CYR PLANTATION — Organizers of the 2014 World Acadian Congress have long maintained that they needed a federal representative to sit on the International Council of Government Liaisons and advocate for those who are planning the U.S festivities.
An effort by U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe has made that possible, Jason Parent, president of the Maine delegation to the Official International Organizing Committee for the WAC, announced on Monday evening.
Peter O’ Donohue, U.S. Consul General in Quebec, has been tapped to represent the U.S. on the ICGL. The committee is composed of government officials from the federal and state-provincial levels. The delegates are responsible for coordinating efforts between the various governments on issues that include funding for the event, border concerns, economic development and more.
The World Acadian Congress is held every five years in different regions populated by Acadians. The 2014 gathering will be staged in northern Maine, northwestern New Brunswick and the Temiscouata region of Quebec on Aug. 8-24. This will be the first time in the event’s history that it will span two countries.
In the past, the event has attracted more than 50,000 visitors for two weeks to host regions including Louisiana and the Acadian Peninsula in New Brunswick.
The congress typically features more than 300 events, including family reunions, regional celebrations, and sporting and cultural events. Hotels, restaurants, stores and other facilities typically see a significant influx of revenue. The economic spin-off from recent congresses has ranged from $30 million to $50 million in the host region.
In winning the 2014 event, the Maine-New Brunswick-Quebec region, operating under the unified title “Acadia of the Lands and Forests,” beat out applications from Quebec City and Louisiana.
Parent said that Snowe made a written request to U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for the federal representative, which resulted in O’ Donohue being tapped for the position. He joins official representatives of the Canadian government, as well as the provincial governments of New Brunswick and Quebec and the state of Maine. Carolann Ouellette, director of the State Office of Tourism, represents Maine on the group.
O’Donohue and Ouellette were recently in the St. John Valley to attend a meeting with their Canadian counterparts and met with members of the Maine delegation to the WAC prior to that meeting. Similar sessions are planned quarterly through the event in 2014.
One of the specific areas where the government liaisons will assist in the coming years is to extend invitations to key officials in the respective countries, provinces and states to attend the activities in 2014. Parent said that O’Donohue also will be critical in helping facilitate issues with the Department of Homeland Security concerning increased traffic at the border crossings in the region during the event and with securing federal funding for the project.
O’Donohue is a career Foreign Service Officer. He has been stationed in locations across the globe and has also served in a number of Washington assignments, including in the State Department’s bureaus of Political-Military Affairs, African Affairs, and Oceans, Environment and Science. He speaks French and has studied four other languages.
Snowe said in a written statement that she was “so pleased” to hear that a federal representative would be assisting the WAC organizing committee.
“This gathering, which is held every five years, is a tremendous opportunity to attract visitors and support local businesses in our state — and it is vital that our consulate in Quebec City coordinate closely with Canadian and local officials to ensure these events go off without a hitch,” said Snowe.
Parent said it was “critical” that the U.S. be represented in discussions at the international table.
“Through the efforts of Senator Snowe, we now have a high-level official at the table to discuss important issues that will directly impact our ability to host this world class event in our sector of the international host region,” he said. “Mr. O’Donohue has pledged his support for our efforts and has offered to assist us as we move forward with the planning of the activities.”
Organizers in the U.S. continue to struggle to raise the additional $1 million that is needed to finance the 2014 event.
Early in the planning process, organizers met with representatives from the state’s congressional delegation to discuss federal funding options.
U.S. Sen. Susan Collins requested $1.1 million in federal funding in a bill that was passed by the Senate Appropriations Committee last July. Collins pointed out in late January that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid never brought the bill to the floor for a vote, so the funding never materialized.
The congressional delegation continues to look for other avenues to obtain federal funding, and organizers are pursuing fundraising options to garner additional financing.