Myth and reality in eastern canada-northeastern U.S. regionalism.

AuthorTomblin, Stephen G

For generations, supporters of regionalization (whether within or across provincial/ state borders) have talked about the inevitability of change, and the need to bring different interests together to produce common or shared objectives and values. It was assumed that given the realities of interdependence it was only logical and a matter of time that those in positions of power would naturally find ways to collaborate rather than compete. But there have always been challenges connected with getting powerful and autonomous institutional actors to change their behavior according to a functional - regional script, whether in Europe or North America. Despite optimistic forecasts about the inevitability of regional integration based on a functional analysis, territorial impulses anchored by inherited political - institutional games have created other challenges.

None of this was ever easy, since these actors played to dissimilar audiences, and operated in competing political-institutional contexts that rewarded the defense of local but not regional interests.

Regionalism has proven to be a difficult balancing act. It has sparked much debate between scholars who have had different perspectives on whether regional integration was, in fact, inevitable (given challenges of interdependence) or whether state actors had the autonomy and capacity necessary to prevent change. Regionalism involves a debate over the power of ideas, interests, institutions, and identity.

This paper compares Atlantic Canada and the northeastern U.S. We report that regionalism has been losing momentum in recent years on both sides of the border. The energy sector has served as a central focus in both countries. We describe how the historical-institutional context has influenced recent changes. Since 1973, the Conference of New England Governors and Eastern Premiers has met to discuss common issues and problems. But much has changed with the decision to consolidate the New England Governors' Conference (NEGC) into the Coalition of Northeastern Governors Conference (CONEG). We discuss these recent changes and why it is not business as usual on both sides of the border. We describe the changes that have occurred, the factors that have shaped these outcomes, and why they matter. (1)

The literature on state-society relations offers a variety of ways for assessing the roles of ideas, interests, and institutions on patterns of restructuring, regional or not. Domestic- structural frameworks (such as culturalism, institutionalism, and incrementalism) propose that "structural" factors within civil society or the state restrict what is possible or doable and focus within state boundaries. (2) For example, institutionalists assume that governance structures and processes are more autonomous and capable within themselves of either promoting or constraining political changes and policy reform. Structural thinkers raise critical questions about the extent to which the co-opting of new movements and ideas within entrenched structural institutions is likely to produce real reforms or new types of knowledge construction and innovation.

Pluralism offers a more dynamic, optimistic perspective on transformation and restructuring. Pluralism assumes that reform is possible, but based on competition that is open, transparent and engages the...

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