Jay Inslee and John Horgan
Governor Jay Inslee and Premier John Horgan take questions from reporters in Seattle (Photo: Andrew Villeneuve/NPI)

While the U.S.-Canada bor­der remains closed to non-essen­tial traf­fic, nei­ther the pan­dem­ic shut­down nor the 49th Par­al­lel and Strait of Juan de Fuca have obstruct­ed the bond­ing between Wash­ing­ton and British Columbia.

Two sig­nals have come this month.

Vic­to­ria and eight oth­er Van­cou­ver Island com­mu­ni­ties are no longer dump­ing raw sewage into the Strait. Decades in the mak­ing, a new state of the art treat­ment plant in Esquimalt has begun oper­a­tion, cel­e­brat­ed in a bud­dy phone call between Wash­ing­ton Gov­er­nor Jay Inslee and B.C. Pre­mier John Horgan.

The pre­mier has also tapped provin­cial leg­is­la­tor Rick Glumac to serve as Liai­son for the State of Wash­ing­ton, tasked with “ensur­ing our gov­ern­ment remains engaged in cross-bor­der issues.” Hor­gan and Inslee have mul­ti­ple irons in the fire, from pro­tec­tion of the Sal­ish Sea to a high-speed rail link for the region.

The Unit­ed States and Cana­da share the world’s longest peace­ful bor­der. B.C. shares a bound­ary with Wash­ing­ton, Ida­ho and Mon­tana, as well as a bor­der with Alas­ka topped by the 15,300’ Mount Fairweather.

It is, how­ev­er, a bound­ary that has endured stress.

The late Prime Min­is­ter Pierre Elliott Trudeau (father of Justin) likened life next door to “the States” to being in bed with an eight hun­dred-pound goril­la: “You feel every twitch.” On a mem­o­rable White House tape, Pres­i­dent Nixon was heard call­ing the elder Trudeau “an ass­hole.” To which Trudeau replied, “I’ve been called worse things by bet­ter men.” A pri­vate chuck­le for Cana­di­ans: The tree plant­ed by Nixon on Par­lia­ment Hill in Ottawa grew up crooked.

“This is a sov­er­eign coun­try,” then‑B.C. Pre­mier Dave Bar­rett once intoned to a vis­it­ing “Yank reporter.” Cana­da has need­ed to stress that point, such as when Pre­mier Jean Chre­tien would not join the “coali­tion” orga­nized by Pres­i­dent George W. Bush to invade Iraq. A vis­it by Chre­tien to Bush’s Texas ranch was called off, and the pli­ant Prime Min­is­ter of Aus­tralia wel­comed in his stead.

The links of Wash­ing­ton and B.C. have under­gone stress at times. Inslee and Hor­gan are avun­cu­lar guys, both one­time high school jocks, both pro­gres­sives, so the rela­tion­ship at present is cor­dial – with pan­dem­ic-caused dis­tance keeping.

Jay Inslee and John Horgan
Gov­er­nor Jay Inslee and Pre­mier John Hor­gan take ques­tions from reporters in Seat­tle (Pho­to: Andrew Villeneuve/NPI)

It wasn’t always so. In the late 1970s, Canada’s Nation­al Ener­gy Board raised the price of fos­sil gas exports to the Unit­ed States. Wash­ing­ton Nat­ur­al Gas had put big bucks behind the 1976 cam­paign of Gov­er­nor Dixy Lee Ray. It decid­ed to cash in, send­ing Ray over to Vic­to­ria in a bid to chal­lenge the gas price hike.

As often the case, Ray did not read her brief­ing papers.

She arrived under the impres­sion that Pre­mier Bill Ben­nett could roll back the price increase. Over lunch in the Ben­gal Room of the Empress Hotel, with a cou­ple drinks in her, Dixy demand­ed that Ben­nett do just that.

Ben­nett tried to explain Canada’s gov­ern­ment, not­ing that the Nation­al Ener­gy Board was a fed­er­al, not provin­cial, agency. The gov­er­nor then told the pre­mier he could take B.C.’s gas and put it where the moon don’t shine. Ray land­ed back in Seat­tle, called a press con­fer­ence, and urged Wash­ing­to­ni­ans to shift to oil.

Wash­ing­ton Nat­ur­al Gas took months repair­ing the dam­age. A seri­ous guy, Pre­mier Ben­nett would break out in a broad smile when the inci­dent came up.

Years lat­er, how­ev­er, Gov­er­nor Chris­tine Gre­goire and Pre­mier Gor­don Camp­bell lob­bied suc­cess­ful­ly to expand Amtrak’s cross bor­der Cas­cades rail ser­vice in advance of the 2010 Van­cou­ver Win­ter Olympics.

Then-Vice Pres­i­dent Joe Biden led America’s del­e­ga­tion to open­ing cer­e­monies, after rais­ing mon­ey in Seat­tle for Sen­a­tor Pat­ty Murray.

Per­son­al­i­ties play on the inter­na­tion­al stage.

When Mike Lowry was elect­ed gov­er­nor in 1992, B.C. Pre­mier, and bas­ket­ball play­er, Mike Har­court ran down a list of sports in search of bond­ing. Did Lowry play golf? Was Mike a bas­ket­ball play­er? Was Lowry into rugby?

In the late 1990s, Wash­ing­ton-bound coho salmon pop­u­la­tions were in steep decline. Warm waters in Canada’s Fras­er Riv­er threat­ened the ear­ly Stu­art sock­eye salmon, who had an eight hun­dred and nine­ty mile upstream jour­ney to their spawn­ing grounds.

Both Gov­er­nor Gary Locke and Canada’s envi­ron­ment min­is­ter David Ander­son (MP from Vic­to­ria) had crossed swords with B.C. Pre­mier Glen Clark. The shar­ing of a mutu­al dis­like – along with shar­ing of baby pic­tures, since Locke and Ander­son became papas rel­a­tive­ly late in life – greased the way for a deal.

Cana­da would restrict sport fish­ing for U.S.-bound coho off Van­cou­ver Island. U.S. fish­ers would not ham­mer Fras­er-bound sockeye.

Inslee tried to raise the ques­tion of Vic­to­ria sewage dump­ing dur­ing his first term. He was blown off by B.C. Pre­mier Christy Clark, Horgan’s pre­de­ces­sor. The gov­er­nor received a valid form let­ter from B.C. envi­ron­ment min­is­ter Mark Polak.

It’s been dif­fer­ent with Hor­gan and Inslee.

Both want fast trains. Both have opposed the Trans­Moun­tain Pipeline, the 890,000-barrel-a-day pipeline that would bring Alber­ta oil to an export ter­mi­nal in Burn­a­by, just east of Van­cou­ver. The pipeline would bring a sev­en­fold increase in tanker traf­fic through the Strait of Juan de Fuca and Haro Strait, which sep­a­rates our San Juan Islands from the Gulf Islands of B.C.

The Cana­di­an gov­ern­ment is bulling ahead with the six hun­dred and twen­ty mile long pipeline from Edmon­ton to Burn­a­by, despite its ten­u­ous eco­nom­ics. Inslee and Hor­gan have sought to point out that tankers would tra­verse sen­si­tive marine waters. A spill would have cat­a­stroph­ic con­se­quences for fish­eries, marine life, the recre­ation econ­o­my, and nation­al park prop­er­ties in both countries.

“We stand on guard for thee” are famil­iar words from the nation­al anthem O Cana­da. They car­ry mean­ing when your bed­mate is an eight hun­dred point gorilla.

Long ago, the fall of 1964, Pres­i­dent Lyn­don John­son and Canada’s P.M. Lester Pear­son met at the Peace Arch to sign the Colum­bia Riv­er Treaty. They were joined by flam­boy­ant B.C. Pre­mier W.A.C. “Wacky” Ben­nett. The treaty pro­vid­ed for con­struc­tion of three dams upstream in British Colum­bia, to store water that would pow­er the great third pow­er­house at Grand Coulee Dam.

As I write this piece, on a cold, dark late Decem­ber day, the third pow­er­house is help­ing keep lights on through­out the Northwest.

But… Wacky Ben­nett was tak­en to the clean­ers. The three dams did great envi­ron­men­tal dam­age north of the bor­der, killing wildlife and giv­ing the beau­ti­ful Arrow Lakes a fluc­tu­at­ing shore­line and dust storms. B.C. did not imme­di­ate­ly need its share of pow­er from the Treaty. Ben­nett sold it all for one lump sum. As Ben­nett beamed, giant repli­ca of the check was dis­played at the Peace Arch.

As three decades went by, the val­ue of that elec­tric­i­ty increased enor­mous­ly, but British Colum­bia was locked into Wacky Bennett’s deal.

Impacts are still felt on occasion.

Stu­pid­ly, they didn’t log out the nine­ty mile long reser­voir behind Mica Dam on the Upper Colum­bia. Canoeists on the Kim­bas­ket reser­voir have expe­ri­enced trees break­ing loose deep in the lake and pop­ping to the surface.

Not sur­pris­ing­ly, rene­go­ti­a­tion of the Colum­bia Riv­er Treaty is a big­ger issue in “Beau­ti­ful British Colum­bia” than down here in “the States.”

About the author

Joel Connelly is a Northwest Progressive Institute contributor who has reported on multiple presidential campaigns and from many national political conventions. During his career at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, he interviewed Presidents Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, George W. Bush, and George H.W. Bush. He has covered Canada from Trudeau to Trudeau, written about the fiscal meltdown of the nuclear energy obsessed WPPSS consortium (pronounced "Whoops") and public lands battles dating back to the Alpine Lakes Wilderness.

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One reply on “The bonding of Washington State and British Columbia: Even with our border closed, we share a gorgeous corner of the world”

  1. “The late Prime Min­is­ter Pierre Elliott Trudeau (father of [cur­rent Cana­di­an Prime Min­is­ter] Justin) likened life next door to ‘the States’ [sic] to being in bed with an eight hun­dred-pound goril­la: ‘You feel every twitch.’ ”

    Trudeau père’s sim­i­lie has been mis­stat­ed many, many times since he first said it in a speech to the Nation­al Press Club in Wash­ing­ton (CBC broad­cast date March 25, 1969). The most com­mon mis­state­ment is sim­i­lar to, ‘liv­ing next door to Amer­i­ca is like a mouse sleep­ing with an elephant.’

    The actu­al quote is, “Liv­ing next to you is in some ways like sleep­ing with an ele­phant. No mat­ter how friend­ly and even-tem­pered is the — beast, if I can call it that, one is affect­ed by every twitch and grunt.”

    This link has a clip of Trudeau utter­ing the quote, as well as a sto­ry and a CBC Radio broad­cast about the his­to­ry of Cana­da — U.S. rela­tions.

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