Peter Stoffer already has plans for where his office pool table will go when he eventually leaves federal politics: sold, to fellow East Coast NDP MP Ryan Cleary, with the proceeds going to a charity for veterans. For the long-time MP from Sackville, N.S., known on the Hill as Mr. Congeniality, it would be a fitting end to his parliamentary career. And it may come sooner, rather than later.
Amid rumours the New Democrat won’t run in the next election in 2015, now there’s talk among those close to him that he may return to Nova Scotia full-time to lead the recently decimated provincial NDP. Stoffer himself is coy about whether his next move would be to Nova Scotia politics—“All cards are on the table,” he says—but if he did, he admits he’d campaign on an idea as old as Confederation itself: merging the Maritime provinces.
The timing may be right for Stoffer to make the transition. Consistently voted by his fellow MPs as “most collegial” in Maclean’s annual Parliamentarians of the Year survey (he has hosted a non-partisan “all-party party” at Christmas since first heading to the hill in 1997), Stoffer has begun to look out of place in an increasingly partisan Ottawa. At the same time, after NDP Premier Darrell Dexter suffered a drubbing in last month’s Nova Scotia elections, it’s anticipated Dexter will vacate the leader’s office.
As leader, Stoffer says he’d campaign to have Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island join forces to counter their demographic and economic decline. (Newfoundland, he says, would be welcome to join if it wants.) He says that, with 133 MLAs representing fewer than two million people in the three provinces, there are lots of costs to be saved. Step 1 in his plan would be to create a unified tourism strategy, then eventually tackle the more contentious issues of merging health care and education services.
But an East Coast merger is hardly a new, or popular, idea. When it was rehashed a year ago by three Tory senators from the Maritimes (including the now-disgraced Mike Duffy), it met with only tepid support. Stoffer’s idea still doesn’t curry much favour with politicians from the region. At an event in Ottawa last week to kick off anniversary celebrations for the 150th anniversary of the Charlottetown Conference in P.E.I., where the concept of Maritime union was first proposed, P.E.I. Liberal MP Sean Casey laughed off the idea. Conservative New Brunswick MP Tilly O’Neill-Gordon smiled and shook her head. “We love each other enough, anyway,” she says. Mark Eyking, one of two Liberals from Cape Breton, chuckled before disappearing into the House of Commons foyer. “A single province? We’re still trying to separate from the rest of Nova Scotia.”
Casey points out the biggest roadblock to the idea: “Where’s the capital going to be?”
Stoffer says that’s always the major point of contention.“Put it on Sable Island, for all I care.”