Premier Kathy Dunderdale intends to keep the Newfoundland and Labrador Office of Federal-Provincial Relations open.
“The office serves a great purpose when it’s functioning the way that it should,” she told a Telegram editorial board Wednesday. “And it’s important to me that we maintain that.”
The province hasn’t had a representative working out of the office for about 18 months, since John FitzGerald didn’t renew his contract and took a job with executive council.
Government has continued renting the location and paying for an administrative staff. It budgeted $388,000 to operate the office this year, after allotting $378,000 last year.
The opposition Liberals have called repeatedly asked government to close the office.
But that’s not in Dunderdale’s plan.
She says it’s important to have someone networking in the nation’s capital.
“You need someone who is on the ground, who’s talking to people, who has relationships with people within departments, who are on the ground, who know what the scuttlebutt is, knows who’s coming, who’s going, who’s talking to who. Someone who is able to facilitate meetings, general intelligence gathering on the ground,” she said.
The premier hopes to have that person in place this fall, and says she’s considering two or three candidates.
Told of her intentions, Liberal MHA Kelvin Parsons maintains there’s no need for the office. He wonders why it’s remained vacant for so long if the premier believes it’s so important.
“It indicates to me that … they’re probably very leery at this point of making an appointment because the appointment itself might be controversial,” he said.
He’s expecting it will be a patronage announcement, one government doesn’t want to make before an election.
“It seems to be a very hypocritical statement to say, ‘We think it’s valuable, we think it’s necessary, we’re paying for it, but we’re not going to put anybody there now until after the election.”
Parsons suggested an effective minister of intergovernmental affairs could be in Ottawa dealing with the important files.
For matters requiring a greater presence, he envisions designating someone from the minister’s office.
“But to have somebody on shift there full-time, and somebody who never reports to the public?” Parsons asked.
“The public have a right to ask what’s the value of this, other than someone telling us it’s valuable.”
During the editorial board, Dunderdale also expressed hope her improved rapport with Prime Minister Stephen Harper would help in dealing with Ottawa.
Answering a question about her support of Harper during the election and the closure of the Maritime Rescue Sub-Centre, Dunderdale explained she felt the prime minister was going to win and it was necessary to have a good relationship.
“It’s important that we be able to talk to him, to be heard,” she said.
The Telegram asked what happens if the diplomatic approach to federal-provincial relations doesn’t work.
Dunderdale pointed out she went door-to-door with Liberal Siobhan Coady during the Anything But Conservative (ABC) campaign in the 2008 federal election and then said, “I have never shied away from taking a position, ever, and I’ve been on the leading edge.”
In a conversation with Dunderdale that same night, Harper stood firm on the centre’s closure.
The premier said the next day she was disappointed, but that the province would continue pursuing the issue and keep the lines of communication with Ottawa open.