The Saint Croix Courier

St. Stephen, NB

2005 October 7

Politicians meet in St. Andrews


ST. ANDREWS – Canadian and U.S. politicians gathered at the Fairmont Algonquin on the weekend for the 46th annual meeting of the Canada-US Inter-Parliamentary Group, and the visitors got the chance to see first-hand the area that will be affected if liquefied natural gas projects (LNG) go ahead in Passamaquoddy Bay.

One of the issues Canadian co-chair Greg Thompson, MP for New Brunswick Southwest, raised during the sessions was the proposed LNG projects for Passamaquoddy Bay and on Sunday he took the group on a boat tour to Campobello going through Head Harbour Passage, which will have to be navigated by large LNG tankers.

He said Monday that the trip went extremely well and the weather could not have been better. The visitors to the area got a chance to see a whale, eagles and seals and to realize what a jewel this is.

During a press conference Friday, prior to the closed-door sessions, Thompson said he knows the Americans are absolutely starved for energy and it’s a high priority to get that type of energy into the U.S. The committee’s understanding of these projects, aside from a Congressional delegation out of Maine, would be very low, he said.

“They all want the energy. They’re starving for energy — everyone recognizes that — but every state, every governor has turned down proposals for LNG terminals.

“In my opinion the LNG terminal in Maine, which is obviously going to impact on our community simply because of the proximity, can only be stopped by the government of Canada. I don’t think you’ll see too much political will to stop it in the United States.

“I think our strongest card is the fact that these are internal Canadian waters. It’s a sovereignty issue. If the citizens of the United States can collectively agree and individually agree, state by state, governor by governor that they don’t want it, that it’s too dangerous, I think Canada has every right under international law to state the same position and especially given the fact that the waters these tankers would have to travel through are truly internal Canadian waters.

“I think the precedent was set 30 years ago when Prime Minister Trudeau and the government of the day said no to the transport of oil tankers through those very waters. If we are concerned about that, which we obviously are, the key to stopping it is the government of Canada standing up and saying we will not allow those tankers in those waters.”

Thompson said he is not anti-LNG and this is just a case that this is not a smart location for an LNG terminal. As evidence of Canada’s understanding of the need, he said, they have approved two LNG terminals on the east coast — one in Saint John and one in Nova Scotia — so they are doing their best to supply the U.S. from sites that they agree are safe.

The other Canadian co-chair of the group is Liberal Senator Jerry Grafstein, who explained that this Canada-U.S. committee is probably the largest inter-party group in parliament with about 270 members. Canada and the U.S. take turns to host the annual meetings.

“Our agenda is not very complicated. We cover each and every area of interest. We deal with domestic and bilateral issues, national issues and border issues.... While we have a loose agenda, other issues can be brought up,” said Grafstein.

“The purpose of this meeting is really to have a private, candid exchange between parliamentarians from both sides of the border and to get to know each other.”

Grafstein is the longest serving member of the group and has been co-chair for a decade now.

Canada’s trading relationship with the U.S. is the largest in the world, said Grafstein, at close to three-quarters of a trillion dollars U.S.

Of that exchange, he said Canada has a surplus now of around $92 billion and the amount of trade in dispute is less than three per cent.

However, for Canada, he said, these are major issues and during the meetings they would try to exchange views on things such as softwood lumber, beef and border problems.

One of the hot topics, he said, was going to be the garbage being transported from Toronto to Michigan and another was going to be the proposal from the U.S. to have passports at all border crossings.

“We’re all interested in the passport issue and this will be one of the issues that will come up here because we don’t solve anything. What we really do is we exchange views and hope to persuade both sides.”

Thompson said a couple of weeks ago, he and Grafstein, as well as some other members of the group, met with the Canadian Ambassador to the U.S., Frank McKenna, almost specifically on this passport issue.

“Obviously he is up to speed on it but there’s no question this could really blindside all of us because it would be a real impediment to trade.... Mr. McKenna estimates that the cost to Canada would be $2 billion a year if this was implemented.”

This doesn’t just affect Canada, said Grafstein, but all the border states as well. He said there are something like 150 million two-way trips a year, and the estimate is that only 37 to 38 per cent of the travellers have a passport.

Thompson said in 39 out of 50 states their biggest trading partner is Canada. He said part of what they have to do is educate American legislators on how important that relationship is.

Many Americans, said Grafstein, don’t realize Canada is now their number one energy supplier. Canada is number one in oil, gas, natural gas, hydro-electricity and nuclear fuel as well, he said.

“We’re not going to decide anything here, but we always end up learning something that we didn’t know before. They always go away learning something they didn’t know before.”

Thompson said the third bridge between Calais and St. Stephen was one of the issues the committee dealt with a few years ago. He said they met privately to discuss it when it was not even on the radar screen, and the former Canadian ambassador Paul Cellucci uses this now as the best example of how local politicians and legislators can make a difference on big issues. Thompson said that was a situation where an organization such as this can do incredibly good work.

Grafstein added, “We are sort of an early warning system and we can hopefully solve problems before they get out of hand because once they get out of hand and they are hotly political then it’s very difficult to douse the fire. If we can solve them in an earlier, quiet way, it’s much better.”


© 2005 Advocate Media
Article republished on Save Passamaquoddy Bay website with permission.

The Saint Croix Courier, St. Stephen, NB