Vermont and Quebec

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(HOST) When he attended the VT Trade Expo last week, commentator Mike Martin found out what Vermont’s leaders are doing to keep our special relationship with Quebec healthy.

(MARTIN) When you think of Quebec, you may think of the tasty fries, cheese, and gravy they call poutine. Or you may think of the beautiful Gaspe Peninsula with its whales and wide-open spaces. Or you may think of leather-clad tourists that end sentences with “eh” more often than we do. Or maybe you think of Cirque du Soleil. Or perhaps you’ve even rooted for the Montreal Canadiens and cheered “Go, Habs, Go!” at a hockey game.

Vermonters know about Quebec because we share a common border, a common history, and sometimes even common ancestry.

What’s more, Vermont and Quebec share an economy. Vermont is Quebec’s second-biggest trade partner and consumes a full thirty-eight percent of all Quebec exports to the Northeast. In addition, Vermont imported $517 million of energy from Canada in 2005. According to Michael Wilson, Canada’s Ambassador to the U.S., Canada-Vermont bilateral trade amounts to $5.3 billion.

The importance of preserving this special relationship was the dominant theme of the VT Business & Industry Expo recently. This annual trade show, organized by the Vermont Chamber of Commerce, brings together VT business leaders, our state’s political leadership, and Quebec trade delegates. This year it also produced an agreement between Vermont and Quebec chambers of commerce to create a Quebec-Vermont Trade Corridor. The new accord will help VT-Quebec trade by tackling issues related to transportation infrastructure, energy, the environment, and smooth traffic flow at the border.

Vermonters and Quebeckers cross the world’s longest undefended border often, but a recent immigration bill called for a study to create a “Northern Barrier” separating the U.S. and Canada. Senator Patrick Leahy called the 3,145-mile fence study a “cockamamie idea” and got it dropped from the bill. With Sen. Ted Stevens of Alaska, Sen. Leahy also obtained a seventeen-month postponement of new border-crossing requirements. This extra time will give the Dept. of Homeland Security until June, 2009 to coordinate with Canada and implement a system that won’t disrupt commerce, tourism, and travel.

Gov. Jim Douglas told his audience at the VT Trade Expo that we must look “beyond our borders” to keep high-paying jobs for Vermonters. He said that Vermont exports were up twenty-nine percent this year and that Vermont’s economic health depends on its ties to the global marketplace.

The Quebec Consul General to New England congratulated the Governor on his work with the Province of Quebec on border security, climate change, and emergency preparedness. He also recognized Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie, Vermont’s Special Envoy to Canada, for his important trade missions to Canada in 2003 and 2005. He thanked Curtis Picard of the VT Chamber of Commerce, for organizing the VT Trade Expo and also promoting VT-Quebec trade.

If there’s more to good neighbors than just good fences, Vermont is lucky to have leaders that are working to strengthen our ties to Quebec. They know that mutual respect for each others’ cultures and the free movement of our peoples makes for good business.

Mike Martin writes about issues of culture and education and teaches French at Champlain Valley Union High School.

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