Op-Ed

Let’s look north during Trump’s tenure to act on shared economic, environmental goals

Law enforcement deputies stand at attention at Peace Arch Park on the Canadian border. Cross-border partnerships could be the answer to furthering regional economic and environmental goals.
Law enforcement deputies stand at attention at Peace Arch Park on the Canadian border. Cross-border partnerships could be the answer to furthering regional economic and environmental goals. The Bellingham Herald file

Cross-border cooperation with Canada under the Trump presidency is likely to take a decidedly different turn. Recent cross-border agreements, such as pre-clearing travelers before arrival at the border, may expire after President Obama leaves office. Canada’s plan for a new pipeline to pump more Alberta oil to West Coast ports means increased tanker traffic in the Salish Sea. Opposition to the new pipeline is strong in Washington state as well as in British Columbia.

Trump’s energy plan is more fossil fuels, fewer rules and opposition to taking action to curb climate change. This could mean even more oil ports and dangerous oil trains in our region. In this uncertain political environment, our region needs to be aggressive in strengthening cross-border partnerships to control our future. Here is what can be done:

▪  Border mobility

Support local efforts as the key to a well-functioning, humane border. Washington’s economy and people greatly benefit from strong Canada ties. More than $21 billion in trade flows back and forth between Washington and Canada. Annually, about 4 million visits to the state are made by Canadians, worth more than $1 billion to our economy. The border is our northern gateway, enabling this massive flow of commerce and people.

Too often, policies in the name of security weaken commercial ties and bonds of trust. Trump’s policy stances about getting tougher on terrorism, instituting big, thick borders and renegotiating NAFTA not only threaten to slow traffic and trade, but also lead to greater psychological distance between our countries. National governments control borders, but local groups have a large impact on border operations and cultural ties to our neighbors.

Fortunately, the Cascadia region has taken the initiative in improving border mobility, security and relationships. The Enhanced Driver’s License was invented here, helped by local agencies and non-governmental organizations. The Seattle-based Pacific Northwest Economic Region, a state-province forum, provides a single regional voice on border issues. Tribes and First Nations have fought to have tribal ID cards accepted at the border instead of passports. These efforts are crucial to ensure that the border works smoothly and serves more as a bridge than a barrier between our neighboring communities.

▪  Urban economies

Forge stronger links between the region’s dynamic urban economies. The region’s two major economic centers – Seattle and Vancouver, B.C. – form distinct economic powerhouses with complementary strengths. Together, they give the region global muscle in technology, logistics, aerospace, clean energy and health care. The region’s economy could be even stronger by working together.

A Vancouver conference proposed the idea of a “Cascadia innovation corridor” between Vancouver and Seattle to maximize shared advantages. The region has the means to achieve this vision.

The time has come for a Vancouver-Seattle fast train. Funding could come from a binational public-private partnership involving large regional corporations such as Microsoft.

Air service between Lake Union and Vancouver Harbor should be instituted.

Linking the region’s excellent universities through teaching and research partnerships and exchanges of students and faculty would enhance the region’s knowledge infrastructure.

Cross-border R&D cooperation in the promising area of renewable energy would be a powerful economic stimulant, especially in furthering efforts by West Coast states and cities to implement significant carbon reductions plans.

In support of these efforts, cross-border apprenticeships and workforce training partnerships should be tried.

▪  The Salish Sea

Restore the Salish Sea marine waters and surrounding eco-basin. The environmental health of the Salish Sea is in jeopardy. Federal support for environmental protection has been declining. Under the Trump presidency, the very survival of the EPA is in question. Thus, the job of protecting the marine commons falls to us, the people who live in and are sustained by this magnificent inland sea.

Inspiration and guidance should be taken from the Coast Salish people, the first inhabitants of the region. Coast Salish people bring a unified transboundary view to the Salish Sea ecosystem. For them, the ecosystem and the wildlife and people that live in it are the focus, regardless of political borders. The region needs to follow their lead and speak with one voice.

Specific actions are needed to protect the Salish Sea from threat of oil spills. Recent approval of a pipeline expansion from Alberta to the Vancouver Harbor area is expected to significantly increase tanker traffic in the shared Salish Sea waters. Washington state and B.C. have cooperated on oil spill cleanup, but much more needs to be done. At the least, regional leaders need to ensure that tanker safety rules are in alignment across the border. And, without delay, the state and province need to commit to world-class oil spill prevention, response and recovery systems.

The region has enormous assets and opportunities to drive economic, environmental and climate change. We can’t rely on federal action.

Don Alper is emeritus professor of political science and former director of the Center for Canadian-American Studies at Western Washington University.

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