Historically, the notion that the Maritimes should consolidate into one province has challenged the status quo of having three separate political regions. The Charlottetown Conference, for example, convened to discuss the potential of a Maritime union, however, as we all know, the Dominion of Canada emerged, instead. This idea of political unity has appeared many times since the 1864 conference, such as when Quebec separatism seemed certain and, more recently, when Senators Stephen Greene, John Wallace, and Mike Duffy floated the idea in 2012.
Whereas the latest conversation about Maritime union appears to have dissipated, likely due to a lack of political support combined with controversy surrounding the Duffy expenses scandal, cooperation between the three provinces is a policy direction that deserves consideration that is more serious.
A politically unified Maritime province, the population of which would be 1.8 million, approximately, would have generated roughly $75 billion in GDP during 2012. It would be Canada’s fifth largest province by population with the sixth largest economy. On the surface, it would appear that a Maritime union would have more stature than any one of its three parts individually. However, the region would suffer in terms of political representation.
There are currently three cabinets and three premiers, for instance, representing the region at first ministers conferences that give the region, as a whole, more attention. Nevertheless, there are weaknesses in this argument, as well, since having three separate premiers requires that they each advocate for their respective provinces, which creates tension.
Another weakness of a politically unified Maritime region is the loss of representation in certain areas within the existing provincial boundaries. In a unified province, for example, rural areas, such as Cape Breton, much of Prince Edward Island, and Northern New Brunswick could face difficulties voicing their demands. Similarly, many other regions would also face difficulties.
Alternatives to the Maritime union could be service integration and economic cooperation. For example, collaboration on energy procurement and delivery or establishing a common service delivery agency could mean lower administrative costs, less interprovincial competition for federal funding, and economies of scale for service delivery. On the contrary, this could also mean a loss in equalization as a unified economy would shift the Maritime’s equalization status. Some common services, such as the Atlantic Lottery Corporation, are in place already but there could be serious benefits in sharing large services such as health care.
There are also weaknesses to both political and economic integration. The most prominent is that each province risks losing sovereign control and questions about accountability arise given the absence of formal interprovincial bodies. (There is an absence of these bodies now, although this would likely change under a political union). Given the fiscal state of the three provinces, however, all opportunities to reduce costs merit further consideration.
Ultimately, there are both benefits and costs to a political unified Maritime region. Whether the benefits outweigh those costs, though, is a topic that government officials in the Maritimes need to take seriously. Initiatives that improve the Maritime’s economic and political environment are particularly important for the involved provinces as the region is facing several challenges.
Randy Kaye is a 2013-2014 Atlantic Institute for Market Studies’ Student Fellow. The views expressed are the opinion of the author and not necessarily the Institute