By Alison Auld

The Canadian press


HALIFAX (CP) – A proposed economic zone designed to enhance trade on North America‘s east coast would rob Atlantic Canada of its resources, foul the environment and erode labour standards, a new study says.


The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, in a report released Thursday, condemned the so-called Atlantica framework as a “myth.” Scott Sinclair, senior trade researcher for the left-leaning public policy group, said the proposed zone would make eastern Canadian ports merely gateways for Asian goods headed to the U.S. Midwest, rather than boosting trade between Atlantic Canada and New England.


The model would bring few financial benefits to Atlantic Canada and would instead lead to more problems with its roads, air and economic autonomy, he said.


“I think that its impacts would be overwhelmingly detrimental,” he said in an interview Wednesday.


“The myth is that Atlantica is about enhancing trade, but when I dug into it, I discovered it’s really about turning the region into a conduit for Asian goods headed for the U.S. heartland.”


Sinclair argues that under the Atlantica proposal, super-sized “truck trains” would be enlisted to haul goods from the port of Halifax, for example, and across the U.S. border. He said the vehicles, which are made up of a truck and several trailers, will damage the region’s roadways, increase pollution and create highway hazards.


The idea of bolstering the transportation corridor is a key part of Atlantica, which is intended to forge new, more unfettered economic links between parts of Atlantic Canada and the northeastern United States.


Proponents of the controversial scheme argue that unless Canada‘s East Coast becomes a more cohesive economic unit, the region is doomed to suffer a steady decline.


But critics say that further integration of the Canadian and the American economies will threaten Canada‘s social programs, health care, workers’ rights and the environment.


“They want to drive down the rate of unionization,” Sinclair said from his home in Prince Edward Island.


Sinclair also questioned the notion that commercial traffic in Atlantica would move smoothly between Canada and the U.S., mainly because security measures will only get tighter in the wake of the 9-11 terrorist attacks.


But, Charles Cirtwill of the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies, dismissed the study’s findings, arguing that American officials have been working to make it easier to move goods across the border.


“We’ve already got in place the structure to resolve those issues and, in most cases, those issues have already been resolved, particularly for the transport of goods,” said Cirtwill, whose non-profit, Halifax-based think-tank has been a driving force behind the Atlantica movement.


“To argue that it’s a fairytale is missing the point that it’s happening already.”


Cirtwill downplayed all of the criticisms raised in the 42-page report, entitled Atlantica: Myths and Realities.


He said studies have shown Canada‘s East Coast will become an important gateway since the West Coast is congested and Halifax‘s deep harbour can attract bigger vessels.


As well, the U.S. appetite for natural gas and oil will also help develop and expand the market, rather than rob the region of its natural resources, he said