Kathleen Wynne, the premier of Ontario was interviewed by journalist and author Diane Francis, in a session called "Moving Ontario Forward".
Wynne said the infrastructure climate in the U.S. and the adoption of the P3 model is a real challenge as it's much more difficult to plan projects based on funding. In Ontario, she said, you can have a system that serves the public good, but still gives a return to the private sector.
Wynne said she's visited 32 governors, some by phone and many in person, and while trade is a dominant issue, "procurement and the ability to work across the border is trade as well."
Wynne noted 28 states count Canada as their main trading partner, and that Canada is "absolutely dependent" on trade with the U.S., but "it's a symbiotic relationship."
When discussing NAFTA, she said, all sides thought it should be a "do no harm discussion" that still addresses economic changes over the previous decades.
"The problem is there's a disconnect between those conversations, and what's coming out of White House, and I'm afraid we've seen that disconnect grow over the last few months," Wynne said.
Francis pointed to regional organizations as a way forward, and Wynne agreed, saying "so much has gotten done at the subnational level."
In Ontario, she said, there was an infrastructure deficit and a need to catch up, but in terms of climate change and greenhouse gas reduction, the subnational level is where progress has been made.
"In the U.S., it's going to have to come at the state level, because it's not coming out of the White House," she said, and added there is a role for municipalities where "the rubber hits the road."
Ontario's priorities regarding NAFTA, she said, are to stand up for Ontario's workers and businesses, and Ontario's success has partly been due to infrastructure investment.
"We know NAFTA has benefitted our economy and their economy as well, and we don't want a trade war, but there are non-negotiables, and we won't step over that line," Wynne said.
"It's working, so let's not blow it up," she said, adding U.S. governors agree with this assessment.
The border states understand the importance of NAFTA, Wynne said, but that becomes less prevalent the further into the U.S. you go. Trade has also been blamed for many changes in the economy, and no one is speaking about dislocation due to technology.
Another factor is that "we have a third partner," because Mexico is involved. It is a three-way supply chain, and it's difficult to try to have a good relationship with Canada and a negative one with Mexico at the same time.
Wynne said when she met with tech entrepreneurs, one of their main concerns was rail infrastructure, to connect Toronto and Kitchener-Waterloo. Quality of life is key, and as a huge geography with a comparatively small population, it is key to upgrade infrastructure.
Other infrastructure that could serve Ontario's growing tech sector is social infrastructure, because Wynne said younger people want a quality of life comparable to what they would have in larger centres. A lot of aging infrastructure was built in the 1960s and 70s and "it's creaking," she said.
"We have a responsibility to look at regional economies and realize infrastructure is a part of that," Wynne said.
The number one ask for regional communities is broadband, she added, and that is "foundational infrastructure for the 21st century."
Wynne lamented that more progress hasn't been made with First Nations wastewater infrastructure, but added the province is trying to bring together expertise that isn't present in indigenous communities so once wastewater infrastructure is established, it can be continuously maintained.