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Wynne stresses need for open border, Great Lakes stewardship in talks with Illinois Governor

Wynne in Chicago as part of effort to lobby for free trade and Great Lakes water quality amid uncertainty over policies of Trump administration, which has pledged to slash EPA budget.
April 10, 2017
By Rob Ferguson

Premier Kathleen Wynne went to Chicago with a bottle of ice wine and a message: let’s keep the Canada-U.S. border open and Great Lakes water quality top of mind.

Wynne met Monday with Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner amid continuing concerns the Trump administration will bring in a border tax and gut $300 million in funding for lakes that are a source of drinking water to millions.

Fresh from her weekend win against a “Buy American” provision dropped from the New York state budget, Wynne said she was pleased to sense Rauner is not signalling any similar policies.

“Nothing he said to me suggests that he’d be interested in going there. He really sees the strong connection,” she told the Star in a telephone interview from the Windy City.

Ontario is the largest export market for Illinois, which sends $10 billion a year in goods and services to the province. Every month, $233 million in auto parts flow back-and-forth between the two jurisdictions.

“We see an open border and our integrated economy, which has been built up over decades, as a strength,” she said after presenting her host, a wealthy former businessman, with a bottle of Ontario ice wine.

“Governor Rauner gets that. He wants to find ways to work with us.”

Rauner did not issue a statement on the meeting.

Wynne also talked to executives at airliner giant Boeing Corp., warning of the perils of a border tax given that Ontario is a major part of the company’s supply chain, with landing gear and other parts made here.

As Ontario did through lobbying efforts at the New York legislature against the proposed “Buy American” provision for state contracts of more than $100,000 - it warned the province would respond in kind - the premier cautioned a U.S. border tax would likely prompt retaliation from Ottawa.

“It’s hard to imagine these things happening on only one side of the border, and, if they happen on both sides of the border, then there’s real damage done to the supply chain,” she said.

Illinois is one of 28 states that count Ontario as their best or second-best export market. The provincial government notes that business with Canadian companies accounts for 340,000 jobs there, including 26,000 people directly employed by Canadian companies.

Wynne has been meeting and speaking with governors of Great Lakes and other states in recent weeks to make sure Ontario gets out in front of any potentially punitive U.S. measures from Washington.

“What’s really clear is there’s enormous uncertainty about exactly what the national government is going to do on any of these files and what they’re actually going to be able to accomplish,” said Wynne, who was joined in Chicago by Ontario’s representative in Washington, Monique Smith.

“That’s not a particularly new piece of information, but it certainly underpins all these conversations ... I’m staking our interest and making it clear what we’re going to do in the face of whatever changes come forward.”

On the environmental front, Wynne met with leaders of the Conference of Great Lakes & St. Lawrence Governors and Premiers, the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative and the Alliance for the Great Lakes.

She is concerned that cuts to Great Lakes funding from the U.S. side will make it harder to maintain the health of the lakes amid threats from the Asian carp, other invasive species and algae blooms.

“I’m very worried about it. I raised it with Gov. Rauner. I told him I was going to continue to be an advocate. We see it as very much a part of our relationship, our interconnectedness, this stewardship of the Great Lakes.”