Trip to China? What Trip to China?

Here’s the most damning line from the CBRM’s response to a FOIPOP request for information about a recent trip to China by Mayor Cecil Clarke and three CBRM staffers. Municipal Clerk Deborah Campbell Ryan told the applicant:

I have been advised that CBRM does not have any records relating to the details of meetings or schedule of events for the trip to China…

Think about that for a moment: the mayor, his executive assistant Mark Bettens, CAO Marie Walsh and the municipality’s economic development manager John Phelan travel to China on public business, on the public dime and provide no public record of their activities while abroad.

This is probably the most outrageous item in the FOIPOP response, which the applicant was kind enough to share with the Spectator, but there were a few other interesting nuggets as well.

CBRM FOIPOP Re China Trip02

There are no travel agencies in CBRM?

The trip was booked through a Dartmouth travel agency, Dafoe Travel Group.


Arthritis runs rampant through the Civic Centre

Mayor Clarke is apparently not the only high-ranking representative of the CBRM with arthritis. That ailment, you’ll recall, was cited by the mayor as justification for flying business class to China. As he told reporters:

My travel, in getting a seat sale from Sydney, Nova Scotia, to Beijing return, was $4,800 and change — I also have arthritis and the previous time I went to China I spent 34 hours in transit getting to my destination, so it’s what I see as reasonable.

But the problem is that Walsh, Phalen and Bettens all flew business class to China too — and Phalen and Bettens joined the mayor in business class for the return trip while Walsh flew premium economy.

That’s a lot of creaky joints for a crowd that hasn’t even hit retirement age yet.


Leaving so soon?

In case you’re imagining them all going to Beijing Capital International airport together, then the three arthritic amigos heading for business class while the CAO takes her place all alone in premium economy, don’t worry. It turns out they didn’t all fly home together. I emailed Walsh to try and understand the information in the FOIPOP and she replied:

All parties flew at the premium economy rate on the way to China with an upgrade on points to business. I flew premium economy on the way back a day earlier than the rest and the rest flew Business. Hotel costs were all the same but I went home a day earlier than the rest.

And if you’re now thinking, “Oh, that’s okay then, the upgrade was on points,” I would underline that those points were earned on CBRM-financed travel and could have been used to cover the price of his worship’s next flight or two, instead of to bump everyone up to the land of “fine wine” and “plush duvets.” (I have been reading about the French Revolution since seeing Marat/Sade at the Boardmore Playhouse this weekend and the urge to draw parallels is strong but I will fight it, as I do not, under any circumstances, want to be a Marat.)

But I digress, and there are more questions to ask, like: Why would the CAO leave a day earlier than the rest of the delegation? Surely her presence would have been more necessary at any final meetings than that of, say, the mayor’s executive assistant? Or does this mean they didn’t conduct any business on their last day in Beijing? This is where an actual itinerary would be useful.

And strange as all this seems, it gets even stranger. When I asked Walsh about the $400 “change” fees paid by Clarke, Phalen and Bettens for their airline tickets, she told me:

The change fee was due to the fact that everyone left earlier than anticipated as our business was done.

Reading this it occurred to me, for the first time, that perhaps they actually did go to China with no itinerary: if you don’t know what you’re doing in Beijing, it’s hard to know how long it will take you to do it.


5-Star Comfort

The group stayed at the Grand Hyatt Beijing, a five-star hotel within walking distance of the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square.

I’m not sure what type of rooms they occupied, but I do know they paid roughly $400 per night and even “standard” rooms at the Grand Hyatt seem like a pretty nice place to lay your head:




Why does this matter?

Because the total price tag for flying the CBRM delegation to China and putting them up in a 5-star hotel — $25,000 and counting — is a lot of money for a municipality that offers a category of “sustainability” grant to its community groups worth “$1,000 and under.”

And the CBRM can’t even provide “$1,000 and under” grants to all qualified applicants, which means an untold number of community groups and festival organizers are out there right now thinking, “You didn’t have $1,000 for us but you had $25,000 to fly yourselves to China? And you won’t even tell us what you did there?”

There’s nothing to be done about the money, it’s spent now, but it’s certainly not too late for a report on the CBRM delegation’s China activities.

Unless, of course, it is too late because the head of that delegation seems poised for an even longer trip:





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