A June conference exploring the Atlantica concept should put an end to the “Cold War-style rhetoric” that has grown up around the issue, says the event’s chairman.

Stephen Dempsey said by gathering 500 key players from business, the community, labour and the environment in Halifax June 14 to 16, he hopes to move the effort to create a regional trading area from contentious debate to harmonious dialogue.

The inaugural Atlantic conference held in New Brunswick last year was sidetracked when protesters camped outside the conference site tried to get inside to make their views heard.

At least one person was arrested.

Mr. Dempsey said “everyone will be under one tent” this time, with all participants given a voice in how the concept should be defined.

Various think-tanks and interest groups see the Atlantica concept differently, but for the purpose of the conference Mr. Dempsey said Atlantica is defined as an economic region encompassing the Atlantic provinces, the northeastern United States and eastern Quebec.

By putting these areas together on the international trade map, Mr. Dempsey said it can only lead to greater market access and lower costs for businesses in the region to ship goods to the U.S. and global markets. It is a natural extension of globalization and a way to turn north-south partnerships into tangible economic benefits, he said.

“If we can’t broaden our trade discussion to include Atlantica, how can we ever hope to trade with the world?”

As part of the conference, the Atlantic Provinces Chambers of Commerce is expected to announce the creation of a business leaders’ council to focus on potential business benefits and the hiring of a vice-president whose full-time job will be to promote the idea and find a way to make it workable in practical ways.

Premier Rodney MacDonald will use a keynote speech at the conference to explain why the Atlantic Gateway concept must be a regional priority for economic development.