IDEAS: Community Economic Zones – Let’s Do Business! Could this ever happen?


Under the United National Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), we have established Zones of influence over our oceans. They are less than perfect, but there are legal mechanisms for settling disputes, although ultimately “power”, financial or physical, can sometimes be the final arbiter.
In the case of Territorial and Inland Waters owned by Canada, the use of our waters is totally dictated by the Federal and Provincial Governments. When heavy industry comes along with a gleam in their eye, there is no effective and professional “community” input what-so-ever other than that provided by ad hoc committees, public meetings, protests, letters to the editor, petitions, and the like. All very distasteful for ordinary, everyday folks who simply wish to protect their investment in their place. As a consequence, “power” almost always wins when it comes to the development of coastal areas. The value of coastal localities along our coast vary widely, but are often easily defined in real economic terms. Unfortunately, resource-based industries such as fishing and tourism are low in the pecking order when faced with challenges from heavy industry. Such is the situation y with the huge hype over the “energy hub” and “Atlantica“.
In the Bay of Fundy, for example, coastal development has been steadily swelling since the sixties. Starting with generating stations, pulp mills, a nuclear power plant, coastal aggregate quarries, Fundy has seen another spate of development that included as many as four LNG terminals, a second refinery in Saint John, a second nuclear power plant at Point Lepreau, a couple of co-generation plants, a chemical plant, and much more. The arrival of Spanish oil and gas powerhouse Repsol YPF and BP (formerly British Petroleum), the world’s third largest energy company, Atlantica’s ubiquitous Irving Oil and its associated companies may well be about to be swamped.
Regardless of the players, BP’s arrival made it apparent that this was no longer just “hype”. The Bay of Fundy is well on its way to becoming “Superport Fundy” and the impacts on the Fundy ecosystem will be real and, in the absence of any planning, disastrous to the ecosystem and businesses that depend on the enormous natural productivity of the Bay. In the Quoddy Region of the Bay of Fundy for example, LNG proposals, quarries, pulp mill pollution, and port development threatened the Quoddy Region, an area that is considered to be a “biological engine” that drives the Bay of Fundy fishery. It is the summer home of the endangered North Atlantic Right Whale and many other species that are threatened. Quoddy has a thriving complex of resource-base industries including fishing, tourism, and aquaculture that bring annual revenues approaching a billion dollars. Despite this foundation and the very real possibility for sustainable growth here and in other localities like Digby Neck in the Long Island – Brier Island area of Nova Scotia, it would appear that poorly placed industrial development could destroy a treasure; an area identified by the Government of Canada as an “area of special significance”.
But it is really an economic battle, not an environmental one as perceived by many. The environment IS the foundation that drives the Quoddy economy. It has existing value, it can be developed further, and it is a bad place for heavy industrial development. To lose the thousands of jobs and dollars that are currently generated here in exchange for a few industry related jobs and the disruption of existing businesses makes absolutely no sense. But it could happen under our existing structure.
Even rich developers need nice places to relax – the Riviera, Cancun, Bar Harbor … Quoddy Bay? Wouldn’t it make more sense to exclude Quoddy from Superport Fundy, and continue to develop it as the centre for marine education, fishing, tourism, aquaculture, and other related businesses. Only an hour’s drive from Saint John, Quoddy should be a resort for humans as well as the whales, seals, birds, and other marine creatures that make this oasis so compelling.
Many, many studies have identified important biological areas in Atlantica. However, it is a rare event when governments put in place the measures needed to ensure the integrity of coastal communities when challenged by big and powerful industrial developers who “demonize” the locals with accusations of NIBYism and self-interest. It is as if protecting your life, your home, and your economy is somehow a nasty and distasteful thing. It is not possible to have Marine Protected Areas and Biospheres everywhere. So why not develop a new approach.
Let’s do business. Define “Community Economic Zones” within our territorial and inland waters and let the communities inside that designated area decide how their coastal area should be developed within Canadian and provincial laws. If they choose industrial development as they have in Saint John. So be it. If they choose an “eco-economy” as they probably would in Quoddy, so be it. In either case the CEZ can be developed in a manner that suits and benefits those that know it best.
How would it work? Simple. Community Economic Zones (CEZ) would be established in the same manner as we establish other jurisdictions such as political ridings, fisheries zones, counties, etc. It is likely that the zones would correspond with existing counties and the offshore extent would be variable, determined by existing near-shore economic activities and the will of government. Each CEZ would be incorporated, the shares being restricted to the municipalities and citizens of that zone – the real people who will benefit or suffer from any proposed development. Should the corporate body vote to back an industrial development, then they will become the beneficiaries of that development. As “owners” of the resource, the CEZ corporation will become a shareholder of the development and hence cash will flow to the community if the development is successful. All provincial and federal laws would remain in place of course, but the CEZ Corporation would have the power to administer to these laws in the same way that municipalities do now in some jurisdictions.
Think about it, a new way to prevent the destruction of existing healthy economies, to build our industrial areas, or to build new vibrant economies where none exist. With today’s tidal power projects hunting for sites along our shores, now is the time to established some form of community corporate power so that everyone benefits from the utilization, or exploitation, of our natural assets.
Art MacKay

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