OTTAWA — The premiers of Canada's two largest provinces are in Washington pleading for a modernized NAFTA that ends the trade uncertainty that currently exists on the continent.
Ontario's Kathleen Wynne and Quebec's Philippe Couillard are meeting the governors of several U.S. states.
"Business hates uncertainty," Couillard said Friday. "And at some point uncertainty must be brought to an end."
The governors are in the U.S. capital for their annual winter meetings. State leaders have proven to be influential allies to people trying save NAFTA — writing letters, lobbying U.S. President Donald Trump and sharing their concerns with Vice-President Mike Pence.
Some of the staunchest pro-trade states also have political clout: several happen to be key battlegrounds in this year's midterm elections. One such state is Arizona, where the governor gave a speech this week promoting increased trade with Canada and Mexico.
Couillard and Wynne, whose provinces represent more than half of Canada's economy, are attending a panel discussion, meeting governors and heading to a governors' reception at the Canadian embassy.
Couillard said he and his Ontario counterpart have met dozens of U.S. governors since last year: "I have yet to meet one governor that has not expressed support for NAFTA. ... I have noticed that governors do believe in economic integration — because they do see its benefits."
The Quebec premier listed several examples of trade benefits: cheaper fruits and vegetables available throughout the year, minerals from Canada that supply manufacturing in the southern U.S., an integrated defence-industrial base and nine million jobs linked to trade in the U.S. alone.
Wynne said in a speech: "I think the reality is that we are being tested in many ways. ... It's up to us in government to show leadership ... to create certainty in a very uncertain environment... NAFTA is pretty close to the top of that list. ... There's no question that it's creating a lot of uncertainty for people — a lot of uncertainty for businesses."
Colorado's John Hickenlooper echoed the sentiment. He noted that he and the premiers happened to be at a panel in a Washington building named after Ronald Reagan — the U.S. president who spearheaded the North American free-trade process.
"We're all making similar points," Hickenlooper said, citing the benefits of economic integration across the hemisphere.
"We see with our eyes that trade has lifted millions and millions of people out of poverty."