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GARRY KELLER
Vice-President
StrategyCorp

“A lot of people who are generalists from the political world and who may be a bit fearful about transitioning into GR from politics end up realizing their skills are extremely valuable.”

HOW DO YOUR EXPERIENCES INFORM YOUR LENS IN PUBLIC AFFAIRS?

I started to think and look at the world through a political lens from an early age.

I was born and raised in a town called Stony Plain, just outside of Edmonton and had my political coming of age during a very turbulent time in Alberta.  Some of my first memories of the proverbial “dinner-table talk” were about the National Energy Program, the Liberals under Pierre Trudeau, and the rise of the Mulroney Conservatives. 

As a kid, my family read magazines like Time, Maclean’s, and the Alberta Report, with a heavy focus on either world affairs or Canadian and Albertan politics. My parents were also small-p political – my mom served on the school board and my dad on town council. The concept of elected office as public service was ingrained at an early age.

My curiosity grew, not just on how the world works, but on political issues and voting behaviour. When I discovered I could go to university or college and study political science and history, I was hooked! I left high school and entered university in 1993 to study political science and history (what else!). Memories of the ’93 federal election, where I volunteered for my local Reform Party candidate (who won in the ’93 electoral breakthrough), and the 1995 Quebec referendum were certainly early influences in my political education.

WHY GOVERNMENT RELATIONS?

I served twenty years in a variety of roles on Parliament Hill, including as Chief of Staff to John Baird during his time at Foreign Affairs and as Government House Leader; Chief of Staff to Rona Ambrose as Interim Conservative Party leader; and Senior Parliamentary Advisor to Prime Minister Stephen Harper. As such, I’ve had a unique and varied career both in government and opposition where I was engaged by GR professionals – and have had some great experiences, and some pretty awful ones!

When it came time leave politics, I thought I could make a difference for potential GR clients by using my political experiences and deep wonk knowledge of Parliamentary procedure. To this, my time at Global Affairs seeing how things get done on the world stage also provided a unique perspective. It was a natural career progression to “cross Queen Street” – I like to joke it only took me twenty years to do so!

A lot of people who are generalists from the political world and who may be a bit fearful about transitioning into GR from politics end up realizing their skills are extremely valuable. GR is a lot like working in a Minister’s office – you must be constantly shifting files and have your political antennae up looking for opportunities or threats. There’s a nice correlation there.

IS THERE A CONTRIBUTION TO THE FIELD YOU ARE PARTICULARLY PROUD OF?

I’m always proud of any of my work that helps the client achieve their goal, no matter how big or small. I know how much work gets poured into achieving a challenging solution across a firm, so when it does happen it is especially rewarding.

I’m pleased to be a Fellow at the Riddell Graduate Program in Political Management at Carleton, where I get to meet and engage with students who are learning the applied practicalities of how things get done in government, versus the textbook political science approach. The role is interesting because I get to use my experiences to maybe do a little bit of myth-breaking and reality-checking. These students are, after all, the next generation of government relations professionals, political staffers, and public servants.

Recently, I was officially sanctioned and banned by Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs for the work I did after Russia’s illegal invasion of Crimea in 2014, and for my continual vocal opposition to Russia’s immoral 2022 war against Ukraine. Like many others, I consider this to be a badge of honour.

 A BEST PRACTICE IN GOVERNMENT RELATIONS IS...

…to always know your lobbying rules.  Canada’s lobbying regime is a patchwork between federal, provincial, and municipal requirements.  Before you pick up the phone, think twice – do I need to register before or after doing this?

WHAT ARE YOUR GO-TO LEARNING RESOURCES?

I’d be remiss if I didn’t include StrategyCorp’s podcast “Intended Consequences.”

I also like listening to a number of podcasts by Monocle magazine, including The Foreign Desk and The Monocle Daily which are a quick synopsis of what’s happening in the world. They’re a different take than the usual media sources we see and hear on a daily basis. And of course, there’s Curse of Politics for some just good ol’ political hackery and war stories.

Personally, in terms of courses, the University of Alberta’s Indigenous Canada online course has been helpful and informative. Coming from Alberta, I did have some early-level education into the Treaty system, but that was many years ago.

HOW DO SEE THE PROFESSION EVOLVING INTO THE FUTURE?

The impact of the COVID pandemic on government relations has had a major impact: GR work has not stopped during this time, but the format has. The question I ponder is whether the world of political engagement will return to pre-COVID practise, or if the hybrid model is here to stay.  There are pros and cons to both sides, but one of the pros of the hybrid model is the willingness of political actors to engage outside of just a few days in a week for meetings. I feel that elected officials, political staff, and public servants have become more accessible over the last two years.

And yet, I’ve been encouraging networking with friends and colleagues by grabbing a coffee and going for a walk. I look forward to spending as much time meeting people outdoors while the weather is still fine.

FINAL THOUGHTS TO OUR COMMUNITY?

It takes time to develop a base of both knowledge and experience – it doesn’t happen overnight.  I’ve served in eight different ministries or offices and each one has been extremely useful in building my base of knowledge.  And always take the time to learn from your colleagues – I learn something new every day from my StrategyCorp colleagues, especially those in the management consulting or municipal fields that form part of our practice.

Participate in upcoming features! For details contact SM Leduc
smleduc@cmha.ca

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