By Bill Power
As appeared on page C1
A war of words over the Atlantica trade proposal for portions of Atlantic Canada and New England escalated Thursday.
The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives released a study that slammed the trade proposal as misguided and the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies quickly went on the offensive, insisting the work of the other group was biased and misinformed.
“They targeted one tiny piece of a very large puzzle that they had a problem with, and that’s what they are attacking,” said Charles Cirtwill, acting vice-president of the institute.
The centre’s study warned that endorsement of the Atlantica proposal by government and business organizations will result in the transition of Halifax into a super-port to facilitate transfers of Asian cargo to the American heartland by way of huge “train trucks.”
According to the centre, the evolution of Atlantica would reduce the region to a “conduit” to the heartland for Asian products and regionally produced gas or electricity, at the expense of real regional development.
But Mr. Cirtwill said it is “missing the point” to portray Atlantica in such narrow terms.
He said references to Asian trade opportunities represent only a small part of the many dozens of possibilities considered in discussion papers on the Atlantica proposal generated by the institute and discussed in as many as 100 public forums in recent years.
He noted the Atlantica proposal is not the brainchild of the institute but has been a widespread topic of discussion in the region for years.
“Atlantica is not about building up only for Asian trade but is actually an exercise in mental geography that ties together the American northeast with most of the Atlantic region and a portion of Quebec,” he said.
“What it says is this region has a lot of things in common and by really working together we can take advantage of a wide range of opportunities that would see us all benefit.”
Mr. Cirtwill acknowledged discussions on Atlantica have included the idea of Halifax as a port for the world’s biggest container ships, but he said Saint John has also been considered, along with a wide range of other topics besides the port.
“Atlantica includes an entire menu of opportunities for people who live in this region,” he said.
Scott Sinclair, who wrote the study Atlantica: Myths and Realities, stood by his research.
“It is important to focus on the concrete ideas that underlie the Atlantica proposal,” he said. “The notion of a transportation corridor, for example, is a central component of the Atlantica discussion.”
Critics of the Atlantica proposal were lining up to take verbal shots at the scheme after Thursday’s official release of the study by the centre.
New Democrat MLA Maureen MacDonald condemned the provincial government for endorsing the Atlantica proposal without debating it publicly.
Rick Clarke, president of the Nova Scotia Federation of Labour, said any benefits from Atlantica would be concentrated in Halifax Regional Municipality at the expense of rural Nova Scotia.