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Provincial Ottawa offices decline due to budget restraints

Published: Friday, 06/15/2012 4:07 pm EDT
Last Updated: Wednesday, 06/20/2012 4:18 pm EDT

Provincial offices in Ottawa have declined in recent years due to tight budgets while the territories and Quebec continue to keep offices open as key links between governments, provincial spokespersons told The Lobby Monitor. 

Quebec, the Northwest Territories, the Yukon Territories, and Nunavut are the only provinces or territories with offices in Ottawa to lobby the federal government, according to provincial and territorial sources contacted by The Lobby Monitor, while British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Labrador and Prince Edward Island don’t have offices. 

As provinces deal with debts and rising demands on their budgets from expenses like health care and education, creating or maintaining an office in Ottawa to represent some provinces has become a lower priority. 

“In just about every case, the concerns cited by provinces phasing them out was a combination of cost and restraint,” Earnscliffe Strategy Group consultant and Conservative party supporter Geoff Norquay said in a phone interview. 

Alberta, benefiting from energy sector revenues, plans to open an Ottawa office after 15 years without one. Under newly elected Alberta Premier Alison Redford, the Ottawa office will have an annual budget of $850,000 and will work to advance Alberta's interests on policy files related to energy, environmental monitoring, pipelines and labour mobility. 

Norquay said provincial representation in Ottawa is a valuable investment because the offices can be effective. They can also do a better job representing the government's interests than MPs from the province.

Many MPs from a province may wear a different political stripe than their province’s governing party, and a premier or provincial minister may not want to have meetings with an MP from a different party, he said.

“Party politics kind of intervenes to make the representative role of MPs a little more difficult,” Norquay said.

Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith, Alberta's leader of the opposition, said in May that the Alberta government doesn't need staff in Ottawa because it’s the job of the premier and her cabinet ministers “to have a relationship with Ottawa.”

Smith told The Globe and Mail: “Setting up an office to hire a staffer to build relationships in Ottawa I think kind of misses the point of federal-provincial relationships.”

André Juneau, director of the Institute of Intergovernmental Relations at Queen’s University, said in an interview with The Lobby Monitor in early June that provincial offices in Ottawa have limited uses if the provincial government has a “clear agenda.”

The offices can be a good source of intelligence and day-to-day information on what’s happening in Ottawa, but better federal-provincial relationships are built on other levels, he said.

Juneau said more work is accomplished during meetings between the prime minister and the premier, between provincial and federal ministers, and between provincial and federal deputy ministers. 

Provincial offices in Ottawa are often small, with one senior official plus one or two support staff. 

Quebec's representative in Ottawa, Paul Terrien, who has been with the office since August 2011, has a staff of four. The office has been open since 1984.

Terrien previously worked as chief of staff to Lawrence Cannon when Cannon was foreign affairs minister. 

Terrien said in a phone interview that he has former colleagues who are chiefs of staff in Ottawa and that he knows most ministers, many MPs, and Prime Minister Stephen Harper. 

“I guess it is an advantage when I phone people and many times I’m recognized, so I don’t have to go through the introductions,” Terrien said.

“Our role is to represent the Quebec government vis-à-vis the federal government, to promote Quebec’s interests, of course,” Terrien said.

He said the office’s most important role is sharing information with Quebec about what’s happening in Ottawa.

Terrien informally meets with MPs and government officials, he said, and his office holds receptions twice a year for MPs and government officials. 

“I meet regularly with people from all parties,” Terrien said. 

He also meets regularly with staff from the Privy Council Office and the Prime Minister’s Office, including Andre Bachand, Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Quebec adviser, he said. Bachand worked in the Quebec Ottawa office as Terrien’s predecessor.

Sources told The Lobby Monitor that Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty does not have a full-time Ottawa "ambassador." One Ontario government official said on a background basis that McGuinty's riding is in Ottawa, as well as those of several government MPPs, and that the premier has a space in Ottawa for meetings. 

The Ontario government’s website says the Ministry of Intergovernmental Affairs makes sure Ontario’s positions are “coordinated and unified ensuring the federal government pays attention to Ontario.” 

Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Danny Williams created an Ottawa office in 2004 headed by former Memorial University historian John FitzGerald. Current Premier Kathy Dunderdale closed the office in January after the provincial opposition criticised the government for its costs. CBC News reported the office's annual budget was $355,000.

Nova Scotia is the most recent province to close the doors to its Ottawa office. For the province's 2012-2013 budget, Finance Minister Graham Steele said the office would close, saving more than $500,000 per year.

New Brunswick established an Ottawa office in 2002, sharing space for some years with Manitoba, but closed it in 2009, citing budget cuts.

Maurice Rioux served as New Brunwick's senior representative in Ottawa from 2006 to 2009.

Prince Edward Island and British Columbia don't currently have Ottawa offices, and Saskatchewan closed its office in the early 2000s when Premier Roy Romanow stepped down, according to provincial sources contacted by The Lobby Monitor.

Manitoba ran an Ottawa office from 1990 to 2010. A provincial government official who asked not to be identified said the office was established to monitor federal procurement activities and, due to increased transparency within the federal government, the office became unnecessary.

Canada's territories tend to see value in Ottawa offices because they are more remote.

The Northwest Territories' official in Ottawa is Rose McConville and the Yukon Territories' representative is Harley Trudeau.

Nunavut opened its Ottawa office in 1999, the same year it became Canada's newest territory. It is headed by representative William MacKay.

“It was opened for convenience and to have a presence in Ottawa,” MacKay said in a phone interview. “We have a lot of meetings in Ottawa, so its good to have people stationed here so they don't need to travel much.”

—With files from Laura Garzon

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