What Happened to the Blueprint for Atlantic Advance?

It is very hard to find good narrative on the economic development history of the Maritimes. Donald Savoie’s recent book was very interesting and should be required reading for anyone interested in the history of economic development in the region.

Last week I stumbled across a book called What Happened to the Blueprint for Atlantic Advance? written by this guy – who it seems was one of the original ‘economic developers’ for the Maritimes when he started with Atlantic Provinces Economic Council in 1955.

I have started reading this book – which reads like a memoir of the writer/history of APEC. I will have much more to say about it later but here are a few comments based on the first 50 pages or so of the book:

It has always been easier to attract industry and investment from outside Canada than from inside Canada. Fredericks talks about his first visit to Bay Street in 1955 to try and convince the banks and industry to invest in the Maritimes. He says everywhere he went the industry moguls would say “why would we ever want to invest in the Maritimes”? Not much has changed in 50 years. Halifax can attract hedge fund back offices from Bermuda but how many have they attracted from Toronto? Zip. Toronto-based businesses will put retail stores down here – sure – but manufacturing? R&D? Technical support? Back offices? Good luck. If you get a chance sometime look at the list of call centres that have set up in the Maritimes in the past 15 years. The vast majority are U.S. or internationally based (sure some are the Canadian divisions like Xerox Canada but the company is a U.S. firm). Ask yourself how much non-retail work is done here by Canada’s largest firms. Not much.

One of the chocolate baron Ganong brothers was on the board of the original APEC which had as a main part of its mission to attract industry to the Maritimes. Well, the times they are a changin’. The current Ganong mogul and head of the NB Biz Council recently responded to the self sufficiency report by calling on the NB government not to focus on attracting outside investment and to support local business. With all due respect, Mr. Ganong that hasn’t worked in 50 years and maybe we should defer to the older Ganong’s position.

Throughout history there has been talk of Maritime cooperation (a united front) (note today’s story in the TJ). APEC’s first vision document for the Maritimes included five areas of cooperation. I can’t remember them all but they included electric power cooperation, a shared foreign office for attracting industry, shared transportation policy, etc. Only one every really got implemented. The truth is, and I have said this before, that Maritime cooperation is a sham. It was in 1867, 1955 and 2005. Despite all the calls, I will give you three recent examples of Maritime ‘cooperation’ at work. First, Bernard Lord was more comfortable going on trade missions and doing trade deals with the Premier of Manitoba than Nova Scotia. I always found that odd but no one in the press seemed to notice. Second, the Premier of Nova Scotia was adamant that Molson beer would not flow from Moncton into Nova Scotia without the high tariff. This despite the little fact that Nova Scotia had a deal in place with Quebec similar to the one proposed by New Brunswick. Oops. Third, Bernard Lord and the gang showed no interest at all in the Atlantica concept – even though the business community was very supportive.

My last initial comment on this book is that there was a kind of ‘Altantica’ thing going in 1955. APEC was involved with a New England group on a variety of joint projects including, you guessed it, transportation-related projects. Maybe 50 years later, there will be the political will to actually get something out of the two country collaboration.

More later on this book.