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Premier's Statement at Opening of the 10th Annual Conference of the SEUS-CP Alliance

Archived Statement

Premier's Statement at Opening of the 10th Annual Conference of the SEUS-CP Alliance

Office of the Premier

Premier Kathleen Wynne gave the following speech today at the 10th Annual Southeastern United States - Canadian Provinces Alliance (SEUS-CP) Conference to discuss Ontario's work in enhancing trade partnerships, encouraging business alliances and staying at the forefront of technology and innovation. The conference is being hosted by Ontario between June 4 and 6:*

"I want to welcome all of you to Ontario. Thank you for being here.

Before I begin, I want to acknowledge that we're on land that has been a gathering place for Indigenous people for generations. I want to show my respect for this history, for the treaties, and for the ongoing contributions of Indigenous people in Ontario.

Every June is National Aboriginal History Month across Canada. Declared in 2009, it is a time to acknowledge the role Indigenous peoples played in the development of Canada, to honour Indigenous heritage, and to celebrate Indigenous cultures. It is also an opportunity to reflect on the strength of present day First Nation, Métis and Inuit communities, and their hopes for the future. 

I am thrilled to see so many states, provinces and businesses here at the tenth annual conference of the SEUS-CP Alliance. In welcoming you here this morning, I want to talk about where we are right now as trading partners -- how we got here and what's on the line.

Ten years ago -- when the Southeastern United States-Canadian Provinces Alliance was created -- it was November 2007. The timing is interesting. One month earlier, stock markets were at an all-time high. North America was booming. But as we all know, that was about to come crashing down. The economic turmoil of the recession was brutal -- especially for workers.

It also showed us just how integrated and interdependent Canada and the U.S. had become. After a little over a decade of working together under NAFTA -- growing trade and sharing the benefits of that growth -- we shared the hardship of recession. We felt it across every region and every sector. But we didn't walk away from our partnership. We didn't question free trade or blame it for the jobs we lost.

Here at SEUS-CP and elsewhere, we kept building partnerships because we are a trading nation -- and so is America. As trading nations, we know that there is more to be gained through open borders. And we did weather the storm.

Ten years later, two-way trade between Ontario and the six SEUS member states has grown significantly. Last year, Ontario was the number one customer for exports from Georgia, North Carolina, Alabama, Mississippi and Tennessee. And in every one of these places, jobs are up.

Wages are rising. That is no coincidence. Trade plays a role. The business-to-business partnerships you have been building here for 10 years play a role.

In 2008, when we were losing tens of thousands of jobs, Ontario-based Magna acquired a vehicle parts facility in Birmingham, Alabama. Magna began investing heavily in an expansion. By 2015 they'd put in half a billion dollars and brought the number of jobs at the plant to over 900. Then, Magna announced another massive investment -- another 350 jobs in Birmingham.

Or there's Ontario's ABC Group. In 2013 they decided to double their operations in Gallatin, Tennessee, creating another 200 high quality manufacturing jobs.

These are just two examples in a $500 billion body of evidence that shows free trade is good for U.S. businesses and workers. But we are at another fork in the road. A moment that will test us.

We've all seen the growing instinct in the U.S. to embrace protectionism. We've all listened as politicians have labelled free trade the enemy of good jobs. And we all know it isn't true. We know that for the people who go to work every day at the Martinrea plant in Shannon, Mississippi, or the Novelis factory in Kingston, Ontario, their jobs rely on open borders. Their families rely on open borders. So what do we do?

I want to tell you about our approach in Ontario. There are two parts.

First are the things we're doing here at home. We're making investments that will prepare our people and businesses to compete in a changing and competitive global economy. One part of that is fighting climate change. We believe the whole world needs to be involved in protecting the planet we all share , so Ontario has stepped up to help lead the way.

We took the continent's single biggest climate change action when we closed down all our coal-fired power plants 3 years ago. And we now have a cap on pollution and we're getting ready to join the carbon market of Quebec and California. We don't just see climate action as a moral obligation. We see it is a competitive advantage. It creates flexibility for traditional industries and creates entirely new industries in cleantech and renewables.

A lower-carbon future is where the world is going. We can follow, or we can lead. Ontario chooses to lead.

And not just on climate change and the innovative technologies that make our homes and businesses more efficient. We're also leading the way when it comes to ensuring everyone in our economy is treated fairly.

Much of the anger that is directed at trade is legitimate. It is coming from people who feel like they're being left behind -- or taken advantage of. But I don't think that free trade is at the core of this anger. The real source of the anger is a rapidly changing economy that doesn't feel fair -- doesn't always reward hard work or give everyone the same shot at success.

We have to fix that -- and we can. I'll give you 3 quick examples of what we're doing.

Starting in September, college and university tuition will be free for 210,000 students. Too many of our kids weren't going on after high school because of the cost. So we're making sure everyone can get the skills they'll need.

Second, we're making the biggest expansion of universal public Medicare in a generation. On January 1, children and youth will be able to fill their prescriptions for free until their 25th birthday. It's a big step toward universal drug coverage for everyone. Companies don't give families those benefits nearly as often as they used to, so we're stepping up -- giving workers that security.

Finally, we're updating our employment laws to make the workplace fairer. Ontario, as a whole, is doing well.

The single biggest reason we are able to succeed in this changing global economy is the talent and skills of our workers. But the workplace has changed. So we're extending the advantage of a stable, skilled workforce by making sure all of our workers are protected and treated fairly.

Everyone deserves to share in the benefits of growth. And when they do, we show people that free trade and open borders are in everyone's best interests -- not just executives and shareholders. And these ideas are catching on elsewhere, too.

Two weeks ago, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg gave the commencement address at Harvard. He asked the graduates to react to the challenges of our new world with new ideas -- ideas that will give renewed purpose to our shared belief in freedom, innovation and the common good.

He spoke about a universal basic income, portable and universal health coverage, and affordable, quality child care for every family. Every one of these things that Zuckerberg is musing about, we're doing.

A basic income pilot, the expansion of universal Medicare, new child care spots -- it's all happening in Ontario. We are being bold and inventive about adapting in this period of dramatic change -- protecting workers and ensuring fairness. And that's how we're approaching the modernization of NAFTA too.

NAFTA has been great for all three of its partners. That doesn't make it perfect. The agreement was negotiated 25 years ago. We could all benefit from an update. So the second part of our approach in this period of uncertainty starts by treating the NAFTA negotiations not as a threat, but as an opportunity -- and playing a proactive role. States and provinces have a unique position. We take it seriously in Canada.

We take every aspect of our U.S. partnerships seriously. That's why I have stepped up my U.S. engagement, meeting regularly with governors and strengthening ties at the state and federal level.

Later this week I'm headed to Washington with a group of Premiers to keep talking about where we're coming from and finding common ground. That common ground is there. Provinces and states are not the signatories on trade deals, but we manage the real world implications. And we're dealing with the same issues, whether labour reform, environmental or building a competitive business environment.

We need to be united right now. We especially need to resist protectionist policies that will divide us and ultimately harm businesses and workers.

When New York State was considering a Buy American provision in its Budget, we teamed up with Quebec and went to Albany to make that case. Nobody wants a trade war. But in the face of unfair actions, Ontario will stand up for its workers and businesses -- every time. That's what we told New York legislators. That if they want to go down this road we would have no choice but to respond in kind.

With a record $190 billion being spent on infrastructure in Ontario right now, there are enormous opportunities for American businesses. But those opportunities, like so many others, rely on open borders. So I am pleased that New York didn't go ahead with that provision. And I'm committed to maintaining open trade and investment with the U.S. and Mexico under a modernized NAFTA.

We think the current rules of origin for auto are working well for the North American sector and its workers. And we have some ideas about creating freer, fairer trade and bring greater benefits. The modernized deal should address Buy American policies, because they violate the very spirit of our open partnership and undermine the benefits.

We also think this is an opportunity to formalize regulatory cooperation and update the rules around intellectual property. We should look at making it easier for small businesses to benefit from our barrier-free market. And we should add a chapter on e-commerce. The internet barely even existed when NAFTA was signed.

It's also time to talk about full chapter status for labour and environmental standards. To have trade that is both freer and fairer, we need common, modern and legally enforceable standards. And to leverage every one of our strengths and boost growth, we need to allow greater labour mobility.

So yes, there is much we can do to improve NAFTA. And Ontario is not taking a wait-and-see approach.

We're working with the provinces, our federal government, businesses and our U.S. partners. And I'm encouraged that the U.S. Trade Representative's letter to Congress touched on opportunities for strengthening and modernizing NAFTA without any of the overheated political rhetoric we've been hearing.

Ontario has a lot to offer our U.S. partners, as you'll hear over the course of the Conference. And now is the time for all of us to stand up and lead.

So thank you all for providing leadership at this critical time. Businesses create jobs, not governments. And we are absolutely committed to helping you do that.

Together, we will show that free trade and open borders are essential for growth, jobs and the way of life that defines our trading partnership as the most successful, prosperous bilateral partnership in the world.

Welcome to Ontario. Thank you for being here. Now let's get to work."

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