Keeping our own economic promises

 

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The premiers of Canada’s least economically promising provinces display a marvelous esprit de corps, becoming a cheerful band of battle-ready brothers, when their mutual enemies in Fat City rattle their swords.

So it was this week when New Brunswick’s David Alward, Nova Scotia’s Stephen McNeil, Prince Edward Island’s Robert Ghiz and Newfoundland and Labrador’s Tom Marshall emerged from the semi-regular gabfest they dub rather self-importantly, Council of Atlantic Premiers, with agreements to, in effect, throw down the gauntlet on Ottawa’s front yard.

Having agreed to harmonize apprenticeship programs across the region (finally), they raised their voices en mass and called for Ottawa to stop pushing its immigration and jobs-protection agendas in the absence of any credible research or consultation on the subjects. 

Referring to a pending report he and his provincial counterparts commissioned on the impact of federal changes to the Employment Insurance system in the Atlantic region, Premier Ghiz told the Telegraph-Journal, “What this is really about is the Atlantic provinces putting together evidence-based research to take to the federal government that will indicate how the EI changes have negatively affected our region based on the seasonal industries that we have.”

Added Premier Alward: “It’s not just about EI. We can talk about any other changes. When they impactt regions, when they impact provinces, there needs to be a level of consultation before.”

Indeed, said Premier McNeil, the federal government must stop functioning as if it were in a partnership with only itself. “There needs to be a broader consultation between governments. The national government needs to make the provinces part of the decision making that has a huge impact on the regions or programs that are affecting regions.”

Well said, and bully for all of them. Now what? 

It’s true; since snatching power from the wobbly, scandal-riddled Liberals, federal Conservatives have displayed a dreadful lack of respect for the provinces, and not just the ones that hug the East Coast. Our region has, however, always seemed to earn special contempt from the callow, black-hearted, centre-obsessed boys and girls who populate the Prime Minister’s Office. 

Government of Canada reforms to EI seem almost deliberately crafted to cause the most inconvenience and disruption possible in the Atlantic provinces, where seasonality is, alas, one of the defining characteristics of the labour market.

Meanwhile, Employment Minister Jason Kenney’s ban on temporary foreign workers in the restaurant trade will hit the region’s tourist trade disproportionately hard, as the industry draws from an immigrant labour pool that is, alongside all the other evaporating ones, shrinking.

Still, Atlantic Canada’s premiers have complained about these and other slights for years and largely to no avail. Lamentably for Mr. McNeil, et. al, this is not a national government that feels any compelling need, whatsoever, to make the provinces part of its decision making. 

In fact, the federal Tories sometimes leave the impression that if they could shut down this messy Confederation of ours and run the whole show from glass towers impressively arranged along the banks of the Rideau Canal, everyone would be much happier. 

Poorer, for sure; but happier.

In fact, a more profitable use of our regional premiers’ time and energy – given the central government’s utter intractability – would be a full-sail vision quest, the purpose of which would be to translate their periodic displays of unity and filial bonding against a common foe into pragmatic commitments to formal socio-economic cooperation in the region itself.

Atlantic Canada’s real enemy doesn’t dress in blue pinstripes and speak with an Ottawa Valley accent. 

Our real enemy is our own parochial notion that our sputtering engines of growth are somehow stronger functioning apart from one another than they are operating in concert, together. 

Our nemesis is our pride, which cleaves to centuries’ old commercial conventions, long past their best before dates, that helps maintain an ossified culture of inter-provincial barriers against the movement of trade, people and skills.

In this regard, the Atlantic premiers’ decision to take the handcuffs off apprentices   is right and correct. 

But what more can this battle-ready band of brothers do for themselves, for the people they represent, for the region whose economic promise is not yet kept?

 

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