing started at one of these meetings, in 2015.”
In a series of resolutions, the regional leaders reaffirmed their work together on greenhouse gas reduction goals and cross-border commerce. There was a sense at the closing news conference that their cooperation will outlast whatever happens in Washington.
Dwight Ball, the premier of Newfoundland and Labrador, noted that the conference has been held annually for more than four decades.
“But I think what it speaks to is a success we should never take for granted,” he said. “I think many people wherever they go can get a lesson, they can be taught a lesson, that regardless of political stripes, regardless of your state or province, we find a way at this table to set an example in leadership that others could follow.”
And the tradition will continue next year, when the 43rd annual conference will be held in St. John, New Brunswick.