Real estate companies join B.C. government on Asia trade mission

Click to play video: 'Trade mission to Asia causes bad optics for government'
Trade mission to Asia causes bad optics for government
WATCH: Christy Clark's trade mission to Asia raised a few eyebrows when she invited two real estates companies to come along. Kristen Robinson reports – May 29, 2016

If you want to understand the high emotions around the Vancouver real estate debate, look no further than the provincial government’s trade mission to Asia.

On March 23, Premier Christy Clark left with dozens of B.C. companies to Asia for a trade mission to Japan, South Korea, and the Philippines. It’s the seventh trade mission to Asia made in her premiership, and past trips have received relatively sparse attention from media.

However, among the 64 companies en tow with Clark this time are two involved in real estate: Nu Stream Realty and Sutton West Coast Realty.

The companies aren’t going for the purpose of promoting residential real estate to an international audience – Nu Stream is promoting its commercial real estate holdings, while Sutton is helping Filipino-Canadian clients who want to purchase property in the Philippines.

But in a climate where any story connecting Vancouver real estate to Asia arouses tension, their inclusion on the trade mission became a trending topic on social media, and a top story for multiple organizations.

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READ MORE: Critics say new Shanghai-based website gives foreign buyers first dibs on Vancouver homes

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It was the number one topic on the Vancouver subreddit for much of the weekend, and several people falsely claimed the trade mission was going to China.

Tom Davidoff, Associate Professor at the UBC’s Sauder School of Business, says the trip is bad optics.

“I think the concerns are warranted. When you see realtors investing and being part of a junket overseas, that makes one wonder if international demand isn’t just going to expand and push prices up further,” he said, pointing out that Finance Minister Mike de Jong has argued foreign demand is not a main cause of skyrocketing housing prices in Metro Vancouver.

“The premise that overseas demand is unimportant seems to contrast with local realtors wanting to spend the money to expand their operations overseas,” said Davidoff.

“Generally, these trade missions are not about real estate, the fact they’re about real estate at all I think is the interesting issue.”

READ MORE: Vancouver realtor defends marketing properties at Chinese showcases

In a statement, the Premier’s Office indicated they had no concerns with the real estate companies being on the trip, adding that all companies on the trip apply individually and pay their own way.

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“It has been the policy of the government not to restrict legitimate B.C. companies who wish to take part in trade missions from doing so,” they wrote, adding that they can’t remember a time where they’ve vetoed an organization that has passed the screening process.

Global BC’s legislative bureau chief Keith Baldrey says the dust-up is indicative of tensions that will likely play out in next year’s provincial election.

“The mistaken assumptions and excited commentary over this trade trip and the involvement of some real estate firms reflects two things: the heated emotions surrounding the Vancouver real estate market, and the polarizing nature of Christy Clark,” he says.

“The reaction of her opponents, to even such things as mundane trade missions, is often visceral. Add to this her relentless politicking, and you can see why the coming election campaign is going to be a doozy.”

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