The imperative of regional coherence
by Tim Woodcock
As A RESIDENT OF BANGOR, MAINE, I appreciate the opportunity to address you in this respected forum on a matter of pressing concern to us all: our common future.
The region in which we live, which I call the International Northeast and is often referred to as “Atlantica,” is unique among the regions of North America. Made a region by nature and geography, the International Northeast has been sundered and dissevered by history, politics, infrastructure, regulations and attitudes. Its constituent parts have gone their separate ways often only dimly conscious of their neighbours and oblivious to their shared opportunities and entwined destinies. Today, we stand together at the crossroads with a unique opportunity to forge a common and better future. We must, together, seize this opportunity or it will surely pass us by.
So, what is the International Northeast? Defined by geography and economic prospect, it is, at least, Atlantic Canada, Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Quebec, Ontario and New York. To see these states and provinces listed together may be jarring to some. Yet, the map does not lie: these states and provinces share a geographic region… our shared region.
If this is so, why does it matter? It matters because we are in the midst of an historic realignment of economics and trade. These changes are afoot across North America and the globe.
What forces are driving these changes here? They were first spurred by the historic Free Trade Agreement that took effect in 1989, whose purpose was to mute our common border for trade. In 1994, the North American Free Trade Agreement broadened the membership and terms. Within Canada, the Internal Agreement on Trade emerged as a domestic complement. Within North America, these international trade agreements meant that the competition for commerce would no longer be waged country to country. but instead, region to region.
The collapse of the Soviet Union, the liberalization of the economy of China, the unlocking of markets and resources and the unblocking of trade routes has created new opportunities for the movement of goods. Commerce began its relentless quest the most efficient combinations of labour, raw materials, technology and markets. In the process, new trade routes-such as the Suez Express-are offering opportunities to ports such as Halifax, Saint John and Montreal.
Finally, the manufacturing-dominated economies of Canada and the United States have been moving to a service-based economy. This new economy is governed by “pull” logistics-it’s a customer-driven, low inventory, just-in-time delivery, “warehouse on wheels” economy, with a premium on the fast, efficient and safe movement of people and goods. In region-to-region competition for commerce, the race goes to the most diverse, flexible and efficient.
So where do we stand? When the discerning eye of commerce compares the International Northeast to a wholly domestic, sub-national region, such as the South in the U.S., our region appears disjointed and inefficient. Transportation provides a glaring example (with the worst inefficiencies on the U.S. side of the border). It is virtually impossible, for example, to drive the most direct route from St. Stephen, New Brunswick through Maine to Sherbrooke and Montreal, Quebec. Lest Canadians feel slighted, it is even more difficult to drivefrom St. Stephen through northern New England to Watertown, New York.
We cannot afford to indulge gross regional inefficiencies if other regions do not. There is no such indirection in the South.
Since September 11, we know we can no longer take the international border for granted, yet we have no’ forum through which to share our concerns and formulate common border and perimeter policies. As a region, the South has no such issues.
We must create a regional forum for the development and implementation of common regional goals. We must rely on one another to advance our common objectives. We must make commerce and government understand that we will not allow these opportunities to pass us by. Our moment is at hand, and it’s up to us to act. .-cc
Tim Woodcock is an attorney with the Bangor firm of Eaton Peabody, sits on the board of the East- West Highway Association, and is former mayor of the City of Bangor.