Budget for B.C. government trade mission to Asia not disclosed

Marwa Grimes

The cost of the trip will be included in public accounts, but have not yet been released

Nine bureaucrats are joining B.C.’s NDP premier and three cabinet ministers on a government trade mission to Asia. The budget for travel, accommodations and hospitality has not been released.

Minister of State for Trade Jagrup Brar arrived in Vietnam on Thursday. He will join Eby, Energy and Mines Minister Josie Osborne and Jobs and Economic Development Minister Brenda Bailey in Japan on Saturday. The quartet and colleagues will shift to South Korea May 31 through June 3, then Eby will visit Singapore until June 7.

The delegation includes Intergovernmental Relations Secretariat deputy minister Silas Brownsey and assistant deputy minister Leslie Teramoto, plus Eby’s deputy minister Shannon Salter, chief of staff Matt Smith and senior adviser of intergovernmental relations Jessica Smith. (The Smiths are unrelated.)

Osborne is accompanied by her chief of staff Andrew Cuddy. Deputy minister Fazil Mihlar and William Hoyle, the executive director of B.C.’s trade mission office, are accompanying Bailey and Brar.

“Each minister has an individual program with some overlap with the premier’s meetings,” said George Smith, spokesperson for the premier’s office. “Simultaneous programming will maximize the province’s ability to connect with diverse groups, businesses and government counterparts. The premier’s program alone contains more than 40 individual events.”

The government’s core policy and procedures manual requires a pre-trip budget approval for all out-of-country travel, but the NDP is keeping the budget secret.

“The cost of the trip will be included in public accounts,” George Smith said. “The delegation does not include spouses and does not include B.C. businesses or other stakeholders.”

In May 2016, during their final year in power, the BC Liberal government of then-premier Christy Clark disclosed nearly $1 million in spending on travel in 2015 to promote B.C. trade.

The total cost of 17 missions and investor trips that year was $961,715. The biggest expense was for Clark’s nine-day fall trade mission to Beijing, Guangzhou, Shenzhen and Hong Kong at $289,191.

Then-international trade minister Teresa Wat and advanced education minister Andrew Wilkinson’s 13-day China and Indonesia junket in spring 2015 cost taxpayers $164,639.

This spring’s four-country trip is the biggest one taken by the NDP since early 2018, when former premier John Horgan and three cabinet ministers visited China, Japan and South Korea. Eby and company are skipping China due to the cooling of Canada-China relations and the federal Indo-Pacific Strategy that encourages diversifying trade with other Asian countries.

However, a 2010-published study from the Sauder School of Business at the University of British Columbia cast doubt over the effectiveness of trade missions.

Keith Head and John Ries analyzed Canada’s bilateral trade data from 1993 to 2003 in Do trade missions increase trade? and concluded the answer was no.

Eby’s office has more to spend on travel after increasing the budget by more than nine per cent to $16.05 million. The Office of the Premier’s budget has climbed by $4.75 million since the 2020-21 fiscal year.

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