Idea of merging Maritime provinces revived despite lack of political support

HALIFAX – The age-old idea of merging the three Maritime provinces has been resurrected despite an overwhelming lack of political will from an array of government levels.

A trio of Conservative senators — John Wallace of New Brunswick, Mike Duffy of Prince Edward Island and Stephen Greene of Nova Scotia — are making a plea to consolidate the Maritime provinces, an idea that has intermittently reappeared over the past century.

But several political figures — including Nova Scotia Premier Darrell Dexter and Robert Ghiz of P.E.I. — have denounced the idea in recent days, saying the provinces are already working co-operatively.

Donald Savoie, Canada research chair in public administration at the University of Moncton, said the fiscal challenges facing the Maritime provinces and an aging population are what have brought the idea to the floor once again.

He said the three provinces are all stomaching immense financial pressures and the concept of the Maritime Union “is in fashion.”

“Whenever there’s an external force that threatens us in the Maritimes, we tend to talk about the Maritime Union,” said Savoie, noting that he has supported the idea for years.

“What we’re witnessing all through the Maritime provinces is some pretty serious fiscal challenges and some pretty serious economic challenges. We have a fast aging population and I don’t think we have the financial resources to maintain the status quo.”

Duffy declined to comment Sunday, while Wallace and Greene could not be reached for comment.

New Brunswick is currently grappling with a $10-billion debt, a $356-million deficit and an unemployment rate of 11.6 per cent — the province’s highest in nearly a decade.

In P.E.I., the 2012-13 deficit is projected to come in at $79.6 million, while the Nova Scotia government has promised to balance the books by next spring, despite a deficit forecast of $211.2 million.

Savoie noted that economic development could be more efficiently promoted as one region and would eliminate the need to compete to attract jobs.

“I think it involves better public services, better ability to rationalize public services, and also it speaks to economic development,” said Savoie in an interview from Florida on Saturday.

“I think the Maritime provinces as a unit would be better off promoting economic development than three little units vying for a new investment.”

But Savoie admits the idea would be a tough sell to provincial governments.

“I think Maritimers themselves will have to provide the leadership,” he said.

Calls for a Maritime Union date back more than 100 years, when the three provinces — then the Maritime colonies — were slated to meet at the Charlottetown Conference to discuss a union. But the plan was expanded after what is now Ontario and Quebec joined the meeting.

The idea was also studied in the mid-1960s, when a commission report recommended a Maritime Union over time.

Savoie said the topic also came up in the late 1970s, when talks of Quebec leaving Canada sparked discussion about what would happen to the Maritime provinces.

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