Monday, May 18, 2009

Senator Collins' Blog: US-Canadian legislators' conference in Quebec

This weekend, along with nine other members of Congress, I was a delegate to a US-Canadian legislators' conference. We met in Charlevoix, Quebec, a beautiful area of bays, mountains, and charming villages along the St. Lawrence Seaway.

The area was created by a huge meteorite striking the earth 350 million years ago, or so we are told. When Samuel de Champlain discovered the area, he called the bay "Malbei," meaning "bad bay," because his ship ran aground!

We stayed at the Manoir Richelieu, a hotel that overlooks the St. Lawrence Seaway, a mighty salt water river.

The only disadvantage of the hotel was its very long distance from the Quebec City airport - some two-and-a half hours by bus.

We met with our Canadian counterparts to discuss energy, environmental, economic, border, and national and homeland security issues. I was able to get a resolution passed that is important to Washington County proposals to develop an LNG terminal, which Canada has been blocking by refusing to cooperate in any of the regulatory reviews. The resolution calls on both countries to participate in good faith and expeditiously in regulatory reviews of proposed facilities in their ports. I faced strong opposition at first from some of the Canadians, but revised the language and prevailed after a lot of work.

It was fun figuring out how to put together a coalition of Canadians representing four political parties and ranging from the far left New Democrat Party to the Conservative Party. And I swear it was my ability to speak a bit of French that helped me to win the support of three Canadian legislators who represent the separatist party Quebecois! I had my American colleagues lined up, but since the group will only approve consensus resolutions, I had to get the Canadians too.

On homeland security issues, the Canadians, regardless of party, were upset about some comments made by Secretary Napolitano about the northern border. I will try to straighten this out upon by my return to Washington and prior to the Secretary's upcoming trip to Ottawa.

Another concern of the Western Members of Parliament was our "Country of Origin Labeling" law - known as COOL. This issue turns out to be far more complicated than I had realized for the livestook producers. Apparently, pigs are often born in Canada, then shipped to the U.S. for fattening and eventual "finishing," as the Canadians delicately put it. So the issue arises, are the eventual pork products to be labled "American" or "Canadian?". Are they prohibited when "Buy American" provisions are applied?

By the way, while the lower House in Canada is elected, the Senate is appointed. When a vacancy occurs, the Prime Minister makes the appointment, and Senators may serve until age 75.

We had non-stop meetings on Saturday and finished with a two-hour plenary session on Sunday. Sunday morning, there was an "interfaith" service at the hotel conducted by a nun from Quebec City who drove all the way out to the hotel to conduct the service.

Then after our final plenary session adopting the resolutions, we drove to Baie-Saint Paul, an artist colony about a half hour away from the hotel. Baie Saint Paul is also the birthplace of Circe du Soleil, and prior to dinner, we were entertained by three performers, including a young woman who did an extraordinary gymnastics performance. I think she must have been a contortionist. Her legs twisted into impossible positions, and her feet were as expressive as her hands.

Dinner was at a local bistro with excellent food and a trio of musicians (two fiddlers and one guitarist) who played every possible style of American and Canadian music, often with all of us singing along.

This weekend was a great opportunity to strengthen relationships with our Canadian neighbors and to work together on common issues with our closest ally and biggest trade partner.

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