Maritime Union Not the Answer

maritime union

Published in the Telegraph-Journal 30th November 2012

Every few years, the concept of a Maritime union recirculates as a solution to the economic challenges of the region’s three provinces. On the heels of a recent economic summit in Halifax, the Universite de Moncton’s Donald Savoie raised the idea again.

Professor Savoie stated that he would like to see a formal union between the three Maritime provinces.

He is not alone. Three Conservative senators from Atlantic Canada are pushing for a Maritime union, proposing the merger of the Maritime provinces into a single political entity to turn around the region’s faltering economy. Stephen Greene of Nova Scotia, John Wallace of New Brunswick and Mike Duffy of Prince Edward Island have written a detailed proposal for a union of their three provinces that is slated to be released late this week.

The proposal will include how power and political representation would work as well as an idea for the name of the new province.

A key advantage often touted by supporters is that the creation of one jurisdiction would lead to the elimination of duplication of services and the establishment of economies of scale. Senator Duffy has characterized the potential advantages as similar to retail economics where “big-box stores can offer lower prices because they buy in large volume.” This shared-services logic follows not only from private sector strategies of consolidation and standardization, but key initiatives undertaken by government.

But the real challenge is political will.

Canada has been recognized worldwide for the development of leading-edge government reorganization models. Released in 1995, Treasury Board’s “Blueprint for Renewing Government Services Using Information Technology” was a pioneering approach to government shared services. Seventeen years later, many of the Blueprint’s recommendations have gone unheeded and implementation has been slow.

An additional feature of a Maritime union presumably would be the political rationalization and consolidation that would increase the region’s influence and power in Ottawa. The idea that a Maritime union would give a single voice to the region is a powerful one as reflected by Ron MacDonald, then-MP for Dartmouth, who wrote in 1995, “If or when the constitutional debate begins anew, it will be vital that the Maritime provinces speak as one.

“Our interests are similar, if not identical, yet are seldom presented as such.”

The cardinal assumption of many who support a Maritime union is that the current arrangement of provincial governance is one that features extravagant “jurisdictional anomalies” unlikely to survive exposure to the new global economy, as noted by University of PEI professors Barry Bartmann and David Milne. “In this metropolitan view, smallness means weakness, lack of power and influence, whereas consolidation and rationalization are the essential logic of our time. Integration alone holds promise in savings from culling jurisdictions and reallocating resources, and in providing a sound and rational foundation for good government.”

But it is not clear that a new Maritime Union would provide a solution to the challenge of having to support the disparate interests that would continue to exist within its borders. In 1998, Aubrey Cormier, an advocate of Acadian interests from P.E.I., said, “If the Acadians are included as full-fledged partners in the integration process, the realization of a Maritime political project will without doubt be much more feasible.

“On the other hand, if they are excluded as they were when the Maritime provinces were first created, this could prove to be a major stumbling block for the proponents of Maritime Union.”

In a regional project of economic renewal, greater collaboration would increase the prosperity of the region. But in the absence of a political union, the Maritime provinces have already worked on reducing bureaucratic barriers to trade and labour.

More can be accomplished but this proven model of collaboration could be extended to ensure that provincial governments are less rivals in pursuit of limited economic prospects rather than partners in a more expansive vision of the region. This much less ambitious approach of working within established bureaucratic parameters can be undertaken today.

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Filed under Maritime Economic Community, New Brunswick

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