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Canadian Consul General talks about cross border issues affecting New York’s North Country

 Consul General of Canada to New York Tom Clark
Consulate General of Canada in New York
Consul General of Canada to New York Tom Clark

The Consul General of Canada to New York was in Plattsburgh this week. Hosted by the North Country Chamber, Tom Clark visited Canadian-owned businesses and manufacturers and promoted the region’s cross-border relations. But lately when people think of Canada only one word comes to mind: wildfires. Clark tells WAMC North Country Bureau Chief Pat Bradley the fires are more intense this year for one reason.

Well, one phrase: climate change. That's what's happening. The forests are dry. The temperature is extremely high. In the Arctic, one village in the Arctic a couple of weeks ago registered 93 degrees. That's never been seen before in the Arctic. So when you have that combination then you get lightning and that sets off the wildfires. To give you an idea, the average number of wildfires that we have, say in June, this year was fourteen-thousand percent higher than the normal amount of forest fires that we have. So that gives you some idea. And it's not just in Quebec. It's not just in the east, but it's coast to coast. It's British Columbia. It's Alberta. It's every province has got wildfires this year.

So what has this meant for Canada's stature around the world? Because all they're thinking about is the smoke that is now settling in from these wildfires.

And I'm now living in New York and I hear it a lot. They sort of say we kind of like you but, you know, can you do something about the smoke? The reality is that there's nothing that we can do. It's all about the winds. But one thing that is hard to explain to somebody from New York, New York City in particular, is why is there a continuing amount of smoke? And why are we saying, as we are, that this may last well into August. It may even go into September. Here's the deal. A lot of these fires are burning in areas that are so remote. There are no people around no roads, no infrastructure, no nothing. And you can't really fight them. So literally, you have to let them burn themselves out or wait for winter for them to extinguish themselves. What we do is that we're fighting hard the forest fires that are encroaching on human habitation or infrastructure. We are as a result of the extraordinary amount of fires we've got this year we are fighting further and further north than we have before. But the simple reality is the area is so vast we can't land firefighters there. There's no camps. There's no, as I said, no roads. And so you really are left with unfortunately having to look at it and say the forest has to take care of itself.

Tom Clark, recently Amtrak said it was going to suspend and has suspended service between Albany and Montreal because its partner rail service in Canada has said that if the tracks get above 80 or 90 degrees it has to slow its service. And so it's suspended the rail service which has upset some of the local folks here in the North Country. The track heat provision, is that something that Canada has set? Is that a provision in any sort of Canadian law?

No. This is the regulations, internal regulations of Canadian National. Now that's a private company, as Amtrak is a private company. And really what we've got here are two private companies who are in a commercial dispute. And there's very little space for a government to be involved in that dispute. They've got to work it out for themselves. The one thing I will say though and let me take you back to last year. In British Columbia there was a town called Lytton, British Columbia and a train went through and sparks came off the rails of the train. The town was destroyed. Burnt out. It was turned into oblivion. There was nothing left of Lytton. So that concern is very real. How that concern is dealt with is really has to be left to these two private commercial enterprises to figure out

(In an email to WAMC on July 18th the Consulate General of Canada in New York's office wrote: "During the interview he mentioned that the fire that destroyed the town of Lytton, British Columbia, was caused by sparks coming off the rails on the train. Since then, it has been brought to his attention that this was not the case; further, that an investigation conducted in 2021 by Canada's Transportation Safety Board found no evidence to link railway operations through Lytton and the fire. Consul General Clark unreservedly supports the findings of the Transportation Safety Board and regrets the error.")

Speaking of businesses, another thing that happened here in the region recently, Nova Bus announced that it would close its manufacturing plant in Plattsburgh by 2025. Is there any indication that other Quebec companies manufacturing or working in the US, particularly in the Plattsburgh area, are tentative about the US economy and may pull out of the US and the North Country region?

Certainly not that I have heard of. I've heard no indication of that whatsoever. In fact, quite the opposite. We're very bullish on what's happening here. We think that the opportunities for Plattsburgh, the North Country, in fact, all of upstate New York, are tremendous. I was at Alstom here in Plattsburgh and taking a look at their plant here in Plattsburgh and what they're doing elsewhere in the state of New York. And they're growing they're getting big. They see opportunities all over the place. So no, I don't think that's the case at all. I think that the case of Nova Bus which again was very sad anytime a company feels that it has to retreat it's always bad.

Tom Clark, you mentioned you were at Alstom. Why are you in Plattsburgh?

Plattsburgh and the North Country, in fact all of upstate New York, is extremely important to Canada. We take this relationship really seriously. I don't think that there's any other place in the United States on the border that gets the relationship more and better than the people of Plattsburgh do. And I think it's because they live it every single day. It's so much a part of who they are and what they do that they really understand how both countries can benefit, how both sides can benefit from this. There's such cooperation. There's such history between these two parts of the world. And so when I was appointed Consul General there were two promises that I made and one was that my first trip outside of New York City was going to be to Albany because I wanted to establish that first and foremost and that my first out trip beyond that was going to be up here in the North Country. This is a relationship that we tend to all the time. We love the people up here. But we love what you're doing up here. And, you know, we back up those words of love with actual dollars. I mean, we've got Canadian companies. Plattsburgh, Clinton County alone sells $230 million of goods and services to Canada every year. That's just Clinton County. And when you take a look at all of New York it's $50 billion that goes from New York up to Canada. So our relationship is big. It's huge. It's significant. And the worst thing we could do is take it for granted and I'm not about to do that.

Consul General Tom Clark is Canada’s official representative in New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Connecticut, Delaware and Bermuda.