POLITICS

Great Lakes conference stresses regional action on environmental protections

06/13/2015 01:31 EDT | Updated 06/13/2016 05:59 EDT
QUEBEC - The premiers of Ontario and Quebec and eight U.S. state governors promised to work together to boost maritime trade and combat threats to the Great Lakes during a conference in Quebec City on Saturday.

Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard is hosting a three-day conference on the future of the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence region. The meeting brings the leaders together to discuss issues ranging from invasive species to algae blooms to strengthening maritime trade.

"The St. Lawrence offers the shortest link between the great ports of Northern Europe and the industrial ports of North America," Couillard said during his closing speech on Saturday.

"For us to draw full benefit from this favourable geographical context, it is important that a growing share of today's surging trade be shipped via the St. Lawrence and Great Lakes. Collectively we have what it takes to...ensure improvements to our port infrastructures and our way of doing things."

Couillard announced the 10 leaders present at the conference would work together to expand a regional maritime strategy. He also unveiled his plan for a Quebec maritime strategy that would focus on improving port infrastructure, promoting maritime tourism and attracting investors to the province's waterways.

Earlier in the day, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne said economic development must be responsible and cannot come at the expense of environmental protections.

"Clearly growth that degrades our land, air and water -- the very building blocks of health and economic prosperity -- is a kind of false growth," she said. "It will leave people worse off in the end."

Wynne announced she would sign two new agreements with Ohio and Michigan to combat invasive aquatic species and the threat of algae blooms.

She also suggested a regional partnership to fight climate change, and invited the American states to join Ontario, Quebec and California in a carbon market.

"I invite you to explore all the ways that a regional approach to lowering our carbon emissions will create new trade and investment opportunities and sustainable ways of growing our economy," she said.

Michigan governor Rick Snyder echoed the concern over invasive species. He labelled the threat of Asian carp invading the Great Lakes a "crisis situation."

Snyder also highlighted the positive partnership with Canada on the construction of the future Detroit-Windsor bridge, which he says will increase economic cross-border trade.

The conference also hosted several panels on economic issues such as public-private partnerships, maritime transportation and tourism.

It was attended by potential Republican presidential candidate and Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker. In addition to giving a speech on maritime tourism, Walker had a private 20-minute meeting with Couillard in which they discussed Quebec's economy.

The seven other states participating in the council aside from Michigan were Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

The council of Great Lakes governors was founded in 1983 but only welcomed the two Canadian provinces as partners in recent years.

The conference wraps up Sunday.