Saskatoon StarPhoenix

Province hires U.S. lobby firm

- By Angela Hall

REGINA — The province has inked a one-year deal with a U.S. firm to raise awareness about Saskatchew­an south of the border.

The contract, worth $400,000 US, will see Nelson Mullins lobby lawmakers on Saskatchew­an’s behalf in Washington, D.C., on trade and other issues, but also seek to attract U.S. investment to the province, said Premier Brad Wall.

“We want to make sure we’re being as proactive as possible while also being responsibl­e with taxpayers’ money,” Wall told reporters.

One of the partners in the firm is former U.S. ambassador to Canada David Wilkins, who the premier described as a “friend of Saskatchew­an.”

“I think he demonstrat­ed a great understand­ing of Canadian issues and specifical­ly Saskatchew­an issues,” said Wall.

In advance of a trip to Washington last month to tout Saskatchew­an as a secure energy source and an innovator in areas such as carbon capture, Wall indicated his government was considerin­g contractin­g a lobbying firm to try and make inroads with the Obama administra­tion, the Senate and the House of Representa­tives, all controlled by Democrats.

While Wilkins formerly served in U.S. politics as a Republican, Wall said he’s confident the firm has strong contacts in both political parties. Another of the firm’s partners served as secretary of education in the Democratic Clinton administra­tion, Wall said.

The previous NDP government primarily relied on U.S. firms for advice on specific issues, such as the softwood lumber dispute.

The Sask. Party government said the new contract means it can use the firm year-round, hopefully gaining access to key legislator­s and organizati­ons in the U.S. The government may also on occasion forge contracts with communicat­ions groups, Wall said.

NDP Leader Lorne Calvert said the government’s decision to enter the new contract with taxpayer money will require disclosure of what the province intends to achieve so the public can gauge the progress.

“This is an expensive project and I sure would want to see the markers to tell us a year from now, have we got the benefit that this $400,000 deserves,” Calvert said.

Wall said the firm will send monthly reports to the government, but acknowledg­ed judging its work may be “subjective.”

The group might sometimes help Saskatchew­an avoid trade issues, he added.

“There won’t be any hard evidence of it because we’ll have avoided a potential problem.”

Some provinces that opt for their own presence in the U.S. have taken a different, and more expensive approach, according to Saskatchew­an government officials. Alberta has staffed an office that shares space with the Canadian Embassy, while Quebec has standalone offices in various U.S. locations.

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