- Visiting Grandchildren: Economic Development in the Maritimes
This study of how Canadian economic policies have adversely affected the Maritime provinces should be required reading for all critics of federal transfer payments and development schemes. It argues persuasively and conclusively that decisions on national economic measures have been blatantly political and that the only development ambitions that have been considered legitimate by prime ministers, the majority of Cabinet members, and the public service have been those of central Canada. What happens in the Quebec City–Windsor corridor is national; other issues are merely regional.
How could such a selfish and self-serving central Canadian interpretation of national and regional have arisen? Savoie provides several explanations. One constitutional feature that has been devastating for the small coastal provinces was the adoption of a federal parliament based on the British unitary model, when what was needed to protect the interests of the weaker areas was a second chamber with equal provincial or regional representation along the lines of the American Senate. Another conundrum has been the strong support given to industry in Ontario, sometimes at the expense of industry in the Maritimes and always without the least shame – the dismissal of Nova Scotia coal in favour of American coal being a good example for the inter-war period. An earlier historical example of deliberate uneven development is provided by the national resources devoted to central [End Page 402] Canadian canals and railways, while nothing significant was done to help the ports and harbours of the Maritimes. Almost a century later the St Lawrence Seaway simply twisted the knife in the existing wound. The mid-twentieth-century decision to make automobiles in Ontario and airplanes in Quebec but to do nothing to stimulate shipbuilding in the Maritimes is bizarre. The overarching explanation is that economic power and clout resides with the cities and provinces that are able to muster the most votes. The distribution of seats is such that the major political parties no longer need the votes of Maritimers.
Savoie traces the historical development of the region's economic problems, the attempts to remedy them from within and without, and the failure of the national government to support or follow through with the most fundamental measures for strengthening the assets of the Maritimes or developing new ones, despite repeated royal commissions, reviews, task forces, and think-tank reports. The main chronological concern is the period since the introduction of the first regional development program, the Agricultural Rehabilitation and Development Act in 1961, with the analysis focusing especially on the subsequent Department of Regional Economic Expansion and its host of successor and complementary programs and agreements. Savoie discusses the development theories, liberal and conservative, as well as the pragmatism, that have influenced the implementation of programs to improve infrastructure, encourage entrepreneurship, assist small businesses, and distribute R&D. He demonstrates that the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency of 1987 has been quite effective and efficient in comparison with agencies designed to encourage development in the other regions. While Savoie is scathingly critical of the failure of the federal government to decentralize the civil service and spread the benefits of the bureaucracy across the country, he is also critical of the failure of the Maritime provincial governments to pursue economic and political union as a way of rationalizing services, restructuring the economy, and increasing the region's political clout. To encapsulate part of the effect, his title reflects Harper's 2004 comment about creating opportunities to visit not only grandparents in the Maritimes but also grandchildren.
The author's suggestion that as a consequence of free trade agreements we are now seeing a return to regional north-south cross-border economic ties of the pre-Confederation variety is unsettling. If the new global order leads to the 'Maritimization' of the Ontario economy, the prospect of the Maritimes sharing the fate of the have-not state of Maine or becoming a cheap continental entry point in an 'Atlantica' scheme is so bleak that it may be time to launch a new secessionist movement in Canada...