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Cross-border cooperation: Governors and premiers on the eastern seaboard share knowledge and ideas to build an integrated presence. (Government Issues).

In the early 1970s, an annual Conference of New England Governors and Eastern Canadian Premiers -- 11 governments in all -- was formed for the purpose of discussing cross-border issues of mutual interest and strengthening existing political ties. The focus of these sessions has not changed all that much over the years and the agreements they've spawned have a direct impact on the respective leaders' policies, so it's worth understanding how they work.

Trade, environmental and energy related issues have always been a common interest for the governments of northeastern North America. The Conference has three standing committees for trade and globalization, the environment, and energy. These committees commission studies in their respective fields and implement resolutions passed during the Conference. Thus, the projects championed by the premiers and governors are managed throughout the year by dedicated professionals.

The committees and subgroups have representatives from each state and province and are supported by the Eastern Canadian Premiers Secretariat, based in Halifax, and its U.S. counterpart, the New England Governor's Conference in Boston, Massachusetts. In all, 100 to 200 people work on these projects throughout the year. During the conferences, they present various reports that the government representatives use to adopt resolutions. Before a resolution is adopted, the participants must reach a unanimous consensus. Since these are policies, not laws, local elected state and provincial representatives discuss them before the conferences but are not required to take a stand in their own jurisdictions. The governors and premiers vote for or against the resolutions tabled.

The last annual meeting of governors and premiers was held in Quebec City. The decision makers expressed a desire to strengthen regional cooperation. The discussions dealt with improvement in the circulation of goods and people, security, energy, the environment, and economic and educational cooperation, among other topics.

According to Rheal Poirier, regional coordinator for the Eastern Canadian Premiers Secretariat, the trade resolutions adopted and the joint initiatives of the state and provincial governments -- such as development and implementation of new customs formalities, like the FAST program for commercial traffic -- demonstrate the breadth of the discussions at the Conference.

Another resolution gave the Standing Committee on Trade and Globalization the mandate to recruit full or associate members of the 1-95 Corridor Coalition for the purpose of developing intelligent transportation systems applications, increasing collaboration, and promoting major international trade corridors in the northeast, particularly along the major routes in the region, such as interstate highways I-91, I-93, I-89 and I-87.

"A consensus was quickly reached among the governors and premiers on the need to explore measures to bring about new frontiers in regional cooperation, like the integration achieved several years ago in Europe," commented Quebec Premier Bernard Landry after the conference.

In one resolution, the participants gave a new mandate to the Standing Committee on Trade and Globalization to set up a mechanism to prevent trade disputes and establish direct dialogue between the parties involved. A request was also sent to the federal governments of Canada and the United States to consider a continental approach to the free circulation of goods and people. The aftermath of September 11, 2001, demonstrated the capital importance of fluid trans-border circulation.

Energy-related discussions, once again, revealed the broad scope of concerns in the area and the complexity of the problems. Everyone wants to strengthen the bases for cooperation, while taking regional differences and interests into account.

Several states and provinces also became parties to the International Emergency Management Assistance Memorandum of Understanding developed following the 1998 ice storm that hit southern Quebec. Quebec, New Brunswick, Massachusetts, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, Maine, and New Hampshire are all parties to this agreement that provides for mutual assistance in managing emergency situations that threaten public safety.

The governors and premiers maintained their commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the northeastern part of the continent, in accordance with the Climate Change Action Plan. In addition, Quebec Premier Bernard Landry and Maine Governor Angus S. King signed a cross-border environmental cooperation agreement.

Quebec and Maine share a common border that is more than 300 km long, as well as a number of cross-border waterways. The agreement will preserve the environmental quality needed for economic development in the Chaudiere-Appalaches and Estrie regions. In addition, the new environmental agreement will encourage the exchanges that are already under way to develop tourism in the Chaudiere-Kennebek corridor.

With this new bilateral agreement, the governments are committed to sharing information and expertise on environmental issues of mutual concern. They also agreed to prevent and mitigate cross-border pollution and cooperate in the event of an environmental catastrophe in one of the jurisdisctions.

Maine is one of Quebec's six U.S. partners in the Conference. They are already partners in multilateral action plans to address acid rain, mercury emissions and the effects of climate change. For example, networks were created in 1998 to collect global data for New England and Eastern Canada. This data will be used by each government to manage water quality in lakes and rivers.

With regard to higher education, greater mobility for students within the region is considered desirable by all parties. Premier Landry informed his U.S. counterparts that specific resources will be dedicated to the promotion of student exchanges as part of the agreement between the Conference des recteurs et principaux des universites du Quebec and the New England Board of Higher Education.

The Quebec and Nova Scotia governments also agreed on general principles for cooperation in promoting French language, education, culture and communications, youth, health and social services, and tourism.

Nova Scotia Premier John Hamm noted during the Conference that "Our Acadian and francophone communities play an essential role in building a stronger Nova Scotia. As we approach the 2004 World Acadian Congress in Nova Scotia, it's important for our government to leverage support from as many jurisdictions as possible."

Other similar conferences also bring together various states and provinces. The Council of Great Lakes Governors, with the premiers of Ontario and Quebec, and the Western Premiers and Western Governors Annual Meeting operate according to similar principles.

Even after 27 years, this Conference is still considered very important because there are always issues that affect, and will continue to affect New England and Eastern Canada. In 1973, the phenomena of climate change and acid rain were not concerns, but these are now part of the environmental discussions. Free trade was not an issue then, but today it is a topic that is constantly pressing for the 11 states and provinces and is of prime importance for their economies and quality of life. As Mr. Poirier noted, new issues are always cropping up among the broad interests of the participants.

Julie Demers (jdemers@managemetmag.com) is associate French editor of CMA Management magazine.
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Title Annotation:New England - Eastern Canada
Author:Demers, Julie
Publication:CMA Management
Geographic Code:1U100
Date:Feb 1, 2003
Words:1125
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