Welcome to Atlantica

Free trade
By KIMBERLY FISCHER  |  February 6, 2008

Not content with Bush Administration handouts and deregulation, big companies in northern New England and eastern Canada have launched another initiative to free themselves from what they consider to be onerous government regulation and oversight. They’re getting some momentum in Canada, and beginning to make some waves in Maine.

The “Atlantica” concept put forward by the Halifax-based Atlantic Institute for Market Studies says state and national governments should eradicate what institute research director Ian Monroe called “poor public policies” in a speech to the Economic Development Council of Maine last month.

Those policies are what those outside the corporate corridors know as the minimum wage; union protections; social and political pressures on employers to provide health insurance for workers; and complicated rules about things like food safety, environmental impact, and product safety. The final nail in the regulatory coffin would be the removal of the right of citizens to sue the government to force agencies to enforce the few rules that did remain.

Wealthy individuals, foundations, and corporations fund the institute, which is led by a few top Canadian lawyers and economists, as well as a few notable names on this side of the border (including Peter Vigue, president of Cianbro, and University of Southern Maine economist Charles Colgan). If they get their way, the “Atlantica” model rules would apply in Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, northern New York, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, and Newfoundland, all mostly rural, relatively close-together areas struggling to attract economic development and investment.

The changes — if they happen at all — could be a long way off, since there is no formal timeline, and Maine’s politicians haven’t even begun discussing the matter. But proponents say there is a limited amount of time to take this opportunity, or economic prosperity will pass us by.

It sounds pretty similar to — though even more aggressive than — the North American Free Trade Agreement, enacted in 1993, which has been criticized for destroying Mexico’s local farming communities to replace them with factories subject to few or no labor or environmental rules.

An anti-globalization protest rally outside an Atlantica conference in Halifax back in June turned into a small-scale riot, with 21 people arrested and a protestor and two police officers injured, according to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.

Now there is a Maine-based group opposing the creation of “Atlantica.” They didn’t protest at Monroe’s talk, but are planning an info-session tour across Western Maine and into the St. John River Valley starting in June. Ani St. Amand, a member of the Portland-based resistance group called Maine Against Atlantica, says the Atlantica proposal will likely destroy the area’s economy and environment.

On the Web
Atlantica: www.myspace.com/MaineAgainstAtlantica | www.atlantica.org | www.atlantica2007.com

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