Courting Mission Impossible

The TJ’s running a story this morning called “Courting Club Fed” about attempts to attract federal government employment to New Brunswick. The article states:

In 2005, it [the percentage of all federal government workers in Ottawa] was precisely 31 per cent – a figure that’s grown over time, according to a March, 2006 report prepared for parliamentarians. (No wonder that Ottawa alone welcomed nearly 3,000 New Brunswickers as new residents between 1996 and 2001, according to Statistics Canada’s 2001 census.) By comparison, less than 17 per cent of U.S. federal or British national government jobs are concentrated in either Washington, D.C., or London, England.

I think it would be fair to say there is a little irony in this fact. Considering Canada is such a widely dispersed country and feelings of being disconnected from its national government is a recurring theme. Considering that most Prime Ministers (I don’t know about this one) talk about the need for a ‘strong’ federal government in the ‘regions’.

But as we have talked about before (and this article rightly states) – prying more jobs out of Ottawa will be just about impossible. Paul Martin tried it – he moved about 20 jobs from the Canadian Tourism Commission to Vancouver -and was resoundly trounced by dozens of groups.

The new Conservative government said “no way” when asked if they were even going to continue studying the issue as the Liberals were in the process of doing when they were turfed.

I was in Ottawa a couple of weeks ago and I picked up a local newspaper. It chronicled the employment picture in Ottawa over the past decade or so and stated that the Federal government (John Manley) made up almost job for job for the Nortel and dot.com meltdown in the early 2000s by hiring civil servants in droves. Now, the high tech sector in Ottawa has rebounded and Ottawa has one of the strongest economies in Canada.

In that same newspaper, there was a full page advertisment for Information Technology consultants. In one column it listed the firms’ names, in a second it listed the firms’ areas of expertise and in the third column it listed the “Percentage of revenue from government sources”. In most cases, these firms generated 40% to 98% of all revenue from government.

So the importance of the government (direct employment and business contracts) to the Ottawa economy is self-evident. One can easily see why powerful stakeholders in that city would want to horde the new jobs and not see them dispersed to the ‘regions’.

Again, a little more irony, Jean Cretien said when he was elected that the information highway would be the great ‘leveller’ of the playing field between large and small regions in Canada. Under his government, we then proceeded to see the largest migration to the 5-6 main urban areas in Canadian history. John Manley, I was told, believed that the ‘cluster’ effect was required for government departments too and was adamantly opposed to moving federal jobs to the ‘regions’.

Our old friend, Scott Brison was just ‘whistling dixie’ as they say when he said in a a 2004 speech in Sydney, N.S., “there is simply no compelling reason anymore to keep the majority of public servants in the Ottawa-Gatineau area.”

I’ll give you a handful of “compelling” (inverted quotes) reasons:

1. John Baird has said “no way”.

2. The government labour unions have said “no way”.

3. 98% of all power brokers in Ottawa say “no way”.

4. The days of the all powerful regional minister (Romeo Leblanc, John Crosbie, Allan MacEachern) are over.

So, in conclusion, it is unlikely we will see any Romeo Leblanc-style federal government jobs in New Brunswick or even the Maritimes anytime soon.

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0 Responses to Courting Mission Impossible

  1. Anonymous says:

    Got any similar numbers on the provincial government? I’m willing to bet Fredericton acts as a miniature Ottawa, at least as far as administrators go.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Remote from-the-capital government departments, federal or provincial, are difficult. I can appreciate why ministers and their staff would want to be near the center of politics.

    However, crown corporations are absolutely fair game and far easier to locate in our region as daily interaction with government is not necessary. As Savoie suggests, we have a net negative history with crown corporations. Perhaps we should be targeting Canada Post, AECL etc.

    So, you have a point that we are fighting a losing battle but can we turn this into a strength? Maybe NB is the anti-government environment where people are focused on effective work and business success rather than maximizing their sick days. For some business people, this could be a major attraction and a selling point for NB.

    There are some things that we just have to accept; e.g Canada has room for one capital hill, one Bay street etc. The challenge is to figure out what we have that we can build on. One of North America’s largest military bases. An excellent harbour. The largest refinery in North America. An aquaculture industry. A well-managed forest. These are things Ottawa does not have.

    As you suggest, we need transformational federal leadership representing our region. We need to resist being satisfied with the crumbs Ottawa throws us with ACOA (the annual ACOA budget approximates 3 Industry Canada projects awarded to Quebec aerospace companies last year). If we could stop our infighting and dilution of initiatives (to meet french/english,north/south, rural/urban, SJ/F’ton/Moncton interests) and allow ourselves to focus on meaningful development of a priority sector even if it means a certain area gets out of balance support (e.g. energy in SJ) then the Feds could not so easily neglect us and we could make a significant difference. Otherwise, mediocracy is our destiny.

  3. mikel says:

    Amen to the above, EXCEPT the idea that canada HAS to have so much fed in Ottawa, I don’t think that is proven anywhere. Hell, Russia is bigger than Canada and less of their governemnt is in Moscow.

    But again, all this falls down with the one obvious fact – no representation means no-go. There is more stuff on the blogs picking this up, but thats it. How come you guys haven’t joined the Atlantica Party? There are independant media sources now in all other three provinces, still no big one in NB.

    Another blogger said it over at Bruce’s blog – no seats. No seats means all David’s talk here is hypothetical, the porkbarreling stays in Ontario, but also increasingly out west, because thats where the representation is. Keep in mind that now the maritimes is screwed once again by the political forces at work in Canada. It seems like most countries Canada may be headed for a permanent minority government, which of course without PR means the fed has to basically keep buying off ontario and quebec in order to TRY to get a majority.

    And people aren’t stupid, they KNOW it. With a majority government a PM COULD enact policies favouring the east, but of course that hasn’t happened before, no point in thinking it would now. But with a minority government, without the seats, its even LESS likely.

    Time to get cracking people. It’s always been up to people who do a little to do a little more. The Atlantica Party, for some bizarre reason, aren’t looking at the federal scene, but that doesn’t mean they CANT with the right members.