Feds returning to real estate forum

There appears to be a change of heart among top Public Works officials about discussing the federal government's office space needs in public.

A department spokesperson confirmed Monday night that the deputy minister of Public Works, François Guimont, has accepted an invitation to speak at this year's Ottawa Real Estate Forum, which typically attracts approximately 500 commercial real estate developers, landlords, investors, brokers and property managers.

In 2011, government officials cancelled its scheduled keynote address to avoid media coverage and later suggested the venue "may not be best suited to members of the public service."

As both the largest tenant and landlord in the National Capital Region, the federal government traditionally presents, in broad terms, its office space demand projections at the forum. Both government and industry officials say both sides are best served when Public Works's long-term requirements are mutually understood.

Last year, Public Works's top real estate official, Claude Seguin accepted an invitation to speak at the forum and prepared several drafts of a vetted presentation. However, documents obtained by OBJ through an access-to-information request show the office of the deputy minister of Public Works ordered the address cancelled less than eight weeks before the forum.

"Media presence – last year we made the 'paper' – our presence is not critical," reads the handwritten response, dated Aug. 18, 2011, to a July memo addressed to the deputy minister of Public Works. François Guimont was appointed to the position in 2007.

"We can take other means to inform private sector of our plans. Pls (sic) take action accordingly."

When asked why it was Mr. Guimont and not Mr. Seguin - a director general in the department's real property branch - speaking at this year's forum, Public Works spokesperson Mélanie Quesnel said the invitation was extended to Minister Rona Ambrose.

Because the minister was unavailable, organizers extended the invitation to Mr. Guimont, according to Ms. Quesnel.

In 2011, John McBain, an assistant deputy minister in Public Works's real property branch, said it should be Mr. Seguin speaking at the forum because he is the industry's "prime point of contact" and that the private sector should know that when they are negotiating with Mr. Seguin, the director general "clearly speaks for the senior management of the department as well," according to e-mails released to OBJ.

The 2012 Ottawa Real Estate Forum is scheduled to take place Oct. 11 at the Hampton Inn & Conference Centre.