Tag Archives: Council of Atlantic Premiers

Time to quit the Mickey Mouse Club

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Banding together in common purpose was once the stuff of boys’ adventure stories and early morning kids’ television programming. In the zeitgeist of popular culture, you could either be a mouseketeer or a muskateer; but never both.

It’s a little like that today in the real, hardscrabble world of Atlantic regional politics, where two distinct “groups of four” are forming to promote two competing conceptions of what it means to be a citizen of Canada’s most easterly realm.

In one corner, lately nestled along the white beaches of a certain Nova Scotia south shore resort, is the Council of Atlantic Premiers whose members seem to think that the most productive use of their time and energy is to issue stern denunciations of federal government labour market policies, and little else.

In another is the brand, spanking new “U4 League”, a group of mostly Maritime superheroes masquerading as university presidents whose initiates actually believe that the only way to improve life in this relentlessly unpromising pasture of the Great White North is to cooperate and. . .gasp! . . .get things done.

The League comprises Mount Allison University’s Robert Campbell, Acadia’s Ray Ivany, St. Francis Xavier’s Sean Riley and Bishop University’s Michael Goldbloom. Yesterday’s Globe and Mail story explains the unlikely collaboration as a marriage of virtue and necessity: “With public funding under strain and concerns about the quality of undergraduate education getting louder across Canada, the partnership is meant to get the most out of each school’s strengths.

Specifically, “The schools’ leaders aim to make it easier for students to tap the expertise of each university from their home campus, encourage faculty to work together across campuses, share ideas and find back-office savings – all without growing enrolments or eroding the intimate campus experience that is their hallmark.”

Does this suggest that these small institutions of higher learning are plotting a formal merger? Hardly. The point their head masters seem to be making is that forging closer ties – judiciously selected – will, in fact, strengthen their institutions’ individuality and independence. The approach could even cut costs without undermining the quality of the education they provide.

After all, as Mr. Goldbloom told the Globe, “At a time of limited public resources for public education, you had better be really good at what you do.” Meanwhile, added Mr. Campbell, “We’ll remain autonomous. It’s the competition that keeps us all sharp.”

Naturally, there is some tongue-in-cheekery in all of this, but there is a broadly good example to draw, as well: It has something to do with lemons and the making and serving of a tasty, refreshing drink, when one finds oneself in hot water.

Now, flash to Atlantic Canada’s sullen band of premiers, whose sole contribution to the process of transforming the region’s economy is their threadbare, bankrupt argument that bad dad Ottawa is determined to keep our seasonal workers under his hob-nailed jack boot until we run out of fish to catch or trees to cut or tourists to bed and breakfast.

Even if that were true (it is not), there’s nothing they can do about federal reforms to employment insurance or joint labour market agreements. And in their disingenuous hearts, they know this. But it’s a whole lot easier to take pot shots at the unfeeling “center”, than it is to roll up their sleeves and get down to the tough, necessary business of building, with the private sector, a competitive, durable, sustainable East Coast – one where home-grown innovation replaces tax-funded dependency in the lingua franca of the region.

The premiers’ implicit argument that changes to EI will make Atlantic Canada even less competitive than it is already relies, for its premise, on the absurd calculation that seasonal unemployment fuels economic growth.

But what, in fact, do they know about it? Which entrepreneurs have they consulted? How many full-time professionals and wage-earners have they tapped for advice lately?

The choice for Atlantic Canadians twas ever thus:

We can remain as mousketeers, or become, instead, musketeers.

Pick one; not both.

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Atlantic Council’s relevance needs repair

Who books the hall for a day of feckless gabbing?

Who books the hall for a day of feckless gabbing?

Before the Council of Atlantic Premiers lectures Ottawa about the devastation federal policies for skills development and employment insurance are wrecking along the East Coast, it might consider the role its own fecklessness plays in the steadily unravelling regional economy.

According to its website, which appears frozen in time like grandma’s fine china, the Council sputtered to life in 2000 with a “mission” to “promote collaboration among the four Atlantic provinces.”

In this hopeful version of reality, “Premiers are committed to working together and with the federal government on issues of importance to all Atlantic Canadians, including enhancing trade opportunities, supporting research and development, investment in renewable energy initiatives, and economic and social cooperation.”

The useful context of history reminds us that its near-doppelganger, the Council of Maritime Premiers, established in 1972, “was the first agency of its kind to provide an effective legal framework for cooperation among provinces.”

Again, the website crows triumphantly, “The goal of the Council is to ensure maximum coordination of the activities of the governments of the three Maritime provinces, and their agencies. There are three primary ways that the provinces advance their interests through cooperation: creating regional organizations; harmonizing provincial policies and programs; and having common positions on matters involving other parties, such as the federal government.”

In fact, would that more of this were so. Anyone who wants to comprehend why Maritime economic – let alone, political – union is currently impossible need only observe the functioning of these two councils. Putatively committed to forging pragmatic solutions to shared problems, they are far more adept at issuing weak statements of principle about “joint collaborations” when they are not channeling regional grievances against their common enemy, the federal government.

As platforms for political polemics, they are marvelous institutions. As purveyors of useful policy. . .well, not so much. And, given the stench wafting from provincial ledgers in this part of the country, that’s a shame.

Can anyone explain, with a straight face, why the Maritimes, hosting a total population of 1.8 million, requires three separate motor vehicle departments, corporate registries and liquor commissions, to say nothing of securities administrators?

Instead, the Council pats itself on the back for its school bus deal. “Joint procurement is an important tool in seeking best value and efficiencies for their governments,” its website declares. “The joint purchase of school buses is an excellent example of positive results achieved through joint procurement. Atlantic Canada currently saves $30,000 per bus purchased. In 2012, this arrangement resulted in $7 million in savings for the region.”

That, at least is a start. But, as Paul McLeod, Ottawa bureau chief of the Halifax Chronicle-Herald, wrote in a piece for The Herald Magazine last month, this “and a Nova Scotia-Newfoundland bulk deal on firehoses. . both. . .date to the 1990s, before the council existed.”

Mr. McLeod also quoted one of the Atlantic Council’s founding fathers, former New Brunswick Premier Bernard Lord, who sounded a somber note: “Part of the reasons I wanted all of us to create this is to streamline regulations, red tape and obstacles that exist between provinces. Early on, there were some wins. But if you ask me did we fulfill the complete promise of what we could have achieved, no, I don’t think we have because there are still too many barriers. There are still too many obstacles.”

Granted, getting out of their own way to get something done is not what politicians do best. But the bitch-fest earlier this week at the Council of the Atlantic in White Point, N.S., served little useful purpose.

New Brunswick Premier David Alward may have reflected the opinions of his provincial counterparts when he told Brunswick News, “the question of EI is on the agenda,” but he skirted the larger issue of building economic capacity in the region with the tool he and his colleagues already possess: The freedom to drive real change amidst their own company, without regard for either cutbacks by, or parting gifts from, the federal government.

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