Managing Intergovernmental Contracts: The Canada-Manitoba Cooperation on Regional Economic Development

Article excerpt

Introduction

This article examines contractual mechanisms for managing intergovernmental cooperation on policy delivery in multi-level jurisdictions. It focuses on the contractual arrangements between the Canadian and Manitoba governments for joint management of regional economic development policy over the past two decades. The discussion is premised on the fact that changes in thinking about economic development policy intervention in modern markets are proving to be very short-lived phenomena (Holbrook and Wolfe 2002). As a result, the capacity and legitimacy of public agencies to influence the direction of economic development policy implementation rest increasingly on their ability to navigate the murky waters of interorganizational arrangements for joint policy action. This requires a greater willingness on the part of these agencies to adjust their policy mandates and goals to the changing ideas and power relations within their operating environments.

It is worth acknowledging, however, that there is some controversy surrounding the above assertion. In particular, some scholars have drawn attention to the fact that the legitimacy of public action in liberal democracies is derived mainly from public policy in pursuit of public goals (Howlett and Lindquist 2004; Pal 2006). This legitimacy could sometimes be compromised, the argument goes, as a result of potential cooptation by other actors in pursuit of private ends. Thus, although the thrust of the present discussion is to point out the merits of strategic adaptation by public agencies to the exigencies of their operating environments, it is worth keeping in mind that adaptive policy implementation processes have their risks and controversies (DeLeon 2007).

The discussion focuses on the contractual arrangements between a federal economic agency and the Manitoba government, and the emphasis of the analysis is on the adaptation of the contractual instruments to facilitate policy delivery in an increasingly complex economic and political system within the province over the past two decades. The contractual mechanisms of interorganizational cooperation across different orders of government, as will be demonstrated, have undergone some dramatic transitions over the years, reflecting the exigencies of the emergent policy environment in Manitoba. The implications of these changes are also analysed.

Manitoba has a population of more than one million and an area of approximately 650,000 square kilometres (Manitoba, Ministry of Entrepreneurship, Training and Trade 2011). In addition to having a diverse economy relative to the rest of the western provinces, Manitoba enjoys a strategic geographic advantage in terms of being located in the centre of North America. This provides the province with competitive natural conditions that can be leveraged through economic development programs.

Canada, like most countries around the world, continues to use various policy intervention mechanisms to either leverage the disparate economic potentials of its regions or address perceived socioeconomic disadvantages in certain regions (Canada 2009; OECD 2009). Such policy interventions by the federal government usually involve some form of partnership with other orders of government in the various regions. Intergovernmental cooperation in Canada and elsewhere, however, has experienced some dramatic transitions over the years as the environmental context of public management changes (OECD 2007). The implications of these changes are examined in this article.

The article employs a number of data collection methods to analyse the transitions in regional economic development policy governance in Manitoba over the past two decades. In particular, the data were collected over a period of four years (2008 to 2011) by a combination of semi-structured interviews, reviews of primary (mostly government) documents, and process tracing. The semi-structured interviews were conducted with over twenty high-level, mid-level and frontline officials drawn primarily from public sector agencies (federal, provincial and municipal), private sector associations and relevant community groups. …