Does Alberta need its $850000-a-year Ottawa envoy office?

Alberta Premier Jim Prentice will decide early next year whether the province will close its envoy office in Ottawa, one of several such operations being reviewed.

The Ottawa office was set up by former premier Alison Redford to boost lobbying efforts in the capital, despite the province’s deep ranks of Conservative Members of Parliament, including Prime Minister Stephen Harper. However, Alberta’s post in Ottawa – in a downtown office tower steps from Parliament Hill – has been without an envoy since Oct. 31, when Alan Ross returned to the private sector.

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Mr. Prentice, a former federal cabinet minister who became Premier in September, has hired former MPs Rob Merrifield and Jay Hill to be his envoys in Washington and for B.C., Saskatchewan and the North, respectively. Mr. Hill’s position, when announced, represented a “realignment of the existing representation based in Ottawa,” the government said. Mr. Prentice said at the time the Ottawa office was under review.

Mr. Prentice also appointed former ambassador Ron Hoffmann as Alberta’s senior representative for the Asia Pacific Basin. Mr. Hoffmann was initially tasked with reviewing Alberta’s offices in Asia to ensure they are “optimally aligned.” That review has been expanded to include all of Alberta’s offices outside the province, including Ottawa.

Mr. Hoffmann’s review is expected to be completed by the end of 2014, a provincial government spokeswoman said this week, with a decision due shortly after that.

Alberta has been down this road before, closing its Ottawa office about two decades ago. Ms. Redford revived it in a 2012 announcement, saying the $850,000-a-year base in Ottawa was needed to “foster that relationship and that dialogue to make sure we can work together on issues.” The Opposition Wildrose party objected, saying it is the premier’s job to keep strong ties with the federal government.

Mr. Ross was hired in early 2013 to the $275,000-a-year position, and submitted his resignation three months ago, after Ms. Redford had departed and before Mr. Prentice took over. His last day was Oct. 31. Mr. Ross has returned to Calgary and rejoined Borden Ladner Gervais, where he was a partner before taking the envoy role.

The office dealt with MPs, staff and civil servants, pressing on issues such as the temporary foreign worker program, emissions regulation and Alberta’s opposition to the creation of a national securities regulator.

“I’m very proud of the work we have done and it was a privilege to serve for the Alberta government. I think we accomplished some very important initiatives, both within Ottawa on policy issues, but equally throughout the Toronto-Montreal corridor,” Mr. Ross said in a brief interview this week.

The role will not be filled until Mr. Hoffmann completes his review, and Mr. Prentice – who, as Premier, also gave himself the international and intergovernmental relations portfolio – makes a decision based on it.

The provincial envoy office in Ottawa irked some of the Alberta MPs, particularly Conservatives. Some thought “Alberta’s representative in Ottawa” – Mr. Ross’s job title – was their job. Alberta MP Laurie Hawn said in a written statement last year that he welcomed Mr. Ross and the office, but: “I think it is quite clear that Alberta MPs are the representatives in Ottawa, and that won’t be changing.”

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