by Ivan Morgan

The Independent

As appeared on page B1 

 

A war of words is forming over “Atlantica,” an economic model proposing a goods and energy corridor linking Atlantic Canada and the northeastern United States. Depending on whom you ask, the proposal is either a direct threat to Newfoundland and Labrador’s offshore oil policies and boundary with Quebec, or an economic opportunity too good for the province to overlook.

Promoted by business groups in Atlantic Canada, the proposal calls for developing Halifax into a super-port that would channel goods and energy to American markets for the economic benefit of all Atlantic Canada.

On Feb. 15, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives released a report that says the proposal would be seriously detrimental to the region.

The concept of Atlantica has been around for a while. It originally referred to the idea of a politically unified “superprovince” made up of the four Atlantic provinces.

This Atlantica — with a combined 32 federal seats — would have increased clout in Ottawa where Quebec (75 seats) and Ontario (106), dominate Parliament. Atlantica would be more comparable to Alberta (28 seats) or British Columbia (36), and possibly better represent the whole region.

There is even a newly formed Atlantica Party. While still in its infancy, party president Jonathan Dean tells The Independent they propose major electoral and political reform in the region, and want “to raise the region up.” Dean says his party will be active solely at the provincial level, but have no contacts in Newfoundland and Labrador to date.

Stephen Sinclair, author of the critical report Atlantica: Myths and Reality, says there is “very little” in the proposed economic union that would benefit the province.

“It bypasses Newfoundland and Labrador,” Sinclair says. In fact, he continues, the proposal would actually harm the province. He says the focus of the Atlantica energy corridor being proposed — especially in reference to oil and gas — calls for a “hands-off approach” in terms of government regulation, leaving it to industry and the market to decide development. He says Newfoundland and Labrador’s efforts to negotiate a fairer deal on future offshore development fly in the face of that approach.

“I think they are actually taking aim at Newfoundland and Labrador government’s public attempt to get a fair share on future offshore developments,” says Sinclair.

He also says people in the province should note that the map of Atlantica displayed on a website promoting the concept (www.atlantica.org) shows the island of Newfoundland as part of the new region, but not Labrador.

He says this reflects a “geographical determinism” that ignores the historical links between Newfoundland and Labrador. Sinclair says “the obvious conclusion” is that Labrador would be associated with Quebec.

Charles Cirtwill, president of the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies, which actively promotes the proposal, says Atlantica isn’t about erasing political boundaries.

“It is not like we are going to create a mega-province next week that has all these units in it or not in it,” he says. Cirtwill says Atlantica recognizes “the various opportunities that groups in this region have to take advantage of.

“So really it is up to Labradorians how much they partake or don’t partake in Atlantica.”

He says proponents are not interested in interfering in Premier Danny Williams’ attempts to get a better offshore oil deal for the province. Williams is free to take whatever stance he wants.

“Is it the right one? Not necessarily,” says Cirtwill. “I think the biggest risk for offshore oil and gas in Newfoundland is this kind of hard-line ‘pirates of the sea’ kind of approach.

“The only thing Atlantica represents for offshore oil and gas in Newfoundland is an opportunity to market as much gas as you can find.”

He says while most of the “practical investment” in promoting Atlantica has happened on the mainland, the benefits for the province are as many or as diverse as it chooses. Atlantica can offer the province an opportunity to sell oil and gas, or provide access to global trade routes for small manufacturers.

The worst thing Newfoundland and Labrador could do, says Cirtwill, is ignore the opportunities — or try to get in the way of proponents of the concept.

“Although, quite honestly, at this stage it really doesn’t matter if Newfoundland is on board or not for Atlantica — it’s happening.”

He says Newfoundland and Labrador have a whole list of opportunities before them: the lower Churchill, Voisey’s Bay and offshore oil. Cirtwill says the province should view Atlantica as “one more on the list.”

ivan.morgan@theindependent.ca

Founded in 2003, The Independent is a newspaper published in Newfoundland and Labrador. www.theindependent.ca