SAINT JOHN – If business leaders want to hold an Atlantic Gateway summit, they should not wait for cabinet Peter MacKay to invite them, Charles Cirtwill says.

In fact, they might do better to hold the summit without inviting MacKay, the federal cabinet minister charged with the Atlantic Gateway file, Cirtwill, executive vice-president of the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies, said Monday in an interview from Halifax.

The Southern New Brunswick and the Halifax gateway councils want the minister to call a summit to form an Atlantic Gateway leadership council to present a coherent regional vision for spending priorities under the federal government’s “gateway” program to remove chokepoints and hold-ups from trade corridors and border crossings.

Business organizations generally support the proposed single Atlantic gateway council. To Cirtwill, it looks too much like an attempt to make sure the region gets its share of the $2.1 billion that Ottawa allotted to the program in October 2007.

The Southern New Brunswick Gateway Council released its priorities last week, with more berths for cruise ships and a port access road in Saint John, and an overpass on Highway 15 at the Greater Moncton International Airport, at the top of the list.

The main impediments to the Atlantic Gateway have more to do with policy than with physical infrastructure, Cirtwill said.

“The border has thickened quite considerably since Sept. 11, and we’d be far better off to work on knocking those barriers down than spending on building bridges and laying pavement that we don’t really need.”

Twinning Quebec’s Highway 185 north of the New Brunswick border looks like an obvious priority, which would benefit all four Atlantic provinces.

Cirtwill does not dispute this, but describes it as a modest highway upgrade which does not require a federal program. The same applies to cruise ship berths, port access roads and highway overpasses, he said.

Not everybody agrees with Cirtwill.

“Well, those are interesting views,” Donald G. Dennison, executive director of the New Brunswick Business Council, said from Fredericton Monday. “I don’t know that the council would “¦ choose between infrastructure and solving issues at the border, we need both.”

Business should get together to establish regional priorities without a politician in the room, Cirtwill says.

Business should take advantage of an opportunity to meet the federal minister in charge of the gateway initiative, Dennison says.

The New Brunswick Business Council wrote to the four Atlantic premiers, asking them to for a single council “to present a unified gateway strategy,” Dennison said.

He sees nothing wrong the region seeking a share of the federal gateway money, nor does he seen anything wrong with spending it on infrastructure.

Like Cirtwill, he says the region must convince the Americans to lighten up at the border. “We’re going to have to do that sort of lobbying,” he said.

However, these should not happen at the expense of roads, bridges, railways, airports and seaports, which the Atlantic region should promote as national assets, Dennison said.