Are overseas trips just paid vacations for politicians?

Armchair Mayor
By Mel Rothenburger
January 25, 2018 - 5:00am Updated: January 25, 2018 - 1:52pm
Image Credit: CFJC Today

KAMLOOPS — Whether it’s provincial and federal politicians on trade missions, or City councillors teaching overseas countries about governance, the public is always suspicious about whether it’s a waste of money.

Premier John Horgan is traveling through China, South Korea and Japan to talk about tourism, forestry, technology and mining.

Those three countries are B.C.’s largest trading partners after the U.S. and are fertile ground for exploring economic opportunities.

One of Horgan’s visits is to a Sister Province in China, and my antennae go up whenever I hear about these “Sister” relationships. Those agreements tend to focus on culture rather than business, and yield little in actual results.

For example, a previous press release from the B.C. government celebrates B.C.’s Sister relationship with Guangdong province. But it says nothing about any trade deals; instead it talks about a visiting choir.

Kamloops has had a long-standing Sister City agreement with the city of Uji in Japan, which has never gotten past the cultural exchange stage. Cultural exchanges are valuable, but they need to go further.

A dozen years ago, Kamloops established what was supposed to be a strictly business “Friendly City” arrangement with Changping in China. After agreements were signed at the political level, they were going to explore possibilities in tourism, technology and lumber.

The chamber and Venture Kamloops were supposed to lead the program, but it never happened.

And now Coun. Arjun Singh has been taking some heat for a Union of B.C. Municipalities-sponsored trip to Cambodia this month to teach governance and local economic development. Lending a helping hand and some expertise to other countries is a good thing.

The real benefit, though, lies in economic co-operation, and governments at all levels have a role to play. Diplomatic visits open the doors; the real proof is in the follow-up after the photo-ops and ceremonial signings of accords.

I’m Mel Rothenburger, the Armchair Mayor.