Canada-US Cross Border Regions: Engines of Integration at an Impasse – The Case of Cascadia

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1. Introduction

The division of the world into “distinct, disjoint and mutually exclusive territorial formations” (Ruggie 1998: 173), and the view that territorial borders delimit and structure state sovereignty, have been central to the study of International Relations (IR). There are claims, however, concerning the contingent nature of state forms (Jessop 1999) and the emergence of a ‘borderless world’ (Ohmae 1993), as forces from ‘above’ and ‘below’ are said to be diluting the essentialized view of territorial borders and challenging the hegemony, legitimacy and institutional capacities of states (Rosenau 1997). The widening and deepening of global interconnectedness through processes of globalization, advancements in information communications technologies (ICT), emerging transnational regimes and NSAs, and pervasive neo-liberal trends toward privatization, decentralization and devolution of power have contributed to the transformation and diffusion of state authority and the rescaling of governance spaces. Indeed, regionalist discourses assert that the complex dialectic between integration and decentralization has opened new opportunities for sub-national governments and non-state actors (NSA) to engage transnationally (Warner and Gerbasi 2004), contributing to visions of the ‘rise of the region state’ (Ohmae 1993), uncovering ‘new regional spaces’ (MacLeod 2001) and emerging polities ‘beyond Westphalia’ (Blatter 2001: 180).

Existing literature on regional integration focuses predominantly on supranational levels of integration – be it continental (e.g. European Union (EU) and North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA)) or regional (e.g. Association of Southeast Asian Nations and South American Common Market) – in terms of inter-state functional, material and formal ‘top-down’ institutional linkages and interdependencies (Alper 2004: 79), often to the exclusion of sub-national regions in the borderlands of nation-states and identity formation.[1] In contrast, the region known as ‘Cascadia’ – which straddles the Pacific Northwest border between Canada and the United States – is constituted by transgovernmental and non-state networks at the sub-national level that share a history, environment, economy and culture, which contributes to their functional, material and ideational integration based on a sense of shared identity and sense of ‘regionness’ (PRI 2006). Informed by the cross-paradigm global governance perspective (Rosenau 1992: Dingwerth and Pattberg 2006; Scott 1999), this essay explores the internal, interrelational and ideational dimensions and forces shaping the Cascadia CBR in order to provide useful insights into the nature, implications and future prospects of Canada-US CBRs. In doing so, the first section of this essay establishes the governance perspective as the most appropriate lens through which to undertake an analysis of Canada-US CBRs. The second section situates the study within global transformations and literature on borders and networks; conceptually defines CBRs; and, introduces the analytical framework for the case study analysis. On the basis of these conceptual clarifications, the third section provides an overview of Canada-US CBRs in terms of their economic, socio-cultural and organizational dimensions as a starting point for the comprehensive case study analysis of the Cascadia CBR in terms of its internal, interrelational and ideational dimensions, with a focus on regional transportation issues. The final section discusses the insights rendered through the analysis of Canada-US CBRs, and the Cascadia CBR in particular, pertaining to the nature and implications of Canada-US CBRs; postulates a potential impasse of ‘bottom-up’ cross-border regional integration in Cascadia; and, proposes recommendations on how Canadian and American national governments may surmount the challenges and harness the opportunities rendered by CBRs.

2. Global Governance and Cross-Border Regions


As CBRs neither lend themselves to elegant theorizing within traditional, state-centered IR paradigms, nor do they fit within neat conceptual categories (Scott 1999; Berg and Ehin 2006), a multi-disciplinary global governance perspective enables a more sophisticated research programme that transcends stringent theoretical and disciplinary boundaries (Biermann et al. 2002; Berg and Ehin 2006; Dingwerth and Pattberg 2006). This section provides an overview of the global governance perspective and its associated concepts and propositions as the foundation for the research and analysis of Canada-US CBRs.

2. 1 Global Governance Perspective

Governance is a system of rule backed by shared goals and intersubjective meanings, which embraces “governmental institutions and informal, non-governmental mechanisms whereby needs and wants are fulfilled” (Rosenau 1992: 4). The linking of governance to the global realm indicates a shift from statism to integration by transcending the domestic-foreign frontier and reflects the expanded scope of actors, authorities and levels of social relation ‘beyond’ and ‘below’ the state (Rosenau 1997: 44; Dingwerth and Pattberg 2006).[2] Global governance constitutes the global order as a layered, complex and constantly evolving system of independent and interdependent ideas, interests, authorities, institutions, actors, movements and relations that perform governance functions, “embracing every region, country, international relationship, social movement, and private organization” that engages internationally (Ibid, 12-13). It emphasizes that states, although central, are only part of the picture – as a multiplicity of actors not derived from governments possess varying degrees of legitimate authority to command mechanisms, make demands, frame goals and pursue policies (Rosenau 1992, 1997; Dingwerth and Pattberg 2006). Indeed, ideas and identities of actors are considered to be critical in shaping and steering the global order. Moreover, the global governance perspective encompasses social relations in which local, national, regional and global processes are linked through a variety of horizontal, vertical and supraterritorial forms of governance, enabling spheres of authority to exist, in part, independently from states (Rosenau 1997; Dingwerth and Pattberg 2006: 193).

2.2 Cross-Border Regions as a Level of Governance in the Global Order

Although the global governance perspective is not without its drawbacks – namely its lack of conceptual clarity – it enables the development of an integrated and encompassing image of CBRs as governance arrangements carving out new spatial contexts (Scott 1999), accounts for the transnational engagement of NSAs and sub-national governments (Hocking 1993: 34-36), and provides for the identification of the interaction between material flows – e.g. socio-economic exchanges and ecological interdependencies – and ideational flows – e.g. shared visions, beliefs and identities – based upon ‘networks of interaction’ in fluid governance spaces (Blatter 2001; Jessop 1995). From this perspective, CBRs are considered to be intersubjectively constructed levels of governance that shape, and are shaped by, cross-border regional awareness in relation to shared problems, material incentives and overlying discourses of interdependence and integration (Clarke 2002; Scott 1999; Storper 1997). The ensuing analysis of Canada-US CBRs utilizes the insights, concepts and propositions afforded by the global governance perspective.

3. Cross-Border Regions – Discourse, Definition and Analytical Framework

This chapter situates the study of CBRs within global transformations and the literature on borders and networks, conceptually defines CBRs, and introduces the analytic framework for the ensuing case study analysis.

3.1 Global Transformations

Globalization – the expansion, intensification and acceleration of global interconnectedness – has significant political, socio-economic and ideational dimensions that have functioned to reorder the global system, in part through fostering the emergence of new political spaces incongruous with existing political boundaries (Clarke 2000; Brenner 1999; Scott 1999). These developments – which have been facilitated and accelerated by ICT advancements, and are manifest in global economic restructuring[3] – have fractured hierarchies; diffused authority to decentralized networks; reduced the importance of boundaries; facilitated changing perceptions of community; and, have generated a ‘disjuncture’ of scale  between political and economic activities, as economic activities are increasingly conducted at the transnational level, while political decision-making authority remains at the national or sub-national levels (Clarke 2002: 4; Mathews 1997; MacLeod 2001; Clement 2005). As transnational economic activities require intensified economic and regulatory integration, and as states increasingly employ New Public Management mechanisms of decentralization, a complex and iterated dialectic between dynamics of integration and decentralization has “blurred distinctions between domestic and international policies” (Scott 1999: 606) and has facilitated the development of new sites of governance that challenge established divisions (MacLeod 2001; Kahler and Lake 2003).

Impelled by global transformations and the imperatives of the global economy to remain competitive, multi-sector coalitions of private, public, non-profit and academic actors and institutions are gaining prominence as agents for regional agendas, policies and outcomes (Foster 1997: 375). Sub-national government international engagement – based on material, functional and bureaucratic interests – blurs the lines between policy jurisdictions and international affairs and reflects the intensification of ‘intermestic politics’ (Conlan et al. 2004; Courchene 1995; Nossal 1997). [4] Moreover, the number, scope and impact of NSAs have grown exponentially with the expansion of political and economic opportunities for resource mobilization as states increasingly engage with NSAs to address emerging problems that transcend political boundaries (Mathews 1997; Arts 2006; Riemann 2005). This has far reaching implications for states, as the capacity to affect actor’s perceptions, intentions and actions is less specific to states and is increasingly diffused throughout the global system (Riemann 2006; Scott 1999; Mathews 1997; Kaldor 2003).

Thus, the complex dialectic between integration and decentralization inherent in global transformations has widened the scope for sub-national governments and NSAs to engage internationally (Perkmann 2003) and have facilitated the emergence of new governance spaces around mutual interests, goals, functional capabilities and interdependencies to address mutual issues and promote collective growth (Clarke 2002).

3.2 Borders and Networks

Recent literature on the meaning and role of borders in the context of global transformations and the new spatiality of politics is diverse (Blatter 2001: 179) – e.g. the emergence of a ‘borderless world’ and the ‘end of the nation state’ (Ohmae 1993 and 1999); multi-centric definitions (Blatter 2001); the weakening of national boundaries by globalization (Anderson 2002); ‘borders under stress’ (Newman 2000); ‘spaces of flows’ (Castells 2000); and, ‘frontiers’ of ‘fragmegration’ (Rosenau 1997). Territorially, borders are legal lines that separate jurisdictions and border regions encompass the areas immediately beside a state’s external border (Anderson and O’Dowd 1999: 594). The significance of borders is derived from the importance of territoriality as a ‘naturalized’ principle of political and social life (Ibid: 554). Moreover, borders are increasingly contextualized by the idea of networks in a ‘world of motion’ (Rumford 2006) – e.g. Sassen’s (2002) ‘networked cities’, Wellman’s (2001) ‘networked individualism’ and Castells’ (2000) ‘network society’ – wherein task-specific, network-based and flexible non-territorial polities operate alongside conventional, general-purpose, multi-level authority structures (Blatter 2001: 201). As cross-border networks of interaction between sub-national governments and NSAs contributes to the formation of intersubjectively shared norms, ideas, beliefs and regional identity formation (Hasenclever et al. 1997) and the establishment of formal and informal governance arrangements (Storper 1997), formal borders have been opened both physically and symbolically as ‘bridges of contact’ and sites of communication, interaction and exchange (Newman 2007: 150; Perkmann 2003).

3.3 Cross Border Regions


CBRs involve more or less institutionalized collaboration between contiguous sub-national authorities across national borders and are characterized by varying degrees of homogenous features and functional interdependencies (Perkmann 2003: 156). They are located in the realm of agency; refer to collaboration and ‘low politics’ between sub-national authorities in different countries that are not legal entities under international law; concern practical problem-solving in a range of sectors; and, involve a degree of stabilization of cross-border contact. Implicit in the assertion that the potential ‘regionness’ of CBRs is fragmented by state sovereignty on each side of the border, is the assumption of the existence of intermediate units of ‘natural’ developments – e.g. economic and environmental – across borders (Ohmae 1995). However, according to Perkmann (2003), there is no necessary or ‘natural’ foundation for CBRs, as commonalities and differences are contextually specific to a particular process of social construction (157).

3.4 Analytic Framework

As “borders and their regions require localized study” (Anderson and O’Dowd 1999: 554), this paper does not endeavor to employ a ‘general theory’ of CBRs based on definite determinatives; rather, it employs a comprehensive three-pronged analytic framework to explore the internal, interrelational and ideational dimensions and dynamics shaping the Cascadia CBR. The tenets of this analytical framework are interdependent, overlapping and mutually informative.

Internal Characteristics – Internal characteristics may enable or constrict the development of a CBR, as the willingness of actors to work together to solve regional problems is shaped by specific interests, problem perceptions, and capacities to solve problems (Blatter 1996). The initial analytic component extends the PRI’s (2006) analytic framework and adapts Foster’s (1997) ‘regional impulses’ framework to explore the internal characteristics of Cascadia in terms of national resource, macroeconomic, socio-cultural, redistribution, political, legal, agency and organizational characteristics.

Interrelations in the Multi-Level Arena – As CBRs are embedded at the intersections of multiple scales of governance (Brenner 2000) in a political arena that is “far more complex than a two-level game” (Blatter 1996: 8), their development may be affected by strategic developments and transformations at other levels (Perkmann 2003). Consequently, the second pillar employs Blatter’s (1996) rubric of ‘cross-border interaction’ to gain insights into the interrelations between the Cascadia CBR and other political arenas; including, the international/continental, vertical intergovernmental, intra-national horizontal, intra-local and inter-sectoral arenas, as well as the influences of relationships between executive and legislative branches, and public-private partnerships (6).

Social Construction and Layers of Empirical Order – While exploring internal characteristics and multi-level interrelations is important, the ‘regionness’ of a CBR cannot be taken for granted as it is an outcome of a process of social construction (Perkmann 2003; Clarke 2000). The third analytic pillar explores the Cascadia CBR as a social construct situated in mutually informative ‘layers of empirical order’; including, the ideational/intersubjective (i.e. values, beliefs and identities); behavioral/objective (i.e. type and character of relations); and, aggregate/political (i.e. institutions and regimes to pursue ideational and behavioral inclinations) layers of empirical order (Rosenau 1992: 13). CBRs are considered to be shaped by the intersection of all three levels, wherein ideas and identities inform behaviors and objectives, which persist to the establishment of institutions that constitute and are constituted by CBRs (Ibid: 19; Helco 1994).

Together, these three pillars constitute the analytic framework for the analysis of the Cascadia CBR (see Figure 1). Of central importance is the particular ‘constellation’ (Blatter 1996) with respect to the characteristics, interrelations and layers of empirical order, as they may serve as incentives/enablers or hurdles/constraints to the development of CBR governance capacity in different spatial and temporal contexts (Foster 1997; Blatter 1996). This three-pronged analytical framework, combined with the concepts and propositions afforded by the global governance perspective, enables the local particularities of the Cascadia CBR to be understood in terms of the wider context of interaction and interdependent global order.

4. The Nature and Significance of Canada-US CBRs


Utilizing findings from the 2006 Policy Research Institute (PRI) study entitled ‘The Emergence of Cross-Border Regions between Canada and the US’[5], this section concisely contextualizes Canada-US CBRs within North American integration and provides an overview of their economic, socio-cultural and organizational dimensions to support the assertion that their increasing empirical significance as governance spaces and as engines of integration warrants attention and to provide a foundation from which to undertake an extended analysis of the Cascadia CBR.

4.1 Regional Integration and Canada-US CBRs

Despite increasing recognition of their significance, Canada-US CBRs have not yet been the subject of considerable research, in part because cross-border issues remain a low-profile item on government agendas in the absence of strong political payoffs and incentives. Existing research has focused on particular border disputes, the significance of the 9.11 terrorist attacks on border security (Clarke 2002), and comparative studies between North American and European integration. According to Welsh (2004), interaction and interdependence that make community members aware of their common interests is the hallmark of a community. Canada and the US can thus be conceived in communal terms with relations that span more than two centuries and significant cross-border cooperation predating the 1988 Canada-US Free Trade Agreement (CUFTA), which evolved into NAFTA in 1993 to include Mexico. NAFTA has gone a long way to reduce the ‘border effect’ (Clarke 2002) such that the idea of the east-west relationship upon which Canada was founded is increasingly replaced by the relative proximity to the US.

While CBRs in Europe date back to the 1950s, the number, size and scope greatly expanded with the support of a range of EU spatial policies and initiatives to support cross-border cooperation (CBC) – e.g. the Council of Europe has been active in improving the legal situation and the European Commission provides substantial financial support for CBC initiatives (Perkmann 2003: 153).[6] Unlike Europe, where integration has been primarily a ‘top-down’ process undertaken by governments to create a common market – which has had significant ‘spill-overs’ in other areas – North America lacks an overarching hierarchical institution to promote spatial policies and cross-border networks (Clarke 2002: 4). Consequently, North American integration is more of a quiet, ‘bottom-up’ process involving government collaboration and a myriad of professional, political and personal relationships that bring populations together in increasingly dense cross-border interaction around common problems, interests and projects (Welsh 2004; PRI 2006; Scott 1999; Clarke 2002). Thus, according to the PRI (2006), North American integration will first and foremost be felt in CBRs where its benefits and challenges are much more intense.


4.2 Canada-US CBRs – An Overview

Canada-US CBRs are groups of province(s)/states that straddle the 49th parallel and possess economic and organizational linkages and socio-cultural similarities to varying degrees (PRI 2006: 7). This section delineates the defining features of the five major Canada-US CBRs: West/Cascadia; Prairies-Great Plains; Great Lakes-Heartland; and, the East, which can be further divided into Quebec-North England and Atlantica (see Figure 2). Although they exhibit a high degree of variance in size, scope and significance, there are common characteristics that appear to signify the general nature of Canada-US CBRs.

The West/Cascadia – The West/Cascadia CBR – which includes British Columbia (BC), Alberta, Yukon, Alaska, Washington, Idaho, Oregon and Montana – is characterized by a sense of remoteness from Canadian and American national governments, relatively strong private sector cross-border institutions, the importance of environmental issues, dominant high tech and natural resource industries, and a relatively strong sense of cross-border regional identity (PRI 2006). This region is known for its innovative cross-border institutions and approaches.[7]

Great Prairie Plains – The Great Prairie Plains CBR – which includes Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Montana, Wyoming, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Minnesota – covers a vast geographical space that is remote from the major North American markets. The main focus of this region has been on trade corridors and transportation. This CBR is characterized by ‘pragmatic networks’ between states, provinces, private actors and is sustained by “a growing consciousness of shared interests” and the view that cooperative cross-border relations can provide for a positive and mutually-beneficial future (PRI 2006: 50).

Great Lakes/Heartland – As the Great Lakes/Heartland CBR – which includes Ontario, Michigan, Indiana and Ohio – has no transnational cross-border organization to provide regional leadership, there are many overlapping, single-issue organizations – e.g. the Great Lakes Commission. Economic linkages in this region are mature and this region is characterized by severe interregional market competition, particularly in manufacturing (PRI 2006). Despite common environmental, crime and health challenges that have required closer cooperation, there is not so much a regional identity as much as there is a “sense of belonging to a North American community” (Ibid: 51).

Quebec/New England – The Quebec/New England CBR – which includes Quebec, Vermont, Maine, New Hampshire and New York – has grown in part because of the importance of the Quebec-New York corridor. Despite growing recognition of maturing and emerging economic linkages, as well as the development of multi-level and multi-agency networks and bilateral linkages, there remains a limited sense of regional identity (PRI 2006).

Atlantica – The Atlantica CBR – which includes Atlantic Canada, Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut – is built upon shared geography, a rich history and is centered upon economic prosperity. This CBR has largely been driven by public and private networks, strong stakeholder engagement and personal relations, and possesses a strong sense of a regional identity (PRI 2006). Nevertheless, this CBR is fragmented by infrastructure deficiencies and weak cross-border institutions.

CBR Characteristics – Although Canada-US CBRs are distinct and, as aforementioned, it would be misleading to develop a specific model, having delineated some of the defining features of the five major CBRs, it is possible to identify several trends that speak to the general nature of Canada-US CBRs. As they transcend national political boundaries and are shaped in part by shifting Canada-US relations and global transformations, Canada-US CBRs may be described as ‘spaces of flows’ (Castells 1996) that change and respond to multiple influences (Clarke 2002). They tend to emerge organically from the ‘bottom-up’ and are likely to be composed of informal, pragmatic, functional, loosely-linked and sector-specific cross-border networks and coalitions comprised of state and non-state actors that come together to address mutual challenges and promote common interests in low-cost engagements (PRI 2006; Clarke 2003; Blatter 2001; Scott 1999). As cross-border institutions are generally informal and do not have the capacity to address a broad range of regional issues, cross-border interdependencies and identities are central motivators for the development, deepening and formalization of CBRs.

4.3 Dimensions of CBRs – Economic, Socio-Cultural and Organizational

Economic Dimensions – According to the PRI (2006), “Canada-US economic activities are stronger and more involved” in cross-border areas (12). Indeed, trade intensity, volume and growth, and the breadth of exports are much more distinct, dynamic and significant in “key clusters straddling the border” (see Table 1). These clusters combined with major North American highway corridors and electricity grids underlie critical economic interdependencies (see Figure 2) (Ibid: 23). The PRI report asserts that provinces and geographically congruous states are “moving away from being simply trading partners to functioning more as integrated economies”, as the economic performance between Canadian provinces and neighbouring American states tends to be related (Ibid). The correlation in the economic activities of provinces and states is, on the whole, becoming tighter, with Ontario – which was more closely aligned with their cross-border counterparts before NAFTA – as the only exception (see Table 2) (PRI Briefing 2006: 2-3). Moreover, the PRI study asserts that several important North American hubs have significant economic cross-border influence – e.g. Boston, Montreal, Toronto, Detroit, Minneapolis, Winnipeg, Calgary, Edmonton, Seattle and Vancouver (Ibid: 3). Cross-border economic strategies have largely been a response to challenges presented by global and national economic restructuring (Scott 1999: 612), as they are considered to be integral “gateways for value-added activities” (PRI 2006: 23) that enhance competitive positions and prospects for capital accumulation through cross-border utility maximization (Nossal 1997; Harden 1989; Elster 1989). Thus, CBRs function as engines of Canada-US economic integration, as “North American economic relations are based on regional economies that cross our borders” (PRI interview with Premier of Quebec Jean Charest in March 2005, PRI 2006: 35).








Socio-Cultural Dimensions – Common ideas, norms, beliefs, socially constructed identities and a sense of ‘regionness’ on both sides of the border facilitates the emergence and development of cross-border linkages and CBRs, in part because it makes cooperation, collaboration and joint-decision making easier (PRI Briefing 2006). The PRI analysis of a socio-cultural index based on 32 values indicates exceptional diversity in the degree of socio-cultural cohesion between the five major CBRs (see Table 3). The descriptive statistics indicate that the socio-cultural values in Atlantic Canada are closer to the American East Coast than they are to the socio-cultural values in British Columbia, which are closer to those of the Western part of the United States (Ibid). The Great Lakes and Prairie Plains share significant socio-cultural commonalties in terms of values, but do not identify regionally. Quebec and New England neither share significant socio-cultural values nor do they possess a sense of a regional identity. Of significance is the fact that the CBRs that exhibit the greatest degree of regional socio-cultural cohesion are located at the extremities of the continent, far from Canadian and American political centers. Arguably, this geographic remoteness has contributed to the generation of a sense of ‘regionness’ (Gibbons 1998; Johnston et al. 2006).


Organizational Dimensions – Cross-border organizations – which vary significantly in their size, issue area, scope and membership – are institutional mechanisms for cross-border collaboration and interaction that foster permanence in cross-border linkages. The PRI report asserts that given the minimal level of organization associated with NAFTA, cross-border regional institutions, which have mostly been created by private initiatives, have filled the institutional void, thus “confirming the general belief that North American integration is a bottom-up phenomenon” (PRI Briefing 2006: 4). Cross-border regional institutions that focus on local issues often do not have the institutional capacity and momentum to attract national attention and resources (Ibid). They are, however, significant means of association for bi-national business and community groups to come together for practical problem solving and collaboration – e.g. the PNWER. The PRI study finds that cross-border organizations tend to be more numerous in CBRs with similar socio-cultural values, strong trading relationships and in fields of sub-national government jurisdiction (2006: 40).

Conclusion – Overall, the “thickness of intensity” of CBR linkages appears to be most mature in the West/Cascadia, as economic ties are significant, socio-cultural values are similar and organizational linkages are most developed (PRI Briefing 2006: 5). Although organizational linkages in the Prairies-Great Plains are weakest, they have strong economic and trade cross-border linkages. Moreover, the Great Lakes-Heartland region and Atlantica have important linkages in all of the dimensions and the Quebec-New England CBR has significant economic and organizational linkages and the weakest sense of ‘regionness’. Table 4 summarizes the economic, socio-cultural and organizational dimensions for each of the main CBRs. Having explored the general nature of Canada-US CBRs and uncovered their economic, socio-cultural and organizational significance as governance spaces, the following expands the analysis of the most vibrant of Canada-US CBRs: Cascadia.

5. Analysis of the Cascadia Cross-Border Region

The ‘Cascadia’ CBR – which includes BC, Alberta, Yukon, Alaska, Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Montana – is the most vibrant and developed Canada-US CBR, with evidence of ongoing cross-border efforts to enhance regional governance capacities amidst growing regional self-consciousness (PRI 2006)? What insights can the Cascadia CBR provide pertaining to the nature, implications and future prospects of Canada-US CBRs? This section undertakes a comprehensive case analysis of the Cascadia CBR – with particular focus on transportation infrastructure – utilizing the previously delineated three-pronged analytic framework, which involves exploring Cascadia’s internal characteristics, its interrelations in a multilevel arena, and the social construction of its regional identity and layers of empirical order. Combining the concepts and propositions of the global governance perspective with this extended analytic framework, enables the particularities of the Cascadia CBR to be explored within the wider context of social interaction and interdependence in the global order.

5.1 Internal Characteristics of Cascadia


The first analytical pillar seeks to explore the particular ‘constellation’ of interests (Blatter 1996) with respect to internal characteristics – based on an extension of the PRI’s (2006) analytical framework and an adaptation of Foster’s (1997) ‘regional impulses framework’ –  wherein natural resource, macroeconomic, socio-cultural, redistributive, political, legal, agency and organizational characteristics serve as either pro-regionalist or anti-regionalist factors.


Natural Resource Characteristics – Shared natural resources are strong pro-regional characteristics of the Cascadia CBR. The ecologically diverse ecosystem of the Georgia Basin-Puget Sound bioregion located between BC and Washington; the Pacific temperate rainforest that stretches along the coast from Alaska to California; and, the dry land area inland from the Cascade range to the Pacific coast amount to significant north-south natural resource linkages that generate environmental cross-border interdependence – “one forest, one waterway, one air shed, one region” (EPA Website 2008). Commonalities in natural resource characteristics have led to the development of new institutional structures – e.g. the Puget Sound Partnership and the Sightline Institute – to protect the quality of life, the environment and the competitiveness of Cascadia’s economy, as salmon fisheries, sport fishing, sustainable natural resource production (e.g. oil and gas) and other economic endeavours that require a healthy environment are vital to economies on both sides of the border (Artibise 1995; Clarke 2002; EPA Website 2008). Thus, common interests in shared natural resources have facilitated regional ties and economic and environmental rationales to manage resources on a regional basis (Foster 1997).

Macroeconomic Characteristics – The strong macroeconomic similarities and linkages between the states and provinces of the Cascadia CBR have facilitated the development of regional ties, which is not surprising given that the process of North American integration has largely been economic in nature (Hansen 2002). With a regional economic base that includes high-tech firms – e.g. Microsoft and Boeing – alongside tourism, transportation, logging, fishing and farming (Clarke 2002; PRI 2006); with the cities of Vancouver, Seattle and Portland functioning as regional hubs for economic interdependence and growth (PRI 2006); and, with a significant influx of cross-border shoppers motivated by higher taxes and costs of living in Canada (Harden 2002) [8], Cascadia is promoted as the tenth largest global economic center, with aspirations to develop into a high-tech regional bloc (Clarke 2004: 6). This speaks to Gold’s (1994) predictions that, “in the 21st century, economically integrated and cooperative regions rather than nation states or individual enterprises will be the greatest generators of wealth” (14). Moreover, since the signing of NAFTA, Cascadia north-south trade has exhibited strong intensity, volume, growth and breadth (PRI 2006). Indeed, the primary trading partner of BC and Alberta is the US – exceeding 50 percent of BC’s exports – and the primary trading partners of Oregon, Idaho and Montana is Canada (PNWER Website 2007: Trade Statistics; PRI 2006). According to Chase (2005), this reflects the “aggregate number and political strengths of businesses” that seek to gain scale economies and harness potentials afforded by cross-border price differentials (6). As the economic performance of neighbouring provinces and states continue to grow in correlation, there is evidence of a progressive, albeit incremental, shift from trading partners “to a more integrated regional economy” (PRI 2006: 23).

Socio-Cultural Characteristics – Despite the existence of a weak nationalist sentiment from the Canadian members of Cascadia, overall the socio-cultural values of members greatly align, as evidenced by the PRI findings of relatively low value index gaps between BC and the American west and Alberta and the American west – 6.3 and 4.5  respectively (see Table 3) (PRI Briefing 2006:46). Similar socio-cultural characteristics provide a pro-regional impetus that bolsters natural resource and macroeconomic impulses.

Redistribution Characteristics – Cascadia provinces and states that have incentives to share resources to pursue regional solutions – e.g. development of border infrastructure – are constricted in their redistributive capacities, as they lack jurisdictional authority/autonomy to redistribute funds internationally, thus fragmenting the region (Foster 1997: 380). Consequently, in order to address issues of regional inequity, provinces and states have sought to develop joint commissions, task forces, and means of knowledge sharing and regional planning, to strategically coordinate actors and facilitate dialogue and cooperation – e.g. the PNWER Research Development and Exchange Network – and have been quick to harness the resources and capacities rendered by private sector engagement – e.g. 2010 Olympic Bid. [9] While this ‘soft’ regionalism has gone a long way in enhancing the global profile and regional competitiveness of the Cascadia CBR, the lack of redistributive capacity is an anti-regional characteristic that has arguably constricted further integration.


Political Characteristics – While political alignments between Cascadia’s state and provincial governments are currently conducive to cross-border regional development – which can in part be attributed to a growing neo-liberal consensus even in the most left of states – this has not always been the case. In 1991 the BC Conservative government and Washington State Republican government developed the concept of a ‘Cascadia Corridor Commission’ that would coordinate considerations of regional issues between local, state, provincial, regional and national governments and proposed the development of a ‘Cascadia Corridor’ (Alper 1996). While the concept was supported by the US House and Senate, the new BC New Democratic government backed out of the agreement and rejected cross-border contacts – as they were suspicious of American penetration and disproportionate federal involvement – leading to the failure of the initiative (Alper 1996: 8). Moreover, despite progress made by a few exceptional political ‘regional champions’ – e.g. Senator John Miller who created the ‘Cascadia Program’ – and despite temporal political alliances conducive to regional development, regional political leadership is lacking due to the absence of political payoffs and incentives for politicians engaged in partisan politics – based on bloc-voting and short-term political gains – to move beyond rhetoric toward deeper regional integration. Overall, political characteristics have functioned to constrict the development of the Cascadia CBR.

Legal Characteristics – One of the greatest anti-regional characteristics in Cascadia has been the impact of legal jurisdictional authorities between national and state/provincial governments, particularly in Canada, which is more centralist than the US. Both Canada and the US are federations with constitutions that provide the legal basis for jurisdictional authority, functioning to enhance or limit the capacities of one level of government over another, creating asymmetrical power relations in different policy areas. Cascadia intersects a vast web of jurisdictional authorities – federal, provincial/state and municipal.[10] Given the lack of authority of the provinces and states of Cascadia to autonomously enter into international legal agreements with each other – e.g. the American constitution provides the national government with explicit powers of interstate and foreign commerce (Kincaid 2003: 57) – they have been consigned to developing cross-border relations in domains of ‘low politics’ through informal agreements and enhanced coordination mechanisms – e.g. the 1994 Transportation Cooperation Agreement between BC and Washington (Fry 1990: 126). To develop an international agreement, regional actors must lobby their national governments to engage each other, rendering regional integration in Cascadia incremental and informal.

Agency and Organizational Characteristics – Cascadia north-south linkages have been facilitated in large part by private sector actors, transnational networks and organizations (Clarke 2002). Although sub-national governments have played a critical role in the deepening of the Cascadia CBR, the region can best be conceptualized as a dense web of loosely-linked, geographically-overlapping, sector-specific networks and institutions composed of public and private actors that converge around a shared regional vision. Through the generation of information and discourse on ‘Cascadia’, think tanks, epistemic communities (Haas 1987), and advocacy coalitions have effectively perpetuated the idea of Cascadia as a distinct region, fostered regional considerations in policy processes, and institutionalized the concept in organizations. Table 5 provides a list of some of the regional organizations in Cascadia. Cities have also provided significant impetus to CBR building through developing cross-border organizations – e.g. the Cascadia Metropolitan Caucus and the Association of Border Communities – and supporting regional organizations (Artibise 1995; Clarke 2004). Indeed, multi-actor, inter-organizational informal networks and ‘soft’ institutions in Cascadia have gone a long way in mobilizing regional identities and interests to solve collective regional problems from the ‘bottom up’.

While regional networks and organizations in Cascadia tend to be narrow in scope, the single regional institution that potentially has the capacity to address regional issues in multiple policy areas is the PNWER, which was formed in 1989 by legislators from Cascadia’s five states, two provinces and Yukon territory, as a regional planning and facilitation organization mandated to promote regional collaboration; enhance competitiveness of the region in domestic and international markets; leverage regional influence in Ottawa and Washington; and, achieve continued economic growth while conserving the environment (PNWER Website 2008: Mission Statement). It addresses diverse issues – e.g. security, the environment, energy, infrastructure and tourism; is composed of premiers, governors, legislators, counties, economic development commissions, industry associations and private sector actors; and, has been successful in framing many issues regionally – e.g. transportation. The PNWER is most noted for its unique design; its promotion of public-private communication; its working groups co-chaired by one private and one public sector representative; and, its sophisticated Secretariat (PNWER Website 2008; Clarke 2002; Blatter 2006). According to the US Ambassador to Canada, David Wilkins, “There’s no organization more important than the PNWER to foster and nurture the relationship between the US and Canada” (PNWER Website 2008: Home).

In summation, shared natural resources, common macroeconomies and similar socio-cultural values promote the development of the Cascadia CBR. This development is further supported by diverse, dense and sector-specific cross-border networks of state and non-state actors and institutions that frame issues and address problems regionally. Nevertheless, the Cascadia CBR remains largely informal and regional integration remains incremental as a result of a lack of redistributive capacity, limited political incentives to promote long-term regional growth, and constricting legal structures. Taken together, the particular ‘constellation’ of enabling and constricting internal characteristics reveals the internal nature of the Cascadia CBR.


5.2 Interrelations in the Multi-Level Arena

This section utilizes Blatter’s (1996) model of ‘cross-border interaction’ to analyze the influences of Cascadia’s multi-level interrelations with respect to the international/continental, vertical-intergovernmental, intra-state horizontal, intra-local and intersectoral arenas, as well as the relationship between the executive and legislative branches, and public-private partnerships (6). The interrelationships range on a continuum between loosely coupled – e.g.  ‘spill-overs’ of ideas, concepts and strategic adjustments – and strongly coupled relations – e.g. formal dependence – and may also exist as incentives/facilitators or constraints/hurdles of cross-border regional development (Ibid: 9).

International/Continental Interrelations – The development of Canada-US CBRs has paralleled discussions of North American integration since the 1980s, with ‘spill-over’ effects from CUFTA and NAFTA providing momentum and legitimacy for the development of new, and reinvigoration of old, cross-border regional initiatives – e.g. PNWER (Blatter 1996: 9). Such initiatives have been further legitimized by the growth and success of the more than 70 European CBRs[11], which have been empowered, in large part, by EC financial resources and spatial policies to support cross-border cooperation. In the absence of a supranational institution to facilitate cross-border growth, the Cascadia CBR – as other North American CBRs – has developed from ‘below’ and been promoted by institutions with narrow objectives and strong private sector engagement. Cross-border initiatives in Cascadia have developed particularly in the economic realm in order to “achieve the critical mass for competing successfully in the greater continental and global market” (Blatter 1996: 10).

Vertical Intergovernmental Interrelations – The vertical intergovernmental alignment of national, provincial/state and local governments constricts Cascadia’s cross-border governance capacity. Although central governments are the only actors that possess an international legal personality, according to Duchacek (1986), sub-national governments are increasingly engaging internationally in areas of their jurisdiction and have developed a more strategic and systematic approach to cross-border relations, in part because of political incentives and opportunities created by the integration/decentralization dialectic (Blatter 1996: 11; Hocking 1993; Duchaceck 1986: 241; Smith 2004). However, legal jurisdictional barriers continue to fracture the development of the region by inhibiting sub-national governments from engaging in formal international relations, which would necessitate central government engagement and support. Cross-border regional development may be further constricted by the resistance of local municipalities to implement cross border policies, as was the case when the BC capital city of Victoria rejected a proposal for the development of a local sewage treatment plant despite the ongoing efforts of Cascadia provincial and state governments to protect their common watershed (Blatter 1996: 12).

Intra-National Horizontal Interrelations – According to Blatter (1996), “territorial cleavages…of a sub-national unit have always been used to justify different kinds of cross-border activity” (12). Indeed, feelings of inequitable treatment, notions of ‘hinderland’, ‘Western alienation’ and ‘periphery’ provide momentum to region-building in Cascadia, with assertions that Ottawa and Washington DC are too distant and favor ‘one size fits all’ policy designs. Indeed, the PNWER has, in large part, developed to generate the political and epistemic critical mass necessary to bolster their legitimacy when lobbying for national government support and resources. Blatter asserts that growing cross-border networks in North America are a result of “more or less visible struggles and competitions between regional coalitions for money and investment (that facilitates) territorial interest building processes”, shifting alliances and CBR development (Ibid: 13).

Intra-Local InterrelationsIntra-local interrelations in the Cascadia CBR have been both enabling and constricting. Despite the fact that sub-national units within Cascadia share a long history of interrelations and a unique natural resource geography, intra-local interrelations in the Cascadia CBR often result in both enhanced understandings, interactions and identification of a ‘common brotherhood’ and antagonistic feelings (Blatter 2006). Conflicting intra-local relations are influenced by ‘anti-American’ sentiments and suspicion on the part of Canadian provinces, as well as cross-border differences, competition and envy – e.g. BC concerns that retail sales will be lost by cross-border shopping tourism to the US. Consequently, cross-border institutions in Cascadia have focused on ‘positive sum games’ and framing initiatives as mutually beneficial projects (Ibid).

Inter-Sectoral Relations – In the Cascadia CBR, interactions have mostly focused on relatively narrow functional solutions, wherein technical actors within departments find solutions to issues by engaging corresponding cross-border actors and departments. However, as cross-border issues have spill-overs in different sectors, which make issues, interactions and solutions more complex, inter-sectoral conflicts based on contrary values and visions of the Cascadia CBR have arisen (Alper 1996; Blatter 1996). For instance, in terms of transportation issues, free-trade regionalists assert the need to develop institutional critical mass and transport infrastructure to position the region to compete globally, while bioregionalists advocate for environmental protection and regional growth management (Blatter 1996: 14). Thus, although sectoral differentiation has facilitated technical cooperation in Cascadia, inter-sectoral divisions have become wider as epistemic communities and sectoral regimes have strengthened their ties (Blatter 1996: 14). Resultantly, increased use of the notion of ‘sustainable regional development’ that encompasses economic, social and environmental goals has been used in attempts to bridge the inter-sectoral divisions.

Relationship between Executive and Legislative Branches -Whereas the executive and parliamentary branches are ‘fused’ in the Canadian parliamentary system, as the executive is derived from the legislature, in the US they constitute two distinct units separately elected by the population. In Cascadia this has, on occasion, produced serious limitations for institutionalizing linkages that go beyond transregional informal relations (Blatter 1996). For instance, from the early 1970s to late 1980s, attempts of the Washington State legislature to establish formal linkages with BC failed because the BC Premier asserted that such linkages were inhibited by the BC political system (Rutan 1981: 74). Blatter asserts that although different executive/legislative relations are not ‘absolute’ hurdles for CBR integration, combined with partisan competition, it can constrict the formation of linkages and government connections (Blatter 1996: 16).

Public-Private Partnerships – Strong private sector influence has been a central driver of the Cascadia CBR – e.g. the PNWER has a Private Sector Council and working groups have private-sector co-chairs that are expected to set the agenda (PNWER Website, Organization 2008). Blatter (1996) asserts that “it seems that integration processes in the cross-border and the public-private dimension are going hand in hand” (17). The institutional integration of NGOs within the PNWER has not gone so far as the private sector, as NGOs tend to create their own cross-border networks and institutions (Blatter 1996: 17).

In summation, while continental/international momentum, intra-national territorial cleavages, intra-local characteristics and intra-sectoral interrelations have provided momentum to the development of the Cascadia CBR, vertical-intergovernmental alignments; intra-local distrust, competition and envy; inter-sectoral contrary values and visions; and, the particular relationship between executive and legislative branches of government have constricted the governance capacity of the Cascadia CBR. The particular combination of enabling and constricting influences denotes the nature of Cascadia’s interrelations in the multi-level arena and signifies that cross-border solutions for problems involving jurisdictional interdependence must start with the recognition of interrelations within this complex environment (Blatter 1996: 17).

5.3 Social Construction of Regional Identities in Cascadia

While considerations of contextual imperatives, characteristics and interrelations are useful in developing an appreciation of the nature of the Cascadia CBR, they are insufficient as they do not capture how Cascadia ideationally developed through the framing of these conditions into metaphors and arguments about regional identity and the generation of shared norms and purposes (Foster 1997; Welsh 2004; Clarke 2000). Cascadia is a problematic and contested regional construct in that depending on the interests and agendas involved, different and overlapping boundaries of Cascadia are constructed – e.g. Cascadia as a global economic region – which includes the aforementioned five states, two provinces and Yukon territory – versus Cascadia as ‘eco-topia’ – which includes only BC, Washington and Oregon (Clarke 2002). Despite contested boundaries, Cascadia has come to be, in large part, because its member states and constituents believe it to be so.

Cascadia has been integrated to a large extent by the generation of knowledge, discourse, shared ideas and iterated social construction of the region, which has, in part, been a response to a sense of remoteness from national governments and an increasing self-perception as an economic region relative to other global regions, particularly given its increasing vulnerabilities to the Pacific Rim economy (PRI 2006). Increasing identification with Cascadia has informed behaviors and objectives, which have persisted to the establishment of institutions that serve to further perpetuate Cascadia. The ideational construction of the Cascadia CBR has been promoted on both sides of the border by think tanks (e.g. Discovery Institute, Sightline Institute and Cascadia Research Collective), policy networks and organizations that champion the Cascadia concept. Since the development of the Cascadia Project in 1993 by the Discovery Institute, the name has become increasingly ingrained into regional discourse through the general use of the term in local newspapers, newscasts, magazines and advertisements; policy statements by private and public sector leaders; regional publications (e.g. Cascadia Prospectus, Cascadia Review and the Cascadia Times Magazine), regional conferences, events and summits (e.g. Cascadia Prosperity Forum and Cascadia Education Conference) and regional institutions (e.g. Cascadia Forest Alliance, Cascadia National Party and the Cascadia Metropolitan caucus). Moreover, the Cascadia idea is, at least to some extent, an artifact of research studies – such as PRI (2006) study – that provide empirical legitimacy to regional projects. Cascadia even has its own common flag – The Doug – widely recognized by people throughout the region (see Figure 5). Thus, common ideas, norms, beliefs, socially constructed identities and a sense of ‘regionness’ on both sides of the border have been central to the emergence, development and sustainability of the Cascadia CBR by informing regional behaviours and legitimizing regional institutions. Nevertheless, it is important not to overstate the degree to which ‘Cascadians’ identify regionally, as they possess layered identities that are spatially and temporally contingent.

Two antagonistic worldviews with distinct ontological bases have been developed and publicly expressed. Free trade regionalists define the problem as one of global competition, frame regionalism in an international context of competitive growth, and advocate Cascadia as a regional trade bloc competing in the global economy (Keating 1997: 24; Blatter 1999). Bioregionalists frame regionalism ecologically and advocate Cascadia as an eco-cultural system committed to sustainable environmental development (Clarke 2000; Cold-Ravnkilde et al. 2004). Both groups have downplayed the centrality of the nation-state and have been able to mobilize people and resources on both sides of the border to further their policy interests (Blatter 1999). Indeed, according to Mazza (1995), Cascadia has developed sophisticated ‘bioregional governance’ and is the home of Greenpeace. On the other hand, Cascadia is the home of Boeing Aircraft and Microsoft, two of the most important global companies whose products facilitate processes of globalization (Blatter 1999; Cold-Ravnkilde et al. 2004). The fundamental ideas of the two cross-border coalitions make Cascadia a space of economic and natural flows. Thus, these two issue frames provide for shared purposes and agendas that mobilize and give direction to coalitions.

5.4 ‘Layers of Empirical Order’- Transportation Governance in Cascadia

Although the lack of consensus on regional definitions and appropriate regional governance solutions may hinder the development of the Cascadia CBR, there is evidence of the emergence of regional governance capacity on transportation issues (Clarke 2002), which can be discerned with the development of a coherent, multi-state and multi-polity policy community active on issues of regional transportation – which are framing regional solutions to both environmental and economic competition concerns. As regional transportation corridors shape cross-border economic and socio-cultural linkages and regional identity (Cold-Ravnkilde et al. 2004: 59), and as the Cascadia CBR is situated at the intersection of mutually informative ‘layers of empirical order’ (Rosenau 1992), this section discusses ideational, behavioural and material forces involved in the construction of a ‘seamless’ and expanded transportation system between Washington, Oregon and BC through public-private coalitions and innovative financing.

Ideational – The concept of a “seamless link” of “Gateways and Corridors” provided a technically feasible, publicly acceptable, and politically sensible frame to construct a Cascadia transport regime and justify the creation of new institutions (Clarke 2002). The success of the EU’s subsidization of transport infrastructure – which enhanced linkages between producers and markets through air, sea and rail, and effectively increased the competitiveness of European economies – further justified this idea (Ibid). Transportation issues were well-defined and tapped into values and sentiments by providing benefits to a wide range of economic and environmental groups, with proposals ranging from the development of an International Mobility Transportation Corridor (IMTC) to upgrades in road infrastructure and bus services (Blank et al. 2006; Clarke 2002). Thus, as Cascadia transportation issues were strategically positioned as solutions to global competition while folding in values of sustainability and local autonomy, the transportation community was able to draw on the efforts of both free traders and bioregionalists (Clarke 2002).

Behavioral – The cross-border transport policy community has been active since the early 1980s, incrementally building the coalition, “softening up” the political climate for transportation projects, and taking advantage of political opportunities. The governments of Oregon, Washington and BC engaged with each other, the PNWER and regional activists to lobby national governments (Cohn and Smith 1996). They framed the issues so as to enable the private sector to enhance competition while allowing sub-national governments, bureaucrats and policy experts to capitalize on, and gain recognition, for efficiency improvements of transportation infrastructure to generate political incentives (Ibid). According to Clarke (2003), the ‘seamless corridor’ concept served as a powerful means of bringing together environmental and economic interests to generate the critical mass to attract national investment. Through advocacy proclaiming the I5 Corridor to be the ‘Main Street’ connecting NAFTA partners and designating the Cascadia Corridor as a high-speed rail corridor, the region was successful in securing national funding to establish the Northwestern IMTC and an associated Joint Technical Working group to manage the programme and provide leadership to public and private stakeholders for the wider development of regional transportation infrastructure (Clarke 2002).

Material – While lobbying efforts achieved a notable degree of success, it was not until national leadership, support and financial resources were secured that the necessary actors for regional cooperation came together to push the cross-border transportation agenda forward. Of particular significance was the US Transportation Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21) fund – which included the Corridors Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality programs – that provided flexibility in developing multi-modal transportation infrastructure and brought the actors necessary for regional cooperation to the table – e.g. elected officials, business leaders, transportation experts, state and provincial bureaucrats and local officials etc. (Clarke 2004: 13). With the success of transport development in Cascadia, the US national government later developed the Coordinated Border Infrastructure and National Corridor Planning and Development grant programmes that were secured by annual funding allocations (Ibid). Trailing behind, in 2005 the Government of Canada committed to developing improved transportation infrastructure and secure and efficient border services through the Pacific Gateway Strategy.

Thus, the success of the IMTC and the development of cross-border regional transportation infrastructure in Cascadia was the result of working within political institutions as well as acting through cross-border coalitions – ‘top down’ and ‘bottom up” (Clarke 2004: 13). Of central importance for governance capacity pertaining to transportation issues was the existence of workable ideas, potential for reframing issues to incorporate diverse interests within new problem definitions, and the availability of institutional channels for making decisions and directing resources.

5.5 Analysis Conclusion

Having explored enabling and constricting internal characteristics, interrelations in the multi-level arena, and the social construction of ‘regionness’ in Cascadia, and through briefly discussing cross-border transportation issues in Cascadia, it becomes clear that the nature of cross-border governance capacity is not a direct function of any particular characteristic, interrelation or ideational construction. Rather, it evolves out of the particular ‘constellation’ of these factors and the interaction between ideational, behavioral and material forces (Blatter 1996: 3; Rosenau 1992: 13). Cascadia is a product of the interaction of all three levels wherein ideas and identities inform behaviors and objectives, which persist to the establishment of institutions that constitute and are constituted by CBRs (Ibid: 19). Thus, the prospects of developing regional governance capacity involve the interaction of these factors (Helco 1994; Blatter 1996). Moreover, the analysis of Cascadia transportation suggests that contrasting ‘top-down’ and ‘bottom-up’ strategies can unnecessarily establish dualistic characterisations of spatial network strategies, as the ‘bottom-up’ mobilization in Cascadia has emerged in a context of overlapping national and transnational regulatory frameworks that provide incentives for some types of cross-border cooperation and coalition-building and not others (Clarke 2004; Benz and Furst 2003).

6. Analysis Results – The Nature, Implications and Future Prospects of Canada-US CBRs



This section delineates the insights rendered by the analysis of Cascadia into the nature and implications of Canada-US CBRs, and subsequently discusses future prospects for Canada-US cross-border regional governance capacity and proposes recommendations on how national governments can begin to surmount the challenges and harness opportunities rendered by CBRs.

6.1 Analysis Results – Nature and Implications

Nature of Canada-US CBRs – The overview of Canada-US CBRs and the analysis of the Cascadia region reveal that although Canada-US CBRs are distinct, there are several internal, interrelational and ideational features shared by the five major CBRs that speak to their nature. Global transformations, the ICT revolution, global economic restructuring and supranational institutions (e.g. NAFTA and the EU) have widened the scope and provided impetus and legitimacy for the development of Canada-US CBRs (Perkmann 2003; Clarke 2002). They are entrenched in international, continental, national and sub-national structures, interact and interrelate with multiple governance arenas, and consequently change and respond to multiple influences (Clarke 2002). Natural resource and macroeconomic characteristics and socio-cultural values, to varying degrees, shape CBRs. They tend to emerge organically from the ‘bottom up’ – in the absence of ‘top down’ structures and rules and limited political attention – through pragmatic, functional and flexible sub-national linkages and coalitions that address sector-specific and mutual challenges in informal low-cost engagements (Blatter 2001: 202; Clarke 2002; PRI 2006).

The analysis of Cascadia underscores the significance of ideational, behavioral and structural conditions, which organically interact at different sites and rates, to provide the foundation for the development of particular Canada-US CBRs (Rosenau 1992). In the construction of regional self identification, public and private actors, NGOs and communities generate regional ideological platforms based on the recognition of regional interdependencies and common problems to provide political legitimacy and orientation to cross-border regionalism. Over time, relations and coalitions between loosely-linked networks may become increasingly institutionalized and embedded as structures of regional governance (Blatter 1995; Helco 1994). However, the interrelation of these dimensions is influenced by national institutions, incentives and disincentives. For instance, the success of the Cascadia transportation policy network was the product of the particular ‘constellation’ of all three levels. Success was achieved through the existence of workable ideas and reframing issues to incorporate diverse interests within new problem definitions; ongoing coalition building, lobbying and interaction; and, the availability of institutional channels for decision-making and directing resources (Clarke 2002). Thus, while Canada-US CBRs possess several tendencies, the nature of particular CBRs is influenced by their unique position within a constellation of contextual, ideational, behavioral/interrelational and institutional factors.

Implications of Canada-US CBRs – The emergence and growing significance of Canada-US CBRs as governance spaces – combined with the emergence of networks of regional actors and institutions that possess strategic resources and varying degrees of authority – brings both opportunities and challenges. With the changing functions of international boundaries in the context of the a more open, globalized and high-tech economy, the regionalization of decision-making and deepening of Canada-US CBRs can have positive effects in terms of reducing conflict, ensuring continuity, facilitating interaction, developing regional capacity, building social capital and establishing long-term cross-border relationships to attain higher levels of prosperity and quality of life (Clement 2005: 200; PRI 2006). According to the PRI (2006), CBRs have the potential to contribute to democratizing Canada-US relations by providing regional infrastructure for the ‘NAFTA Process’[12], supporting activities that complement federal actions, and enhancing international trading relationships. Indeed, IMTC demonstrates the capacity of CBRs to transform regions into competitive global economic hubs of innovation attractive to foreign investment (Blatter 2001). Therefore, instead of undermining state authority, the analysis speaks to the potential of CBRs to complement national policies by encouraging cross-border cooperation, enhancing the relevance and effectiveness of policy making and implementation, as well as increasing the participatory quality of governance (Clarke 2002; Deeg et al. 2000).

Canada-US CBRs may also have negative implications. The democratic nature and legitimacy of regional institutions are often called into question – e.g. the PWNER is often criticized for not being inclusive of environmental interests and NGOs and criticisms have gone so far as to call it ‘just another private interest group’ (Clarke 2004). As this relatively new governance space challenges the Westminster autonomous unitary state model, it brings issues of legitimacy to the forefront, blurring identities and responsibilities for addressing social and economic issues and may lead to unintended consequences such as blame avoidance, ‘scapegoating’ and relations of dependence (Stoker 1998: 18). Moreover, autonomous self-governing networks of actors that control strategic resources to varying degrees raise further issues of accountability, as governments may no longer have the capacity to get things done without working with other actors (Ibid). Given the institutional environment within which they are embedded, Canada-US CBRs confront severe issues of fragmentation and lack of coordination. In the absence of a coordinating institution or a ‘champion’, cross-border initiatives are limited to incremental ‘bottom up’ growth and face uncertain prospects for success. While such governance dilemmas are familiar at every scale, when problems requiring cooperation spill across borders, governance becomes increasingly problematic (Clarke 2002).

6.2 Discussion of Results – Engines of Integration and a Possible Impasse

Among other things, the analysis of the Cascadia CBR underscores the significance of national institutional features influencing Canada-US CBRs. Indeed, the ebb and flow of enabling and constricting factors has shaped the incremental nature of Canada-US CBRs (Duffield 2003). Contrasting ‘top down’ and bottom up’ strategies establishes a dualistic characterization of spatial network strategies, as the ‘bottom up’ mobilization in Cascadia has emerged in a context of overlapping national and transnational regulatory frameworks that provide incentives for some types of cross-border cooperation and coalition-building and not others (Clarke 2004; Benz and Furst 2003). Indeed, the Cascadia IMTC came through working within political institutions as well as acting through cross-border coalitions – ‘bottom up’ and ‘top down’ (Clarke 2004: 213). The ‘seamless gateways’ rhetoric expressed a workable idea to address concerns of important interest groups, (e.g. environmental sustainability and economic competition); was embraced by a coherent, bi-national policy community active on regional transportation issues; found political leadership in both Canada and the US; and, was supported by national structural incentives, culminating in one of the most successful cross-border initiatives between Canada and the US (Ibid).

While Canada-US CBRs have been largely enabled by ‘bottom up’ factors, the shortage of national political incentives and payoffs and the existence of institutional barriers have constricted CBR development, in so far as border communities have few policy incentives and limited resources to encourage cross-border cooperation and many constraints. Consequently, cross-border linkages are likely to be functional, pragmatic, informal, and sectoral. In Cascadia, the lack of sub-national jurisdictional authority for redistribution, limiting federal structures, absence of political incentives to promote long-term CBR growth, and constraining relationships between the executive and legislature have come to hinder CBR integration and regional governance capacity. Although there are many CBR initiatives – with the PNWER being the most sophisticated – few have the resources and capacity to act as collective political actors speaking for the interests of the CBR (Clarke 2002). Without political incentives, payoffs, financial support and means of coordination, a governance dilemma may arise, resulting in an impasse of ‘bottom up’ growth.

Given the existence of legal constraints and in the absence of national incentives for growth of Canada-US CBRs, cross-border regional governance capacity is likely to continue to be a collection of informal networks and ‘soft’ sector-specific institutions. The Cascadia CBR – which is the most institutionally coordinated and mature of Canada-US CBRs – seems to be reaching the limits of ‘bottom-up’ growth, and now requires a more integrated Canada-US CBR strategy in order to adapt to the competitive global market (Blank et al. 2006: 6). CBRs stand at the leading edge of the move towards new levels of competitiveness, wherein the challenge to North America’s competitive advantage is whether national structures can effectively adapt (Ibid: 7). CBRs fuel North American integration and have the potential to be important global actors. Although many interests would gain from greater transnational coordination of Canada-US CBRs, and although market ties reaching across the Canada-US borders are vibrant Canada-US CBRs continue to be frustrated and fragmented by legal and fiscal constraints that generate institutional disincentives for cooperation (Clarke 2002; Artibise 1995).

Recommendations for Federal PolicyOvercoming a possible impasse to ‘bottom up’ growth in Cascadia and harnessing the advantages afforded by CBRs requires the development of a more detailed understanding of the nature of Canada-US CBRs; recognition by national governments and policy makers of the growing importance of Canada-US CBRs as engines of economic growth, integration and competitiveness; development of regional leadership and political incentives incorporating CBR concepts in the development of long-term strategies; and, generation of coordinated bi-national spatial policies and initiatives to support CBRs (PRI 2006). Given the limited empirical and analytical attention paid to Canada-US CBRs, more qualitative analysis – including Canada-US and international policy innovations and best-practices and statistical data collection pertaining to north-south linkages – is required to provide a more accurate and detailed picture of these regions, to further demonstrate their socio-economic significance as global economic hubs, and to foster effective, strategic and enabling policies. As the existence of CBRs requires new ways of thinking about policies and policy development, according to the PRI (2006) integrating a cross-border regional lens and concepts into national strategies would enhance national decisions by providing regional perspectives on national policies. Ultimately, by developing coordinated bi-national spatial policies and initiatives and reducing regulatory differences, the national governments of Canada and the US would support competitiveness and prosperity, industrial cluster coordination and CBR global production platforms; facilitate regional development by enabling actors and sectors to effectively address common regional challenges; and, bolster Canada-US relations through innovation, pre-empting bi-national disputes, and securing a stronger voice for cross-border regional issues in the national capitals (Ibid: 60). This necessitates that national governments engage sub-national governments and partners in more participatory and effective policy making (PRI Briefing 2006: 7).

The recommendations advocate an awareness of the importance of CBRs through integrating a regional lens into policy making and developing national incentive structures to build regional capacity. According to the PRI Briefing Report (2006), “It is at this cross-border regional level that the costs and benefits are actually felt, and more readily available. Consequently, it is also at this level that it becomes easier and more practical to address bi-national issues through the active participation and cooperation of CBR stakeholders and organizations’ (7). Thus, as neighboring and nearby provinces and states become more interdependent, there is a need to ensure that political structures respond to economic realities on the ground in order to address joint problems more effectively, harness the enormous transformational potential of Canada-US CBRs, and promote globally competitive cross-border activities (Blank et al. 2006; PRI 2006; PRI Briefing 2006; Clarke 2002; Blatter 2001).

7. Study Précis

7.1 Summary of Study

Informed by the global governance perspective and utilizing a three-pronged analytic framework, this essay explored the internal, interrelational and ideational dimensions and forces shaping the Cascadia CBR in order to provide useful insights into the nature, implications and future prospects of Canada-US CBRs. Subsequent to situating the study within global transformations, the analysis provided a brief overview of the literature on borders and networks and defined CBRs in material and imagined terms, as involving more or less institutionalized collaboration between contiguous sub-national authorities that possess varying degrees of homogeneous features and functional interdependence across national borders. To support the assertion that Canada-US CBRs as governance spaces and engines of integration warrant attention, this study utilized the findings of a 2006 PRI report to provide an overview of the five main Canada-US CBRs and explored their empirical significance. As the Cascadia CBR was found to be the most developed CBR overall – with evidence of ongoing cross-border efforts to enhance regional governance capacities amidst growing self-consciousness – a comprehensive analysis of Cascadia utilizing the three-pronged analytic framework was conducted, with particular attention to Cascadia transportation governance.

The combined overview of Canada-US CBRs and the analysis of Cascadia rendered important insights in terms of the nature, implications and future prospects of Canada-US. While each CBR is unique, Canada-US CBRs tend to emerge incrementally from the ‘bottom up’ – in the absence of ‘top down’ structures and incentives – through functional, flexible and loosely-linked coalitions that address sector-specific and mutual challenges in informal, low-cost engagements. The nature of particular Canada-US CBRs is shaped by their unique position within a ‘constellation’ of enabling and constricting internal characteristics; multi-level interrelations; and ideational, behavioral and structural factors. While ‘bottom-up’ cross-border regional governance arrangements have become increasingly relevant spheres of governance in the context of multi-level governance, cross-border regional governance capacity is likely to continue to be a collection of informal networks and ‘soft’ sector-specific institutions. Cascadia – which is the most institutionally coordinated and mature of Canada-US CBRs – seems to be reaching the limits of ‘bottom-up’ growth, and now requires a more integrated Canada-US CBR strategy in order to adapt to the competitive global market. Overcoming limitations to growth and harnessing the advantages afforded by CBRs requires that national policy makers recognize the growing importance of Canada-US CBRs as engines of economic growth, integration, and competitiveness; incorporate a sub-regional lens in the development of long-term strategies; and, engage bi-nationally and cross-sectorally to provide incentives for CBR growth to address joint problems more effectively and promote globally competitive cross-border activities.




7.2 Limitations and Recommendations for Further Research

While this paper provides a comprehensive analysis of the Cascadia CBR, the discussion of results is careful not to stretch the assertion of a potential impasse to all Canada-US CBRs. As the possibilities for generalization are impaired by the fact that Cascadia is the most ‘positive’ case of a Canada-US CBR, the discussion would benefit from an in-depth comparative analysis of each Canada-US CBR and a diachronic empirical assessment of their dimensions to generate more detailed and significant findings. Methodologically, the analysis of the Cascadia CBR would have benefited from a more rigorous empirical assessment, which time, space and data availability prevented. Given the ‘bottom up’ nature of Canada’s CBRs, personal interviews with regional policy entrepreneurs – e.g. George Eskbridge, PNWER President – and a content analysis of discourse on Cascadia would have enhanced the findings. The analysis would also have benefited from in-depth discussions of how cross-border regional, networks, regimes and coalitions can strategically manoeuvre to gain national attention, and of the PNWER as the most sophisticated Canada-US CBR institution. Moreover, the EU, which has the most highly developed CBR spatial policy in the world, has not been adequately addressed. Works of other scholars in this field may be able to address these issues that time and space prevented. Further research is also warranted in the following areas: comparative regional analysis with US-Mexico CBRs; the strategic use of CBRs in Canada-US relations – e.g. softwood lumber and salmon disputes; and, the implications of the post 9.11 security discourses and tighter border controls on Canada-US CBRs.

Written by: Victoria Lennox
Written at: Oxford University
Date: 2008


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[1] Literature on European CBRs developed in response to early European cross-border initiatives such as INTERREG in the 1990s and arose out of literature on European integration, frontiers and regional regimes (e.g.  Anderson and Bort 1997; Perkmann 2002, 2003; Scott 1999; Keating 1997, 1998; Ohmae 1995).

[2] Examples of relevant actors include: individuals (Rosenau 1997), non-governmental organizations (NGOs) (Rosenau 1992, 1997; Weiss 2000; Stoker 1998), transnational networks (Keck and Sikkink 1998), epistemic communities (Benz and Furst 2003), multinational corporations (MNCs), and international organizations (IOs) (Weiss 2000; Rosenau 1992, 1997).

[3] As manifest in the liberalization of economies, emergence of knowledge-intensive capitalism and global financial centers, growing economic interdependence, and increasing MNC control over strategic resources.

[4] This may take many forms, ranging from developing legislation to give effect to international laws to participating in international negotiations (de Mestral 2005).

[5] The methodology for the PRI study involved research and analysis; a survey of 110 leaders and executive interviews; and six regional roundtables engaging more than 200 leaders. This study constitutes the most advanced empirically-based study to date on Canada-US CBRs.

[6] For instance, INTERREG programs from 1994-1997 functioned as structural incentives for cross-border programs (Scott 1998; Clarke 2000).

[7] For instance, the Pacific Northwest Economic Region (PNWER) piloted the International Border Enforcement Team and NEXUS Plus border security projects that were later implemented along the entire border.

[8] This of course varies in intensity in accordance with the exchange rate of the Canadian dollar.

[9] Washington greatly supported Vancouver in its bid for the 2010 Olympics, recognizing that what was good for BC was good for the region as a whole. Rather than providing redistributive support for the 2010 bid, members of the PNWER created the 2010 Coordinating Council to “develop coordination of efforts” between states, provinces and private sector organizations (PNWER Website, 2010 Winter Olympics 2008).

[10] In Canada, the legal environment is further complicated by the fact that issues pertaining to the environment and economy are concurrently held by federal and provincial governments.

[11] These go by the names of ‘Euroregions’ and ‘Working Communities’ among others (Perkmann 2003: 153).

[12] The PRI (2006) report claims that NAFTA is sometimes inappropriately considered as to be an ‘end’, when in reality it is a ‘process’ contributing to more beneficial interactions between North American partners. The PNWER provides regional infrastructure to this process through providing forums for building and enhancing Canada-US relationships and discussing issues on a regional basis.

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