NATIONAL

The minister who stayed at home

JOHN GEDDES June 16 2008
NATIONAL

The minister who stayed at home

JOHN GEDDES June 16 2008

The minister who stayed at home

NATIONAL

JOHN GEDDES

As Prime Minister Ste-

phen Harper’s point person with the provinces, you’d think Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Rona Ambrose would be living out of a suitcase these days. After all, there’s no shortage of federal-provincial action to attend to. This week, Quebec Premier Jean Charest and Ontario’s Dalton McGuinty held an unprecedented joint cabinet meeting that seemed to freeze out Ottawa on greenhouse gas emissions policy. Last month, federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty resumed pushing for a national stock market regulator. Meanwhile, Harper’s been trying to sell the provinces on his plan for electing senators.

So is Ambrose engaged in non-stop shuttle diplomacy to twist the arms of her provincial counterparts? Not according to her expense reports. She has yet to claim a single trip to a provincial capital in the capacity of intergovernmental affairs minister this year. Her only trips have been to Edmonton, which is her hometown, and to Victoria and Winnipeg, in the capacity of her other job as western economic diversification minister. She wasn’t any more peripatetic last year, filing a single claim for a two-day swing through Winnipeg and Toronto to meet provincial intergovernmental affairs ministers in July.

Compare that to Michael Chong, who was Ambrose’s predecessor (until he quit cabinet in late 2006 over Harper’s move

to declare Quebec a nation). According to Chong’s expense filings, he travelled eight different times in 2006 to provincial and territorial capitals as intergovernmental affairs minister. And one of those trips was an extensive cross-country tour of several provinces.

Observers wonder if Ambrose’s stay-at-

home style means she isn’t really free to do the job she was appointed to early last year. John Allan, associate director of the Institute of Intergovernmental Relations at Queen’s University, suggests that Harper and Flaherty might be dominating the main federal-provincial files. It’s also possible Ambrose is busy behind the scenes, Allan adds, but “there’s no visible evidence of activity.”