Walking the low wire in fine and familiar balance

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A first-term premier in this corner of Canada can sometimes thrill the thralls, who newly elected him, by successfully negotiating the tightrope of regional politics, with or without a net.

To this end, New Brunswick’s young and inarguably energetic Brian Gallant practiced his equipoise in St. John’s earlier this week, alongside his counterparts at the annual Council of Atlantic “elected-men-in-suits”.

Did our fearless leader make it to the end of the line – strung merely inches above the ground, and, therefore, posing little risk to future career opportunities – or did he fall awkwardly to his knees?

As usual, this yearly gabfest among East Coast premiers promised more photo opportunity than perspicacity.

Still, it was incumbent on this bunch to, at least, appear effective. Hence, we are obliged to observe the Council’s official policy statement, issued Monday (helpfully provided by the Prince Edward Island government’s official website, among others):

“Atlantic Premiers are working together to improve the competitiveness of the region’s economy through actions to strengthen our workforce, harmonize and streamline regulations, ensure open transmission and transportation of energy, and provide more efficient and cost-effective services to Atlantic Canadians.

“The private sector is a key driver of job creation and economic growth across the region. Premiers announced today the Atlantic Red Tape Reduction Partnership. This partnership will identify business regulations and administrative processes that can be harmonized and streamlined to create a more competitive economic environment across Atlantic Canada.

“A competitive Atlantic economy depends on people having the right skills for the right job. Premiers extended the successful Atlantic Workforce Partnership for a further three years to continue harmonizing apprenticeship certification in 10 trades, and strengthen immigrant recruitment and retention in Atlantic Canada. This focus on demographic growth and skills enhancement builds on Atlantic Premiers’ commitment to increase the competitiveness of the region.

“Atlantic Premiers confirmed common priorities, including stable, adequate and predictable fiscal arrangements, Labour Market Development Agreements, immigration and energy.”

Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.

It’s not as if any of this is invigorating or even novel.

For at least a generation, Atlantic Canada’s premiers have barked madly about “closer cooperation” on what should be shared initiatives in the region – immigration, trade and labour mobility, procurement, social transfers from Ottawa, and federal-provincial protocols governing natural resources development.

And, this year they came together long enough to, as the St. John’s Telegram reported, “support the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador in pursuing a resolution to the ongoing dispute with the federal government over a proposed. . .package of fisheries-sector funding, tied to the Canada-European Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA).”

Still, as the newspaper noted, “taking questions on the heels of the latest meeting of the Council of Atlantic Premiers, Stephen McNeil (N.S.) Robert Ghiz (P.E.I.) and Brian Gallant – with Newfoundland and Labrador premier Paul Davis beside them – stopped short. . .of offering full and unfettered support for the province’s position in the dispute.

The premiers generally restricted themselves to expressing support for the province’s ability to seek a correction to perceived wrongs.”

But, of course, what would we expect them to say?

Historically, as group, the Atlantic premiers’ collective interest in forging closer economic ties among them, as a bulwark against Ottawa’s policy of regional divide-and-conquer since Confederation, has evolved only glacially.

Each province has nourished its own, private interests with the feds even as each has nurtured its own, private grievances.

That’s how our rooked system has worked and continues to work in the second decade of the 21st Century. This is our fine and familiar balance – one to which all parts of the country have become inured.

And yet, at least, Mr. Gallant – who apparently enjoys being quoted – told the Saint John Telegraph-Journal, prior to the Council’s assembly, “It is a very good time to focus on our priorities vis a vis the federal government. Certainly, we hope that not only the federal government will take note but all of the political parties that will be vying for the support of Canadians during the next few months will listen as well.”

All of which is to say that New Brunswick’s premier can properly step off that tightrope without fear of bruising his knees – for now.

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