Maritime Union pitched to solve financial mess

New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island could solve their financial problems by pushing forward with Maritime Union, according to a public policy expert.

Donald Savoie says political union would lead to more efficient government services

Nova Scotia Premier Darrell Dexter, left, P.E.I. Premier Robert Ghiz, centre, and New Brunswick Premier David Alward, right, should consider a formal political union. (Andrew Vaughan/CP)

The financial challenges being faced by New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island should revive the concept of Maritime Union, according to a public administration expert.

Donald Savoie, the Canada research chair in public administration at the University of Moncton, said the three Maritime provinces are each confronting immense financial pressures and unification may make sense.

"What I mean by it is — full union — is to have one government for the three Maritime provinces," Savoie said on Thursday.

"In Fredericton, Halifax, Charlottetown, people are going to say. 'That's going to be a problem.’ Sure it will be a problem. Status quo is always preferable if you can afford it. I don't think we can afford it anymore."

The Maritime provinces have worked in the past on reducing bureaucratic barriers in the region.

Donald Savoie said the three Maritime provinces would be better off if they pursued a formal political union. (University of Moncton)

But Savoie said a formal union would lead to more efficient public services and less duplication.

New Brunswick’s unemployment now stands at 11.6 per cent, which is the highest rate since May 2003.

Finance Minister Blaine Higgs recently said the province’s projected deficit nearly doubled to $356-million in 2012-13.

But Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island are also facing fiscal troubles.

Nova Scotia’s unemployment rate grew to 9.2 per cent in October and has a projected deficit of $211 million.

Meanwhile, Prince Edward Island’s jobless rate is 11.7 per cent and its projected deficit is $74.9 million.

Savoie has served as an adviser to former prime ministers such as Brian Mulroney and premiers, such as New Brunswick’s Frank McKenna and Shawn Graham. He also served on a commission that advised Nova Scotia Premier Darrell Dexter.

The university professor said it would be better for provincial governments to tackle these financial issues now before they are forced to do it by external forces.

"Unless we do something soon, there may be a point where the financial markets make tough decisions for us," he said.

Supporter of Maritime Union

The idea of Maritime union was studied in 1965 and it was assessed again in the late 1970s, after the Parti Québécois formed a government in Quebec.

Savoie has been a supporter of Maritime Union for a long time. He said he believes it would give the region more clout in dealing with the federal government.

He said rather than three small voices, there would be one strong one arguing on behalf of Maritime residents.

The public administration expert said he hasn’t sensed a groundswell of support for the concept in the past.

But he said that is now starting to change.

"I think we've reached the point where we really have to take a serious look at it," he said.

"We have to accept that federal transfers, which have been the lifeblood of public services, will no longer be what they were. If there's a trend, it's downward."

Even with the current problems facing the region, Savoie said he’s not optimistic that he will live to see a serious push for a formal political union.

"I think if we are going to make a go of it, we have to get the three provinces to row in the same direction," he said.