Halifax’s gain is Moncton’s too, and vice versa, observers say

 

Moncton and Halifax aren’t rivals; they’re business partners competing against the rest of the world, says renown economist Prof. Donald Savoie.

 

Or at least they’d better be if they hope to continue thriving, Savoie says.

Savoie, the Canada research chair in public administration and governance at the Universit√© de Moncton, says any playful banter or serious rivalry between Atlantic Canada’s two fastest growing economies must be tempered by the notion that when it comes to attracting outside investment, new companies and jobs, it’s both of us against the entire planet.

“The notion that Halifax and Moncton should compete is a recipe for problems,” Savoie says.

What’s good for one is good for the other, Savoie contends.

“It’s not Moncton vs. Halifax. It’s the Maritimes vs. The World.”

The two Maritime centres have a history of rivalry. Sometimes it’s playful (which boasts the best concerts; which attracts the best sports events) and sometimes it’s not (job poaching; competing for limited government funding; vying for new investment.)

The fact is, in an era where government investment is sure to decline in the coming years, where competition from outside the region and even outside the country has never been more fierce and where the Maritimes’ political clout is about as low as ever, both cities have more to gain by touting the entire region as a competitive place in which to invest and do business, Savoie says.

It’s the same line of thinking long advocated by the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies, where vice-president Barbara Pike calls regional rivalries “one of the biggest problems we have.”

“One of the problems we have in Atlantic Canada is that we are constantly competing with each other. We’ve got to stop doing that.”

Hydroelectric mega-projects in Labrador or tidal power in Nova Scotia would both be an energy boon to the whole region, not just those two provinces, Pike contends.

Port development in Halifax means more trade passing through New Brunswick – in both directions.

Loosening regulations that boost labour mobility helps avoid silly situations where a crew of Newfoundlanders serving off-shore oil rigs has to disembark and be replaced by crews from Nova Scotia when working off the coast of N.S. – and vice versa – despite the fact those same sailors can freely work in many countries of the world, but not in their neighbouring province.

“Isn’t that bizarre?” Pike asks.

“It’s not as bad as it used to be, but it’s still bad. We have to lower barriers.”

In an era of increasing labour shortages, parochial rules like that only harm both Halifax and Moncton and the entire region, Pike says.

AIMS was a major backer of a push to create a trade and transportation corridor all the way between Halifax and Moncton, a project that AIMS still has in its sights though efforts have been somewhat muted lately. It’s that type of co-operation that will not only boost Moncton as well as Halifax, but every community in between, they argue.

At it’s most basic level, the argument is simple, Savoie says: “If Halifax tanks, it’s not good for Moncton.”

Which port would Monctonians rather see benefit from private and public investment? Montreal or Halifax? Would Monctonians rather see cars built in Halifax or, as always, Windsor? Would Metro residents rather see Research in Motion bring jobs to Halifax, or keep them in Waterloo, Ont.?

Likewise, Moncton entrepreneurial savvy continues to serve it well, Savoie says.

Witness Moncton-headquartered Imvestcor Inc., holders of hundreds of restaurants in its portfolio that all started with a little Pizza Delight outlet in Shediac in 1968, or Spielo, one of the world leaders in the design, manufacture and distribution of gaming technology, founded and still located in Moncton, with more than 300 employees here alone.

As a Bouctouche-born Metro Monctonian, Savoie applauds local accomplishments like that, but the long-time advocate for Maritime union makes no apologies: “I’m above all a Maritimer.”

That doesn’t mean advocating for another children’s hospital in Moncton because Halifax has one, nor fighting for a world-competing university here because there’s one in Halifax. Rather, he says, it’s about each part of the Maritimes building on its own strengths and feeding off the successes of each other.

Moncton can show you a whole handful of independent analyses that place it as one of the top business environments on the east coast of the continent, with low taxes; a dedicated and bilingual workforce; and a highly diversified economy that allows its economic engine to continue to churn when one sector hits hard times.

It’s important that Moncton build on those assets as we enter a time where government priorities lean more towards paring debt and slashing deficits rather than supporting for local initiatives, Savoie says.

There’s no reason to think Metro Moncton won’t continue to do exactly that, and when they do, the second biggest winners will probably be Halifax.