Frequent Flyers: What we know about N.S. Premier Stephen McNeil’s travel abroad in 2017
Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil took six international trips in 2017 and spent more days abroad than any other premier.
Last year, McNeil travelled outside Canada on government business for 43 days. The next most-travelled premier was Ontario’s Kathleen Wynne, who was out of the country on government business for 24 days.
McNeil went to Washington, D.C., England, Scotland, Wales, China, Japan, Hong Kong, New York, France, and Boston.
His trips to France, Asia and the United Kingdom were all billed as “trade and investment” missions in the press releases that announced the trips. Trade and the economy were also cited for his trips to Washington, D.C. and Boston.
There was no press release announcing his trip to New York.
In an interview with Global News, McNeil stood by his travel and committed to more trips abroad. While provinces such as Alberta and Ontario have international offices, McNeil said Nova Scotia doesn’t.
“Forty-three days of travel is required last year to make sure that our voices were being heard,” McNeil said.
Washington, D.C. — June 5-9, 2017
McNeil’s trip to the American capital was part of a broader push by the Council of the Federation to reaffirm trade ties with Canada’s biggest trade partner.
Eight premiers went on the trip.
The press release announcing the trip said McNeil would meet with “members of the Trump administration, Congressional leaders and the Canadian ambassador to the United States” as well as “business leaders from the U.S. and Mexico.”
McNeil said the trip included a meeting with United States Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross. McNeil said the meeting gave him a chance to make Nova Scotia’s case for an exclusion to softwood lumber tariffs. He said the exclusion announced a few months later shows the return taxpayers receive for his travel.
“It is important for the premier of this province to go out and make sure that our province is represented in those market places.”
His expenses for the five-day trip were $3,485.74. The cost does not include any other government staff who were on the trip.
The United Kingdom — August 6-13, 2017
McNeil’s eight-day trip to the United Kingdom took him to London, Cardiff, Derby, Edinburgh, Nairn and Glasgow. Annapolis County Warden Timothy Habinski and Annapolis County Coun. Alec Morrison joined McNeil for the last leg of the trip in Scotland.
The press release announcing the trip said McNeil would meet with “various groups and individuals in the energy, insurance and information technology sectors.”
A draft itinerary for the trip, released through access to information, shows McNeil had eight meetings scheduled for the eight-day trip. Two days of the trip are fully redacted, only showing the hotel that he stayed in. The partially-visible meetings include the consultant for Play Fairway, Wood MacKenzie and Bulkhead Interactive.
The documents also show that government officials were worried about being able to book “meaningful” meetings for the premier in the height of summer.
“Everything in the U.K. (and all of Europe) shuts down in August and […] so it will be difficult to arrange anything meaningful for him at that time,” reads an email from Greg Houlahan, a senior trade commissioner at the Canadian High Commission in London.
On June 29, 2017, Angela Ralph at Nova Scotia Business Inc., emailed the province’s director of international relations to say, “I haven’t gotten very far with discussions for Europe in August. Everyone I’ve talked to says the same thing about the time of year.”
On July 20, 2017, another email says a proposed meeting for August 8 is a “no-go as the executive are on holidays.”
McNeil said the purpose of his trip was to court a gaming company that was looking to move to Canada and he had to go at that time because other provinces were pursuing the same company. He said the province is “still working” to entice them to Nova Scotia. His office wouldn’t release the name of the company.
McNeil said he joined counterparts from the Annapolis County at a meeting on an “educational opportunity” for the county.
“It hasn’t materialized for them,” McNeil said. “But I was supporting that municipality as they were out looking for an opportunity.”
Habinski told Global News he hopes to have more to say on the meeting in late spring.
McNeil’s expenses for the trip were $6,092.23. The cost does not include any other government staff who were on the trip.
Asia — August 30 to Sept. 13, 2017
The premier’s trip to China, Hong Kong and Japan lasted 15 days from August 30 to Sept. 13, 2017.
A press release announcing the trip said the government’s delegation will “promote trade and investment opportunities in Nova Scotia.” It said the trip would include a visit to the Seafood Expo Asia and meetings with business leaders in that sector.
Since 2010, Nova Scotia’s exports to China have raced ahead — going from $69 million in 2010 to more than $611 million in 2017. The rapid increase started under former premier Darrell Dexter and ramped up even more under McNeil.
Midway through the visit, the government announced an “agreement” to get Nova Scotia companies access to the Canadian Chamber of Commerce (CanCham) in Shanghai. The premier’s spokesperson David Jackson told Global News in February that the agreement included the province purchasing a $9,500 membership in order to give Nova Scotian exporters access to the group.
The press release announcing the membership did not announce the cost.
An itinerary released through access to information shows at least 28 meetings during the 15-day trip. Twelve of those meetings have the identity of people involved redacted from the documents.
The itinerary includes meetings with the governor of Shandong, the vice-governor of Guangdong, and a meeting with Canada’s ambassador to Japan, Ian Burney.
McNeil’s expenses for the trip were $10,141.26. The cost does not include any other government staff who were on the trip.
New York — Sept. 18-20, 2017
McNeil travelled to New York for three days in September on an unannounced trip.
The only publicly-available information on the trip was posted under his expenses about a month after the trip happened. The expense sheet said he was there for “meetings.” In an email exchange reaching over two months, Jackson said the trip was for “business development” but he didn’t provide more information.
In his interview with Global News, McNeil said he was attending an event at the Atlantic Council where several dignitaries were receiving awards, including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
This was the only international trip where no press release was issued to announce the travel and none was issued to explain what was accomplished.
His expenses for the trip were $2,589.06. The cost does not include any other government staff who were on the trip.
France — Nov. 12-19. 2017
McNeil’s trip to France included stops in Paris, Toulouse, Clermont-Ferrand, and Juno Beach.
The press release announcing the trip said it was to “promote trade and investment” with France.
An itinerary released through access to information censored most of the delegation’s appointments except for ones at the Canadian Embassy, Ubisoft, Michelin, and Juno Beach.
The location, purpose of meeting, and the identity of the people the delegation was meeting with are redacted in seven of the 10 meetings that are listed on the itinerary.
On the last day of his trip to France — a Saturday — his itinerary called it a day for “Nova Scotia files.” His office said it was to give the delegation a day to “follow up while on the ground there, if necessary,” and at the same time, “work on the ongoing business of government.”
McNeil also travelled to the Juno Beach Memorial and nearby Canadian cemetery to tour the area and lay a wreath on Nov. 17, 2017. His trip to the war memorial came on the heels of trips by former deputy premier Diana Whalen and Liberal MLA Chuck Porter to two other war memorials last year.
Whalen represented Nova Scotia at the 100th anniversary ceremonies for the Battle of Vimy Ridge in April 2017, in France. In November, Porter represented Nova Scotia at the official ceremonies to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Passchendaele in Belgium.
“Every time that I go into Europe, I lay a wreath on behalf of Nova Scotians, and I lay them at the graves of Nova Scotian sons who didn’t come home,” he said. “I will continue to do that as the premier of this province every time.”
McNeil is also the minister for military relations.
His expenses for the trip were $5,525.35. The cost does not include any other government staff who were on the trip.
Boston — Nov. 28 to Dec. 1, 2017
The annual Christmas tree lighting in Boston took the premier south of the border for four days.
The tree-lighting ceremonies had added significance last year, as 2017 marked 100 years since the Halifax explosion. A press release says the purpose of the trip was also to “discuss trade and investment opportunities.”
While there, McNeil met with Gov. Charles Baker, Mayor Martin Walsh, and Canada’s Consul General David Alward. The release also said he “addressed” the New England-Canada Business Council and met with Nova Scotia businesses that were part of a trade mission.
His expenses for the trip were $2,361.89. The cost does not include any other government staff who were on the trip.
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