Consensus-building in the Midwest
The newspapers, and the various party membership blurbs, make a lot of the initiatives by the Prime Minister and the various provincial Premiers to outreach to the U.S. governors and Congress, and reinforce the growing and continuing mutual value of the North American Free Trade Agreement. Less well-known, because the newspapers don’t consider it eye-popping copy, is the next level of outreach: among the U.S. states and Canadian provinces and among U.S. Members of their Legislative Assemblies, U.S. state Senates, and Canadian Provincial elected members. It’s also where the cross-border relationships are really cemented.
As an Ontario Member of Provincial Parliament, I have had the opportunity to participate in a number of such conferences and meetings during my time representing the good people of Lisgar, Meadowvale and Streetsville.
I normally stick to the essential local and Ontario business in my local communications. In this time of cynicism and skepticism about the very institutions and agreements that have put Ontario on the path to being the Great Lakes Basin’s first trillion-dollar economy, perhaps we should peek into the ways our neighbouring states and provinces work together, and share the prosperity we jointly attract by doing what we each do best.
Ontario: the Great Lakes Basin giant
Ontario is by far the largest – by land area, population, and economic activity – province or state in North America’s Great Lakes and Midwest regions: those portions of the United States with which we share a border. And like any good partnership, Ontario’s relations with states such as New York, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Illinois and the other states and provinces in our regional ‘neighbourhood’ transcends such metrics as I-win-and-you-lose, or I-take-and-you-give. The reality is that we equally share a much larger pie whose benefits we would not have any other way than by partnership.
The automotive trade is Ontario’s biggest sharable industry. In a modern vehicle assembly plant, such as we have in Ontario at Windsor (Chrysler); Oakville (Ford); Oshawa (General Motors); Alliston (Honda); Cambridge or Woodstock (Toyota), a completed vehicle rolls off the assembly line at the rate of about one per minute. Most of those vehicles cross a provincial or national border to be sold, just as many of those vehicles we buy in Ontario are themselves made elsewhere. During manufacture, whether in Canada and the USA, parts and sub-assemblies welded, bolted or incorporated into those vehicles arrive on precise schedules from locations all over North America, which of course includes Mexico.
It would be hard to say where a car or truck is actually made, based on the origin of the parts that comprise it. Indeed, many of the Rules of Origin documentation show clearly how thoroughly integrated the manufacturing economies of Canada (mostly Ontario), the USA and Mexico are. A motor vehicle can cross the border more than half a dozen times before it is finished. Much the same applies in most other facets of the manufacturing economy on both sides of the border, and to the agricultural and commodity markets.
Most importantly about the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) to Canada and the USA is that it is balanced. Each country benefits about equally. It is also lifting Mexico’s economy, and providing hope for the people of the world’s largest-population Spanish-speaking country.
Team Ontario in the Midwest
That’s what makes it important not only for U.S. and Canadian legislators to get together and understand one another’s strengths and needs, it also underlines how vital it is that elected representatives share what they learn with the people who depend on them.
One of those Canada-U.S. forums is the Council of State Governments, an entity in which Canadian provinces participate as equals, taking our turns hosting meetings as well. This year’s Midwest Legislative Conference was in Des Moines, Iowa in July. It’s an American Midwest state I had not visited before. With Ontario’s Speaker unable to attend this year, I was Ontario’s official representative, joined by MPPs Toby Barrett (PC, Haldimand-Norfolk) and Wayne Gates (NDP, Niagara Falls). Toby is an authority on agricultural issues, and Wayne brings his labour background to the conversation. And we are friends as well.
The U.S. Midwest States are the heartland for the 63 million American voters whose ballots elected the current U.S. federal administration. Most state houses are Republican, as are Midwest Senates, and most state governors. One might have expected a portion of the talk to be about the actions and events in Washington. None of it was.
Wind power in the Midwest
The U.S. states have focused on the business of moving forward with their local and regional priorities. In Iowa, some of its key manufacturers left in recent years for cheaper-labour locations. Iowa, like Ontario, saw some of its industrial renewal in a move toward clean energy. Iowa helped convert a former appliance factory into a facility to build wind turbine towers. A short distance away lies a facility that makes wind turbine blades. Wind is a key element in Iowa’s power grid and industrial strategy. More than a third of Iowa’s electricity today is generated from wind turbines. They even have a wind turbine on the Iowa drivers’ licenses.
The U.S. Midwest has some of North America’s most dependable winds. Occupations relating to renewable energy are among the fastest-growing in the USA. The median wage in Iowa for a wind turbine technician is about $60,000 US. Roughly 4,000 wind turbine technicians are currently working in the USA. Wind in the United States now surpasses hydro as America’s number one source of renewable electricity, with 84,000 megawatts of installed capacity. We have 12,000 megawatts installed in Canada, mostly in Ontario.
Said one of my state colleagues to me in July, “When a farmer leases land for wind, about 95 percent of that land is still available for cultivation. Our farmers look at wind turbines as a drought-resistant cash crop. In fact, wind serves as an effective farmland preservation strategy. If you are from a rural region in the wind belt, and you are not developing wind, you are missing the boat.” In America, 71 percent of installed wind turbines are in low-income rural areas. Wind will drive 248,000 U.S. jobs by 2020, with some 33,000 of those jobs in manufacturing.
Ontario has led Canada into the 21st century’s renewable electricity reality. Our province built a renewable energy manufacturing and service sector from nothing to more than 30,000 jobs since 2009. Delegates from Saskatchewan and Alberta, two heavily coal-dependent provinces also in the prairie wind belt, paid close attention to renewable energy’s economic potential in Iowa. Quebec is building wind turbines all along the south shore of the St. Lawrence, where the North Atlantic wind blows.
The states and provinces discussed and adopted a joint resolution in support of energy trade, and North American energy security. The NAFTA agreement was discussed in a number of sessions and in different ways. The Midwest in Canada and the U.S. gets it. NAFTA is synonymous with ongoing progress and prosperity. A joint resolution in support of NAFTA expressed the consensus.
Fresh perspective on issues
- Pulitzer Prize winner and National Humanities Medal, Isabel Wilkerson is the author of the best-selling book The Warmth of Other Suns. She talked about the post-war migration of some six million African Americans from the deep south to the northern states;
- Author Denise Kiernan talked about the women whose work at Oak Ridge Tennessee was pivotal to the development of the atomic bomb in World War II;
- In a nod to mythology and history, legislators took a short drive to an Iowa attraction called Living History Farms. There, along with a recreation of a 19th century prairie town, much like Upper Canada Village, was a cleared Iowa field, where re-enactors (who were all ball players) in 1919-era White Sox uniforms played baseball with attendees in a modern-day Field of Dreams. I very much enjoyed playing some pitch-and-catch;
- Iowa hosted a full-scale State Dinner at the stunningly beautiful Legislative Building in Des Moines to wind up the conference, with Canadians and Americans joining together to sing both national anthems;
- And the next time the Midwest states and provinces meet will be in Winnipeg in the summer of 2018.
If our current times offer one ray of hope, it has been that the men and women at the state and provincial levels have ensured that we do not take the world’s largest, most successful and most productive trading relationship, and allow it to be guided by the wind of rhetoric, but rather steered for the benefit of the people it now effectively serves.