What is it about local politicians heading to China that is so despicable?
Back in the day, former Mayor Colin Kinsley was roasted over the coals for his trips to China as part of various trade delegations.
Since B.C.'s largest lumber customer is now China, not the United States, how much credit does Kinsley deserve for that, along with local MLA Pat Bell when he was forests minister?
The Chinese market didn't just wake up one day and think "hey, I wonder if we should get our wood from B.C." The global market in lumber is as competitive as any other global market but the hustle and the handshakes on the ground clearly made a difference. It takes more than hanging up an "open for business" sign at the entrance to the city to be a global player.
So even though Chinese money has played a significant role in feeding the regional economy over the last few years and into the foreseeable future, the same old moaning about sending the mayor and two councillors to China is back, with all the usual bluster and none of the facts.
Mayor Shari Green, along with councillors Lyn Hall and Dave Wilbur, as well as acting city manager Kathleen Soltis, will be off to Jiangmen, in the Guangdong province of China as part of a trade delegation next month. Jiangmen is Prince George's proposed sister sister and the Guangdong province already has a similar relationship with the province of B.C.
Except for Coun. Brian Skakun, all of council voted in favour and it was dealt with quickly at Monday's meeting.
The reason it was handled so quickly was not out of embarrassment but because most city councillors know an opportunity when they see one.
Despite appearances, the $35,000 budget for the four City of Prince George delegates won't be paid for exclusively by local taxpayers.
Back in 2007, when the provincial government was pushing Asia-Pacific trade, it encouraged municipalities to apply for grants to help cover costs of forming economic relationships with twin cities in China, Japan, Korea or India.
Prince George applied and, in 2008, the city signed the Memorandum of Agreement of Local Government Twinning Relationships with the provincial government and received $50,000.
Like any money that comes from the federal and provincial governments, it came with strings attached. Those funds can't be used for potholes or anything else but building trade with Asian nations.
In 2010, a city delegation, which also included representatives from UNBC, Initiatives Prince George and Lheidli T'enneh, made the trip to China. That trip, and the upcoming trip, will address the city's 2009 international linkages strategy, which says any foreign work done by the city must showcase Prince George's role in the global marketplace, help foster links with other winter cities in the world, and promote the city's culture, education and environmental opportunities. Since today's high in Jiangmen is supposed to hit 27 C and it sits on China's south coast, the winter city part doesn't match but the other parts of the strategy are certainly addressed by this trip.
Back to the money.
The 2010 trip spent about $38,000 of that $50,000, so there is still around $12,000 sitting in that fund, which can't be used for anything else and the province says it'll take the money back if it doesn't get spent.
So it's not $35,000, it's $23,000 that city taxpayers could have to pay for this trip.
And there's the operative word "could."
The province's money will get spent first and the rest will come from the city's economic development fund, which contains money for exactly this purpose. That final bill could be $23,000 but it could also be $18,000 or $10,000. We'll find out once all the final bills are in after the trip.
Coun. Brian Skakun says the trip sends the wrong message because of the fiscal challenges facing the city.
He couldn't be more incorrect.
If the city wants to be able to give more tax exemptions to non-profit groups and other important spending to benefit local residents, it needs to do more to bring in outside business and Chinese business in particular.
It's a smart and timely trip and a good investment in the future.