Tag Archives: Maritime union

Canada Day in Mariexit


It is July 1, 2036, ten years after Maritime economic union prompted the full political amalgamation of Canada’s former east-coast provinces.

The regional nation still maintains what its political leaders insist is a strong and productive relationship with the Great White North, though tensions over energy agreements with the newly formed Republic of Newfoundland and Labrador occasionally flare.

Overall, however, the consensus in this sea-bound jurisdiction is that life is pretty good. Since the Mariexit from Confederation, the area has become a dynamic tourism destination for people who actually have money. It’s one of North America’s leading purveyors of geriatric care. Its manufacturing industries – dominated by artisanal outfits specializing in bespoke booze, recreational marijuana, all-weather outdoor clothing, and ceramics (lots and lots of ceramics) – generate almost enough tax dollars to pay off a fraction of the government’s debt every year.

Who cares that it hasn’t been able to afford its universities and colleges in years, or that its export trade in homegrown technology has all but ground to a halt, or that virtually no one under the age of 45 lives there anymore?

It cherishes its independence above all things.

Now, if it could only figure out where to locate its national capital region.

A good flight of fancy is always a useful way to address the question, “Where are they now?” In this case, whatever happened to Maritime Union?

Not too many years ago, a version of it cropped up on the convention floors of vision conferences. The assembled participants called it Atlantica, a crucial feature of which would be a cross-border partnership with New England. Writing recently in Progressmedia, Perry B. Newman, the president of an international business development and consulting firm based in Portland, Maine, reflected on those heady days.

“More than a decade has passed, and much has been done to advance the notion of a cross-border region whose economies are linked, and whose assets might take their place (in) the world” he wrote. “But it’s clear that more needs to be done, and it’s equally clear that we need our vision to evolve.”

He added: “Of course, it must be said that we’re not working (or thinking) in a vacuum. Even as we advocated for better connectivity and the reduction of barriers to trade and the movement of goods, during the intervening years the world turned upside down in ways that directly affected the vision and realization of a cross-border economic region.”

Indeed, it did. In fact, it’s still turning. Brexit is proof of that. And this raises an interesting paradox. At what point does successful economic integration among like-minded nations, states and provinces lead to their political separation from existing arrangements, such as, for the sake of argument, Canadian Confederation?

Most experts insist that this extrapolation is absurd. Still, most experts were fatally wrong about Britain’s decision to leave the European Union last week. Admittedly, that move was the reverse of migrating from economic tethers among countries to a single political entity incorporating all. (No United States of Europe is ever likely to emerge). But the principle is the same. When people are invited to think about their economic fortunes and conditions, they are prone to consider their political ones as well.

At its heart, though, the tenets of economic union in the Maritimes are sound – even if they only extend to a full examination of the often-pernicious effects of inter-provincial trade barriers.

We need not worry about a dystopian Mariexit as we forge ways to band together in our joint interest along the East Coast of Canada.

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Vision becomes us


There have been times in the storied history of the Atlantic region when meaningless, self-destructive, icy battles over trade, skills and labour mobility between and among the provinces have almost melted away under the warming sun of common sense. But those times have been rare.

Prior to Confederation, a century-and-a-half ago, Maritime political leaders gathered in Charlottetown, originally to consider establishing a united, regional economy. Then, of course, certain Upper Canadians, led by John A. Macdonald, crashed the party and rewrote the agenda. Suddenly, the urgent conversation was about creating a bi-coastal nation (without, at that time, a railway to connect is disparate bits).

How’s that for vision?

How’s ours on the East Coast in the second decade of the 21st Century?

We might just remember an almost-concerted effort to forge closer, more efficacious economic ties, leading to some sort of durable political union among Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island in the mid-1960s. But as the counter-argument went at the time, “Where would we put the capital?”

Twenty years later, the debate flared again. This time, though, the political class in this part of Canada had no appetite for the concepts of either economic or political union; for they had become too complacent, too inculcated in the status quo thanks to decades of federal government welfare (transfers) to prop up their perpetually underperforming public accounts.

Now, when the rest of Canada reflects on us, it conjures a region of people wise in the ways of the sea, determined to give the shirts off our backs, willing to throw down a kitchen party. This, it seems, is the stereotype we gladly proffer in return for free money from other parts of the country. As long as Ontario and Quebec can laugh their rumps off at our expense, we court jesters can count on a cheque in the mail.

Again, how’s that vision thing going for us?

Each year or so, Atlantic Canada’s provincial premiers and their mandarins gather in capital cities around the region to consider how best to work together, how marvellously they may transform their tiny economies into what they have recently termed a “global force” of growth. At the same time, they just can’t seem to figure out how to rationalize the rules concerning the transfer of honeybees and booze across their provincial borders.

This small collection of principalities remains one of the most economically divided of any in the developed world. We make it virtually impossible, in this region, for university students to transfer their credits from one institution to another; for skilled tradesmen and women to find meaningful work if they choose to leave the jurisdiction in which they received their accreditations; for doctors, lawyers and veterinarians to move between provinces without first obtaining professional papers proving that the practices of law and medicine are, somehow, locally relevant and compliant.

Certainly, each Atlantic province must develop its own vision for economic and social security, And, indisputably, each jurisdiction should maintain the right and responsibility to protect and preserve its cultural heterogeneity.

But do these priorities obviate the common sense in pursuing the stock of our common story along the East Coast?

Should we continue to ignore the fact that the tales and travails that unite us are richer than those that currently divide us?

Shouldn’t this propel us to write the next chapter of a region that embraces its constituents as members of the same extended family of social, economic and political players?

All we need is the vision.

Once again, always again, let’s have that now.

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Time to quit the Mickey Mouse Club


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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