Havre Daily News
Three local legislators returned to Montana with a new perspective after a few days in Canada last week.
"There's a lot of common things for us, Saskatchewan and Alberta," state Rep. Bob Bergren, D-Havre, said. Bergren, Sen. Ken Hansen, D-Harlem, and Rep. John Musgrove, D-Havre, were part of a six-person delegation from the Montana Legislature to visit Alberta and Saskatchewan June 27-30.
The visit was arranged by the Montana Department of Commerce along with the Canadian consulate general in Denver, Hansen said. Also on the trip were Sen. Jerry Black, R-Shelby, Sen. Trudi Schmidt, D-Great Falls, and Rep. Karl Waitschies, R-Peerless.
The consulate general paid for the delegation's airfare and hotel costs and the governments of Saskatchewan and Alberta paid for the six legislators' meals, Musgrove said. The three senators and three representatives were chosen to go by Senate President Jon Tester, D-Big Sandy, and House Speaker Gary Matthews, D-Miles City.
The legislators said discussions focused on the American restriction against Canadian beef, as well as oil and gas exploration and other trade issues.
Bergren said Alberta's legislators support an effort that Havre has been working on for several years, opening the Wild Horse border crossing to 24-hour-a-day traffic. Local agreement isn't enough, though, he said.
"It has to happen on a federal level on both sides," Bergren said. "Trying to get two federal governments to coordinate is really a task."
A federal issue with local implications that was more contentious was America's continued restriction against importation of Canadian cattle, Hansen said.
"They are getting very desperate up there," he said.
The United States was to lift its two-year ban in March and allow cattle under 30 months of age and an expanded list of beef parts from Canada into the country, but a federal judge granted an injunction on the opening. Canada has had three cases of bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or mad cow disease, confirmed among its herds.
A case of mad cow disease was recently discovered in a sick animal in the United States. The disease attacks an animal's nervous system. Food contaminated with BSE can afflict people with variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, which usually is fatal.
Mus-grove said the Cana-dian legislators argued that Amer-ica and Canada should work together on the problem.
"For all practical purposes we have the same problem that Canada does, so we should be looking to each other to find solutions," Musgrove agreed. However, Musgrove said he doesn't think the border should be opened yet.
The legislators were impressed with the steps Canada has taken to fight BSE, including an advanced animal identification program that stores information in a tag on the animal. It allows the government to track the animal's movements and see its birthplace and birth date to better trace the source of disease.
Hansen said he is worried about the numbers of aging cows along Canada's southern border. If and when the border opens to Canadian cattle, Hansen said, he doesn't want the older cattle coming across the border.
"The (Alberta) minister of Agriculture reassurred me they would not come south," Hansen said. "I have a hard time believing that."
Bergren said the Canadian legislators he talked with were not happy about the bill he introduced that the Legislature passed this year, a country-of- origin labeling bill.
Bergren said he emphasized the fact that the bill did not target Canada but would enable American producers to get recognition and good prices for their product. He said Canada can be equally proud of its product.
All three legislators agreed that Canada, and Alberta in particular, have been working on the problem of BSE.
"They have tremendous resources," Bergren said. "They have a very high tax structure, and I guess you get what you pay for."
Musgrove said Canada's animal identification program is the kind of technology Montana should study and emulate.
The discussion of Canadian cattle had been frank and tense at times, he said.
The benefit, Musgrove said, is that the lines of communication are open. Since returning, Musgrove said, he received an e-mail from one of the legislators he had met, asking that they continue to correspond.
In Saskatchewan, the legislators visited oil and gas exploration facilities. The facilities exceeded what they said they had seen in the United States.