Stop us if you’ve heard this one: by forming a Maritime union, the provinces of Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia will finally have the clout necessary to fix what ails them. When three Tory senators from the region suggested such a merger last week, it was the latest in a long line of failed attempts at provincial matrimony. With a backlash already under way, it’s hard to see this proposal ending any differently.
There’s no question the provinces face huge problems. Unemployment is well above the national average, their populations are aging rapidly, and the region is increasingly dependent on federal support even as Ottawa grows stingy. Proponents of a union say a consolidated bureaucracy would be more cost-effective, and the provinces would not have to compete against each other for investment.
Similar arguments were made back in 1864, when politicians from the Maritime colonies met in Charlottetown to talk about forming a union, but their plans were derailed when Sir John A. Macdonald arrived with a plentiful supply of champagne and a rather larger proposal—the Dominion of Canada. A century later New Brunswick premier Louis Robichaud proposed an Atlantic Canada union (including Newfoundland). Observers thought he was joking. Then in the 1970s, with Quebec separatist sentiment rising, a union was eyed in case the struggling region found itself cut off.
Canada’s tiniest province is the most vocal opponent of this latest merger proposal, with P.E.I. Premier Rob Ghiz calling it “preposterous.” Still, P.E.I. had much the same response when Confederation was discussed in 1864. Nine years later, facing a debt crisis, the province reconsidered. Perhaps all the Maritime union needs is more time.