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He writes about northern Minnesota.

Great Lakes, Great Neighbors: my interview with Canada's Governor General

The International Bridge at Sault Ste. Marie. Canada's Governor General David Johnston grew up in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, the product of an "international marriage" between his Canadian dad and American mom, who themselves were raised on either side of this bridge. (PHOTO: Emily Bell, Flickr CC)

The International Bridge at Sault Ste. Marie. Canada's Governor General David Johnston grew up in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, the product of an "international marriage" between his Canadian dad and American mom, who themselves were raised on either side of this bridge. (PHOTO: Emily Bell, Flickr CC)

Thanks to a strange set of circumstances involving Twitter and a longstanding history of witty repartee with the Canadian Consulate's digital team, I was granted the chance to interview His Excellency, the Right Honourable David Johnston, Governor General of Canada, on Thursday, April 23.

The Governor General, constitutional head of the Canadian government as representative of the Queen, performs a series of diplomatic, ceremonial and cultural job duties. That's why, starting Sunday, April 26, he started a four-day tour of the Great Lakes region of the United States. I spoke to him before his trip began for a lovely chat about his childhood in the hockey-and-steel town of Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, and the purpose of his trip to Minneapolis, St. Paul, Chicago and Detroit.

Johnston was a three-sport athlete at Sault Ste. Marie, playing hockey with Hall of Famers Lou Nanne, Phil and Tony Esposito and going on to become a two-time All American captain of the Harvard University hockey team. He would become a lawyer and respected law professor before Queen Elizabeth II granted him his current title in 2010.

The Governor General participates in a Canada-U.S. Forum Monday in Minneapolis before giving the keynote address at the Great Lakes Economic Forum Tuesday in Chicago, and then concluding his trip in Detroit later this week.

My interview with Johnston was broadcast as part of the Saturday, April 25 "Give and Take" program and again Monday morning on Northern Community Radio You can listen to the interview now at my blog

Some highlights from the interview with Governor General Johnston:

On his offices apolitical role

"It's delightful in the sense that as I visit communities and other nations that I'm not negotiating difficult matters or tensions but attempting to strengthen the people-to-people relationships and say, you know, when people get to know one another better and build on what they have in common, good things happen."

Our nations' special relationship

"We've enjoyed so much security, so much prosperity and so much exchange of ideas and innovation. In today's world where national boundaries are diminishing somewhat you look at regional ecosystems and what they have in common and how they enrich one another. First of all the Canada and U.S. trade relationship is by far the largest in the world. Canada is the largest customer for 35 U.S. states. That basin of the Great Lakes connecting towns and communities is one of the busiest in the world with a great deal of movement back and forth -- goods, services, ideas and education. Our challenge is to take that very special relationship of the Great Lakes and say how do we move it up another level or two and be very ambitious about it."

The Great Lakes states and provinces comprise the world'd fourth largest economy.

Isn't that impressive that a geographical region that circumscribes a lakes system is the fourth largest economy in the world. It's built yes, initially on natural resources. It began with the fur trade and then it became agriculture,

When you think of the cross border movement of intellectual property, and therefore goods and services, and where we have to go, it's really quite exciting. And it's all in this backdrop of really good friends who enjoy one another's company and contribute so much to the health of the communities on either side of the border.

How can we renew our industrial cities and natural resource-based regional economies?

We have to be innovative, don't we. We have to be resilient. We have seen economic cycles and industrial cycles throughout history. Those societies that manage those best are always looking ahead.

... What we must do to our natural resources based economy is add value to those resources, use ingenuity and great public education systems to trade not just with one another but with the world, and constantly reinvent ourselves.

... I believe that happens best if you are vigorous and aggressive in your competition, to take your trade directly to the world. Then build the collaborative networks and partnerships that develop from that."

One thing he wants Minnesotans to know

"We've been great neighbors and we face the challenge of reinventing ourselves. Let's do it and see the Great Lakes as something that brings us together as it has for 400 years."

Rural broadband download disrupted by politics

Gavin St. Ours, Flickr CC

Gavin St. Ours, Flickr CC

Waiting for the Minnesota legislature to act on broadband infrastructure for rural Minnesota is a lot like trying to update your operating system on a rural computer. It takes forever and halfway through you have to start over because of some stupid error message.

One thing seems readily apparent from the last few days of Minnesota's legislative session: leadership of the GOP House and DFL Senate seem prepared to drop nearly $1 billion on concrete and rebar, but a drop in the bucket for broadband infrastructure.

The House has scraped together a plan to slide $10 million toward statewide broadband efforts, while the Senate has mustered $17 million. The governor's broadband task force had recommended $200 million in spending to connect rural communities to affordable high speed internet services currently unavailable to them, but even Gov. Mark Dayton only asked for $30 million. Most experts seem to acknowledge it would take an even bigger investment by state and private sources to fully connect all Minnesotans to broadband.

As I wrote recently, failure to invest in broadband at this juncture in our economic and political history would be a historically epic mistake. Some skeptics argue that physical wires aren't the future of broadband, but that seems more an excuse than anything. Cellular data and satellites can deliver internet to millions, but at great expense and not at the universal download and upload speeds necessary for modern commerce. Ask my wife and I; we deal with these issues daily with home-based business, freelance work and online teaching that actually pay our taxes and enroll our boys in a Greater Minnesota public school. Or don't, I guess. We're actually used to that.

The political roadblock to rural broadband is, pure and simple, control issues. Some simply refuse to acknowledge that the people, by way of their government, have an important interest in fostering access to the modern internet. These slow actors will have lots to talk about with the politicians who opposed rural electrification 100 years ago when they get to Heaven for Dummies. Meantime, the campaign continues and I know who's going to win ... eventually. The question is how much damage will be done to the economy of rural Minnesota on the way to happy victory.

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