By BILL POWER
An American businessman is taking over as chairman of the Atlantic Provinces Chamber of Commerce.
Jonathan Daniels, chairman and chief executive officer of the Eastern Maine Development Corp. in Bangor, Maine, will assume the voluntary top spot at the Atlantic Canadian business group at its annual general meeting in Halifax after a two-day Atlantica conference beginning Thursday.
“There are huge similarities and similar challenges confronting our two regions, including transportation, energy, the migration of our youth and a mutual need for access to the best information technology available,” Mr. Daniels said in an interview from Bangor.
“We want to create opportunities for business success within this region.”
Mr. Daniels will become the first American chairman of the Atlantic Canadian business lobby group after sitting on the organization’s board since 2004.
The appointment of an American to head the Atlantic chamber raised a red flag within the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.
“It is further evidence of the Atlantic Chamber’s unhealthy fixation on Atlantica,” said Scott Sinclair, a researcher with the centre who will speak at the Atlantica conference on Thursday.
Mr. Sinclair said research conducted by the centre found many problems with the Atlantica concept, including the emphasis on a new east-west superhighway across New England when existing rail infrastructure could handle the task less expensively and with less environmental impact.
“For every container we put on a rail car instead of a truck there is an energy saving of at least 80 per cent,” he said.
The Atlantica concept has also drawn fire from Canadian unions and activist groups who complain it promotes big business and closer ties with the United States. Mr. Daniels said he hopes his ascent to the chair will advance the Atlantica concept on both sides of the border and lead to more cross-border trade.
“We are business people trying to progress with more opportunities for employment, for the creation of wealth and for a stronger economic region, and it does not matter if we are in Maine or in Newfoundland and Labrador,” he said.
The Eastern Maine Development Corp. in Bangor and the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies in Halifax have worked in their regions to promote the Atlantica concept since the mid-1990s.
The Atlantica concept has attracted its share of critics, but Mr. Daniels said most criticism he has heard is based on “extreme exaggerations” of potential long-range implications that far exceed what proponents of Atlantica are involved in.
He used the relatively recent advancement of U.S. customs preclearance at Halifax Stanfield International Airport as an example of what can be achieved when business and community leaders from both sides of the border sit down and talk.
“By working together as a region we can ease the movement of goods, services and people,” Mr. Daniels said. “This is what regional cooperation is all about.”
Mr. Daniels said the state of Maine and the Atlantic provinces would benefit from a new east-west interstate highway through New England. Such a highway would enhance transportation options for all businesses, he said.
The appointment of an American as chairman of the Atlantic chamber was described as “a natural” by current chairman Stephen Dempsey, president and CEO of the Greater Halifax Partnership.
“It is a deliberate effort to bring attention to the fact that our businesses interests throughout the northeast are interconnected,” Mr. Dempsey said.