PhD Thesis Abstract

A Political Union of Canada’s Maritime Provinces, 1960-1980: Why Did a Union Not Happen?

Utilising a historical perspective and drawing upon path dependence theory, the thesis focuses on the question of a political union of Canada’s three Maritime provinces – Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island – between 1960 and 1980. Drawing on archival sources and interviews the thesis examines the factors which increased the potential for a union and resulted in a political union not occurring in this period. The thesis reveals how the intensification of Quebec separatism throughout the 1960s and 1970s threatened to separate the region geographically from the rest of the country. It also shows that the regional expansionist agenda of the federal government undermined provincial jurisdiction as it sought to eliminate economic underdevelopment in the Maritime region. These factors coupled with the dynamics of province building and the political ambition of key political leaders in the Maritimes created the impetus for a political union in the 1960s.

The thesis pays particular attention to the Maritime Union Study (MUS), established in 1968 by the Maritime premiers to investigate the union question. The thesis argues that the MUS was a critical juncture because it presented the premiers with a number of alternative choices for political change, including its main recommendation: the establishment of a political union. However, the thesis reveals that upon the publication of the final report of the MUS in November 1970, the ramifications of the 1970 October Crisis in Quebec and the recent election of new premiers in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick reconfigured the national and regional contexts in which a political union was considered. This reconfiguration led to a new form of institutionalised intergovernmental relations called the Council of Maritime Premiers (CMP). The CMP was a confederal structure which respected the provincially-focused decision-making capacity of the Maritime premiers.

The key conclusion of the thesis is that engagement with the question of a political union reflected a balance between political environment and political agency. The national political environment encouraged the consideration of a political union because it revealed a vulnerability to external occurrences which were beyond the control of the three provinces and connected with an internal logic for change. A political union was seen as a way for the region to develop the capacity to become economically self-sufficient and in turn neutralise the implications of unexpected externalities. However, alternative opportunities for political action were pursued when the national political environment became reconfigured and new political leaders were elected. This dynamic explains why, despite a critical juncture, a union did not happen. As such, the thesis shows that the current understanding of change to path dependent settings is confirmed. Established trajectories will be more inclined towards persistence than change. The key contribution of the thesis to path dependence theory is that change is not the default outcome of a critical juncture. If change is viable, considered but not ultimately selected it is no less a critical juncture than those which produce enduring change. On a broader level, the thesis gives an indication as to the difficulty of political amalgamations between constitutionally protected entities within established federal states.

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