Athabasca-Sturgeon-Redwater MLA Colin Piquette recently traveled to Boston, Mass., to take part in a national conference of U.S. state politicians and learn about how individual states are approaching problems currently being experienced in Alberta.
Piquette was one of five Alberta MLAs who attended the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) summit from Aug. 6-9.
The NCSL is a bipartisan organization originally established in 1975 with the mission of supporting, defending and strengthening its member state legislatures. The group included both New Democratic Party (NDP) and United Conservative Party (UCP) members.
Besides Alberta, other provinces also sent representatives to the conference. Piquette said the purpose of the summit is to exchange tips and advice between states, and to come up with a common agenda when dealing with the federal government.
The NDP MLA said he was surprised by the latitude given to state governments in the American political system, particularly in areas like health care and education.
“I do have a Political Science degree, but I didn’t really delve too deep into American state politics,” he said. “Because we view them through the mass media, everything we see is focused on (the federal government in) Washington.”
Piquette said these states are also facing a lot of the same challenges as Alberta, such as the opioid epidemic. In particularly, fentanyl use is at epidemic levels. He noted that Alberta has, in some ways, struggled harder with the opioid epidemic due to the abuse of OxyContin.
Although it has since been banned, widespread OxyContin abuse resulted in Canada becoming the highest opioid-consuming country in the world. On a related note, many states are also grappling with how to implement the legalization of cannabis, he said.
“It’s neat to see similar problems being looked at from different perspectives,” said Piquette. “Sometimes it’s not applicable, but then sometimes they can come up with things that we would not have necessarily thought of. It’s pretty enlightening.”
As well, there were numerous seminars on topics such as infrastructure challenges, climate change and funding post-secondary education.
“It was really rich and diverse,” he added. Piquette recalled attending one presentation on climate change where the speakers assured the attendees from various countries that they didn’t share President Donald Trump’s views on the subject. “The great majority of U.S. states are strongly committed to moving ahead on renewable energy and climate change strategies,” he said. “They basically said, ‘We know it’s real, and we know it’s already impacting us. Let’s keep working together.’”
Aside from attending conferences and hearing how other states are trying to solve problems common to Alberta, Piquette said the group’s purpose was to network with colleagues and find connections on the issues that interested them. “A big part of it is just to be around the table,” he said.
As indicated above, Piquette was particularly interested in the subjects of climate change, cannabis legalization and the fentanyl epidemic.
He said he also attended one presentation on distance education where, upon speaking to the presenters, they instantly recognized the name of Athabasca University. “Athabasca University still has a very enviable international reputation,” he said.