China trade mission cost more than $200,000

Ashley
Ashley Fitzpatrick
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At least three of 14 government travellers no longer in same roles

For its 2013 trade mission to China, the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador clocked 14 people making the trip on the public dime.

The delegation included specialists in intergovernmental affairs, staff in the provincial Department of Business, a deputy minister with the Department of Natural Resources, staff from the premier’s office, three executive assistants, then-finance minister Jerome Kennedy, then-natural resources minister Tom Marshall and Premier Kathy Dunderdale.

In all — according to information obtained by The Telegram late Wednesday afternoon, by way of an access to information re­quest — the June trade mission cost over $202,000.

The total cost for the roughly 10-day mission is far higher than previous, annual trips to China made by government staff.

That travel — with expenses determined through other information requests — has been for one-off events, with peripheral meetings added, involving far fewer government staffers.

For example, staff from the Department of Natural Resources have been sent to the China Mining Conference, that country’s largest mining show, at a cost of $36,500 in 2010 and $33,300 in 2011.

Also, the 2013 trade mission cost does not include airfare, accommodations, meals and other expenses for Nalcor Energy president and CEO Ed Martin or one of the Crown corporation’s vice-presidents, Jim Keating, who took part.

And since the trade mission to China, at least three of the provincial government’s representatives on the mission have changed roles. The premier’s chief of staff, Brian Taylor, has taken a leave of absence. Kennedy has permanently left political life. Marshall has chang­ed portfolios in a subsequent cabinet shuffle.

The Telegram attempted to reach the premier for comment Thursday, but was told she was unavailable, currently representing the province in meetings in Brazil.

Marshall, now minister of finance, was able to respond.

“I certainly think the trip to China was worth the time and the money. I recognize that it is a large amount of money, but I think the payback will exceed that many times over,” he said.

In terms of his own expenses, he noted he did not attend major oil conferences in Houston, Texas, and in Aberdeen, Scotland — past stops for provincial Natural Resources ministers — given the plans for a government mission to China.

 

Considering the push and pull

Long before the exact dollar figures for the trip were made available, in a phone interview July 9, Marshall said the cost of the China trade mission was considered ahead of time.

“When it started, you know, given it’s a trip involving a number of people for a long period of time and a cost is involved … my first reaction was to question whether the trip would be worthwhile,” he said. “And I talked to officials in the department, and I talked to business people who are seeking investment, and they explained to me how it was important that there be a visit to China at the political level in the province.”

While he was feeling a push toward China, Dunderdale said she was feeling a pull.

“One of the reasons we’re making this trip to China is because we’ve been encouraged by Chinese companies to do that,” she said, speaking to reporters in the lobby of the St. John’s Convention Centre on the morning of June 18, the day she was leaving for Beijing.

“They want us to come there, to talk to the lead people in their companies about what’s happening in Newfoundland and Labrador.”

At the time, Dunderdale had just given a speech to hundreds of delegates at the annual conference for Noia, Newfoundland and Labra­dor’s oil and gas industries association. She mentioned she would promote investment in local offshore exploration while in China.

 

Section covered, MOU signed

The government delegation met with representatives for both the Chinese National Offshore Oil Co. and Sinopec while in Beijing.

Provincial representatives were also introduced to contacts at China’s National Development and Reform Commission, a ministry responsible for approving foreign investments.

The mining sector was not ignored, with government reps meeting with representatives from Hebei Iron and Steel and Alderon Iron Ore June 26. Hebei is a major investor in Alderon’s Kami mine project in western Labrador.

Mining was the centre of attention during a dinner hosted by the provincial government delegation  in Beijing, with a collection of potential international investors on the guest list.

Working with the Canada-China Business Council, the provincial government delegation also hosted a lunch in Hangzhou, in Zhejiang province, where a memorandum of understanding (MOU) was signed, committing the province to working to build trade ties with Zhejiang.

Newfoundland and Labrador signed a similar MOU in 2001, but the 2013 agreement adds to the existing commitments.

A separate document marked an agreement between the provincial government and the Ministry of Education of the People’s Republic of China, on building post-secondary ties. This was notable for representatives from Memorial University of Newfoundland, who joined the government’s delegation on the trip.

Seal products — including 16 pairs of sealskin mittens, at a cost to government of more than $1,600 — were offered as gifts in China.

Sealskin products were also discussed at a meeting in Beijing, involving government delegates, two representatives for local processors and fur product retailers and the president of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, Zhang Xinsheng.

 

Upon reflection

“The world is going to China, the world is seeking Chinese investment,” Marshall said when asked if the cost was warranted.

As for his new position and the internal shake-up, “It’s not so much that I went, or that Jerome Kennedy went, it was that the persons occupying the positions of minister went,” he said.

While the majority of the government delegation returned to Newfoundland and Labrador June 28, the premier first stopped in Europe, visiting the First World War battlefield at Beaumont Hamel. Costs associated with that travel were not included in the China mission totals.

In Saturday’s edition, a look at claims a dispute in China, involving former minister of Finance Jerome Kennedy, led to Kennedy’s early exit from the trade mission.

•••

 

Why now? Access to travel information

The day she was leaving Newfoundland and Labrador to lead a trade mission to China, Premier Kathy Dunderdale could not say how much it might cost or how many people would travel with her.

In an interview with The Telegram in the days following the trip, Natural Resources Minister Tom Marshall — who was one of the people with the premier in China — acknowledged there would be some costs above and beyond the usual, annual expenses for travel to China by Department of Natural Resources staff, but also could not offer an estimate on the cost for the 2013 trade mission.

It would take about $380 and three months for The Telegram to get information on the trip after a written request to government.

An access to information re­quest, asking for a listing of everyone who took part in the trip and whose travel was expensed to government accounts, was filed in mid-July, along with the $5 filing fee. A copy of submitted receipts was asked for as part of the request.

In response, the paper was told government staff still had two to three weeks to file expense claims and therefore information on the trip could not be provided at that time.

A government staff member offered to hold onto the request and re-file it, once the expense claims were in.

On Aug. 8, a letter was sent to The Telegram, stating the information request had been activated. A letter on Aug. 20 stated the government would extend its deadline for a response by 30 days, as permitted under the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act.

The staffer handling the access to information request dealt with it by the book. Due to the accidental submission of a stale-dated cheque and some questions from the staffer for clarification on the request, The Telegram agreed to tacking on a few days to the response deadline.

The Telegram then received notice it would cost an estimated $375 to fulfil the request, and cheques were sent in response.

The documents containing the details on the trip were made available late Wednesday afternoon.

 

afitzpatrick@thetelegram.com

Organizations: The Telegram, Department of Natural Resources, Department of Business Nalcor Energy Convention Centre National Offshore Oil Co. Sinopec National Development and Reform Commission Canada-China Business Council Ministry of Education of the People University of Newfoundland International Union for the Conservation of Nature

Geographic location: China, Newfoundland and Labrador, Beijing Houston, Texas Aberdeen Scotland Alderon Iron Ore Hangzhou Zhejiang Europe

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Recent comments

  • gord
    October 18, 2013 - 21:54

    I have no problem with this! This Gov't has brought a heck of a lot more to the province already.

  • JT
    October 18, 2013 - 20:49

    This is misuse of taxpayer's money and one that will contribute to the demise of the Dunderdale government.

  • Mary Cadman
    October 18, 2013 - 13:20

    Just to think that back in 1992 - they could not handle Nfld's most precious Resource which was the Northern Cod along with the Fed. Min. of Fisheries & Oceans. Boats from France, Portugal, Spain were there off the Grand Banks - 200 mile limit way over their quotas and taking the fish. Many Nflders back then agreed the province should become Distinct before it became Extinct on the Canadian Map altogether. Now - re Natural Resources, they can take off to China on this amount of the tax-payers dime!!! Terrible situation!!!

  • Brett
    October 18, 2013 - 11:42

    So 14 tickets: at what $3-5000 each (with taxes)? 45k-70k Hotels: $300/night * 14*10 = 45k + any taxes Food: $50/day/person ~$7000 So we are well into the $100k mark comfortably, and they haven't toured around in China yet, gone to any city but the one they landed in, bought any gifts for the people they are visiting etc... It doesn't seem too bad to me. Oh those tickets are the cheapest ones on AC now pretty much, so if there is a policy of buying executive or latitude tickets (for rebooking purposes) the prices on the flights go up significantly. Also the hotel room price isn't that expensive either.

  • egp
    October 18, 2013 - 10:40

    how much for a lb of bologna in china MAPLE LEAF

  • Kevin
    October 18, 2013 - 10:34

    Once again, Kathy and her flock of idiots waste OUR money of some stupid trade show mission. There is only one mission that is valid right now and thats to get rid of those morons before we have NOTHING left......................and we are almost there now !!!!!!!!!

  • Tracey
    October 18, 2013 - 09:08

    If the cost of filing a request is $5, and that request was eventually addressed, what did the extra $375 fee cover?

  • Bill Smith
    Bill Smith
    October 18, 2013 - 08:06

    200,000 more reasons to not elect the PC government in 2015. More waste of tax-payer dollars all so they could go on a trip to China together. Completely necessary. I will be looking forward to all these staffers being let go when their bosses are shown the door next election.

  • Mary
    October 18, 2013 - 07:59

    This is an insult to the taxpayers of Newfoundland and Labrador.

  • John Smith
    October 18, 2013 - 07:44

    It's so sad what has happened to this once great newspaper. I don't know if it is the fault of the current editor, or the Quebec ownership, but the never ending, petty,inane, pedantic, childish, ranting against the current government is just sad....

  • Jon Smith
    October 18, 2013 - 06:38

    Sounds like a made in Newfoundland "Duffy and Wallen special". Who needs senators if our very own can rack up pleasure bills like that?

  • Taxpayer
    October 18, 2013 - 06:30

    This is just another example of blatant misuse of taxpayer dollars by the Dunderdale government and one that will help seal the fate of her regime in 2015. Kudos to the Telegram for bring this to the attention of the taxpayers of NL. I'm sure there is more wasteful spending that Dunderdale is trying to hide under Bill 29

  • Brian
    October 18, 2013 - 06:11

    The current leader is seeing a lot of the world on the taxpayers dime . I don't see a problem with the current leader leaving but a problem arises when the current leader returns . There is little in her trips for the province, she has NO experience . GO and stay away ,enjoy your time away we are better off without your guidance and decisions. No matter what you say, you will not lead your party in the new year . You will resign EARLY 2014 . Maybe sooner will be better??