For more than a quarter century, state and provincial legislators from northwestern states in the United States and western provinces in Canada have been reaching across the border in a model of Canada-U.S. collaboration. Originally founded in 1988 as a forum for leaders from the state and provincial legislatures representing Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana and Alaska in the U.S. and the Canadian provinces of British Columbia and Alberta, the Pacific North West Economic Region (PNWER) has grown to include the province of Saskatchewan, and the northern Canadian regions of Yukon and the Northwest Territories.
The idea of what is today’s PNWER came from then Washington state senator Alan Bluechel, who was PNWER’s first president. Growing up on the Canadian side of the border in western provinces, Bluechel understood the common issues and interests that connected states and provinces in the region. His counterpart at the time who played a pivotal role on the Canadian side was Jim Horsman, then Alberta deputy premier and minister of intergovernmental affairs.
Every year, a PNWER delegation visits the two nations’ capitals – Washington and Ottawa – where meetings are held with federal politicians and government officials to address key cross-border issues. As well, PNWER stages an annual summit, an event that this July will be held in Whistler, B.C. This year’s agenda will tackle issues such as expanding market access, workforce development, ocean policy, as well as energy and the environment, among others.
In recent years, PNWER has been particularly active on Canada-U.S. border issues, working to ensure both a safe and efficient border. With the U.S. and Canada sharing the largest, most mutually beneficial two-way trading relationship in the world, ensuring the border provides the security needed, but, at the same time, does not become a barrier to trade and economic growth for both nations, has been a key PNWER priority.
Another issue that has received significant attention from PNWER has been energy and the environment. A key feature of the focus on energy is PNWER’s Legislative Energy Horizon Institute (LEHI), which is designed to educate legislators on the North American energy infrastructure and delivery system. Given the high turnover rate in state legislative bodies, there can be a lack of institutional knowledge about the complex energy issues in state and provincial legislatures. LEHI holds annual sessions to raise the awareness and understanding of legislators on key energy and environment issues from a U.S.-Canada perspective.
What started out as purely an organization to bring together U.S. and Canadian legislators, PNWER has broadened its scope in 1994 to become a true public-private partnership. It includes official private sector participation that involves non-elective public sector, non-profit organizations and non-government organizations. A private sector council, mirroring that of the organization’s legislative delegate council was established and private and public sector co-chairs became part of the working group structure.
As a result, funding for PNWER has become a blend of the public and private sectors. It is financed primarily through three sources, approximately one third from state and provincial dues, one third from private sector sponsorship and dues, and one third from public and private grants.
In an age where both the U.S. and Canada face ever-more complex and challenging issues, when collaboration is key to ensuring both nations continue to benefit from what has been a model bilateral relationship for the world, PNWER stands out as a key example of working together to ensure strong economies and societies.