Alberta Premier Alison Redford is opening an Ottawa office, giving her province another foothold in the capital as it pushes for federal support for a series of projects, including new pipelines.
The plan was revealed in Thursday’s Throne Speech, which said the office is part of the effort to “advocate Alberta’s perspective” and reach outside its borders to “build the bridges the people of this province want.”
It matters not, Ms. Redford told reporters, that the Prime Minister and much of his caucus hails from her province.
“What we have understood, as a federal government and a provincial government, is we want to work together to advance Alberta’s interests,” the Premier said. “And we have had, as you’ll know since I became premier, a real focused effort on ensuring that we’re working well with our federal colleagues.”
The office will be led by an envoy, whom she hasn’t yet picked, and will be similar in scope to offices the province already has in 10 countries.
It’s not the first of its kind in the capital. Alberta closed its last Ottawa office roughly 16 years ago. Quebec still has one, while Manitoba, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador have closed their own in recent years.
Alberta’s new foothold comes as it pushes for a federal ally on a series of urgent issues: cross-border pipelines, a Canadian energy strategy, negotiations on a new equalization formula and a joint environmental monitoring program in the oil sands.
In short, Alberta needs Ottawa’s help. But without a local office, Ms. Redford said, “what that has meant is an awful lot of travelling back and forth for ministers.”
Murray Smith, Alberta’s former minister of economic development who closed its last Ottawa office and four others, remembered it as “an advocacy and as a reconnaissance office.”
Some recall it, however, being ineffective. “It was ignored by everybody in Ottawa, media included,” one source said. Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith (no relation to Murray) doesn’t see the point either, saying the new office is little more than a patronage appointment.
“I don’t understand why the Premier doesn’t understand this is her job. It’s her job to have a relationship with Ottawa. It’s her ministers’ job to have a relationship with Ottawa,” Ms. Smith said. “Setting up an office to hire a staffer to build relationships in Ottawa I think kind of misses the point of federal-provincial relationships.
Others applauded the idea – namely, those who the office will serve. “We welcome their presence in Ottawa and look forward to building on our positive relationship with the province,” Andrew MacDougall, a spokesman for the Prime Minister’s Office, said by e-mail.
Edmonton-area MP Rona Ambrose, the regional minister for northern Alberta, applauded the move and dismissed questions about whether it would overlap with work being done by the 28 Alberta MPs, 27 of whom sit in the Conservative majority caucus.
“Any effort to increase federal-provincial co-operation helps the country to work better,” Ms. Ambrose said, later adding: “It may seem like overkill…, but I would actually argue I’d like to see more provinces do this.”
Mr. Smith, the man who closed Alberta’s last office, said it was simply a cost-cutting move at the time. Alberta estimates the new office will cost $850,000 annually. “I think this decision today is really positive.… Certainly it’s consistent with the Premier’s plan for [national]representation and access to markets,” Mr. Smith said.
Many federal Conservatives supported the Wildrose Party during last month’s election, which Ms. Redford’s more centrist Progressive Conservatives won. Ms. Redford said that wasn’t a factor in opening the office, while Ms. Ambrose said she doesn’t sense any strained relationship between the federal and provincial parties.
“We do everything we can to foster that relationship and that dialogue to make sure we can work together on issues,” Ms. Redford said. “And we think that this will simply enhance that.”