Increased regional co-operation is an important part of the solutions to what ails Atlantic Canada

Jin Liqun, the president of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank said it best: “Regional co-operation and global cooperation helps everybody, a rising tide lifts all boats.” Surely this analogy is not lost on Atlantic Canadians. Why then, with decades of evidence pointing to its benefits, do we continue to put parochial and political interests ahead of an aggressive regional co-operation agenda?

As a region, we are staring at some stark, immediate realities. It is no secret that the population of Atlantic Canada is not only getting older but is essentially static overall and shrinking in some areas. This is why the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) is advocating for greater co-operation among the Atlantic Provinces. It’s an important piece of the puzzle to provide more effective and efficient service delivery to a smaller, older population.

While this is not new thinking – the idea has been floating around since confederation – there’s an important difference in 2018. With an aging and shrinking population, the Atlantic provinces must change the way they do business if they are to manage the strains of reduced sources of tax revenue and stagnant economic growth.

In a recent CFIB survey, 96 per cent of business owners agreed the Atlantic provinces should work together to find solutions and cost savings in areas of shared concern. CIFB members were clear they wanted Atlantic governments to focus on health care, economic development, trade and investment, education, and youth retention. Admittedly, there are some co-operation initiatives underway, but much more needs to be done.

From CFIB’s perspective, the goals of co-operation should focus on reducing the size and cost of government, lowering taxes, improving the efficiency of government service, and reducing red tape and regulation. Given the recent international trade issues, it’s more important than ever that internal trade restrictions are eliminated, regulations become less burdensome, and Atlantic Canadian businesses don’t find themselves at a further competitive disadvantage.

CFIB’s 2018 report The Rising Tide: a small business perspective on the need for Atlantic co-operation has made specific recommendations to government to achieve these outcomes. In addition to political leadership and equitable commitment resources, CFIB is asking governments in the region to get the co-operation structure right, set and communicate clear goals, focus on the concerns of small business and publicly report results. It may be a great deal to ask, but there is a great deal at stake.

CFIB is not the only organization calling for greater co-operation. A new report from the Atlantic Provinces Economic Council (APEC) goes so far as to provide a detailed roadmap to advance this important agenda. In another report released this month, the Canadian Chambers of Commerce are adding their voice calling for regulatory alignment and removal of interprovincial trade barriers.

What is most frustrating is, while this evidence has been piling up for decades, governments continue to bend to self-interest, undermining the potential regional wins and leaving economic opportunity on the table. Now, we are left to unwind years of conflicting regulations and interprovincial trade barriers, hobbling the economy and demanding overlaps of unnecessary administrative expense.

Two recent examples jump out. Given the opportunity to come up with new provincial regulations as a result of the federal government’s cannabis legalization and carbon pricing, each of the four governments opted to go-it-alone, creating yet another patchwork of four distinct regulatory regimes. Why can they not get out of their own way?

Increased regional co-operation is an important part of the solutions to what ails Atlantic Canada. It is time for all the Atlantic premiers to listen to the growing, unified chorus of opinion from business. A rising tide can indeed lift all boats.

– Jordi Morgan is vice-president Atlantic, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business

This column originally appeared in the June 29th edition of The Guardian

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