“Let the 5000 mile border between Canada and the United States stand as a symbol for the future. Let it forever be not a point of division but a meeting place between our great and true friends.”
- President Ronald Reagan
The Pacific NorthWest Economic Region was established in 1991 by statute in the organization´s original seven legislative jurisdictions – Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana and Alaska in the United States, and British Columbia and Alberta in Canada. Canada´s Yukon Territory joined PNWER in 1994. In 2008, the PNWER Executive Board voted in favor to have Saskatchewan join PNWER, and in 2009 the PNWER Executive Board voted unanimously to admit the Northwest Territories into PNWER as well.
The proposal establishing PNWER passed with 701 out of 703 sitting legislators voting in its favor following a three-year process initiated by the Pacific NorthWest Legislative Leadership Forum (PNLLF) in 1988. Six working groups were established, including environmental technology, tourism, recycling, value-added timber, workforce training, and telecommunications; some of these merged into or were replaced in later years by new areas of concentration.
The original vision of establishing a collaborative region-wide organization to address common issues and interests was that of former State Sen. Alan Bluechel, WA. Bluechel grew up in British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan and came to the Legislature with a keen sense of the bi-national region now encompassed by PNWER; he was aided in the pursuit of his vision by counterpart Jim Horseman, then Deputy Premier and Minister of Federal and Intergovernmental Affairs for Alberta. Bluechel served as PNWER´s first president.
From the beginning, all state and provincial legislators were members of PNWER. The governors and premiers were added to the PNWER governance structure in 1993.
PNWER incorporated official private sector participation – including the non-elective public sector, and nonprofit organizations and NGOs in 1994; with that, a private sector council mirroring that of the organization´s legislative delegate council was established and private and public sector co-chairs became part of the working group structure. Since then, funding for PNWER has been balanced by the public and private sector. The organization´s is primarily funded through three sources, with approximately one third coming from state and provincial dues, one third from private sector sponsorship and dues, and one third from public and private grants.
The CEO of PNWER is Matt Morrison; Hon. Lyle Stewart of Saskatchewan serves as the current president – an executive committee-elected position that alternates annually between elected legislators from the United States and Canada. Founders of PNWER, former senator Bluechel is now retired after a 28-year career in the Washington State Legislature, and Jim Horsman is the former chancellor of Lethbridge University in Alberta. Both remain active in PNWER.