Cascadia: More than a dream

author: Miro Cernetig

The notion that the continent's west forms a natural bloc has deep roots -- now powerful forces are joining to make it true

It's always been more a state of mind than a tangible place on a map. Yet the empire of Cascadia, what some dreamers have long believed the westernmost states and provinces of North America might one day be called if they ever banded together, may not be quite the fantasy it once seemed.
Cascadia will never involve the loopy idea of provinces or states splitting off from their countries, as some western separatists once hoped. There won't ever be a seat for Cascadians at the United Nations. Cascadia won't ever be on a map any time soon.
Where you will find Cascadia, though, is in the mindset of the millions of people who live on the continent's western edge. For them it's a concept, an increasingly real regional abstraction -- one backed by some rich and influential people, including Microsoft billionaire Bill Gates who has supported a think-tank that tries to breathe life into an idea that goes back from the time Europeans explored the continent's western wilderness.
Cascadia's guiding principle today isn't nationhood but what might be best called regionhood -- the sense that Alaska, the Yukon, B.C., Alberta and the states of Washington, Oregon, Montana and Idaho -- often share similar regional goals and ambitions. Cascadians may be in separate countries, states and provinces. They often have different national agendas. But, the thinking goes, in an age when centralized governments are often devolving their powers, they often share similar agendas. In Cascadia, these range from environmental issues, a heightened sense that their collective futures are tied to the Asia-Pacific and a desire for more autonomy from federal governments that are thousands of kilometres to the east, in Ottawa and Washington, D.C., and often out of touch with the big questions to the west.
In fact, when taken as a whole, Cascadia has evolved into a powerful economic entity with clout its members alone can never hope to wield.
If you add up the states' and provinces' individual GDPs and populations, Cascadia is a significant geographic area and market: It comprises a market of more than 20 million people and what would be the world's eighth-richest nation, with a GDP of about $848 billion US, according to the Pacific Northwest Economic Region, the entity that was formed in 1991 by the legislators of Cascadia's provinces and states. Those same leaders will be in Anchorage, Alaska, from July 22 to 26, to continue their work to foster regional cooperation and the idea of an economic bloc.
Some, however, even look at Cascadia as bigger than that. If you add California to the concept, as Premier Gordon Campbell was wont to do in a recent interview when he discussed Cascadia, you would get an entity that would include about 60 million people and a GDP of more than $2 trillion, about the size of China.
"I think there is a very strong, natural pull of the region called Cascadia," he said.
Campbell isn't suggesting that there could ever be a full integration of the region, one that could ever challenge the sovereignty of either Canada's or the United States' federal governments. That is the pipe dream of a small band of separatists who hijacked the name years ago. But on issues such as climate change, Campbell suggests, looking at the region as a whole makes good political and economic sense.
Shortly after meeting with California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Campbell said they both agreed the region could push their respective national leaders to take aggressive approaches on fighting climate change. "I think the fact of the matter is that, as the governor said, sometimes you can't wait for the rest of the continent to catch up."
Here's one way, Campbell believes, Cascadia might lead the way.
The premier is touting the creation of a Cascadia-wide carbon market. The U.S. western states have already signed initiatives to join in the creation of a carbon trading market involving the western states. But B.C.'s premier also sees his province, and perhaps Alberta and others, as natural members of such a market. Campbell promised as much in the latest throne speech, which borrowed much of California's climate-change agenda.
"We think there's a real potential for a regional carbon market," Campbell said after his meeting with Schwarzenegger. "We [Schwarzenegger and Campbell] also both agree that the larger the market the better it is. From California's perspective, B.C. offers some real opportunities to help them meet their goals [to reduce greenhouse gas emissions]. I think there's some real synergy that California and B.C. offers. I think the Pacific Coast can set an example that will grab both the imagination and inspire the rest of the continent."
To make that idea happen, Campbell is doing something never before tried by a B.C. premier. He is trying to meet with the governors of Alaska, Oregon and Washington to create a consensus on tackling climate change, and perhaps eventually a summit of the region's leaders in British Columbia.
"I'm going to be meeting the governors of Washington and Oregon and the governor of Alaska in the last half of April," he says. "There's lots of room for cooperation."
n Cascadia is hardly new as a concept. U.S. president Thomas Jefferson initially thought the region, still unmapped by explorers about two centuries ago, as potentially a separate country. He even called it -- what might be described as the land west of the Louisiana Purchase -- the Republic of the Pacific.
That was never to be, of course. But the idea of Cascadia as a distinct region has had remarkable staying power. It's been called Ecotopia, Ernest Callenbach's fanciful name for part of the region in a novel that imagines northern California, Oregon and Washington breaking away from the U.S. to form an environmentally integrated country.
Cascadia was further defined in a more continentalist way by Joel Garreau, whose book The Nine Nations of North America saw the region's common traits as based in market and lifestyle. The idea seemed to take on more concreteness in the early 1990s, when the region's leaders even formed PNWER. That is not unlike some international regional blocs, such as APEC, except that it exists within a continent.
Cascadia, however, has never really caught on as a mainstream concept. Its states and provinces don't always share the same agendas or the same national interest. They compete for Asian trade, they exist within different nation states. Yet, there are undeniably increasing examples where there is cooperation. Consider a few of them:
n After the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, B.C. teamed up with Washington and Oregon to press the U.S. government to loosen its demands for passports when crossing the Canadian border. That fight is continuing, but both Ottawa and Washington have taken note and contemplated ways to shift border policy.
n Alberta and B.C. have recently teamed up with an unprecedented agreement to create a common market by 2009, one that essentially eliminates economic barriers. Called the Trade, Investment and Labour Mobility agreement, it seeks to create an integrated regional economy within Canada, a first that some say will accelerate the Canadian West's power in Confederation.
n There are attempts underway to create a unified ports strategy on the West Coast to ensure similar standards and equipment for handling shipping. While the plan does not eliminate competition for Asian shipping between U.S. and Canadian ports, it is meant to ensure North America's West Coast -- that is Cascadia -- can be a seamless destination for Pacific Rim trade.
n Efforts are underway to create a viable carbon market, for clean industries to sell their "carbon credits" to those that are polluters. California, Washington, Oregon, New Mexico and Arizona have already signed a deal to create that regional market and B.C. is expected to try and join that new "carbon bloc."
n There are plans for the West Coast to create an integrated "hydrogen highway" from California to Whistler to prove the possibility of using hydrogen fuel-cell technology in cars. There are also plans to increase rail traffic between Washington state and B.C., a promise that has been made for years but is now happening with recent rail upgrades.
n And community leaders and Seattle and Vancouver have even put forward the idea of Seattle and Vancouver cooperating on a joint bid to hold future international events such as a Summer Olympics, a World Cup or a World's Fair.
"I think at long last the idea of Cascadia is beginning to get some real traction," said Bruce Agnew, who heads the Discovery Institute, a Seattle-based think-tank that counts the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation as one of its benefactors. "It was the people in Ottawa, who said it was just a western separatist thing, part of that old Ecotopia thing. But Cascadia is an idea that has staying power. In terms of trade, regional transportation, tourism, climate change and alternative energy, there are common interests in this region that make Cascadia a real thing."
In economic terms Cascadia would be the world's eighth-richest nation, with a GDP of $848 billion US
PNWER Region (GDP/Pop.)
State/Prov. GDP* Population Alberta 180,300 3,413,464 B.C. 139,377 4,327,431 Yukon 1,255 31,151 Alaska 39,314 670,053 Idaho 47,189 1,466,465 Montana 29,885 944,632 Oregon 144,278 3,700,758 Wash. 267,308 6,395,798 Total 848,906 20,949,752
If PNWER were a separate country, it would rank ninth in total GDP, just ahead of Canada.
Country GDP*
1. US 11,927,094 2. Japan 4,505,912 3. Germany 2,781,900 4. China 2,228,862 5. U.K. 2,192,553 6. France 2,110,185 7. Italy 1,723,044 8. Spain 1,123,691 9. PNWER 848,906 10. Canada 794,260 11. Brazil 794,098
Source: PNWER/Urban Futures
Capital: Victoria
Official flower: Pacific Dogwood
Official animal: Spirit Bear
Motto: Splendor without diminishmnent
Notweorthy Company: Electronic Arts, Jim Pattison Group
Home-grown celebrities: Bryan Adams, Sarah McLachlan, Steve Nash, Pamela Anderson
Wild Rose
Big horn sheep
Strong and free
Michael J. Fox, k.d. Lang, Arthur Hiller, Rae Dawn Chong
No motto
Minto Copper Mines
Pierre Berton
Oregon Grape
She Flies with her own wings
Michael Cassidy, Margaux
Coast Rhododendron
Willow Goldfinch
Alki "by and by"
Microsoft, Boeing, Starbucks
Bill Gates, Jimi Hendrix, Kurt Cobain
Anchorage, Forget-me-not
North to the future
Arco Alaska, Alaska Airlines
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