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Exodus of Ontario Liberal staffers to Ottawa set to begin

Ontario and federal Liberals are close; having former staffers in Ottawa may help Kathleen Wynne get her agenda moving along.

MARK BLINCH/REUTERS

Ontario Liberal Premier Kathleen Wynne is expecting an exodus of her staffers from Queen's Park to Parliament Hill – and is even encouraging it.

Late last month, she gathered about 450 staff members – everyone from ministers' offices to constituency offices – to the Ontario Room in the Macdonald Block of Queen's Park and thanked them for helping Justin Trudeau and his federal Liberals win a majority government.

She then noted that many would be offered jobs and said although she would be sorry to see them leave, they could be Ontario's eyes and ears on Parliament Hill.

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That's not a bad strategy. The Wynne and Trudeau Liberals are very close, but Ms. Wynne has some important files she needs the federal government to help with, and having former staffers in key positions in Ottawa may smooth her agenda along.

The relationship between Ms. Wynne and former Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper was a dysfunctional one. In fact, he even bragged during the election campaign that he was "delighted" his government could delay the Ontario government's proposed pension plan. Mr. Trudeau has already helped on that front, agreeing to change regulations to administer the plan.

The hope is that this good relationship will continue, as provincial governments sometimes like to go to war with their federal counterparts to show leadership in an attempt to boost their popularity among voters.

For now, though, the relationship is good.

A senior Liberal official said a "massive team" from Queen's Park worked on the federal election. They include key staffers from Ms. Wynne's office, such as Brian Clow, her issues and policy adviser, who was managing issues in the Trudeau war room; Zita Astravas, who is her press secretary and played that role for Mr. Trudeau; and John Zerucelli, chief of staff to Deputy Premier and Treasury Board President Deb Matthews. Mr. Zerucelli ran a seamless tour for Mr. Trudeau. His second-in-command was Melanie Wright, who is chief of staff to Ontario Economic Development Minister Brad Duguid.

The Trudeau team needs to hire about 1,000 people – and quickly, given that he has already named his 30-member cabinet. There is some speculation that the chiefs of staff will be named in a few days.

It can't be soon enough. Environment Minister Catherine McKenna is already in Paris in advance of the United Nations summit on climate change later this month. Mr. Trudeau will also be attending three other key international summits. Foreign Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion and Finance Minister Bill Morneau will most likely be involved in those trips, and they need staff quickly.

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Last week, the federal party posted requests for résumés on its Facebook page: "We are looking to build a team of diverse, passionate, and hard-working Canadians willing to serve their country as exempt staff in political offices in Canada's new government," it said. In just three days, the party received more than 11,000 applications, according to the information on the site.

Meanwhile, both Ms. Wynne and Mr. Trudeau serve as Intergovernmental Affairs ministers in their respective cabinets. This will also help in building the relationship. Their agendas are closely aligned, especially on the crucial issue of infrastructure investment.

For example, Mr. Trudeau promised during the federal election campaign that the funding for infrastructure would be concentrated in the early years of a 10-year plan. This helps Ontario in terms of driving the economy now. Ms. Wynne has just a little more than two years left in her mandate.

In terms of projects, the two governments are aligned, especially on the transit front, where Mr. Trudeau made a $2.6-billion commitment to Toronto Mayor John Tory's SmartTrack plan and $2-billion to GO Transit.

With a report from Adrian Morrow

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