Some proponents of Vermont independence would like to see it become and remain a stand-alone nation, completely independent of either the United States or Canada. Others have proposed that it join Canada or an independent Quebec. My own favorite fantasy would be for Vermont to join Maine, New Hampshire, and the four Atlantic provinces of Canada to create a new nation I would call Novacadia.
If Quebec were to split with Canada, the Atlantic provinces would be completely separated from the rest of Canada. But whether Quebec secedes or not, the Atlantic provinces will still be dominated by Toronto’s size and financial clout, Alberta’s oil, Vancouver’s Pacific connection, and Ottawa’s bureaucracy. So too are Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont virtually powerless to challenge the will of California, New York and Texas. What big states and big cities want is what they get.
To put the matter in proper perspective, consider the following question: What do Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont have in common with Boston, New York, Washington, Atlanta, Houston, and Los Angeles? The same thing New Brunswick, Newfoundland, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island have in common with Montreal, Toronto, Ottawa, and Vancouver. Virtually nothing! But what do these Northern New England states have in common with the Atlantic provinces? A lot!
Not only do both regions share a common Franco-Anglo (and Native American) heritage, but they are both sparsely populated. Their combined population is only 5.4 million – – about the size of Denmark. There are no big cities in either region, only a handful of small ones like Halifax, Manchester, Portland, Saint John, and St. John’s.
Although the mountains in New England are higher than those in the Atlantic provinces and although Vermont is only indirectly linked to the Atlantic, the two regions are amazingly similar geographically and equally beautiful. Their climate is quite similar, too – – in fact on balance the four provinces have milder winters than their southern neighbors thanks to the warming effects of the Gulf Stream.
Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island encompass the site of what was the first permanent French colony in North America, the region known as Acadia. Although two-thirds of the people living in the Atlantic provinces have some English ancestry, French influence remains strong, particularly in New Brunswick where 45 percent of the population have some French connection. The Acadian influence spilled over into both Maine and Vermont, where there are still some French speakers today.
Neither region treated native Americans very well. The Micmac still have some influence in the maritime provinces, as do the Penobscot and Passamaquoddy in Maine, and to a lesser extent the Abenakis in Vermont.
Life is lived at a slower pace and on a smaller scale in both the Atlantic provinces and northern New England. People are more laid back than they are in the rest of Canada and the United States, and small is still beautiful. For example, Vermont and Prince Edward Island share the distinction of having banned all roadside billboards. Freedom, independence, self-sufficiency, hard work, thrift, respect for individual rights, environmental integrity, and loyalty to family and community are among the common values shared by these regions.
Although trade flows between the regions are not impressive, their economies are quite similar. In varying degrees tourism, fishing, farming, food-processing, forest products, and mining are the most important industries in each area.
Few New Englanders have ever visited their bucolic neighbors to the North. Public transportation options connecting northern New England and Canada’s Maritime provinces are minimal, and there are no good roads linking Maine and New Brunswick. Passenger train service between the two regions ceased to exist years ago (although those living in northern Vermont do have access to “The Ocean,” a first-class overnight train between Montreal and Halifax on Via Rail and one of the best-kept secrets in North America). Unfortunately, attempts to connect the two regions with airline service have consistently failed.
On the more positive side, and perhaps a precursor of things to come, 300 business and government leaders from the Atlantic provinces and northern New England met in Saint John, New Brunswick in June 2006 to discuss ways to expand business and trade between the two regions. Discussions focused primarily on tourism, transportation, and energy.
Novacadia would be a threat to no one. It certainly would not possess the power to impose its will on meganations like China, Japan, or Russia. Why pretend otherwise? Power of that sort has certainly not proven necessary for such highly successful nations as Denmark, Finland, and Switzerland.
Isn’t it high time for the people of these similar regions to tell the United States and Canada to bug off? Shouldn’t we seriously consider forming Novacadia, combining our two regions into a new independent confederation? Our role model, Denmark, has the eighth highest per capita income in the world. Of the nine other richest nations in the world, two-thirds of them – – Luxembourg, Liechtenstein, Bermuda, Norway, Iceland, and Ireland – – are even smaller than Denmark.
Even if Novacadia’s average income remained below that of Canada and the United States, the quality of life would be considerably higher. The new nation would have less traffic congestion, less urban sprawl, less crime, less pollution, and less urban decay than most places in the world. It would certainly be a sustainable nation-state.
Our two regions are too small and unimportant to the United States and Canada for us to be able reasonably to expect either of these huge national governments to appreciate or celebrate our uniqueness. If we want to take control of our destiny in the twenty-first century, we must start now to develop a vision of what we could build.
Thomas H. Naylor
April 15, 2008
For more information, take a look at the Novacadia Network