The Atlantic bubble was not only a good idea, but a blueprint for dramatic change

·5 min read
Government of Newfoundland and Labrador
Government of Newfoundland and Labrador

This column is an opinion by Edward Riche, a St. John's novelist, playwright and commentator. For more information about CBC's Opinion section, please see the FAQ.

The comparative success of Atlantic Canada in dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic has gone little remarked in the national media. I put this down to willful ignorance.

How to square our "culture of defeat" with our occasional success has always stumped the mainland. It's hard for a hack in Toronto to see political leaders in Newfoundland and Labrador defer to science and medical expertise while Ontario's leadership defers to spin studios.

Stephen McNeil or Blaine Higgs may not come off as towering intellects but in comparison to Kenney's and Ford's witless and dangerous response to the pandemic they are the East Coast's own Feynman and Schrödinger.

Until the second wave of the pandemic made its appearance in Halifax and prudence dictated we burst the Atlantic bubble, I believe most people judged it a success.

Friends of my sister-in-law in Nova Scotia replaced a planned vacation abroad with their first trip to Newfoundland and had a blast. They were surprised by how different the place is from Nova Scotia. I got to work face-to-face with a chap from Prince Edward Island for a week and it proved the limitations of Zoom.

John Robertson/CBC
John Robertson/CBC

Because of the Atlantic bubble, things got done. The diversity within a region with many shared interests was a small engine. Now, between bubbles, there is great enthusiasm for an admittedly fuzzy, "Atlantic Loop." We don't really know the poop on the loop but do know that Hydro-Quebec will never be part of any arrangement over which it doesn't have a stranglehold.

No matter. If a federal bailout of Muskrat Falls sees less burning of dinosaur jam to produce electricity in the Maritimes, it's a capital concept.

COVID-19 won't be the last global crisis curtailing movement so perhaps we should consider other Atlantic arrangements.

Air Atlantic

We on the eastern extreme have been terribly served by the Calgary- and Montreal-based air carriers. Before the pandemic, service and schedules were poor, and predatory pricing was deployed to drive out competition when it appeared.

Our proximity to Europe and the big urban centres of the eastern seaboard was insulted with logically (and environmentally) unsound routing that sends us west to fly east or south.

raspberrypoint.com
raspberrypoint.com

Then, when COVID-19 made most travel impossible, those Calgary and Montreal companies proved their essential bad faith by failing to refund tickets for cancelled trips.

Shag 'em. We need to build or attract alternative carriers (grow PAL Airlines?) for travel within the region and to a few limited destinations beyond, to Gatwick or Keflavík, Dublin or Charles de Gaulle or Newark, from where we could purchase tickets forward to other destinations in a truly competitive market.

Reasonable access to the region by air is critical to all business. We can cease palavering about the potential for increased tourism without it. We are never going to attract or retain enterprising young people without reasonable ways to the wider world.

It's never going to make a lot of money, but is an essential service.

Canada's small population, spread thinly over its vast terrain cries out for a truly national carrier but that would require the kind of state enterprise for which there has been little appetite in Ottawa since the 1970s.

Eatlantic

Among the many fruits grown in the Annapolis Valley, the Gravenstein Apple cultivated there is the best apple in Canada. (We have to give the peach to Ontario, they grow the best anywhere.)

P.E.I. beef is now world-beating, and their oysters the greatest in North America with New Brunswick a close second. There are bountiful fisheries in all four provinces, and wild foods available nowhere else. Newfoundland lamb is nonpareil.

Robert Short/CBC
Robert Short/CBC

Once upon a time, the region used to do much more to feed itself. There is no reason it cannot embrace a more nose-to-tail, hundreds-of-miles diet.

There are compelling economic and ecological reasons to cease driving industrial agricultural products from California, Mexico and beyond. But the winning argument is always taste. The stuff they raise in the Chia Pet that is the American southwest has little flavour.

We'd have to return to eating more seasonally but the same reasons of politics, economics and palatability again apply.

The Atlantic restaurant scene, not so long ago dismal, is now one of the most exciting on the continent. The Merchant Tavern, Bar Kismet, Mallard Cottage, The Inn at Bay Fortune, Port City Royal and countless other joints are all vaut le détour. Start by meeting your friends at the bar for a glass of the original Atlantic bubbles from Nova Scotia's Benjamin Bridge and a big bowl of plain chips from Covered Bridge.

Food security was an issue before the pandemic. There will be other disruptions of the supply chain in the future from natural disaster, political instability, the next virus.

Let's begin stocking that local larder sooner than later.

Bloc Atlantique

We are, all four Atlantic provinces, a meaningless entity in the Canadian parliamentary system. Confederation was a forced marriage of Upper and Lower Canada. Lower Canada has never been happy in the union. Upper Canada addresses threats of divorce by meeting Lower Canada's ever more outlandish demands.

No matter how many gifts bestowed on Lower Canada, it will never have conjugal relations with Upper Canada as Lower Canada fulfils its own needs. The tension and the balancing act, the horse trading of Confederation, will go on forever.

Tourism New Brunswick
Tourism New Brunswick

Could not the members of Parliament from the Atlantic region commit to vote as a bloc during the not-uncommon minority parliaments of our system so that we might see some greater fairness? Wait! What am I thinking? MPs are so gutless, so whipped, this is in the category of faint hope. But the status quo is unsustainable.

There are many other reasons to consider increased co-operation between the Atlantic provinces, such as transportation networks beyond air, or unique demands for immigration. The fisheries should probably be co-ordinated.

The Atlantic bubble worked well enough the first time, we would be foolish not to consider continuing and fostering its best features, imagining where else we could take it.

If it could be expanded to somehow include a portion of the E.U., a little piece of France, say …

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