Merging the Maritimes is Good for Harper, Not Atlantic Canada

The proposed merger of Canada's Maritime provinces (namely Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and PEI) makes no sense for the people of the region and smacks, if anything, of Stephen Harper's Machiavellian manipulations.

The first reason to ditch the idea is that those proposing it don't really have any sound arguments for doing so. The only things the avocets of the idea can point to is the economies of the provinces. All three are performing poorly economically and, so the logic goes, if you merge them the new province will perform better than the three old provinces.

However, other than a few small examples, it is difficult to see how merging three poor provinces creates one wealthy one. The math there doesn't seem to work though. If you took three companies, all of which were losing money, and merged them it does not follow that the new company would somehow be profitable. Are there opportunities for savings? Sure, a few. By merging some departments or services a little money could be saved (at the cost of layoffs) but small savings in a few areas does not turn things around. It is also already possible for the Maritime provinces to work together in some areas to save money and benefit all three.

What seems more likely is that Stephen Harper sees a gain for himself, his government and/or his party in such a merger. (You will notice that it is only Conservative senators who seem to like this idea). So, what could Stephen Harper gain by a merger? First, he could be looking to save Ottawa some money. By merging the provinces he could conceivably reduce the number of federal employees who work there. Instead of, for example, having offices for certain government departments in all three capitals, he could reduce it to one.

He could also conceivably seek to reduce the transfer payments to the new single province. So, instead of adding up the payments currently given to Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and PEI and giving the total of those payments to the new province, he could give a lesser amount to the new government. This would force that government to seek savings and insure that the beneficiary of those savings was Ottawa.

There is another possibility though: Stephen Harper does not like the Maritimes, he never has. The Maritimes, while they elect some Conservatives are not reliably Conservative territory. Traditionally, they have been Liberal and are increasingly interested in the NDP. Merging the three provinces would give the Harper government a chance to redraw and gerrymander the new province to improve the odds of Conservative victory. Harper has, after all, shown that there are few limits to what he will do to stay in power.

There is more though, while Stephen Harper doesn't like the Maritimes, he does like the United States. Like in this case is an understatement. The United States, and specifically the Republican Party is to Stephen Harper what Justin Beiber is to 12 year old girls. Stephen Harper wants to "reform" the Senate and the way the Senate works in the United States is that each state gets an equal number of Senators. In the US system of checks and balances this ensures that small states have some amount of power. If Harper reforms the Senate to look like that of the US this would reduce the number of Maritime senators from 6 to 2 (or 12 to 4, generally 1/3 of whatever number they come up with.)

If merging provinces was a legitimate way to improve the economy and save money, why aren't Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba talking about it? By working together, where it makes sense, the Maritimes may be able to achieve some cost savings but by remaining three provinces rather than one Atlantic Canada maintains more local control and greater political power in Ottawa.

In short, beware of friendly advice from people who don't like you and beware of Harperites bearing gifts.
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