Cooperation. It’s simple, really.

What is amazing to me is that a lot of folks don’t seem to understand the most basic concept when it comes to cooperation:  it has to provide some type of mutual benefit and it can’t be seen to be giving too much of the benefit to one of the parties involved.

I talked about Galdwell’s work on this in the past.   If two people are given $100 to split but the catch is they must both agree on the split amount, people will turn down $5, $10, even $30 – new money to them – because they other guy is getting $95, $90 or $70. 

At a utilitarian level, this makes no sense.  $5 more for me is $5 new money.  I should be happy to take it.  But it’s not fair -and I am willing to give it up to put the screws to myself to get the guy who greedily wanted the $95.

This simple principle is missed at just about every example of ‘Atlantic’ cooperation.  Atlantic Gateway?  Why did this effectively die?  Because three of the four provinces thought one was getting the most benefit.  Even though three three would be enriched, the Gladwellian principle dominates.

Regional energy development?  Laughable without some very strong mutually beneficial – equally beneficial – outcome.  The HQ deal would have given New Brunswick a significant competitive advantage on electricity rates – no one disagrees with that – for at least 10-20 years but it would have also made it much easier for PEI and NS to buy cheap electricity from Hydro-Quebec.  Doesn’t matter.  A huge advantage to one province and little advantage to others – led to the hue and cry from Nova Scotia.  And this makes sense.  It is exactly the response that I heard when talking about the new Nalcor/Emera deal last week.  New Brunswick experts tell me this deal will be great for Nova Scotia but less so for New Brunswick.  Despite Premier Alward’s public eagerness, this deal will have marginal benefit for NB and actually could set back opportunities.  There was talk of a large natural gas fired electricity plant shipping power from SJ to Nova Scotia.  That is essentially dead.  But, again, where was the Gladwellian compromise in that?

You can tick off all the opportunities for cooperation.  Health care services (delivery and back office).  Think about the furor over blood supply.  Several people familiar with this said it was far more about the job losses in Saint John and the prestige than about economics.

Immigration, economic development, cluster development, investment attraction, R&D agenda – on and on and on – each time it’s tried, one province seems to get a little ahead, the rest get cold immediately.

I propose a clean, quid pro quo system adjudicated by an independent panel from all four provinces (or three where it makes sense).  I know this sounds Soviet but hear me out.

We close the blood services in Saint John (let’s say losing 20 jobs) and we move the milk testing service for the Maritimes to Saint John (let’s say gaining 20 jobs).  Ooops, no gain for PEI.  We slip them 20 jobs processing regional permitting for something.

We want to do a ‘regional’ energy play?  We get all provinces in the room and work it out in advance – not announce a $6B deal or a $10B deal and then announce that it will be ‘good’ for the other provinces.

We centralize the health care back office jobs on PEI, health care IT development in NB and advanced health care delivery in NS.  I can already see some people bristling at this.

My point is that there must be quid pro quo.  There has always been a beggar-thy-neighbour attitude in Atlantic Canada.  When Saskatchewan booms, bully for them.  When Nova Scotia gets a little ahead, jealousy abounds.  Same thing goes the other way on numerous files.

Cooperation must equal mutually benefiicial and equitable outcomes or you are just whistling dixie.

4 thoughts on “Cooperation. It’s simple, really.

  1. I don’t think its fair to blame ‘the province’ for what is essentially a political problem. NONE of the above decisions were made by the populations, they were made by a small group of men, in the case of NBPower it seems ONE man, and everybody else is just along for the ride. I’m not even going to get into the NBPower thing again, except to say there WAS disagreement both on the above statement and just about everything to do with power.

    However, there are VERY few examples to prove the thesis above. We KNOW that NFLD had a perfect right to bitch about the deal, and given what now seems very close links between Nova Scotia and NFLD on this file (which sort of disproves your theory) then NS’s objections seem perfectly valid.

    For blood supply the simple fact is that first of all the PEOPLE who will be let go will of course object, even publicly, no matter what. Which means their local representative will as well. The only way to make it equitable is IF that milk testing facility were to be set up in St. John with the same people working there. Either way, this battle is not between the provinces anyway, its between NB and a federal service agency. Nobody is blaming the Nova Scotia government for the CBS’ decision, they blame CBS.

    The problem has been that there really has been no reason for the fewer than 200 people who are political representatives to get together and make any decisions on this line. We DO know that numerous cases of co-operation exist, the beer tax issue for one. But if some politician could actually come out with a concrete benefit of such co-operation then I’m sure there would be a focus on it. That Atlantic Gateway didn’t really ‘die’, if you go look at most of AIM’s recommendations for increasing “Atlantica” the fact is that most of them have ALREADY been implemented. The rest were killed either by the recession or by the very blatant evidence that those recommendations were just plain stupid (the privatization of energy was basically killed around the world when people saw what happened in California).

    In other cases, as you’ve said yourself, its been a mistake indulging in such co-operation-the NBTel example is ample proof of that-however, the Atlantic Lotto Corporation is an example of where your thesis just doesn’t hold up. They are interesting thoughts, but just don’t bear up under scrutiny.

  2. Is there a benefit to politicians who take the ‘cooperative’ approach? Doesn’t seem to be – in the short run, at least. To quote the Bard “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves”. For it to happen, voters have to reward cooperation and forward-thinking. We are not getting much of that, nowadays.

  3. ““Atlantic premiers to discuss regional co-operation””

    That is the problem. Talk and little or no action.

Comments are closed.