The Halifax Gateway Council unveiled a new five-year strategy Wednesday with the goal of transforming the city’s port into the “preferred eastern gateway” for North America and the world.

One of the strategy’s main targets involves “co-ordinating with the myriad of gateway councils and organizations in Atlantic Canada and supporting the Atlantic Gateway Strategy,” states a document signed by the four Atlantic provinces that has yet to be approved by Ottawa.

But Charles Cirtwill says the plan is “just a stage in the race” that has pitted the Atlantic provinces against each other since the $2.1 billion federal Gateways and Border Crossings fund was announced in 2007.

“Many of the bullet points in this vision document are about maximizing money, maximizing government investment, about getting Ottawa to pay more attention to Halifax,” says the president and CEO of Atlantic Institute for Market Studies.

“To me, that’s the problem here – they’re all racing for Ottawa’s cash when they should be working collectively, together, to steal cargo from Montreal, steal cargo from New York,” he said of the various gateway groups.

Nancy Phillips, executive director of the Halifax Gateway Council, said the organization predates the federal fund and has always concentrated on building its assets.

She denied any rivalry between the groups, noting they reacted positively when presented with the Halifax plan ahead of its public release.

“We see a lot of collaboration and co-operation,” Phillips said. “The gateway council in Halifax has been around a lot longer than the other gateway councils, so we’re focused on the assets that we have here, and making those work well for all of Atlantic Canada.”

The Atlantic gateway – the term applied to the region’s network of air, rail, marine and road freight transportation – is touted by proponents as an important economic hub for Canadian, U.S. and European trade.

The Halifax gateway, which includes the busiest container port in Canada, will devote the next five years to building its brand nationally and internationally, improving infrastructure, offering efficient transportation networks, and ensuring government policies support gateway development.

The Halifax gateway has a total economic impact of over $3 billion a year, employing over 23,500 people in Nova Scotia, according to a news release issued by the council.

The Port of Halifax creates more than 11,000 jobs and generates more than $500 million each year in wages and benefits alone.

Growth in the port bolsters supporting industries throughout the Atlantic region, according to a 2007 AIMS report.

But the infighting among gateway groups prevents them from reaching their potential – and achieving even greater gains, Cirtwill said.

The Atlantic gateway concept has come under scrutiny once before this week. David Oxner, executive director of the Atlantic gateway Advisory Council, told a Moncton audience on Monday that Prime Minister Stephen Harper previously enquired about the gateway’s strategy.