BAR HARBOR, Maine — About three dozen protestors chanting in front of the Bar Harbor Club on West Street unofficially marked the beginning of the 32nd Conference of the New England Goverenors and Eastern Canadians Premiers.
The protestors, representing a group called Maine Atlantica Watch, criticized the conference, saying it is undemocratic and being held primarily to benefit business interests on either side of the border. Atlantica is a development concept business groups on both sides of the border have embraced as a way of strengthening the region’s economy. The name ‘Atlantica’ refers to a cross-border region that includes the six New England states, northern New York state, the four Maritime Provinces in Canada and Quebec.
Angela Giles, an organizer with The Council of Canadians in Halifax, N.S., said that the invite-only conference benefits large businesses that want to profit from further development between New England and the eastern Canadian provinces. The purpose of the conference, according to organizers, is to discuss cross-border issues such as economic development, energy, and transportation.
“A major problem with this [conference] is that it takes corporate interests over the people,” Giles said, a Council of Canadians flag draped across her shoulders as she sat in the bandstand on the Village Green. “They are trying to make money however they can make money.”
Hillary Lister of Athens, a member of Maine Atlantica Watch, said the Atlantica concept would benefit large businesses but would reduce worker protections and harm the environment. For example, it would help corporations who are calling for a regional approach to developing liquefied natural gas terminals, such as have been proposed for Passamaquoddy Bay, and would undermine the ability of local communities to determine what happenes within their boundaries. It also would help push development of an east-west highway that would connect the Maritime Provinces with Quebec through northern Maine, she said.
“We’re concerned this [conference] will help lay the foundations of Atlantica,” Lister said. “We are calling for the public to be included in these decisions that are affecting our communities.”
Hours later, after some of the dignitaries arrived at the club, Gov. John Baldacci’s chief spokesman denied the protestor’s accusations. David Farmer said independent media groups and other media organizations were granted credentials to attend the conference, so there will be very little about it that is held outside the public view. He said that the elected governors and the premiers are meeting to discuss how they can work together to benefit people on both sides of the border, not just business interests.
“There’s nothing anti-democratic about that,” he said. “The whole thing in very much in the open. The only exception is a few meals.”