Environmental activists from both sides of the Canada-U.S. border are converging in Burlington, Vt., as Quebec Premier Jean Charest co-chairs the 36th annual meeting of New England Governors and Eastern Canadian Premiers.

Charest is co-chairing with Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin. The two were to meet privately before holding a news conference late Sunday afternoon.

About 500 demonstrators showed up at Burlington's city hall on Sunday to protest against government policies and on issues related to the economy and the environment.

Demonstrators cited several issues, including a plan to ship oil from Canada's oilsands through a pipeline that crosses northern New England, to a plan by Quebec to sell its hydro power to New England states.

Demonstrators were also wearing the red square, a symbol that has come to represent the Quebec student protest movement.

One protester told CBC's French-language service Radio-Canada that he was there "in solidarity" with Quebec students "against neo-liberalism and austerity."

It is expected that Charest will call an election this week, which could see Quebecers going to the polls after the Labour Day weekend, as early as Sept. 4. In a further sign that an election call is near, Charest announced five new Liberal Party candidates this weekend in ridings across the province.

Renewable energy on the table

Energy and transportation will be top on the agenda at the meeting.

Charest, along with the premiers and representatives of Nova Scotia, P.E.I., New Brunswick, and Newfoundland and Labrador, had the opportunity to participate in a demonstration of various electric vehicle models before attending a private dinner hosted by Shumlin on Sunday evening, ahead of a daylong series of sessions on Monday.

The leaders will attend three panel discussions beginning Monday morning.

In the first, the leaders will discuss strategies for development of renewable energy and deployment of more energy efficiency measures.

The second panel will focus on the potential for electric vehicles, both their impact on transportation and on the electrical grid. Electric vehicles are widely seen as possibly serving as "mobile batteries," charging up at night when the power grid is in little use and possibly even feeding power back into the grid during times of peak demand, especially on summer afternoons.

During the third panel on Monday afternoon, the premiers and governors will discuss business and transportation issues, as well as keeping cross-border transportation smooth in the post-Sept. 11, 2001, age of heightened security.

Nova Scotia Premier Darrell Dexter has invited Tom Ruth, CEO of the Halifax International Airport Authority, to participate as one of the panellists.

Ruth will discuss "cross-border transportation issues, including opportunities to improve the movement of cross-border trade and pursuing collaborative approaches to addressing some the challenges associated with the fluid movement of goods," said Jennifer Stewart, Dexter's press secretary.

David Moloney, who serves as senior adviser to the Privy Council Office and is responsible for implementation of the Canada-U.S. Border Action Plan, will also take part in that panel.

Before the annual meeting ends, the premiers and governors will hear a presentation from China's Liu Guozhong, vice-governor for Heilongjiang Province.

Dexter is expected to meet with Guozhong and a Chinese delegation that is also attending the conference. The Nova Scotia premier also serves as chair of the Council of the Federation, which represents Canada's provincial and territorial leaders, and is expected to familiarize himself with "key sectors of the Chinese economy" in preparation for leading a delegation of premiers on a trade mission to China this September, Stewart said.

Advancing common interests

With few exceptions, New England governors and Canada's eastern premiers have met annually since 1973 to share ideas and advance common interests.

Dexter will use this conference to highlight some of the "unprecedented opportunities on the horizon for Nova Scotia, including the shipbuilding contract, the Lower Churchill project and Shell's investment to further explore Nova Scotia's offshore," his press secretary said.

Keith Hutchings, Newfoundland and Labrador's minister for innovation, business and rural development, will be attending the conference in lieu of premier Kathy Dunderdale.

In a statement to CBC News, Hutchings said "Premier Dunderdale has been quite vocal in highlighting the benefits of the Muskrat Falls development... the significant volume of clean energy, and that [the province] is an energy warehouse."

"These meetings allow us to further create awareness of that capacity and find opportunities that position the province as a supplier of renewable energy," Hutchings said. Muskrat Falls is the first stage of the Lower Churchill hydroelectric development.

For years, Quebec and Vermont have collaborated on matters of economy, energy, environment and transportation.

Vermont is the fifth-largest buyer of Quebec products in the U.S., while Quebec sells more to Vermont than it does to China, Germany or Japan.

Quebec supplies Vermont with one-third of its energy needs and Shumlin has already said he'd like to expand on a deal announced in August 2011 for a new long-term power purchase from Hydro Quebec.

By Monday afternoon, it is expected that Charest will announce Quebec as the host of next year's annual conference.

With files from The Associated Press