Atlantic Canada Fights Back against Atlantica

Article excerpt

This past June 8 to 10, the city of Saint John, New Brunswick, offered an interesting portrayal of the contemporary configurations of class and nation in the Atlantic region. On one side, a few hundred of northeastern North America's most wealthy and powerful, including premiers, governors and key bureaucrats had come together at the invitation of Atlantica, an organized market-based committee of owners and politicians, to promote "deep integration" between Eastern Canada and the "Boston states." This was to be achieved through unhindered trade and private economic growth. On the other, roughly 800 working-class Atlantic Canadians took part in various counter-events staged to oppose the anti-Canadian and anti-worker activities associated with Atlantica.

What Is Atlantica? What Is Its Goal?

For several years, now, the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies (AIMS), Atlantic Canada's right-wing "think tank" has been working diligently on the systemic fracturing of publicly offered social services and labour standards within New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island. Stemming from AIMS, Atlantica is a political and economic model that seeks economic policy integration between the Northeastern United States, Atlantic Canada and Northern Quebec. The provinces included in Atlantica are New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and the northern and eastern parts of Quebec, while the U.S. states are Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut and northern New York. Its full implementation is supposed to occur no later than 2010.

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The conference entitled "Reaching Atlantica: Business Without Borders" was designed to enable business and political leaders from across the continental northeast to discuss the construction of Atlantica, with a registration fee of $715 restricting attendance. Atlantica's participants and supporters state that the eastern region of Canada suffers from five specific "public policy distress factors," which must be dealt with to enhance economic growth and business opportunities. These distress factors include:

1) Size of government relative to the economy (a measure of the burden the public sector places on the private economy);

2) Government employment as a percentage of total state/provincial employment (a measure of public-sector efficiency);

3) Total government revenue from own sources as a percentage of GDP (a measure of dependence);

4) Minimum-wage legislation (a measure of labour-market inflexibility); and

5) Union density (another measure of labour-market inflexibility).

In the case of each of these five issues, the solution proposed by Atlantica is retrograde--both anti-national and anti-worker. For example, to deal with the supposedly large size of the government, Atlantica's solution is to proportionalize government programs and policies for a given region to eliminate social programs and enlarge the scope of private enterprise. The government sector is to be pared down to only those most immediate social needs (health, education, welfare, etc.) that cannot be provided through the private sector. In addition, Atlantica wishes to introduce a systemic reduction of state revenues procured from the private sector through corporate taxes and levies, these to be shifted onto the public. It also wants to institutionalize a fixed/frozen regional-based wage and to disallow union membership upon retirement and/or layoffs, coupled with easier decertification of existing organized labour groups. …