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Business displeasure 

The Atlantica conference rolls into town this weekend with the slogan “Charting the Course,” but protesters hope to throw it off track. Lis van Berkel reports.

It sounds like the name of a fictional planet, but Atlantica is also the posh title given to our region by a Halifax-based conservative think-tank, the Atlantic Institute of Market Studies: Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, Newfoundland, Eastern Quebec, Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire and northern New York State.

President and CEO of Atlantic Provinces Chambers of Commerce, Bill Denyar, says, “Atlantica is very simply a region of economic cooperation. The benefits of that include collaboration and cooperation to facilitate business to achieve prosperity within the region.” The APCC, which champions AIMS’s work, is organizing Atlantica 2007, a Halifax conference slated for June 14-16.

“We’re challenged throughout the Atlantic region,” says Denyar. “By working together as four Atlantic provinces and the northeast states, especially Maine—although even just in Atlantic Canada there are trade barriers—to harmonize rules and regulations.”

AIMS is particularly focused on streamlining inefficient truck freight traffic routes imposed by geography and national policy -—on creating “business without borders.” For example, according to AIMS’s website, a container bound for the North American heartland via Halifax and travelling the geographically shortest distance would have to go through border formalities four times.

Conference speakers will include business people representing interests such as energy, transportation and tourism, as well as opponents such as Scott Sinclair, co-author of “Atlantica: Myths and Reality,” an online report published in February by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.

Atlantica is also the nemesis of a coalition of grassroots groups, which is planning a counter-conference to run June 13-16 in Halifax—at which Sinclair will also speak—culminating in a demonstration at the World Trade and Convention Centre on Friday.

Dave Ron is not Alliance Against Atlantica’s designated spokesperson—as of Monday, AAA didn’t have one yet. But his organization, the Nova Scotia Public Interest Research Group, is one of several groups opposed to Atlantica. Ron disagrees that Atlantica was ever a prosperous trade route that needs to be revived for the region to regain its prosperity.

“To say been around a long time, and not something that we should necessarily be resisting is a completely false notion,” argues Ron, who calls AIMS’s process regressive and elitist because it represents the interests of big business, not unions or First Nations people who would be affected.

Instead, Ron says, Atlantica’s about two unsustainable things: developing a “super port” for funnelling cheap Asian goods through the Atlantic provinces on super-highways paid for by Atlantic Canadians at great environmental and economic cost; and increasing the export of raw resources like water and energy to large American centres —again, at our expense. “‘Free’ just means unhindered—not always fair or reciprocal,” says Ron.

But Denyar says Atlantica is simply about furthering continental integration so that trade is easier: “Re-exporting is something Atlantic Canada has always done, and it’s something that we want to do more. No one out there is saying we need to pump more CO2 out into the atmosphere. Our opponents are mostly focused on that, but there’s more to Atlantica than roads and rails.”

“It’s not all that wise to put all our eggs in the US basket,” says political scientist Janet Eaton. She will lead a pre-conference teach-in for AAA on Monday night.

“The leaders in our country tend to think that we need the US: we just hear them say NAFTA, Patriot Act, Smart Border stuff, because after 9/11, we’ve gone that route to try to appease them,” Eaton says. “In this province, all our policies are leading toward the big chicken farm, the big hog farm. And it’s no good now to just look at fostering smaller farm-based businesses.”

Denyar says that Atlantica doesn’t need to culminate in a signed formal agreement. But Ron considers that the ultimate bad sign, because it’s still non-consultative: “In the last six or seven years, governments in the Western hemisphere have seen resistance to these agreements—in Miami, Vancouver, Quebec City. So governments are a lot more reticent to talk about it openly.”

Find Atlantica events at: Find Alliance Against Atlantica events at:

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