Alberta and Idaho: An Implicit Bond

Article excerpt

The study of regionalism has long been an important element of scholarly work in both Canada and the United States. This point is made clear by James Bickerton's observation that regionalism is a pervasive feature of Canadian society and politics" (1999, 209) and Daniel Elazar's assertion that the study of regionalism and political culture in the United States is meaningful because the very expression of social, economic, and political differences along geographic lines is considered to he "part and parcel of American political life" (1998, xix). And while it is true that it is often difficult, if not impossible, to definitively locate regions as cultural or political spaces (Bickerton 1999, 218), it is also true--as noted by Carlos Schwantes--that at some point those studying regionalism must decide where to draw the boundaries (1996, 2). In fact, Schwantes (in establishing the perimeter of the regional boundaries for his interpretive history of the Pacific Northwest) provides the guidelines for choosing such borders:

   A region can best be defined by discontinuities that mark its
   borders and by the geographical, political, economic, social, and
   cultural bonds that give it some sense of internal unity or
   community (1996, 2).

It is most certainly these very characteristics that Joel Garreau (1981) had in mind when he cast the Mountain West--a place west of the plains, inland from the Pacific Ocean, and dominated by the Rocky Mountains--as one of his Nine Nations of North America.(1) He describes the Mountain West as a region blessed with a "spirit-lifting physical endowment," and as a repository for the "values, ideas, memories, and vistas that date back to the frontier" (1981, 302-303). Moreover, he characterizes the Mountain West as having a deeply engrained anti-eastern sentiment that easily transcends the 49th parallel.

The province of Alberta and the state of Idaho lie within the Mountain West region of North America as defined above, and hence, should share a number of cultural, social, and political similarities that bind them together. At first glance, however, those bonds do not seem readily apparent. Alberta and Idaho lie in different countries with different historical and institutional contexts, different bases of economic stability, and different forms of government. The peoples of Alberta and Idaho remain basically ignorant of each other in almost all aspects of life. Most Idahoans, just like most other Americans, do not concern themselves with Canadians in general or Albertans in particular. Most Albertans, while paying much more attention to the United States than do Idahoans to Canada, do not pay any meaningful attention to Idaho.

However, there are signs that the ambivalence that Albertans and Idahoans show toward each other may be lessening. Driven by the realities of competing in an ever changing global economy, the governments of Alberta and Idaho have recently discovered (some would say rediscovered) the presence of the other, and have begun to forge stronger cross-border ties. The culmination of this renewed interest occurred in May 2000 when, during a forty-member trade mission to Edmonton and Calgary led by Idaho Governor Dirk Kempthorne, Alberta and Idaho signed a cooperation agreement establishing an ongoing task force to manage bilateral relations and advance mutual opportunities. Spurred on by the already substantial trade links between Alberta and Idaho--in the year 2000, Alberta's exports to Idaho were over $252 million, and Idaho's exports to Alberta were over $143 million--Kempthorne and Alberta Premier Ralph Klein agreed to reinvigorate relations in such areas as agriculture, forestry, transportation, trade, technology, education, tourism, and the environment (Warbis 2000, D1).

Despite these intergovernmental (and cross-border) efforts, the fact remains that the peoples of Alberta and Idaho--including their governmental leaders--know little about the other's history or political culture. …