THE EUROPEAN UNION concept of subsidiarity emphasizes that you should only do at the pan-European level, led in Brussels, what makes sense at that level. You should only do at the national level, what can be best done at the national level. You should start at the local level, closest to citizens, to firms, to labour markets.
We do a bad job of this in Canada. We have strong provinces but an even stronger federal government. And at the sub-provincial level, we’re a joke; the weakest local government in the OECD. And as much as many people believe that bigger is better to gain economies of scale, the evidence is clear: worldwide, small jurisdictions that maximize their capacity to respond to opportunities and build competitive advantage geared to their specialized infrastructure and labour markets have the best chance of success.
That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be cooperating Atlantic-wide, and beyond. We’ve seen better collaboration amongst our provincial governments, with the federal government, in the last couple of years (political alignment helps). The Atlantic Provinces Economic Council has been providing key insights into our shared Atlantic economy for years. And the Atlantic Association of Universities provides an ongoing mechanism for sharing best practices and forging common positions to advance common causes.
With the exception of those who still delude themselves into thinking that some form of Atlantic-Canada-wide (maybe even extending into the U.S. Eastern Seaboard) homogenous ‘Atlantica’ region is the answer to our fiscal woes, we know that our provincial powers and identities are a resource to be harnessed for economic success. Talk to Jim Randall and Godfrey Baldacchino, who share a UNESCO Chair in Island Studies at UPEI. We need networks and partnerships with our neighbours, and distant trading partners, but we need to maximize our local jurisdictional tools like small semi-autonomous jurisdictions are doing around the world. And they are, collectively, leading larger jurisdictions in growth in GDP per capita. True story.
Just look at what we’ve done under the Canada First Research Excellence Program. Designed to feed the insatiable demand for global recognition by our largest universities, Memorial approached Dalhousie to partner, and with UPEI, we won the single largest grant under Canada First, and established the Ocean Frontier Institute. Each university, and our partners, play to our respective strengths—built meeting local and provincial and national needs. And in our areas of expertise—cold oceans and arctic science, technology and society (COASTS) at Memorial—we are the best in the world.
That kind of thinking is what inspired our private sector partners to go after one of the federal Super Clusters. There are opportunities for firms and industries in each of our provinces to work together across provincial and sectoral boundaries and advance world-leading innovation: thinking global, collaborating as a region (and beyond), implementing local solutions. Just watch us.