OTTAWA – Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s offshore oil deal with Nova Scotia could have positive spinoffs for New Brunswick’s economy, political observers say.

On Wednesday, Harper and Nova Scotia Premier Rodney MacDonald announced they had resolved their dispute over the federal government’s interpretation of the Atlantic Accord in the 2007 federal budget. The province will now be able to opt in to the new equalization arrangement from the feds without risking any of the benefits it would have received from the 2005 accord.

Donald Savoie, the Clément Cormier chairman in economic development at l’Université de Moncton and expert on regional development, said Wednesday that Premier Shawn Graham should use this opportunity to lobby for a side deal for his province. He said Graham should pack his bags for Ottawa to ask for a federal government contribution to his self-sufficiency plan.

“We need to be much more creative. We need to go with an approach to show that what is good for New Brunswick is good for the rest of Canada,” he said.

“We don’t want handouts; we want a process to become more self-sufficient.”

Savoie said New Brunswick has long stood on the outside while neighbouring provinces Nova Scotia and Newfoundland secured side deals with the federal government to protect their specialized assets. The latest federal budget gave New Brunswick 1.8 per cent, or $26 million, more in equalization payments. By comparison, Quebec got nearly 29 per cent more. Savoie said the time has come for Graham to take advantage of Harper’s willingness to negotiate with the provinces and start to sell New Brunswick on a national stage.

“We’ve been good soldiers and it’s time to work out some arrangement to promote our economic growth,” he said.

“This is an opening for the premier to pursue.”

But critics warn that the agreement between Nova Scotia and the federal Tories isn’t a sign of good things to come for provinces looking for their own special deals. Charles Cirtwill, acting president of the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies, said Harper’s goodwill could be timed by the chance of a looming federal election. The federal Tories had an obligation to honour the deal with Nova Scotia, which was signed under the previous Liberal government. He said New Brunswickers shouldn’t get too excited about the possibility of multimillion-dollar side deals just yet.

“It doesn’t really change anything,” he said. “The real key here is that the federal government was cleaning up something that was hanging over their heads.”

He said Harper is likely looking to improve his image in Nova Scotia, where his government stood to lose support after bickering between the two governments earlier this year. The dispute over offshore resources prompted both Newfoundland and Nova Scotia to complain that they were being short-changed by the federal government. While the agreement will likely give Graham further incentive to rally Ottawa for federal funds for his own projects, Cirtwill said it’s unlikely that Harper will start drafting deals with other provinces who want them.

Harper defended the agreement, saying he wasn’t favouring one province over another and that he was simply honouring a contract. Graham couldn’t be reached for comment Wednesday.