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 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.