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Cabinet defends China tourism trip

Adam Johnson
Northern News Services
Published Wednesday, August 29, 2007

YELLOWKNIFE - While news of the premier's $200,000 September trip to China created a furor in the legislative assembly last week, those behind the trip are calling it a valuable opportunity with a limited window.

"I am very reluctant to let this opportunity go by," said Brendan Bell, minister of Industry, Tourism and Investment, whose department has spent over a year arranging the trip.

He said the trade mission was based on an invitation from the Chinese government, and not one he wanted to see lapse. The trip will allow Northern businesspeople and tourism representatives make valuable inroads into the Far East, he said.

"It's going to be a very, very difficult season for our aurora tourism season, and we need to work to diversify it."

On Monday night, several MLAs attempted to pass a motion to delete $100,000 in funding from the Supplementary Acquisitions Act - the legislative assembly's spending bill. This money would add to $100,000 already budgeted for the trip.

Regular members levelled their criticism at the government's decision to send an outgoing premier on the trip, as well as a lack of transparency.

"They're not playing nice in the sandbox and we're not compelled to agree," Great Slave MLA Bill Braden said after session. "It's a consensus government."

"I'm not at all concerned about who goes," said Bell in response to some of these criticisms.

He emphasized the need for the premier's office to be represented - regardless of who the premier is.

"It's the office of the premier that's going to get us in these doors," Bell said.

"The most important aspect is opening these doors for industry. I think Premier Handley can do an absolutely wonderful job. He knows the Northwest Territories well and can represent us well."

Bell said the premier's entourage will include "eight to 10" representatives of the North's aurora viewing, eco-tourism and outfitting industries, as well as a representative from Northern Transportation Company Ltd. (NTCL). This had not been finalized at press time, however.

Premier Joe Handley said the trip is, in part, a way to compete with the inroads the NWT's neighbours have already made in China.

"We need to catch up with the Yukon and Alberta," he said.

While Handley said he didn't yet have final details on who will come on the week-long trip - which will hit Hong Kong, Shanghai, and Beijing - he said his wife has been invited to attend.

"She hasn't decided if she wants to go yet."

He said sending the premier, whoever that premier is, is a matter of adhering to protocol, "if you want to do business in Asia."

Handley said full details of the trip's itinerary and those who will accompany the premier will be released this week.