POLITICS

'Travel scouts' not needed ahead of Saskatchewan trade missions to Asia: NDP

05/04/2015 04:29 EDT | Updated 05/04/2016 05:12 EDT
REGINA - Saskatchewan New Democrats are criticizing the government for travel expenses from trips made in advance of Premier Brad Wall's trade missions to Asia.

Documents released by the Opposition show itineraries for two government officials who viewed reception rooms, toured hotels and prepared transportation.

The documents show that more than $23,000 was spent on a trip to Singapore, Japan and the Philippines in August 2013 and almost $14,000 was spent last September in India.

NDP Leader Cam Broten raised the issue in Monday's question period.

"The premier is having trouble justifying why he has two highly paid travel scouts go months in advance on these trips that he's doing," he said.

"The fact that even after Alison Redford in Alberta got in a lot of hot water for having a high-paid travel scout going months in advance on trips, this government stuck to that plan."

Last June, the former Alberta premier was criticized when documents showed her office directed a government employee to act as her personal travel scout at a cost of almost $330,000. The job included forwarding photos of hotels and suites, sussing out suitable patios and restaurants and at least once advising on public toilets.

Premier Brad Wall said his travel missions are delivering results and the two staff members aren't travel scouts.

"They have a number of other (duties) in terms of policy development," said Wall, who added that the officials work in intergovernmental affairs on the international desk. "They are professional career public servants ... they're meeting with the companies. They're not just checking hotels."

Broten disagreed.

"The things that they're working on are not these high-level negotiations as Mr. Wall might suggest," he said. "It does not in any way require a hugely expensive trip of two individuals."

Trip logistics could have been dealt with over Skype or on the phone, Broten suggested.

Meeting notes with various hotels include a question on whether a staff member can be made available 24 hours a day.

"Is a complimentary upgrade possible for premier and Mrs. Wall?" read several notes. "Can you assign a hotel staffer available 24/7? Provide us with cell number in case we need anything for the premier's entire stay."

Wall said he didn't know why that was asked of the hotels.

"It's part of this template that they ask. I don't think we've ever had that actually at a hotel ... there are certain things on that list that I have never asked for."

The August 2013 itinerary to Japan listed a "Dynamic Tokyo Tour" which included visits of major landmarks and a river cruise. The same itinerary also listed meetings with the Canadian embassy and with companies such as Hitachi and Mitsubishi.

Wall said after the controversy surrounding Redford's travel scout, he asked his own officials whether advance preparation was necessary before trade missions.

"I was satisfied with their answer. As long as our costs are less than they were under the previous government and they are generating results, then I'm going to leave it to officials to decide what it is we're going to do."