Winterlude without the NCC

Mark Brownlee
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Questions arise about private-sector involvement in Canadian Heritage-run festivals

Several local tourism officials say they’re cautiously optimistic about the future of Winterlude and other major festivals the federal government is taking over, even though many key details are not being released.

Fireworks at the opening ceremony of Winterlude in 2012.

Last month’s federal budget contained a brief notice that the Department of Canadian Heritage would assume from the National Capital Commission the mandate of promoting the National Capital Region. This includes major tourist draws such as Winterlude and the annual Canada Day celebrations.

The transfer of responsibilities may on the surface seem like a small change.

However, it raises questions about whether hotels, sponsors and other private businesses will be able to engage with a federal department to the same extent as the NCC. It operates at arm’s length from the government and has explored creative public-private partnerships in support of a Wi-Fi zone in downtown areas popular with tourists, as well as for its annual Christmas lights program.

The NCC has “done so much work in recent years, especially with Winterlude,” said Barbara Stacey, executive director of industry group Ottawa Festivals. They’re “really working on their partnership program and looking at engaging the community more ... (and) I really hope it can continue in that vein,” she added.

OBJ submitted a list of questions about how matters such as corporate sponsorships and partnering with businesses will be handled in the future. Canadian Heritage declined to answer them because “we don’t have the answer yet,” said spokesperson Geneviève Myre.

Daniel Laliberté, general manager of the Ottawa Marriott Hotel, said he has few details about what the new arrangement will mean, but has no reason to believe the relationship with Canadian Heritage won’t be as good as it was with the NCC.

The Crown corporation has been very responsive in working with the business community, he said. This includes getting feedback on what event features worked and allowing for promotions such as including Winterlude logos in hotel lobbies.

“Winterlude is a tourism product and you need partnerships, you need people from the private sector, the public sector to work together to make it successful,” he said.

Mr. Laliberté said he’s never worked directly with a government department before and, as a result, one of his concerns is whether Canadian Heritage’s different legal structure will allow it to be as responsive.

He and other tourism officials have requested a meeting with the department to sort out some of these questions, he said.


The changes announced in the budget will also make Canadian Heritage responsible for organizing the celebrations the federal government is funding for Canada’s 150th anniversary in 2017.

City councillor Rainer Bloess, who’s on a committee with many of Ottawa’s tourism players to help plan the celebrations, said he is still hoping to meet with Canadian Heritage officials to learn more details about the switch.

Working with a department instead of a Crown corporation will be different, he said.

The NCC has “a little bit more of that autonomy and maybe flexibility in terms of how they operate, whereas within a government department you have more constraints coming from a higher power,” said Mr.  Bloess.

But, he added, “we should be able to move forward relatively well.”

The Marriott’s Daniel Laliberté is optimistic the switch will be good news for the 150th anniversary plans, since he believes Canadian Heritage will likely bring an infusion of public dollars for the event.

Organizations: Canadian Heritage, National Capital Commission, Department of Canadian Heritage Ottawa Marriott Hotel

Geographic location: National Capital Region, Canada, Ottawa

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