The meeting was brief but important, providing a snapshot of the broad collaboration that marks Washington state’s relationship with Canada.
Gov. Jay Inslee met in Seattle last week with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who was in town for a conference at Microsoft, and the two leaders reportedly touched upon issues of mutual interest. There was talk about trade. And climate change. And the prospect for high-speed rail from Portland to Vancouver, B.C.
Canada’s importance to Washington should not be understated. Our neighbor to the north is this state’s second-largest international trading partner, behind China, and the numbers point out the benefits of that partnership. Washington’s trade with Canada last year amounted to $19.8 billion, with $12.8 billion of that being imports to the state.
Culturally and economically, Washington has more in common with Canada, particularly British Columbia, than it does with much of the United States. So it is no surprise that Inslee lauded Trudeau by saying: “We share an incredible commitment to defeating climate change and a recognition that we can grow our economies while we’re doing that. It is a great pleasure to know that we have a national leader in the North American continent who’s committed to that.”
British Columbia can serve as a blueprint for Inslee’s environmental goals. In 2008, the province enacted a carbon tax upon businesses, homes, and vehicles in an effort to reduce the emissions that contribute to climate change. Last year, The New York Times reported: “British Columbia’s economy did not collapse. In fact, the provincial economy grew faster than its neighbors’ even as its greenhouse gas emissions declined.” Inslee has long supported a carbon tax upon polluting industries, only to repeatedly be blocked by legislators who insist that such a tax would damage the state’s economy.
Beyond serving as a petri dish from which Washington can learn, Canada is an essential partner for the state. As Inslee said, that is “because we share so much more with Canada than just a common border.”
Among those commonalities is the Columbia River Treaty, which has been in place since 1964 and is undergoing a review. Canada controls the mighty river near its headwaters, mitigating flood dangers downstream and helping to ensure reliable irrigation that is essential to the Washington economy. In exchange, Canada receives hydroelectric power at a discounted price. The treaty is in need of re-examination, but it is crucial for the federal governments to strike a deal before the 2024 deadline.
The success of the treaty also should provide impetus for another large agreement — the development of high-speed rail between the nations. A transportation budget signed last week by Inslee calls for $300,000 to study the feasibility of a train that would travel between Vancouver, B.C., and Portland at up to 250 mph, with stops in Seattle and Olympia. To many, the idea might sound outlandish, but the economic benefits would be vast.
In the end, Trudeau’s visit to Seattle was invigorating as an important reminder of a mutually beneficial partnership.
The Columbian (Vancouver, Wash.) at columbian.com