By David Shipley
As a
ppeared on page A1


Backers of the idea of a unified trade block between Eastern Canada and the northeastern United States say it could help reverse New Brunswick‘s population decline.

Atlantic Canada must chart a course towards a better economic future that creates jobs and attracts more people to the region, said Bill Denyar, CEO of the Atlantic Provinces Chambers of Commerce.

Embracing the idea of Atlantica would help produce these goals, he said.

“It’s all about prosperity. We want to create more business and more wealth that’s (in turn) going to help our provincial governments collect more taxes and pay for services,” he said Friday.”

Attracting people to New Brunswick was a key campaign promise by Premier Shawn Graham during the recent provincial election campaign.

Graham announced a new Population Growth Secretariat and a population growth advisory board on Friday.

Denyar’s comments come as the Atlantic Provinces Chambers of Commerce announced it’s moving ahead with a second annual conference on Atlantica.

The 2007 Atlantica conference will be held in Halifax from June 13 to 16.

“We are really hoping that we will get the provincial premiers as well as the governor of Maine to attend,” said Denyar.

“We’re hoping that (ACOA) Minister (Peter) McKay will be there as well.”

Denyar said he hopes the conference will have a similar attendance as the first one held in Saint John last June.

During the Saint John conference 400 businesspeople, government officials and experts gathered to discuss Atlantica.

As envisioned by proponents, Atlantica is a trade zone encompassing the Atlantic Provinces, the northeastern United States and parts of Ontario and Quebec.

It aims to restore the traditional north-south trade relationships between Atlantic Canada and the northern United States that were lost after Confederation.

Putting Atlantic Canada and the northern New England states on the global trade map would mean greater access and lower costs for businesses in the region to ship their goods to U.S. and global markets, proponents argue.

The conference will focus on transportation, tourism and energy, said Denyar.

The announcement of the second annual Atlantica conference caps off a week during which labour groups and a left-leaning think-tank have condemned Atlantica as “incoherent” and “deeply flawed.”

Denyar said he’s hoping the second Atlantica conference will clear misconceptions about the trade bloc’s goals and aims.

“The concept of Atlantica is all about reducing trade barriers, harmonizing regulation and facilitating the movement of goods and services through the region and throughout it,” he said.

“This is not about cutting wages and closing unions. In my mind that’s just not part of the picture.”