N.W.T. gov't bill for trip to Vancouver mine show comes in at $193K

A trip to the Association for Mineral Exploration's annual Roundup gathering in Vancouver earlier this year cost the Northwest Territories government more than $193,000, according to the territory's premier.

Sent entire cabinet and spent $70K in support for attendees from Aboriginal gov'ts and Chamber of Mines

A group of attendees at the 2017 Mineral Exploration Roundup, including Wally Schumann, the N.W.T.'s minister of Industry, Tourism and Investment (far right). This week, Premier Bob McLeod released a list of costs to send down a delegation of seven cabinet members, 24 staffers, and support for 14 delegates from Aboriginal governments - an expense that had not previously been disclosed by the government. (submitted by GNWT)

A trip to the Association for Mineral Exploration's annual Roundup gathering in Vancouver earlier this year cost the Northwest Territories government more than $193,000, according to the territory's premier.

Premier Bob McLeod tabled the costs in the Legislative Assembly on Tuesday as part of a response to a written question by Frame Lake MLA Kevin O'Reilly. 

The territorial government chose to send all seven cabinet ministers to the 2017 Roundup in January, a decision that drew ire from regular MLAs.

Cabinet communications advisor Andrew Livingstone previously estimated travel costs for the seven ministers and 23 support staff — a total of 30 attendees — at $2,500 per person, or $75,000. That estimate included airfare, hotel, per diem, and ground transportation costs, according to Livingstone.

When questioned by email on Jan. 24 whether the government was paying for anyone other than GNWT politicians and officials to attend the conference, Livingstone responded, "Not that I'm aware of. Aboriginal governments make their own arrangements to be in attendance, from my understanding."

The totals tabled by McLeod include air travel, accommodations, per diems, incidentals, and ground transportation costs for 31 attendees, as well as Roundup registration fees, exhibition costs, and hospitality events hosted by the territory.

Cost breakdown for the N.W.T. delegation to attend Mineral Exploration Roundup 2017:

  • Air travel (7 cabinet ministers, 24 staff) - $35,350.47
  • Accommodation costs (7 cabinet ministers, 24 staff) - $32,239.46
  • Other expenses (meals, incidentals, taxis) - $21,182.95
  • Roundup registration fees - $3,614.29
  • Exhibition costs - $26,621.00
  • Hospitality events hosted by the GNWT - $3,717.75
  • Support to 14 Aboriginal government attendees, N.W.T. Chamber of Mines - $70,636.89
  • TOTAL - $193,362.81

The totals also include $70,636.89 to support 14 people representing local Aboriginal governments to attend the Roundup, as well as funding to the N.W.T. Chamber of Mines — an additional group of attendees and expenses that O'Reilly says MLAs were not made aware of.

"We were not told that initially," he said. "We certainly weren't notified ahead of time that there was that number of people going down, and that GNWT funding was going to be used for this.

Frame Lake MLA Kevin O'Reilly says that he questions the costs 'at a point where the government continues down a path of fiscal restraint, and keeps talking about economic diversification.' (CBC )
"You would never see that many people going to an alternative energy conference, or the antipoverty roundtable, and I really question... actions speak a lot louder than words. The government talks about diversification, but doesn't really follow through, and keeps putting all its eggs in the mining industry basket."

In his response, McLeod said that costs to the territorial government for the 2016 Roundup totalled approximately $137,000, with the increase in 2017 due to "increased participation of ministers, increased participation of staff and increased participation of GNWT sponsored representatives from Aboriginal organizations."

"Mining is the engine of the N.W.T.'s economy and we cannot take our mineral potential for granted," the response reads. "Promoting awareness of N.W.T. priorities and advocating for its interests on the national and international stage is an ongoing responsibility that ministers and staff undertake by participating in a range of events."

'I think the timing speaks for itself'

On Tuesday, McLeod also tabled four letters of appreciation from the Dehcho First Nations, Sahtu Secretariat, Tlicho Government, and Inuvialuit Regional Corporation, thanking Minister of Industry, Tourism and Investment Wally Schumann for the support in attending the Roundup.

O'Reilly questioned the timing of the letters, which were dated between Feb. 3 and 13. He submitted his written question requesting costs for the trip on Jan. 31. 

"The timing does look interesting," he said. "I don't know whether the minister went out fishing for these letters of support, or how that was done, but certainly the timing — after my written question — I don't know. I'll let the Aboriginal governments speak for themselves about whether those letters were solicited or not."

The 2017 Roundup ran from Jan. 23 to 26.

In the wake of the costs being made public, O'Reilly echoed statements made on Twitter during the Roundup suggesting that sending the entire cabinet was excessive at a time when the government is advocating saving money and cutting jobs.

"I do question the timing of this, at a point where the government continues down a path of fiscal restraint, and keeps talking about economic diversification," he said.

"The deeds would lead you to believe otherwise."

with files from Richard Gleeson, Guy Quenneville

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