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Dream of cohesive Cascadia never dies

Most advocates for Cascadia don't seriously think about creating a separate, free-standing nation. But they do talk a lot about what could come of closer political, cultural and economic ties
Cascadia's original aboriginals certainly never conceived of an invisible, arbitrary east-west border dividing their communities at the so-called "49th latitude."

Aboriginals had long been linked by north-south-running valleys, rivers and trade routes.

Even from the point of view of pioneers and immigrants, the vision of creating a more closely interconnected entity out of the linked mountain ranges, volcanoes, rivers, evergreens and beaches of British Columbia, Washington state and Oregon has been around for almost two centuries.

U.S. president Thomas Jefferson was among those who in 1803 dispatched the famous Lewis and Clark expedition to solidify the wild terrain between northern California and what is now Alaska into an independent entity -- to be called, fetchingly, "The Republic of the Pacific."

The British wanted to claim the same land, bound together by the mighty Columbia River and its tributaries, which was then being called "The Oregon Territory."

The international border wasn't created until 1846, to head off a possible war between Britain and prominent Americans who thought it was God's providence, or "manifest destiny," that they should own what is now B.C.

Despite the border with its now often-surly customs guards, the dream of a cohesive Cascadia has never died, although precious few think it should actually be a separate nation.

The name, Cascadia, first rose up in the 1820s when Scottish botanist David Douglas, after whom the towering Douglas fir is named, marvelled at the region's cascading waterfalls.

The name has since been applied to the region's Cascade Mountains, the Cascade Volcanic Arc and the Pacific Ocean's earthquake-prone Cascadia subduction zone, not to mention several businesses.


The most talked-about symbol of the mythical free-standing Cascadian state is Ernest Callenbach's futuristic novel, Ecotopia.

Although the borders of Callenbach's Ecotopia don't actually include B.C., those who dream of Cascadia tend to like the author's description of the Pacific Northwest as an ecologically-sensitive nation with a female president and free love.

Author Joel Garneau followed Ecotopia with a somewhat more plausible 1981 book, The Nine Nations of North America, which used the same term to describe the U.S. and Canadian northwest as a unified geographic and cultural entity, noted for environmental sensitivities and high quality of life.

Famed B.C. broadcaster and politician Rafe Mair once predicted a political entity called Cascadia would soon exist.

And there remain groups of activists today, calling themselves things such as Team Cascadia, the Republic of Cascadia or the Cascadian National Party, who promote pro-Cascadian manifestoes, banners and flags.

Their favoured flag design appears to be an evergreen tree on a background of blue-green stripes.


Most advocates for Cascadia don't seriously think about creating a separate, free-standing nation.

But they do talk a lot about what could come of closer political, cultural and economic ties.

There is a loosely liberal-libertarian streak that runs through Cascadian politics on both sides of the international border, says Warren Gill, professor of geography at Simon Fraser University.

Most of Washington and Oregon's governors have been Democrats and the Republicans who sometimes obtain the office are usually of the "progressive" kind. Even B.C.'s conservative premiers, like W.A.C. Bennett, Gill argues, have been populists.

Increasingly, the politicians of Cascadia are trying to cooperate, particularly on transportation and ecological issues and occasionally economic ones, says Bruce Agnew, policy director for Seattle's influential Cascadia Center.

Whatever its political vision, the Cascadia Center is trying to add the nuts and bolts to make possible a more integrated Cascadia, and Agnew believes B.C.'s 2010 Winter Olympics are speeding up the process.

In the name of the so-called "two-nation vacation," one of the more romantic, and achievable, visions Agnew holds for Cascadia is of a high-speed train to run between Vancouver and Seattle and beyond, making possible daily two-hour trips between the cities' airports.

He's also working on high-tech improvements to speed up Cascadian road travel and push for more port cooperation. And he'd like to beautify the ugly I-5 Highway, by at least stopping clear-cut logging within sight of it.

Another one of his key goals is to streamline the border process. The backups and uncertainty at the border are "the Achilles heel of Cascadia," Agnew says.

He criticizes Homeland Security and other federal U.S. agencies for their heavy-handed "militarization of the border," which he dubs shameful.

He adds that he'd like to see the harmonization of U.S. and Canadian immigration laws and the virtual bulldozing of the border, "while keeping the Peace Arch."


Despite such controversial ideas, Agnew goes out of his way to maintain his Cascadia Center's non-partisan nature, noting his organization has been generously funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Still, in an unusual link, the Cascadia Center is an arm of The Discovery Institute, whose heritage office lobby in downtown Seattle is full of religious right and free-market book titles.

The Discovery Institute was founded by conservative Christian Bruce Chapman, a long-time Republican who has made his organization the premier forum for the cause of intelligent design -- teaching in public schools that God created the world.

Agnew wants to be taken at his word, however, when he argues that, despite the Discovery Insititute's association with conservative Christianity, the economic and transportation changes the Cascadia Center is proposing for the Pacific Northwest are for the benefit of all.

Since Cascadians are closely tied to each other, what can they learn from each other?

A lot -- about politics, economics and the environment, says Alan Durning, head of Sightline Institute of Seattle.

Durning believes Americans in the Pacific Northwest can learn from their Canadian brethren how to respect the planning process, which Durning believes has led to highly livable cities such as Vancouver and Victoria.

"B.C. does a better job than Washington and Oregon of building great communities and cities," said Durning, creator of Sightline's must-read Cascadia Scorecard, which annually monitors environmental and economic trends across the region.

"British Columbians expect governments will plan cities so they'll work. We're still debating in the States whether planning can work," Durning says with a wry laugh.

Planned cities in British Columbia have led to less car use, less smog, longer lifespans and more fitness through walking and cycling, says Durning, interviewed in his pleasant little house in the famously eco-activist Ballard neighbourhood of Seattle.

In turn, Durning says British Columbians can learn from their American neighbours in Cascadia.

"Washington in particular has a lot to teach British Columbians about the entrepreneurial attitude," he said.

"We've launched one industry after another, with lifestyle-changing consequences. There's something phenomenally entrepreneurial here. It's in the water."

As evidence, he cites Washington state's homegrown multinational corporations, including Boeing, Microsoft, Starbucks and Amazon, which he acknowledges are not without their ruthless aspects.

The go-for-it financial energy of Washingtonians, however, spills over into "social entrepreneurialism" in the non-profit sector, Durning adds.

Washington and Oregon, he points out, are the homes of remarkable mega-charities such as World Vision, Mercy Corps, Casey family foundations and the Gates Foundation.


B.C. faces economic problems because it lacks the same degree of vibrant entrepreneurialism, he says, as well as major corporate head offices and outstanding philanthropists.

Reliant as B.C. is on an aging forestry and resource sector and low-wage tourism industry, Durning says British Columbians' median wages are flatlining.

Many Americans who have visions of a more closely linked Cascadia do not have imperialistic designs on Canada. Even though some might be drawn to the name, The Salish Sea, people like Durning do not at all support U.S. expansionism.

Similar to the Cascadia Center's Agnew, Durning says B.C.'s representative democracies have generally proven effective than Washington and Oregon's legislative processes, which tend to be hamstrung by "direct democracy" in the form of plebiscites.

Durning also likes what he considers British Columbia's more equitable distribution of wealth and "stronger social safety net."

When asked if he supports "Cascadian secession," a new political entity formed out of Washington, Oregon and B.C., Durning answers, only half-jokingly:

"No. But maybe we should all join Canada."

homepage: homepage: http://republic-of-cascadia.tripod.com/