WATCH ABOVE: Premier Jim Prentice announced three international trade offices will be shut down. Tom Vernon reports.
EDMONTON — As part of its cost cutting efforts, the Alberta government has decided to close international offices in Ottawa, Chicago and Munich.
Plans to open offices in California and Brazil have been abandoned and the government will look for ways to reduce costs in the remaining ten trade offices around the world.
Premier Jim Prentice says the decision will save the province $3.1 million over the next two years. That amounts to 20 per cent of the budget of the international offices.
“We can’t reasonably ask Albertans to tighten their belts if government is not willing to tighten its belt,” said Prentice.
“We want to maximize the bang for our buck and those are the choices we’re making.”
The overhaul follows Ron Hoffman’s 10-week review of the international offices. He is Alberta’s senior representative for the Asia-Pacific Basin and says, “Right now our staff are doing everything for everybody everywhere. That means they’re spending time on lower priority activities.”
Six employees will be affected by these changes although not all will lose their jobs.
Twelve other offices will remain including one in Guangzhou, China which has not yet opened.
Prentice says as important as it is to reduce government costs, these trade offices are critical to Alberta businesses. He adds, “We will keep our focus on the highest priority markets in the developing world, particularly in east and southeast Asia.”
A MacEwan University professor specializing in international business worries about the closures. Murli Muralidharan says international trade offices are important for exporting provinces and countries.
If Prentice’s decision is strictly about re-focusing Alberta’s efforts to new markets, Muralidharan says these changes make sense. He hopes belt-tightening has little to do with it.
“If this is going to be a precursor to kind of trim down foreign operations or foreign offices, I don’t think that speaks well to our future,” says Muralidharan.
“We’re being penny-wise, pound-foolish.”
The opposition NDP and Liberals both applaud the decision to shut down the three offices which both parties claim are staffed through political patronage appointments.
NDP MLA Brian Mason questions what value they provide to Alberta that embassies and consulates cannot.
“The government has done very little to provide real, meaningful measures by which we can judge if this money is well spent.”
Liberal leader David Swann is calling for a study that measures the office’s value for money.
“To fully assess the value of these offices, we need to know how Alberta export numbers compare with countries that don’t have them,” he said.
Prentice ordered the office review shortly after he became Premier. During last year’s leadership race he said the offices needed to serve a purpose.
In 2013, former premier Alison Redford, conducted her own review of the international offices. That study recommended opening six new facilities.
The remaining offices are in the United States, United Kingdom, Mexico, Singapore, India, Japan, Korea, Taiwan and there are three offices in China.
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