October 31, 1999
Halifax Daily News


Maritime Cooperation Not All It’s Cracked Up To Be

by Fred McMahon

Somewhat deceptively, Maritime cooperation seems to have been patched up after it was rent by the parochial political maneuvering of former Nova Scotia premier Russell MacLellan.

“I think we’re breathing some new life into this organization that was effectively dead,” said PEI Premier Pat Binns of the Council of Maritime Premiers. The Council had its first meeting in two years this past week in Stellarton.

Still, little was accomplished on important issues, and some worrying signs emerged about the direction of Maritime cooperation. The only achievement was sewing up the tear created by MacLellan.

MacLellan meant to take Nova Scotia out of Atlantic Lottery Corporation and set up a provincial lottery corporation headquartered in Sydney, a transparent election ploy. The move made no sense economically and Nova Scotia Premier John Hamm says the province will remain in the corporation.

MacLellan had also started a nasty fight with PEI. In the worst tradition of narrow-minded provincialism, MacLellan declared the island stole Nova Scotia jobs when Nova Scotia police were trained at PEI’s Holland College.

It’s bizarre for any Nova Scotia premier to claim Nova Scotia is getting short-changed in post-secondary education considering the thicket of universities in this province. Hamm declared this fight over. Nova Scotia police cadets will continue to train in PEI.

That wraps up the much-ballyhooed progress at the meeting. The premiers did nothing on three issues key to the region’s future: native resource rights, transportation and trade.

The premiers stepped around the native rights issue, in the aftermath of the Supreme Court ruling on fishing rights and attempts by natives to extent this ruling to other resources, most notably logging. This sort of issue can have dangerous social and economic consequences, so politicians want to avoid it like the plague.

Meanwhile, the greatest economic challenge facing the Maritimes is in transportation. Though our policy-makers seem not to have gotten the message, the single most important thing government can do to boost growth and job creation is provide efficient transportation links to important markets.

All the economic research in the world shows this works while the old-fashioned, subsidy-driven, government-directed, economic-development strategy has been a dismal failure here and elsewhere.

At long last, an efficient twinned highway links Saint John and Halifax. But Halifax is hardly Saint John’s major market, and Saint John is hardly Halifax’s major market.

So, in many ways, the existing twinned highway is a road to nowhere. We need efficient transportation links to our major markets in Central Canada and New England.

The twinned highway could be extended through northern New Brunswick and into Quebec, but this is a huge stretch of road, costly to develop and costly to drive. And, it ignores the great New England market.

More sensible would be a plan to work with Maine to tie Maritime highways into the U.S. transportation web. Maine is talking about building an east-west highway across the top of the state into Quebec. This would be the most efficient way for Maritime goods to reach the Central Canadian markets, and it would also open up the U.S. mid-west.

But the issue was largely ignored at the conference, perhaps because of the political difficulty of working with Maine to develop a highway system, particularly if this meant Maritime dollars were used to pave Maine highways. Yet, that would be guaranteed to create jobs in the Maritimes.

Only slightly less important is the issue of free trade between provinces. Canada’s internal free trade agreement is thin gruel, much less effective than international treaties. This issue was largely ignored at the meeting.

During the recent Nova Scotia election campaign John Hamm suggested a step backward. He said the Nova Scotia government should give preference to provincial firms. But for economic growth, we need our best companies to be able to sell wherever they can, and that won’t happen if we stop firms in other provinces selling to Nova Scotia.

So while the Council of Maritime Premiers patched up old differences, they registered three-strikes-and-you’re-out on the three most important issues facing the region.