State senator visits Great White North

WELLSBURG – There are more connections between West Virginia and Canada than many people may realize, said state Sen. Jack Yost, D-Wellsburg, and that’s why he joined legislators from several states on a weeklong visit to the Great White North.

Yost, who represents the state’s 1st Senatorial District, which includes Hancock, Brooke, Ohio and Marshall counties, was among eight state lawmakers invited by Canada’s American embassy to participate in this year’s Rising State Leaders Tour of Western Canada.

The tour is funded by the Canadian government to encourage understanding and good relationships between the countries.

Yost said he accompanied state representatives ranging from Montana to New Hampshire as well as Arkansas and Tennessee as he toured Vancouver, the nation’s third largest city, Alberta and the Yukon.

Yost said there are many economic ties between the U.S. and Canada. For example, Canada is the leading supplier of oil to the U.S., exporting almost double the amount received from Saudi Arabia, he said.

Yost added West Virginia and Canada also are strongly linked economically, with about 4,100 West Virginians employed by Canadian companies doing business in the state, such as Mustang Survival, which produces life jackets and flotation suits for individuals ranging from commercial fishermen to astronauts.

He said there also are about 31,000 West Virginia jobs linked to trade with Canada through such exports as engines and turbines, often used in the nation’s mining industry, motor vehicle parts and coal.

Yost said oil is a booming industry in Canada, with an impact similar to that of the natural gas industry locally “but on a much larger scale.”

He noted that as in West Virginia and other places, oil companies have built roads to reach remote areas for drilling.

Yost said something that surprised him is the government, through laws associated with its ties to the British monarchy, owns the mineral rights to all properties, though it may sell or lease those rights to the property owners or others.

He said the oil industry in Fort McMurray, Alberta, has spurred small communities, with schools and stores, where workers live with their families – a situation similar to the development of the coal industry in West Virginia.

But Yost noted there also is less development in areas of the Yukon Territory, where a secluded community is served by one store and one restaurant and firewood and other supplies for mine workers are shipped by large paddle boats up the Yukon River.

Yost said the terrain and climate of the Yukon was particularly memorable. He recalled standing in a a mostly barren desert that resembled western parts of the U.S. with one exception: the average high temperature was 46 degrees in what was the area’s warm season.

According to various sources, the average high temperature is around 20 degrees below 0 in the region’s colder months.

Despite such frigid temperatures, or because of them, tourism is a major industry for the Yukon, and it particularly attracts avid hunters, Yost noted.

Yost said another memorable scene was “mile after mile of steel-and-glass condominiums,” part of an architectural trend that earned Vancouver the nickname “City of Glass.”

A number had “green roofs,” covered with gardens or grass planted over a waterproof membrane that offered those who lived there an opportunity to enjoy an outdoor environment, he said.

“Vancouver was awesome,” Yost said.

Yost said he also noticed very little litter in the city’s streets.

He said he discovered a strong concern for environmental preservation in Canada. He said former mining sites are reclaimed not only by restoring grass and plant life but by replacing dead trees and stones that had been part of the wildlife’s habitat.

Yost said he found Canadians to be “very humble, polite and friendly – from Linda Reid, who is Speaker of the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia, who joked and spoke casually about her family when she met with the group, to the owners and staff of restaurants and stores they visited.

“People on the street would stop and ask us questions and offer help,” he added.

Yost said the experience was good not only for its exposure to the Canadian government and culture but also for introducing him to legislators from other states who are dealing with similar issues as West Virginia.

He said he plans to become more involved in the Council of State Governments, a national group that offers opportunities to network with international, national and other state leaders.