Premier says ‘no great big story hiding in China’
The province’s current finance minister, Tom Marshall, has described the schedule for the provincial government’s trade mission to China as “go, go, go,” but there were at least two people who did not go, go, go all the way with the group.
Jerome Kennedy, minister of finance at the time of the roughly 10-day trip in June, skipped a portion of in-country travel completed by the rest of the provincial delegation.
While the others travelled from Beijing to Hangzhou, in Zhejiang province on June 27 — where a memorandum of understanding on trade and business was later signed — Kennedy and his executive assistant took a train from Beijing to Shanghai.
They flew home from there, two days ahead of schedule.
According to documents obtained by The Telegram through an access to information request, Kennedy was booked to leave China on the same flight as some others in the provincial delegation, on June 30. The flight would run from Pudong International Airport in Shanghai to Toronto’s Lester B. Pearson International.
However, a receipt filed with the former minister’s expense claim places him at the Fairmont hotel at the airport in Vancouver the night of June 28.
While there has been speculation about the travel schedules — suggesting that in-fighting led to both Kennedy’s early exit from the trip and, ultimately, from government — Kennedy has suggested otherwise.
“Over the summer I decided that I wasn’t going to run again,” he told reporters on Oct. 2, announcing his political retirement outside of the House of Assembly at Confederation Building in St. John’s. He said the decision to leave was based on his interest in returning to the study and practice of law, effective Nov. 1.
During the news conference, the rumours about a row in China were raised and the question was asked of whether or not there had been an argument involving Kennedy and Premier Kathy Dunderdale.
“We argue all the time. We are passionate about what we do,” Dunderdale said. She stood by Kennedy’s side throughout his goodbyes.
On Friday, in a sit-down interview, she was asked about China once more, given the publication of the $200,000 cost for the trip and the documentation on the travel schedule. In response, she ran through positive news items from the trip — strong reception for the provincial delegation, productive meetings and signed memorandums of understanding.
“And so I don’t know what the relevance is, if he and I had a falling out in China. Did we run out of patience with one another? We all run out of patience with one another from time to time,” she said, reiterating Kennedy’s good work on behalf of the government.
“Are we all committed? Are we all doing good work? Are we all working on behalf of the people of the province? Absolutely,” she said, noting Kennedy worked to settle public-sector union collective agreements in the months after the trip.
Meanwhile, Finance Minister Tom Marshall was made available for an interview on the China trip Thursday. He was not interested in commenting on why his predecessor left China ahead of schedule.
“I would refer you to Mr. Kennedy to answer that question,” he said Thursday. “I can tell you where I went, but I think as to what (he) did or didn’t do, I think you’d have to ask him that.”
The Telegram did not have a phone number for Kennedy, but attempted to reach him via Twitter direct message, email and a number for his former executive assistant. No response was received as of press time.
Kennedy was not the only government employee to change travel plans at the last minute.
The premier travelled to Europe, visiting the battlefield of Beaumont Hamel, before returning home. Her chief of staff, Brian Taylor, was to accompany her on that visit and other stops in Europe, but returned to Newfoundland and Labrador directly from China instead.
“Mr. Taylor had planned to accompany the premier to France and Belgium after leaving China,” reads a note on the documentation of expenses. “While in China, it was necessary for Mr. Taylor to change those plans and return directly to
He left China on June 30, flying from Shanghai to Vancouver, from Vancouver to Ottawa, and from Ottawa to St. John’s.
Within weeks of his return, he took a leave of absence from government service. On July 16, CBC News reported the leave of absence, for an unspecified period, and the premier’s office offered no comment at the time.
“None of that could have been predicted before we went to China,” Dunderdale said this week, of Taylor’s leaving.
In illustration, she referenced her own recent travel to Brazil with the Council of Atlantic Premiers. She decided to cut short time in that country in order to return home and deal with response to the signing of the Comprehensive Economic Trade Agreement with the European Union.
“There’s all kinds of things happening here all the time and they’re not always predictable. There’s no great big story hiding in China,” she said.