Maritime Union was first mentioned in 1806 by John Uniake, the attorney general of Nova Scotia. He proposed uniting the Maritime colonies as a deterrent to the expansionary ambitions of the United States.
About a decade after the Charlottetown conference of 1864, Edward Willis, a member of the New Brunswick cabinet, concluded that the merits of a Maritime Union would be to “lessen the expenses of provincial governments, diminish local prejudices which obstruct material progress and add weight to the influence of maritime representatives in Ottawa.”
In my opinion the time has come to deconstruct the arguments for a Maritime Union with the purpose of finding its modern relevance. I believe that instead of resurrecting old ideas we should recognize that this is a new century, a new global order and a new economy. In consequence, our political and economic architecture should be redesigned in order to confront the challenges and take advantage of the new opportunities of the 21st century.
There is no denying that a Maritime Union confers distinct economic benefits, even though it has no political traction. The fact of the matter is that pursuing a debate for a political union at this time is divisive, disruptive and polarizing. But we can side step the discussion on a Maritime political union by concentrating instead on elevating Maritime economic integration to a higher level.
The economic argument for a Maritime economic union has become more compelling in the context of the new global economy and the fiscal challenges faced by New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island. On the contemporary economic landscape, the economic slogan, bigger is better, has become a beacon for enhancing competitiveness, promoting efficiencies, achieving economies of scale and reducing costs.
It is time to create a Maritime Economic Region, a sort of economic common market, with an overarching mandate to achieve transformative economic change, to realign the regional economy with that of the new global economy and to become a catalyst for Maritime economic prosperity. Achieving this objective will require a gradual and graduated approach to economic integration, building a new institutional economic governance infrastructure and agreeing on a time-line for reaching pre-defined targets and economic mileposts.
The blueprint for redesigning the Maritime economy through enhanced integration should embrace a proactive and comprehensive economic development strategy for all three Maritime Provinces. The strategy should include a proposal for attracting foreign investment into the region, a plan to nurture local entrepreneurial talent and a regional job creation road map that creates economic opportunity. Furthermore, in a world of globalized trade, the Maritimes should embrace a collaborative approach for their export outreach that will empower them to open new international export markets and promote their products around the world.
The three Maritime Provinces should adopt a coordinated population growth strategy and a plan to increase immigration. They should develop a common approach to transportation, eliminate interprovincial trade barriers and ensure the unimpeded movement of goods and services.
An enhanced and extended bulk purchasing and procurement program for the Maritime Provinces will generate significant savings. The healthcare system in the Maritime Provinces could save millions of dollars by pooling their purchases of pharmaceuticals, healthcare supplies, vehicles for the extra-mural program and by embracing a regional E-health strategy.
The three Maritime Provinces should develop a common energy policy that is supported by a state of the art energy infrastructure. This should take the form of a west-east oil pipeline, a regional electricity grid, the strategic investment in green energy and the harnessing of the region’s renewable energy resources. They should also create more seamless economic borders between the three provinces for the unhindered flow of trades people and professionals and adopt more stream lined laws, regulations and standards between the three Maritime Provinces.
The time has come for a good hard look at a Maritime economic union. It is an attractive option for the Maritime Provinces and a way out of their fiscal quagmire and economic atrophy.
Dr. Constantine Passaris is a Professor of Economics at the University of New Brunswick (Canada), an Onassis Foundation Fellow (Greece) and a Research Affiliate of the Prentice Institute for Global Population & Economy at the University of Lethbridge.