Maritime cooperation: a unique runway and an urgent need to take off.

Author:MacLauchlan, H. Wade
 
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When I was a law student at the University of New Brunswick between 1978 and 1981, and later dean and professor of law at UNB during the 1990s, I did not envisage being invited one day to deliver the Viscount Bennett Lecture. It is an honour to be here today as the 2015 Viscount Bennett lecturer and to return to this wonderful lecture room where I have studied, taught and participated in moot courts. The honour is amplified by the presence of so many long-time friends and colleagues, and by the fact that this room is now named for our great friend and supporter, the late Mary Louise Lynch, Q.C.

For this Lecture, I have chosen to speak about Maritime Cooperation. This is a topic of longstanding personal and professional interest, with native roots in Prince Edward Island and significant periods of time as a law professor in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. You might say that I am a Maritime patriot. My interest in the subject of Maritime cooperation has been stirred and fed by almost three years spent researching and writing the political biography of Alex B. Campbell, Prince Edward Island's longest-serving premier. Campbell was in office during an especially robust period of regional cooperation and institution-building in the 1960s and 1970s, including the establishment of the Council of Maritime Premiers. (1)

My own career has evolved, with my becoming Premier of Prince Edward Island in February of this year. That role has included the opportunity to chair regional premiers' meetings, with further meetings to take place in the near future, and to deal at an interprovincial level on files including energy, health, the economy, immigration, transportation, education and other critical areas. In terms of Maritime cooperation, we are in a time of unprecedented opportunity, especially given shared political alignments and strong interpersonal chemistry among Premiers Brian Gallant, Stephen McNeil, myself and our recently-elected Prime Minister Trudeau. This will be the ultimate point of today's Viscount Bennett Lecture: that we are at a unique historical juncture that presents a critical opportunity to work together as a region. In doing so, we can build upon a long-standing community of interest, draw lessons from a history of cooperation, and address issues that are both chronic and existential.

The 2014 Report of the Nova Scotia Commission on Building Our New Economy adopted the title Now or Never: An Urgent Call to Action to all Nova Scotians. (2) The Commission identified critical issues and a sense of urgency that pertain equally to our region as a whole. I characterize our current circumstances and alignment as a unique runway. Of course, a runway is only useful if there is a takeoff. I will return later to this metaphor. There has never been a more propitious time for Maritime cooperation, nor has the need ever been more apparent and urgent. My message today will be grounded in both optimism and urgency. It might also be stated in terms of goodwill and necessity. I will argue that regional cooperation is imperative, and that it is natural.

Like most things that we might think of as "natural" in the realm of politics or public policy, regional cooperation is not easy. It does not and will not occur without dedicated leadership, together with follow-through when it comes to implementation. This will become apparent as we reflect on the lessons to be drawn from the history of Maritime cooperation.

This talk is structured to take a look at both the "background" of and the "prospects" for Maritime cooperation. The background consists of a shared community of interest, reinforced by historical attempts at cooperation. The prospects focus on both challenges and opportunities, underscored by a sense of urgency.

  1. BACKGROUND

    In looking at Maritime cooperation in terms of its history or background, we can make two main observations. The first is a theme that will recur throughout this lecture: that we share a community of interest within this region. Hold that thought--A community of interest.

    The second main observation is that regional cooperation has been tried, in numerous formats and at several historical junctures. One of the greatest mistakes that we make in public affairs, and in our political commentary, is to approach things as if we are doing them for the first time. As if novelty is in itself a virtue. We do much better when we recognize our antecedents, and when we both honour and learn from them.

    Let me take you through a series of snapshots that offer a tour d'horizon and that set the stage for how we think about Maritime cooperation. The first image is compelling. It comes from the Eco-museum at the Irving Dune Project in Bouctouche. It shows us that there was a time, only 5,000 years ago, which is not all that long in geophysical time, when the three provinces of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island were united by a substantial land bridge. In fact, it's much more than a bridge.

    This image reminds us that our first basis for connection is geographic, and ecological. It also calls to mind the adage that is attributed to many cultures around the world, "Paths are made by walking." To have effective cooperation at the regional level, or for that matter in a community, it is imperative that we know each other and that we go out of our way to spend time together. Some of my clearest thinking in preparation for today's lecture came during a Maritime vacation in late September of this year, when we spent time at Advocate Harbour, Nova Scotia and Cocagne, New Brunswick. That included exquisite opportunities to hike in Cape Chignecto Park and on trails surrounding Bouctouche. Hiking is good for both the mind and the body. Plus, in the case of these particular hikes, I was prompted to reflect on our geographic similarities and closeness within the Maritime region, as well as the imperatives and brevity of geological time.

    That fall 2015 vacation included time and intensive discussion with great friends who think deeply about our region, such as Donald Savoie and Premier Brian Gallant, or graduates of this law school Dominic Leblanc and Aldea Landry. When it comes to Maritime cooperation, paths are also made by talking. We started our fall vacation in Halifax, at the Atlantic Film Festival. This is a reminder that our ties go beyond the physical or geographic. We share rich cultural ties, including the bonds, creativity and mutual awareness that come from making new culture. Community comes in many forms: urban, rural, cultural, economic, professional or interpersonal. The UNB Law School is a manifestation of Maritime community. Our view and self-image of the Maritimes, relative to the rest of Canada and the world, are integral to our approach to regional cooperation.

    The next image is equally compelling: the Confederation Bridge (see next page). This project was considered to be one of Canada's top engineering achievements of the 20th century. I was one of approximately 10,000 people who ran across the Confederation Bridge the day that it opened. My mood was one of total celebration. There were tens of thousands of others who shared in that sense of celebration. I traveled to Cape Jourimain, New Brunswick that day with my good friend Don Dennison, who is on my mind today for numerous reasons; notably, his recent passing and Don's decades of work in support of regional cooperation. In his final days, Don wrote a beautiful memoir, much of it devoted to his thoughts about our region and its future. (3)

    As I ran the Confederation Bridge on its opening day, a CBC reporter came along beside me in a golf cart and interviewed me as I continued jogging. The first question was the standard reporter's query: How does this make you feel? I responded, "My world has shrunk." I don't think he quite got the gist of what I was saying; that's not the first or last time that has happened to me with a journalist. In the end, the interview was reduced to a clip on the evening national news with me huffing and puffing, saying, "I think I'm going to make it now." Perhaps those words were meant to say something profound about Maritime cooperation.

    My favourite story from the opening day of the Confederation Bridge is told by Frank McKenna, who was premier of New Brunswick at the time. Premier McKenna was in Borden, PEI, where the main inaugural events took place. Among the thousands in Borden that day was an elderly Prince Edward Islander who approached the New Brunswick premier to ask, "Are you Frank McKenna?" At the time, there was quite a bit of news coverage of Premier McKenna's sales efforts to recruit business and job opportunities to New Brunswick. The Island man followed up with a further question to McKenna, "You wouldn't steal a whole island, would you?" Premier McKenna showed his characteristic quickness of mind and good humour by responding, "No, I wouldn't steal Prince Edward Island. Besides, I don't know how I'd get it back across the Bridge."

    In the interest of gaining perspective on our region, let's go further back in time. Long before colonial settlement, there were Indigenous communities and governments. Most of the physical area of what is now the Maritimes was represented through the Mi'kmaq Grand Council, or Sante Mawiomi. The Grand Council was the traditional senior level of government for the Mi'kmaq people, and included representatives from the seven district councils that comprised Mi'kma'ki. Since the 1876 Indian Act, (4) the Grand Council retains a more spiritual and cultural function, still fundamentally based on a regional perspective and identity.

    The Mi'kmaq had good relations as neighbours and Algonquian speakers, including with the Maliseet people of the Saint John River Valley. The Mi'kmaq were known as "the people of the dawn" and the Maliseet as the "people of the beautiful river." They came together with the Abenaki, Passamaquoddy and Penobscot First Nations to...

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