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Why Prince George city council decided to spend up to $35,000 to go to China

Posted on 15 October 2012

This afternoon I made a post called “Council and China” where I wrote about Mayor Shari Green’s proposal to spend $35,000 on a four-person trip to China. From it:

So it will be interesting to see how Green justifies the cost of a foreign relations trip while the core services review has the city actively talking about privatizing or contracting out control of things like the Four Seasons Swimming Pool and the Civic Centre, to say nothing of the recent elimination of the city’s entire environment division and 28 jobs.

Well, now we know. Just now Mayor Green, along with councillors Dave Wilbur, Lyn Hall, Cameron Stolz, Albert Koehler, and Murry Krause voted in favour of the trip and the money. Garth Frizzell and Brian Skakun opposed the spending (Frizzell supported the trip, however), and Frank Everitt was away.

Before we get further in, I’d like to once again point out that $12,000 of this comes from a provincial government grant aimed at exactly this sort of thing, money that could not otherwise be used for things like road repair or swimming pools. The remaining (up to) $23,000 comes from the 2012 economic development fund.

I’ve posted the full audio below, but here are what I took to be some key points from everyone who chose to speak on the subject.

Dave Wilbur:

“I’ve spoken often and passionately about the opportunity  it [the airport] has of creating good paying jobs for our future… our sons and daughters and their children… I think it’s important we keep the relationship as a key point as we go forward…

“But I want to make certain that people appreciate that this is not a short-term gain. It’s a long road, and it’s the medium and long-term gain for this community that I think is most important.”

Cameron Stolz:

“One of the things I’ve come to appreciate is that in China things move slowly… there’s a process that things go through and in China it’s very much about building the relationship… they really mean longer term, as in generational. So if they’re going to build on that they want to have a relationship with the organization and for them the organization is the mayor of the cities they’re involved with. It’s all about the mayor and the elected officials as opposed to any business owner inside of that city.

“International students are a huge economic driver and opportunity for our community. Each students pays the university or the college $22,000 a year to participate there, approximately. And on top of that, according to the university or college, they pay about that much again in the community.

“If you look at our number of international students… and compare it with.. Kamloops… [they] have three time the number of international students Prince George has… and they have a huge economic advantage…”

“And that’s just one small piece.”

Brian Skakun:

“To me it’s about optics. I know we have to keep looking after our economic interests but the timing is wrong, in my opinion.

“We’re going through a core review right now, we have people worried about getting adequate firefighter protection, we have city workers worried about getting laid off, we have non-profits and charities worried about getting their tax grants reduced, and I just think the timing couldn’t be any worse.

“We’re going through one of the most challenging times since I’ve been on council and this is my tenth year… The timing is wrong and I won’t support it.”

Lynn Hall:

“I think it’s important to point out that throughout China, throughout South America, School District 57, UNBC and CNC are highly regarded. It’s quite amazing that we, in fact, are one of three communities in Canada that are considered by these locations to send their students. So this is a huge opportunity and I think as Councillor Stolz has said we haven’t tapped into that as well as we should have.”

Shari Green:

“I don’t think there’s ever a great time, there’s always a challenge, we’ve certainly got some budget issues in front of us… but that’s one of the reasons we’re in the bind that we’re in economically and in our fiscal situation is because this community hasn’t grown and we need to diversify our economy and find other opportunites to bring other revenue into this community whatever that may be,  and that needs to continue regardless of what’s going on inside the building.

“And so from my perspective this is an important piece of work, it’s taken years to get it to the stage it’s at, it moves very slowly, and it’s going to move a little bit further ahead now.

“Until you have the government-to-government solid relationship in place, none of the business things come along.”

Garth Frizzell (in opposing using the city funds for the trip):

“A couple months ago we asked for some information back on whether there was any funds available for the PGX, and we got the news back that there wasn’t any funds available for that, so the reason that I voted against it is I don’t think that money is available or exists.”

Stolz (replying to Frizzell as chair of finance and audit):

“Councillor Frizzell may recall that in February council voted unanimously to reduce our contingency fund for council and redirect that towards an economic development fund… Those funds were reserved strictly for the use of economic development.”

Here’s the full audio of the votes:

[audio:http://f.cl.ly/items/1B1L2y090W12123B1V2w/pgcouncilchina.mp3]

Here’s a copy of the mayor’s request:

Mayor Jiangmen

Filed under: Prince George

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