Thursday, January 18, 2007

5 Top Stories of 2006 in ABM - 1 of 4

The January-February edition of Atlantic Business Magazine has a special feature: the 5 top stories of 2006. The number one story, penned by Rob Antle, was a quality feature length piece outlining the issue and ramifications of out-migration.

The other 4 stories here, shorter and more concise bits which came from my keyboard, will be reprinted here over the next little bit*. Enjoy.

Atlantic Premiers

Atlantic Canada has always had strong common historical, economic and political interests. From the Maritime (or Atlantic) Union movement of the mid-nineteenth century to the Council of Atlantic Premiers, established in 2000, the region’s political leaders have sought to put forward a common front. However, this seems to work better in theory than in practice.

With two new figures on the Atlantic Canadian political landscape, 2007 would seem like a time to launch a new era of cooperation.

In June, New Brunswick ousted Tory Premier Bernard Lord in favour of Liberal Shawn Graham, after a brief period of unstable minority governments and peculiar parliamentary shenanigans.

Meanwhile, Nova Scotia saw the end of the John Hamm era and the surprising ascendance of Rodney MacDonald as Conservative leader and premier in February. MacDonald received a mandate of his own in a nasty and close June election.

Less than a year in office, these two are finding their place among their more seasoned colleagues.

Tory Pat Binns is a known quantity, having served as premier of PEI since 1996. If he finishes his full term, he will be the second longest serving premier of that island province since Confederation.

Newfoundland and Labrador’s Danny Williams is perhaps the best known regional premier, having won a national reputation through waging war with two Prime Ministers in just three years.

How will the two new first ministers change the regional political balance?

If the recent December meeting of the Council of Atlantic Premiers is any indication, it looks like while the Premiers can agree on the big issues; it’s the details that bedevil them.

A good example of an issue that binds all four is equalization.

At the December 7 press conference following the meeting, all the premiers agreed that they wanted more equalization money, that the program should be equitable to all provinces and that no province should lose income.

Oddly, nobody was surprised at this.

But beneath this seeming unanimity, there were stark differences in positions. While Williams insisted that resource revenues be wholly excluded from the formula, his compatriots were just as adamant about their inclusion.

Williams’ position would give Newfoundland and Labrador a huge fiscal advantage, since his province relies heavily on resource royalties, especially oil. For the others, resource revenues are marginal.

Since politics is the art of the possible, they reached a compromise - after a fashion. They concluded with the insistence that federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty can and should come up with a plan that benefits all provinces and territories.

And Premier Williams promised to campaign nationally against the Harper government if he didn’t get his way.

So in the end, it looks like our two new Atlantic Premiers fit neatly into the region’s tradition of cooperation and agreement - unless individual provincial and political interests get in the way.

Just political business as usual on Canada’s east coast.


*I'm not resorting to reprints because there is nothing on the go in the wider environment. I've just been out of commission with a very bad cold and now I'm behind on other commitments.

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