Cut Knife-Turtleford MLA Larry Doke is looking forward to taking on his new role as president of the Pacific NorthWest Economic Region.
Doke was elected at the PNWER summit in Spokane, Wash. last month, and will stay in that role for the next year.
It promises to be a busy year for Doke as he tackles a number of hot issues impacting the region, especially ones concerning trade.
“At this time it’s the major focus,” said Doke, who spoke to the News-OptimistThursday.
On the NAFTA issue, a submission paper was presented to Gen. John Kelly at their Seattle office, and was taken to the White House.
“It was a combined effort of the Pacific Northwest to encourage trade and ease of entry across our borders, anything from livestock to tourism, so that’s just to keep that same focus and keep that pressure on.”
Another major focus has been on the issue of aquatic invasive species. Quagga and zebra mussels have been a big problem throughout North America, but have not yet arrived in the PNWER region.
But invasive species have arrived right on their borders, and Doke explains it continues to be a priority of PNWER to address the problem.
“PNWER has been working tirelessly on invasive species for the last 10 years,” said Doke. Through that work, he said, the federal level of government in the United States has put in $16 million in matching funding to fight invasive species.
“In Canada, we haven’t received a dime from the federal government,” said Doke, who said he’s been to Ottawa three times to talk to Fisheries and Oceans Canada to try to get funding.
“They recognized it as a major issue, however their focus is on Asian carp and sea lamprey in the Great Lakes. And actually these invasive species, the quagga and zebra mussels, that’s where they came from ... the Great Lakes. They’ve had that infestation for the last 20 years.”
He notes Saskatchewan has stepped up its patrols and signage, but “we all need some federal help on this issue.”
There are other issues, including the expiration of the Columbia River treaty impacting dams
Transportation is also a major priority for PNWER members, as is the ability of ports such as the port of Vancouver to handle the increasing amounts of grain that are arriving to be shipped.
“We have a big concern on whether those ports have the capacity to take grain,” said Doke. He noted yields have become bigger, due to changes in technology.
“We’re not so sure that the ports have adjusted to that, so we’re working hard on that.”
One other issue obvious to folks living in the PNWER region has been the wildfire situation, which seems to be an annual occurrence.
Doke says PNWER has been focusing on that issue as well. At their annual summits they hold disaster-resilience and cyber-security workshops, with a view to different technologies used to fight wildfires.
“There’s been some great technology coming out of Oklahoma,” said Doke, who noted some “great results” have been seen in using technology to fight the fires.
A major priority for Doke over the coming year will be preparations for the next PNWER summit, which is set for Saskatoon July 21 to 25 in 2019.
That promises to be a major gathering. The summit in Spokane attracted hundreds of legislators as well as representatives from the private sector.
“PNWER is made up of legislators and private sector, so we have a good cross section,” said Doke. A similar representation can be expected in Saskatoon.
PNWER itself is a statutory public/private nonprofit made up of the Canadian provinces of Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia, the Northwest Territories and Yukon Territory, and the American states of Washington, Idaho, Montana, Oregon and Alaska.
MLAs from Cut Knife-Turtleford have had a history of active involvement in PNWER. Doke’s predecessor as MLA, Michael Chisholm, rose to be vice-president in the organization.
Previously, Lyle Stewart, who recently stepped down as Saskatchewan agriculture minister to fight cancer, served as president of PNWER in 2012.
Doke noted it was important to Saskatchewan to be involved in the PNWER organization.
“It’s another avenue that promotes trade in the province. We are a land-locked province, and our trade is huge. And the cross-border trade to the US is very, very important to us, to work with our neighbours. It’s extremely important, plus, as I said earlier, about getting our products to market and to the ports. So we need that co-operation between the US and ourselves and this is just another avenue that helps the provincial government along that way.”