30 Canadian executives from oil, agricultural and manufacturing companies had part of Chinese tour paid for.
OTTAWA, Ont.—The Conservative government covered expenses for some of the country’s top executives as they accompanied the prime minister around China a year ago, a move business leaders and officials defend as a good investment.
The delegation to three Chinese cities included 30 executives from major oil, agricultural and manufacturing companies as well as roughly two dozen members of the Chinese-Canadian cultural community.
The trip signalled a change of approach for Stephen Harper, who for years eschewed the idea of leading big trade offensives abroad.
The Public Accounts of Canada show that between 2006 and 2011, his wife Laureen Harper—and for many years his personal stylist Michelle Muntean—were the most common add-ons to the government tab.
Compare that with a 2009 trip to China—Harper’s first—when he brought along eight people, including Laureen, his stylist and four Chinese-Canadian businesspeople.
The Foreign Affairs Department says local transportation, accommodation, meals and “miscellaneous expenses” incurred by an official delegation is covered by the government. For the 2012 non-governmental participants, that meant an average of $1,200 a person.
Corporations and associations, including Bombardier, Cenovus Nuclear Energy, the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers and Cameco, confirmed that the government paid for portions of the expenses, with the amount varying from firm to firm.
“We’ll leave it to the government to confirm those expenses. We won’t comment any further on that,” Isabelle Rondeau, director of communications at Bombardier, said of CEO Pierre Beaudoin’s participation.
Rondeau pointed to German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who regularly travels with top businesspeople, including last year when she came to Canada.
“It’s important that we have a very aggressive or very dynamic economic diplomacy. Why? Everybody does it. Many countries support their own business community, they organize these types of missions.”
Barry Glotman, president and CEO of animal-rendering firm West Coast Reduction, said he spent most of his time with Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz meeting Chinese business leaders.
“I was hesitant to go because I’m not one of these type of guys that are much into the politics, but after coming back I was more than impressed with the trip,” said Glotman, who estimates he paid 90% of his own expenses. “I thought that it was really important in going over there. … They assembled a lot of Chinese businesspeople, there were many people you could meet, and by bringing Canadian business guys along with the politicians it just adds that extra value than just the ministers going on their own.”
The Canadian Taxpayers Federation says it doesn’t see the rationale for paying any of the CEOs’ expenses.
“I think most Canadians would be scandalized to learn that they’re paying the expenses of a CEO of a large corporation to promote their company on a junket like this,” said Gregory Thomas, federal director of the federation. “It is very probable that had these same people been offered the opportunity to accompany the prime minister on a trade mission to China, they would cheerfully have attended and paid their own expenses.”
Some of those companies, including gold company Eldorado Gold Corp., said they insisted on paying their own way throughout the trip and are surprised to hear they appear on a government expense list.
“Our CEO Paul Wright paid ALL his expenses (meals, cab fares, accommodations and any other expenses ) incurred on the trip,” Nancy Woo, vice-president of investor relations, wrote in an email. “We, too, would find it an unreasonable expense for the taxpayer.”