Wright wrong to plan Korean junket

Post by Daniel Fontaine in

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Will New Westminster's $35K delegation simply get lost in busy Korean streets?

What is it about a recession that some city officials simply don't understand? We first reported here a while ago that Burnaby's Mayor was heading off to China on a junket to improve his local economy. At the time, I pointed out how fruitless these types of trips are unless they are coordinated as part of a broader economic strategy for the Metro Vancouver region as a whole.

Now Mayor Wright in New Westminster, BC has announced that he's packing his bags and heading to South-East Asia as part of an economic development mission. He plans to bring with him four councillors and two city staff as part of the official delegation which will cost taxpayers $35,000. Wright is using funds the city received from the Province last year as part of the sister cities program to cover the costs.

Word of the junket is now making front page headlines and councillors are doing their best to justify this expense in light of the current recession. Here is what left-leaning councillor Jaimie McEvoy told the Record:

"Real opportunities can be looked at, deals can be made."

I fully agree with McEvoy that real deals can be made, however, not if your strategic planning is done in a haphazard way. Even when these trips are properly coordinated, their overall benefits are tenuous at best.

Consider what City Manager Paul Daminato told the Record was the basis for his support of the junket:

There is some of that grant money remaining. We've been particularly interested in targeting Korea.

So what if there is grant money remaining...does it really need to be spent in this way? As for the choice of Korea, why not Vietnam? Or Malaysia? Has there been analysis as to why New Westminster has a particular economic link with Korea? I would venture to guess not.

This back-of-napkin economic development planning must end. Especially when it results in costly junkets to SouthEast Asia by a number of municipal officials who have no real plan to stimulate the economy.

Before booking their flights, perhaps Mayor Wright and his council colleagues should have picked up their local newspaper and read about the global recession. They might have become aware that the Province of BC is bleeding red ink and needs every dollar it can find to fund vital services such as healthcare and education. The optics of sending five civic politicians on an all expenses paid trip to Korea while sport programs are struggling for funding is not good.

If Wright and company wanted to garner positive headlines and save themselves some jetlag, they could have simply sent the $10K back to Victoria as part of their contribution toward reducing the deficit.

Imagine the cheque presentation ceremony where Wright stands proudly in front of his beaming councillors and presents a cheque for $10K to the Minister of Finance. The quote from Wright's news release could go something like this..."Minister Hansen, we have determined we don't need the money you provided us last year so we are returning it to you to help fund critical programs and services." Now that would be something of a media event!

Instead, the bureaucrats and politicians at New West City Hall have decided to blow all this cash on a nice trip to Korea that will likely not produce a single economic benefit. It's a real pity that during these tough recessionary times, some folks just haven't received the memo yet.

Yet again, I will repeat my call that Metro Vancouver desperately needs an overall economic plan. I had hoped that the upcoming Olympics combined with a global recession might have been the impetus. Apparently not.

UPDATE: Jon Ferry (Province Newspaper) writes about Wright's Asian tour

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