The MLA for Steinbach will be stepping down from a committee that sees him discuss cross-border concerns with his American counterparts. 

Kelvin Goertzen says it has probably been close to 15 years that he has been part of the Midwestern Legislative Conference. The conference is formed by about a dozen Midwestern states and three or four provinces. As part of that conference, there is a Midwest-Canada Relations Committee. Goertzen says he has been on that committee for more than a decade and has been the co-chair for nearly the entire time. 

Goertzen co-chairs the committee with an American representative. Currently, that is Amos O'Neal from Michigan. 

"That's been a great experience," says Goertzen, who notes they meet regularly throughout the year.

He says depending on the issues that are happening between our two countries, the representatives will try to come to a consensus and then bring that recommendation to the broader American legislators. 

According to Goertzen, sometimes the issues needing to be discussed arise suddenly, while others are longstanding. For example, he says border security is a longstanding issue between Canada and the United States. 

"We have a great, sort of undefended border, the longest in the world, but there are lots of issues," he suggests.

Goertzen notes at different times there will be individuals trying to cross the border illegally, which then becomes an issue. He says this is something he dealt with while the Minister of Justice. 

"We then sort of go through that discussion," he says. "What recommendations can we make to try to prevent that or determine why that's happening?"

Goertzen notes illegal border crossing was a significant issue several years ago, but there has been some improvement as of late. However, he says that can very quickly become a problem again. 

Goertzen says another topic that has been discussed has been the Gordie Howe International Bridge, which connects Michigan to Ontario at the Detroit crossing. He notes there were a lot of discussions over who would pay for this project. Goertzen says they were able to bring that to a conclusion and now the span is almost complete. 

Kelvin Goertzen at the Gordie Howe International BridgeKelvin Goertzen at the Gordie Howe International Bridge (Submitted photo)

Another issue has been human trafficking across the international border. He notes this has been an ongoing concern and one of the challenges is getting law enforcement to work together from both sides of the border. 

"I think we've had some success in that, in terms of sharing information, particularly Manitoba, North Dakota, Minnesota," says Goertzen. "So that there's not a gap of information."

Goertzen says other agenda items over the years have included concerns about agriculture, such as country of origin, and continuing cross-border commercial traffic during the pandemic. 

"We have perspectives as Canadians, they have perspectives of course as Americans," notes Goertzen. "But where we can come together and get a unified position between a good number of states and a good number of provinces, that adds a lot of strength then when we bring those recommendations to the national Senate or to our House of Commons."

Goertzen says the decision to step down from this committee was his own. 

"I've been a bit of a fixture there for the decade while there have been a number of other American co-chairs who have sort of come and gone," he says. " I just felt that it was time for somebody new, a little bit of a fresh perspective."

Goertzen notes he will be stepping down after the annual meeting in Columbus, Ohio in a few weeks. However, he says he will continue to be part of the council state governments of the Midwestern Legislative Conference. 

Goertzen, who is elected to the role of co-chair, says he has appreciated being on this committee, noting it gives him a good understanding of how important our relationship is with the United States and how fragile that relationship can be. 

"I truly believe after this last decade that the strongest relationships that we have, are at those sub-national levels," he says. "Really glad to have been a part of that and encouraging my other legislators, both in Manitoba and my friends now in America, to continue those relationships."

Kelvin Goertzen with former Ohio Speaker of the House Bob CuppKelvin Goertzen with former Ohio Speaker of the House Bob Cupp (submitted photo)