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Looking at the premier’s $200,000 trip to China, you could play with the sentence once credited to Marie Antoinette and waggishly say, “Let them eat dim sum.” It is, however, a little more complicated than that.

Looking at the premier’s $200,000 trip to China, you could play with the sentence once credited to Marie Antoinette and waggishly say, “Let them eat dim sum.” It is, however, a little more complicated than that.

It is, first and foremost, a matter of optics. Three months after laying off scores of civil servants because the coffers were bare — and budgeting for a substantial deficit besides — Premier Kathy Dunderdale and 13 other officials left for a $202,000, nine-day trade mission to China, a trip where the cost has only come to light after a months-long effort by The Telegram to obtain details of the travel through access to information legislation.

Among the travellers? A chief of staff who left on a leave of absence mere days after the trip, and cabinet ministers who have since resigned or moved to new duties.

The argument for the travel was a familiar one: Chinese companies, the government said, had suggested it would be good for business relationships for officials from this province to make face-to-face meetings in China. The meetings progressed as such meetings often do; past Liberal premiers have made the same sorts of trips and have come back with assorted MOUs — memoranda of understanding that never really seem to progress beyond good intentions. Premier Dunderdale’s trip came back with MOUs as well, agreements that may or may not mean something sometime.

Unfortunately, the track record for trade-trip MOUs is pretty darned weak: they might not be MOUseless, but they seem to come pretty close.

Are there necessary protocols to be met between governments and the businesses they hope to attract from foreign shores? Sure there are. But timing’s important, too.

The problem is that we’re right in the middle of a fiscal year where budgets have been trimmed, services curtailed and employees let go. To quote the finance minister in the last provincial budget, “Making responsible decisions is not always easy, but it must be done. With our current revenues now being far less than anticipated, and our expenses 50 per cent higher than the national average, we must take action.”

And it’s not the only optical slip. For example, the premier’s cabinet was supposed to feel the cutback pain, but an actual change — and reduction — in the cabinet didn’t take place until Jerome Kennedy quit in October. Even though the change came half a year later for cabinet ministers than for ordinary civil servants, the premier’s office still claimed it all as a win, quoting the premier as saying, “On budget day I committed to demonstrate that responsibility within my own cabinet,” along with “We have to be ever mindful of our government’s fiscal responsibility.”

Mindful, indeed.

More bad optics? Premier Dunderdale wasn’t able to comment on the China trip. She was busy at meetings in Brazil.

In eight months, then, the premier has clocked up travel to Brazil, China, France, the United States and Belgium.

It’s a hard sell to then say to everyone else that times are tight.

Organizations: The Telegram

Geographic location: China, Brazil, France United States

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  • Corporate Psycho
    October 22, 2013 - 20:44

    Would have loved to have seen the racket between Jerome and Cathy.