Saskatchewan hires Stephen Harper to help expand province's trade in Asia

The Saskatchewan government has hired former Prime Minister Stephen Harper to help expand its trade relationships in Asia.

Harper is the chairman and CEO of the consulting firm Harper and Associates, which says it "combines the global network, experience and insight of a G-7 Leader to create value for clients."

The province has entered into a one-year contract with Harper's firm for $240,000.

"We expect that [former] prime minister Harper is going to help us increase our exports to the more than 150 countries where we do business each and every day," Premier Scott Moe said.

The province has a goal of increasing exports by 50 per cent in the next decade.

"Saskatchewan is a world-class exporter and a powerhouse in our confederation," Stephen Harper said in a statement.  "Its people and products can compete and win at home and around the world."

Harper's work starts immediately. He will join Saskatchewan Minister of Trade and Export Jeremy Harrison on a trip to India from Nov. 16 to 23.

Harrison said Harper has "unmatched relationships" and high-level experience in negotiating trade deals.

Harrison and Moe have been critical of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's February 2018 trip to India and its impact on Saskatchewan's trading relationship with the nation.

Stephen Harper/Twitter

"We saw a 100 per cent tariff on our pulse exports into the country, which has remained in place," Harrison said. "We need to be assertive in making sure our interests are represented internationally." 

He said the province saw exports to India drop from $2 billion in 2015 to $650 million last year.

Harrison said the trade mission will also include officials from Saskatoon uranium company Cameco and Regina-based agri-food and pulse processor AGT Foods.

New trade offices to open in three countries

The government said Harper will assist the province in establishing three new international trade offices planned for India, Japan and Singapore.

Those offices will cost $4.2 million, which includes staff in the provincial government based in Saskatchewan who will "oversee operations, strategy and stakeholder relations related to the international trade and investment offices,"  according to the province.

Saskatchewan opened an international office in Shanghai in May, 2010. That office has one provincial government employee and two local employees. The budget for this year is $335,180.

Harrison said the province will not make political appointments in those offices, with decisions being made by the public service.

Saskatchewan's P.C. government was criticized in the 1990s by the NDP for making political appointments to its international offices.

In 1991, the NDP government closed three international trade offices in Hong Kong, Minneapolis and Zurich.

NDP leader Ryan Meili did not disagree with the establishment of the new offices but questioned the decision to hire a "politcal ally."

"They like to use public money to work with companies that are associated with folks that are affiliated with them. Is this the right choice for Saskatchewan or is it the right choice for the Saskatchewan Party?"

Deal with Harper similar to one with U.S. lobbyists, Moe says

Moe said the arrangement with Harper will be similar to the province's relationship with American law firm Nelson Mullins, headed by former U.S. Ambassador David Wilkins.

The Saskatchewan government started its relationship with Nelson Mullins in 2009 under Premier Brad Wall. It pays the firm between $300,000 to $400,000 a year.

According to the Washington-based Center for Responsive Politics, which compiles data from the U.S. Senate Office of Public Records, Saskatchewan has paid Nelson Mullins $4.2 million in total over the 10-year arrangement as of October 2019.