Helping Others Rewards Civil Servant

Guelph Grads on the Go: Government director believes in public service

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Colin Timms

Colin Timms, MA ’04, once sat in the same seats as the U of G political science students he now visits as a guest speaker to discuss employment opportunities in the public service. Studying political science at Guelph helped launch his own career with the Government of Ontario.

“I believe in public service,” says Timms. “I’ve always felt the government plays a key role in supporting society and the economy. To me, public service has always been a bit of a calling. It’s something I’ve always known that I wanted to do.”

As director of intergovernmental affairs at the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario (FedDev Ontario), he acts as a liaison between the federal government and Queen’s Park on economic issues. Created in 2009 in response to the economic downturn, the agency offers a variety of programs designed to boost economic growth and development in southern Ontario.

Examples include funding internships at small and medium-sized companies, not-for-profit organizations and post-secondary institutions for graduate students and recent graduates of science, technology and engineering programs. Before receiving funding, applicants must undergo a review process to determine their eligibility. “It’s a very thorough and transparent process in terms of selecting which projects are pursued,” says Timms.

After completing his undergraduate degree at Queen’s University, he began working at the Ministry of Intergovernmental Affairs as a summer student in 2001. There, he supported the premier’s office and senior government officials at intergovernmental conferences. “It was an incredible learning opportunity to understand how intergovernmental relations actually work,” says Timms.

Later that fall, he began a master’s degree in political science at Guelph. He was drawn to Guelph’s program because it offered a public policy stream. “It was absolutely the right program for me to pursue to build on what I had learned in my undergrad and to further hone my policy skills to pursue the kind of job I am in now,” he says.

After his second summer placement with the provincial government, he was offered a six-month contract. He accepted it, but he didn’t let his full-time job interfere with his master’s degree. “I’ve always found if you want to get something done well and efficiently, you get a busy person to do it,” he says.

As someone who thrives under pressure, he found time to write his thesis after work and on weekends. Working full-time actually complemented his studies, he says. While writing his thesis on the relationship between ministers and deputy ministers, he witnessed those interactions first-hand at intergovernmental conferences.

“I think having that practical, on-the-ground experience really helped. It was enlightening for me as a professional, and that carried into the work I was doing for my thesis because I was able to directly relate some of the research I was doing and what I was reading about with how things were actually practiced in the field.”

He also worked as a senior economist at the Ministry of Finance, where he provided economic analysis and forecasting, and as executive assistant and senior adviser to the assistant deputy minister of policy planning in the Ministry of Transportation.

When his fondness for Guelph made him think about moving back to the city, he began looking for positions at the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA). That’s when OMAFRA deputy minister Bruce Archibald, B.Sc.(Agr.) ’79, M.Sc. ’84 and PhD ’93, was looking for an executive assistant. Timms got the job and a few weeks later he and Archibald were shuffled into the new Ministry of International Trade and Investment, which was also created to help strengthen the economy. In August 2009, Archibald became the first president of FedDev Ontario.

“We’re a very new agency, but you can really see the impact that we’re having,” says Timms. One of the biggest rewards, he adds, is hearing from people who have benefited from the agency’s programs. “It is so encouraging to get that kind of feedback and be made aware that, as a public servant, you’re getting to play a role in the community and really make a difference in people’s lives.”