Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island should continue to be provinces of Canada, with all the legislative powers that the Constitution Act, 1867, gives them, but they should also strive for ways to share government services and administrative burdens, and to eliminate trade barriers.
Three Conservative senators from the Maritimes, Stephen Greene, John Wallace and Mike Duffy have re-energized a chronic debate by proposing outright union, but the three provinces have distinct histories, cultures, economies and landscapes. Scott Brison, the Liberal MP for Kings-Hants, says that full union “spooks people,” but their attachment to their provinces is more than a fear of ghosts. Mr. Brison is nonetheless right to advocate a high degree of integration.
Such ideas do not apply only to smaller provinces with declining populations. The New West Partnership Trade Agreement of British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan of 2010 is admirable, as was its Alberta-B.C. predecessor, the Trade, Investment and Labour Mobility Agreement.
The Maritimes themselves could set a good example to all the other provinces by forming a unified securities commission, which could in due course lead to a national securities commission.
Above all, the Maritime governments should try hard to achieve economies of scale in health care and education, those two ravenously hungry spending portfolios, which continually threaten to crowd out other governmental activities all across the country – health care is especially daunting in the Maritimes with their aging population.
Two premiers, Darrell Dexter of Nova Scotia and Robert Ghiz of Prince Edward Island, have already rejected this latest wave of Maritime unionism, but they could do much more in that direction without actually merging their provinces out of existence.
Other federal countries, such as the United States and Germany, do not spend time speculating about fusing their component parts. Small though it may be, Prince Edward Island is every bit as legitimate, with a subnational government of its own, as Saarland or Bremen in Germany, or Rhode Island in the U.S.