Gov. Peter Shumlin signed a comprehensive cooperation agreement with Québec Premier Pauline Marois in Montreal on Monday that signals a closer relationship between the state and the Canadian government.
The agreement encourages broad partnerships in economic development, renewable energy, higher education, transportation, and lake management, among other mutual areas of interest.
The last major agreement between Vermont and Quebec was signed in December 2003; it was updated in March 2010.
“Since Quebec is our biggest and most important trading partner, obviously the relationship to Vermont for jobs and prosperity is critical,” Shumlin said in an interview.
The governor highlighted transportation, energy and management of Lake Champlain and Lake Memphremagog as the most important areas of agreement in which Vermonters could see real benefits.
Specific provisions include joint management of Lake Champlain, Lake Memphremagog and Missisquoi Bay to combat threats like excessive phosphorus, which has contributed to large cyanobacteria or blue green algae blooms; deregulating small businesses; extending the Vermonter train service to Montreal; and boosting agricultural tourism.
Improving rail service, finishing the A-35 highway and promoting hydropower in New England were also specifics the two government leaders discussed.
Shumlin said he and Marois “share a similar vision … I thought we really had a strong rapport with each other.”
Marois replaced former Quebec Premier Jean Charest in a dramatic September election, after which a gunman tried to assassinate Marois. Marois belongs to Parti Québécois, which advocates for Quebec’s secession from Canada.
Shumlin played down the political differences between Charest and Marois as unimportant, saying: “We agreed that we’d cooperate in every way we can, to continue what has been a really critical relationship, for both Republican and Democratic governors, and premiers from opposite parties.”
University of Vermont history professor David Massell, an expert on Canadian and Quebec politics, noted there were few major or noteworthy changes in the Shumlin-Marois pact compared with the 2003 agreement brokered with Charest by then-Gov. Jim Douglas.
“Whatever Premier Marois’ domestic politics (i.e. the separatist politics of her Parti Québécois), this agreement represents continuity, not change, in Quebec’s relationship with Vermont,” said Massell in an email.
“The point is: Whether a Quebec government is Parti Quebecois or Liberal, it must serve the interests of the province as a whole. Selling hydroelectricity to New England is in that interest; as is collaborating with Vermont in the management of the waters of the Richelieu-Champlain waterway; as is increasing the flow of tourists and trade.”
The agreement also includes a major section on transportation priorities, including improving high-speed rail and cross-border bike paths.
Although the agreement covers energy issues, it doesn’t mention the possibility of a tar sands oil pipeline from Montreal to Portland, Maine, via Vermont, which has caught the attention of Vermont lawmakers who want to regulate transport of the fuel.
Shumlin said the topic didn’t come up in the private meeting just before they signed the agreement, adding that Marois didn’t seem “particularly focused” on that controversy.
The Joint Vermont-Quebec Committee will monitor how well the agreement is implemented and set new goals. The six-member committee meets once every two years. Shumlin appoints three members, while Marois selects the other three.