Rob Linke
As published on page A1 on October 18, 2006

OTTAWA – National capital, meet Atlantica.

A Senate committee will be introduced tonight to the vision of the Maritimes as a thriving trade gateway to the world.

Having worked for several years to make Atlantica better known in the Atlantic provinces and New England, a Halifax think tank is now starting to raise the trade region’s profile with the national government and with central Canada’s business elite.

Atlantica “has not gotten a huge amount of attention on the federal scene,” said Stephen Kymlicka, senior policy analyst with the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies.

“What we need are some people from Ontario and Quebec to stand up and say, ‘yes, having better connections to the outside world through the Maritimes is to our own advantage.

“We can’t rely just on clogged West Coast ports or the Ambassador Bridge” between Windsor and Detroit, which is Canada’s busiest border crossing.

AIMS, which favours free-enterprise solutions, will tell the Senate committee on banking and trade tonight that trade links between the Atlantic provinces and with New England suffer from several barriers that must be overcome for Atlantica to reach its potential.

The committee is examining interprovincial trade barriers, but the AIMS presentation is also a primer on Atlantica itself.

Atlantica is the region that includes the three Maritime provinces, Newfoundland, the south shore of Quebec, northern New England and upstate New York. Its proponents argue that improved transportation links and reduced barriers to trade could improve business opportunities by allowing goods to flow more freely from St. John’s to Buffalo, N.Y., and points between.

Atlantica could become a significant gateway for trade between central Canada and the rest of the world, particularly Asia, through the Suez Canal, says AIMS.

In his brief to the committee, Kymlicka argues “Atlantica has a great future with an excellent opportunity to help fuel the continental economy by functioning as a gateway to the world.

“To fully capitalize on the opportunity, we need to be more competitive “… the more obstacles that can be removed, the better.”

AIMS says the key areas for harmonization are transportation, labour mobility and energy.

The transportation issues include harmonizing vehicle regulations and standards.

The problem is there are several different allowable weights for trucks and even different definitions of acceptable trucks, as well as different restrictions on how many hours truckers can drive.

“These things make the whole business of trucking far more complex and you need far better people to do it, with additional costs – and we have a driver shortage,” Kymlicka said in an interview.

Other transportation needs include upgrading physical barriers with projects such as twinning the Trans-Canada Highway at Rivière-du-Loup and the staged removal of the 25 per cent tariff on imported ships to allow for a renewal of the Canadian merchant fleet, which “would go a long way to making interprovincial trade through short sea shipping viable.”

AIMS favours the use of long combination vehicles or “road trains” on four-lane highways.

Long enough to transport two shipping containers, these trucks were approved in Quebec, the western provinces and in many U.S. states several years ago, said Kymlicka.

In New Brunswick, their use has been limited to a pilot project between Saint John and Moncton.

He conceded there are safety issues – “you woudn’t want them on twisty highways” – but said studies have shown there are savings of 12 to 15 per cent per truck per trip.

Kymlicka said the region must also dismantle barriers to the setting up of branch offices in Atlantic Canada.

Head office or residency requirements and multiple filings to regulatory bodies and unnecessary requirements for recertification of professional qualifications all restrict growth, his paper argues.

AIMS also calls for one common power transmission rate, as is recognized in New England.


To read the text of the remarks made before the Standing Committee, click here.

To view the PowerPoint presentation, click here.