Category Archives: Maritime Economic Community

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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Praising the Value of a Maritime Community


Published in the Telegraph-Journal 27th November 2012

In the last few weeks, in response to dire predictions about the region’s economic future, there has been a flurry of interest in the concept of a Maritime Union. The University of Moncton’s pre-eminent public policy scholar and serial provocateur Donald Savoie recently reiterated his long-standing proposal that a Maritime Union would be a solution to the region’s economic malaise. This time around, a trio of senators from PEI. Nova Scotia and New Brunswick have come forward to support the cause.

Almost immediately, opponents of the concept have emerged to criticize it as unworkable, unrealistic and unnecessary saying that a Maritime Union would receive insufficient support within the Maritimes to make it workable, a merger would take years to accomplish, it would run into vested interests which would defeat it, and it would require constitutional reform the likes of which is not imaginable today.

Few elected politicians have expressed support for such a merger. PEI Premier Robert Ghiz has ridiculed the idea, claiming that a merger of Maritime provinces would actually result in less representation in both the House of Commons and the Senate than under the current provincial model. He stated that three provinces gives the Maritime region “more clout when it comes to dealing with the feds, or dealing with other provinces.” There are other misgivings. A solution to the region`s economic challenges involving a political union rests on the cardinal assumption that bigger is better, and that the unique nature of each of the provinces was less relevant than economies of scale. This assumption is largely untested although one of the proponents of a recent proposal supporting Maritime Union, Senator Mike Duffy, characterized volume purchasing power as one of the concept`s potential advantages in much the same way that big-box stores are able to offer lower prices.

It is likely that neither Canada nor the Maritime region is ready for a merger of political institutions under one umbrella. It is also likely that it would require years of negotiations to secure a bargain among the provinces by which time their respective economies will have declined even further.

But there is another model that provides a better blueprint for what could practically be achieved in the near term. Created by the Treaty of Rome in 1957, the European Economic Community (EEC) was an international organization whose objective was to bring about economic integration, including a common market, among its six founding members: Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg and the Netherlands. It gained a common set of institutions that promulgated economic and environmental policies. Although these policies carried social implications, the EEC had limited power to change its members` political and cultural institutions.

Under this model, a Maritime Economic Community would have the advantage of being a vehicle to transform economic practices and institutions involving limited political risk. Such an Economic Community would establish the competition rules necessary for the functioning of the internal market of the three provinces, securing open trade of goods, services and people. This is today long overdue. This Economic Community would establish common services and institutions, not by selling them, but by taking them public, with the Maritime Economic Community maintaining control by holding 51 per cent of shares of the institution. Which services, institutions or infrastructure would go public would be decided by a governing council of the three Maritime provinces, perhaps modeled after the current European Council. This governing council would be responsible for the development of policy direction and set out general objectives and priorities. A key objective would be to ensure that the federal government is integrated into the Maritime Economic Community. Some socioeconomic solutions – most notably, a national drug plan or seniors strategy – are best achieved by national initiative.

The details are less important than whether the objectives and goals are desirable from an economic, political and social standpoint. And critically, the transformations involving the Maritime version of an Economic Community are possible to achieve with current political institutions and within today`s constitutional framework.

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