Discovering Montana

Gov. RACICOT'S Remarks to Montana-Alberta Ag Conference

Great Falls, June 1, 1999
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Good afternoon and welcome. It is a pleasure to be here with all of you today discussing the most important sector of the economy of our state--indeed, of our entire region.

And it is an even greater pleasure to welcome back to our state one of our best friends and one of the most influential political leaders in Canada, the distinguished Premier of Alberta, the Honorable Ralph Klein. We also want to welcome everyone in his party.

I noticed that the Canadians today arrived in an airplane...choosing not to drive in cars...given the numerical reality of our new, five-day-old highway speed limits...We appreciate all of you being so reasonable and prudent.

I have had the great privilege of visiting Alberta throughout my life and Calgary a couple of times--I flew there too. In Calgary, Premier Klein used to be known as Mayor Klein. It is indeed a grand city and the closest large city for most Montanans. As a matter of fact, my oldest son went there on his honeymoon.

I should tell you that Premier Klein is also a very serious fly fisherman, like many Montanans. So perhaps we should apologize for the high late spring runoff our state is experiencing these days. We hope you will return to test the waters at a later time---before the next hockey season.

The fact is, much of our high water ends up running off to the north here and into Alberta and British Columbia, which we all kind of take for granted, because Montana and Alberta are such good neighbors.

But we need always to remind ourselves, on both sides of this wondrously undefended border, that we are each otherís best neighbors. AND we are each otherís best customers---every single day of the year more than $1 Billion in trade cross the US-Canada border.

This is by far the largest bilateral trading relationship on the planet. In fact, there is more trade between Canada and the U.S. across just the Ambassador Bridge in Detroit than there is between the United States and all of Japan.

So, it is allright if our strong economic relationship is also colored by our equally strong friendship.

And this relationship is not new by any means. A century ago--a bit before either Premier Klein or I were elected--much of Calgaryís supplies and many of its settlers took the steamboat up the Missouri River to Fort Benton just north of here and caught a wagon north up the Macleod Trail.

And now every weekday, interestingly, a jet plane from the cargo fleet of Federal Express retraces that same route, landing at Great Falls every morning on the way to Calgary and returning each evening on the way back to Memphis. Somewhat quicker, of course, but some similarities do not change.

Many Montanans are fond of calling our state "the last best place." I believe that "last best West" was a similar slogan used to advertise Alberta to potential homesteaders nearly a century ago. So even our phrasing is similar.

Many Montana homes are heated today by natural gas from Alberta. I know youths from Great Falls, Helena and Havre regularly play hockey against Canadian youth teams. And Iím proud to note that a native of this very community, Dave Dickenson, will play a crucial role quarterbacking the Stampeders in a few weeks.

Neighbors, especially good ones like Alberta and Premier Klein, should never be taken for granted. And we donít. Our lifestyles, our family values, our approaches to environmental stewardship and enjoyment of the outdoors and the mountains that form the common geographic spine of our state and your province are so powerfully similar.

It has been said the world is run by those who participate, and that is especially true today. I would like to thank all of you in advance, but especially those who have traveled the farthest, for your participation in this first-ever cross-border trade conference.

Agriculture is critical to our region, and my hope is that each of us will leave this conference with a sense of the incredible new potential this industry offers for the future of our economies, our communities and our people.

I have often said that our common border should be treated as more of a gateway than a barrier. And we are clearly moving in that direction.

When Premier Klein and I sat down last December in Helena to discuss agricultural issues common to both our state and province, it became immediately clear that the similarities between our state and province far outweigh the differences.

We both face the same issues in terms of commodity prices. We are both sensitive to fluctuations in the Asian economy. We both have, shall we say, some challenges with our respective federal governments. And we are both tied directly to the land in terms of economics.

We saw an opportunity, rather than continuing to focus on our differences in agriculture, to key on those similarities in an effort to improve the bottom line for our producers on both sides of the border.

The key to our sessions today and tomorrow is finding and taking advantage of the opportunities available in this new, global economy--and doing that together. If we expect to enhance the direction and focus of our area's number one industry, we have to be the ones to do it. And we can best do that by working together.

If, as was the case for me, your father was a basketball coach and your basketball coach was my father, I guarantee you hear an awful lot around the clock about teamwork and working together. My father used to say to me, Marc, you may be small...but youíre slow.

Our region's agriculture industry, like so many other aspects of modern life, is in a transitional state. And this transition, I also guarantee you, is not slow. Technology, agri-business trends toward consolidation and the global economy are changing the way we do business here in our corner of the world. As we enter the twenty-first century, we realize more than ever that agriculture is a business just like any other.

When we look at businesses such as Microsoft, we realize we live in a fast-paced economy. Due to public scrutiny, consumer preferences and changing technology, we all know that no business, Microsoft or otherwise, will be doing business in ten years the way it does business in 1999.

We in agriculture face similar challenges. Realistically, we cannot expect to be competitive and profitable if we are unwilling to change to meet the demands of our consumers or take advantage of the latest technology or of opportunities for new crops or new value-added processes.

We have an incredible region for agricultural production. Clean water, clean air, excellent soils and our climatic conditions are perfect for the types of crops we grow and the types of animals we raise in this great country.

And then, of course, we have our farmers and ranchers whose values and way of life have become the firm social foundation of our Western lifestyle. I have often said the farms and ranches of the West in North America are the true reservoirs of the values that have shaped our two countries for the better.

But we cannot hang our hats on that achievement alone. As we move this great region forward into the next century, we must determine how we are going to step up to the plate and drive our agriculture industry.

We live in a state that has unlimited needs with limited revenue in terms of tax dollars. It is imperative that we, together, find ways that all of us -- agriculture associations, private businesses, the farmers and ranchers in Montana and Alberta... and our governments -- can work together to accomplish our goals as an industry and a society.

Our facilitated sessions this afternoon and tomorrow morning are critical to the success of this conference as you break into groups that will, in effect, provide direction for the future of agriculture in our region.

This is your opportunity to share your vision of agriculture's potential and the issues that help and hinder us from reaching that potential in a frank and open and positive discussion with others who can help to accomplish that vision, and start to build our road map for the twenty-first century.

I have heard how impossible it will be to really, truly, accomplish free trade in our region for the benefit of both of our economies. However, we have only to point to the successes our respective tourism industries, which have built a booming region-wide tourist attraction for visitors from abroad, to realize how much we have in common. And how much everyone can benefit from working together.

If one American state and one Canadian province can mutually publish--together--a tourism book, then, honestly, there cannot be much of anything beyond our reach together.

We are neighbors, and we share the same incredible landscape, the same fertile soils, the same friendly manner.

I challenge each and every one of you to build on the unique and monumental successes we have already achieved as a region by stepping outside the boundaries we set for ourselves in terms of market promotion, trade and joint processing ventures.

The task before us is to evaluate the commodities and products we produce and can produce and determine what we can do to improve all aspects of production to benefit our respective economies. This task will include analyzing clearly and openly what barriers lie in the way of achieving our goals and determining how we can look beyond those barriers.

Those of us who co-exist together in this great Rocky Mountain region should not be the predictable hostages of unpredictable world prices for grains and livestock, or be confined by geographic and economic isolation.

As we work together, let us look, together, for solutions that will provide the means to solve problems and take advantage of opportunities in terms of marketing, trade, risk management, value-added processing and access to technology.

Now is the time to step beyond our present boundaries, to look deep within our own hearts and to work with our neighbors to provide direction for the future of agriculture and for the mutual benefits of our people.

At one point in our parallel histories--I suspect it was probably in a January a century ago--enduring was a great achievement. But today if we only endure in our respective state and province, I fear then that we shall fall behind.

I honestly do believe in the future of our region, of our agriculture industry, and our ability to seize this moment of opportunity. The choice now can be ours, if we are bold and imaginative and as courageous and tough as those ancestors of yours and mine who first came here, long before there were runways and Interstates.

They succeeded in building a prosperity and a future for their families then and for ours today. And we can do no less for our families and for the children of our children.

Thank you again, each of you, for your participation. With all partners at the table, we will accomplish this monumental but necessary task before us. I look forward to your reports this afternoon.

Good day. And may God bless our efforts to work better together.

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