Monday, June 21, 2010

 

MAYBE IT IS US!

An international poll being published this week at the onset of the G-8 and G-20 twin summits in Toronto suggests that one of Canada's greatest failures is as a world trading partner.

It seems the key impediments are in large measure within our own borders because provinces and territories are often at protectionist logger-head over such basic issues as trade, professional and worker qualifications. Let alone the free flow of products and services from one province into one, or out of another.

For instance the Minister of Transportation, John Baird, was in Michigan last month making a very public case to take down the barriers to allow construction of a new bridge to promote trade between Windsor and Detroit. But; a bottle of Moose Head Beer brewed in New Brunswick is still being sold (if at all) west of the Quebec border as a premium "imported" lager. Just last week, Newfoundland's Premier was accusing neighbouring Quebec of..."thwarting growth across Eastern Canada" over yet another decision involving the transmission of hydro generated power into the United States market. So it goes: But, just how should we expect our international trade efforts to be recognized and succeed if in a nation of just 30 million we can't settle internal trading issues amongst our own ten provinces.

I have just returned from four or five days of business related travel into southern portions of New Brunswick, the province where I was born. Lest I digress; in these first warm days of this 2010 summer, I was struck by the verdant green colours of the "Picture Province's" vast pine and spruce forests devastated during my childhood by the rampant dreaded "Spruce Budworm" which had turned the millions of acres of forested regions into dull brown dead overgrowth.

Viewed from my Ontario perspective where I have lived for just about 30 years, I confess to having difficulty with the concept of a reality whereby none of the four Atlantic Provinces has a population greater than the single National Capital Region of Ottawa/Gatineau, the twin cities where I reside. In fact, New Brunswick's own population of 750,000 is about the same as the single industrial southern Ontario city of Hamilton. Yet as a province it's tax and rate payers are encumbered with supporting and maintaining the reality, infrastructures, costs and every other elements of a full fledged partner (in fact an original partner) of Canada's 143 year-old nationhood. In the cold light of modern economic realism, this may not make much sense.

Out west; Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia have been taking a hard look at their own not dis-similar situation. Earlier this spring (in late April), they announced the "New West Partnership" agreement which will create Canada's biggest inter provincial barrier-free trade and investment market. Not only does the effort combine the strength of the economies of the three provinces but a couple of the partnership's keystone elements include a procurement agreement whereby the western provinces have combined their buying power; as well as an international co-operation agreement which launched four week's ago when Saskatchewan, Alberta and B.C. essentially took over responsibility for their own business dealings with China, the world's fastest growing economy, by opening a trade and investment office in Shanghai, China's financial capital.

By contrast, Prince Edward Island's effort this summer will be to spend a million dollars to host the syndicated "Regis and Kelly" American television morning gabfest for two or three days in Charlottetown in mid-July...Newfoundland's Premier Danny Williams blames the greed, arrogance and entitlement displayed by his neighbour (Quebec) for milking Newfoundland dry over the infamous Churchill Falls hydro agreement signed 41 years ago...and which should have long ago been either forgotten or relegated to the pile of learned experiences along with Brian Peckford's hydroponic cucumber operations; The so-called Newfoundland "pickle palace" of the 1980's.

There's hope still for our Atlantic Provinces. Perhaps a good first step would be to work with (and on) the synergies, infrastructures and projects which unite them rather than with economic realities which are no bigger than most of Quebec and Ontario's main cities.

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Comments:
Don't be too quick to point to the western provinces collaboration. Superficially you have co-operation, but BC unions still rule the roost. Unionized workers from BC can work in Alberta and Saskatchewan, but heaven forbid if Alberta and Saskatchewan unionized workers try to enter BC. You have the free entreprenurial spirit in Alberta and Saskatchewan, but you don't have it in BC.
 
By the way, do you remember the Duetch Report from the 60s calling for an economic union for the Maritimes? Whatever happened? I thought it made sense at the time.
 
While I do not specifically recall the report you've mentioned...It's a concept that surely disserves closer attention. But: It would be an even harder sell than New Brunswick's failed bid to sell NB Power to Hydro Quebec. There are just too many long standing "provincial" (rather than regional)concerns to deal with. Not the least of which could be the fear of additional French Acadian assimilation into a larger English speaking mass.
 
Maritime Union:

There were more than a few interesting discussions late at night at Fredericton Press Club back in 1975.

When then Premier Richard Hatfield was “in the club”, the door was simply locked at 1:30. (I was not about to tell the Premier it was time to go.)

One night, the topic of discussion was a possible union between New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and PEI. (“Maritamia” rings a bell, but it was a long time ago…)

There was an ongoing debate in the media about the best location for the new capital. Halifax wanted to be the new capital because it was the largest, Moncton because it was the most central, and Charlottetown because it was the birthplace of confederation.

Then a member of the media, who had been quietly nodding in the corner, perked up and asked the Premier a simple question:

“So Richard, which two-thirds of you are going to resign?”

The only sound was the tinkling of the ice in the drinks…

“What do you mean?” replied the premier.

“Well, the way I see it, if this union goes ahead, we will only need one premier, one cabinet, one set of deputy ministers, and probably a smaller legislature. Who’s going to be out of a job?”

It was clear from the blank look on the premier’s face that this was something that he had not thought about. My recollection is that the idea of maritime union quietly faded into oblivion.

The reality is that the leaders of the provinces are big fish in small ponds. Some, like the Maritimes, are very small ponds.

Some provinces, like Alberta, tend to behave more as if they are sovereign states, not part of a confederation.

The provinces are an anachronism from when communications could take weeks or months. Parochial self-interest and selfishness has stifled any attempt to improve the lot of all Canadians, i.e., the common good. The “have” provinces, like Alberta, conveniently forget that before oil, they were a “have-not province.
I have long-held that Canada needs to evolve into a unitary state. Calculating the savings to the Canadian taxpayer are well beyond my capability, but I have never even heard the topic discussed. The Quebec issue does not preclude some rationalization of government for the remaining provinces and territories.

Imagine having a “Canadian” driver’s licence, a “Canadian” licence plate on your vehicle, or a “Canadian” health care card. The laws would be the same everywhere in Canada. Moving between provinces to work or live would no longer be like moving between sovereign states. No more red tape for professionals, such as doctors, lawyers, accountants, engineers and nurses, to mention a few, before they can legally work in another province.

We would have national professional associations, not the plethora of provincial associations. There would be a common tax regime, eliminating the competition between provinces for development. There would be national environmental standards. Choosing which province to build a pulp mill when the river is the boundary should not be based on which province has the less stringent standards.
We could finally bring to an end the notion of have and have-not provinces, which is at best a moving target.

Just imagine; a Canada for Canadians.

jloimand@telus.net
 
Great thoughts, insight and comments. As surely you know, recognizing cultural differences, geography, language, and the influences of our vast (and powerful) southern neighbour mean the utopia you've described isn't for us in our lifetime.
 

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