What the Maritimes need: a champion

Dan Leger
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After writing about Maritime Canada for more than 30 years and seeing its problems repeat themselves, seemingly endlessly, I’ve come to the conclusion that we spend too much time talking about the wrong things.

We Maritimers love to talk. But what have we been saying?

Listen to us in our collective voice, because that is what others hear. They don’t hear Islanders, Nova Scotians or New Brunswickers. They hear Maritimers. We’re all lumped together, sort of like a Maritime Union everywhere except in the Maritimes.

What they also hear is us obsessing over our smallness and our fears of being forgotten by the rest of Canada, which always gets bigger as we always shrink.

That growing size and power gap feeds our chronic insecurity; we tremble when Ottawa cools to us or when uninformed Canadians complain about Maritimers drawing more from Confederation than we contribute. We take such talk — and mostly that’s all it is — as a threat.

We know we need to repower our economy, but we also worry about the potential of big business to dominate our lives and corrupt our environment. Yet the governments we elect crave instant industrial fixes to our never-ending scarcity of jobs.

Some fairy dust solution is always coming along: liquefied natural gas, the pipeline from the West, energy from Labrador, naval shipbuilding or the industrialization of our fisheries and farms, to give just a few examples.

But how would big industry solve our problems here when it isn’t solving problems elsewhere?

There’s also no point belaboring our demographics. We’re getting older because we live in an economy that is itself mature and far too concentrated. We depend too much on spending by government and public institutions, on our scant natural resources and a scattering of industries, themselves dominated by the Irving interests, Michelin and the like.

That makes our jobs vulnerable when government slows down or when unexpected change happens, as it has in the fishery, mining, forestry and papermaking, with devastating and disruptive results.

These are all facts Maritimers already know to at least some degree of discomfort. We all know we need jobs for our young people and pathways out of dependence and conservatism. But just knowing it isn’t enough. We need more.

In fact, we need a champion, something we haven’t had for years.

We need someone to make our case in Ottawa and with the rest of Canada. Granted, it’s a tall order. An effective champion would need the negotiating skills of Frank McKenna, the commitment of Danny Williams, the courage of Bill Casey, the insight of Donald Savoie and the charisma of Peter MacKay.

We know we need better leadership. But are we doing enough to identify and support new leaders? Or are we stuck with our time-honoured “tall-poppy syndrome,” in which we resent our most promising potential champions?

No wonder McKenna decided life was simpler and more rewarding to work for a big bank, rather than face the slings and arrows of public life in a region with a high percentage of complainers.

Our voice must be heard but it has to be heard with messages that resonate with other Canadians. We have to knock off the nostalgia for the good old days of tall ships and iron men.

The message can’t be overtly political either. The federal government doesn’t have friends, only interests. Same goes for the rest of the provinces.

Someone has to tell the country that it’s in the best interests of all Canadians to help protect ours.

The current government in Ottawa evidently does not see the Maritimes as a vital interest. We’re barely an afterthought in the battle over votes in Ontario and the West.

That’s why we need human currency, in the form of leadership from within, to inspire confidence in our people, encourage investment by our businesses and to rally support for the region in Ottawa.

Right now, the Maritimes has too few friends and lacks powerful advocates. The only legitimate power figure in the whole region is Peter MacKay. Somehow, that has to change. The legacy of backwardness and complacency has to be replaced by a new energy and new confidence to face the future.

We need a champion. It’s overdue.


Dan Leger is a journalist based in Halifax and author of a forthcoming book on Mike Duffy and the Senate expense scandal.

Organizations: Maritime Union

Geographic location: Ottawa, Canada, Labrador Ontario Ottawa.Right Halifax

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Recent comments

  • Angus
    January 28, 2014 - 09:51

    Some self-reliance would go a long way. Instead it's gimme gimme gimme, pogey and welfare for many, who are able bodied and capable of doing for themselves. Rather that though many would rather complain about the feds and make it all Harper's fault. Intobed's comment is a perfect example of that, as are many of Leger's own columns. Then when Harper is gone, they'll find someone else to blame, instead of looking in the mirror.

    • intobed
      January 28, 2014 - 18:32

      So people on pogey and on welfare is what drove Peter MacKay to sign a deal under false pretenses, then break the deal he signed with David Orchard? Pogey and welfare are the reasons MacKay destroyed the Progressive Conservatives, a political party he was elected to lead? What a strange view of the world you have Angus.

  • CJM
    January 27, 2014 - 15:16

    Atlantic Champion

  • intobed
    January 27, 2014 - 12:01

    Peter MacKay ran for leadership of the old Progressive Conservatives in May, 2003. He didn't have enough support, so he worked a deal with David Orchard. Part of this deal involved never merging with the Alliance Party (the former Reform Party). Once leader of the PCs, MacKay promptly broke the deal, and allowed the Alliance and PCs to merge (actually was a take over by the Alliance, who changed their name yet again to the Conservative Party to fool people). Do you actually think MacKay, who makes deals and breaks them for his own power seeking aims, is a "powerful advocate" Dan? The fact that MacKay is now minister in charge of our justice system shows just how badly Canada's justice and political systems are broken.