Nova Scotia

Asia trips worth more than $52K cost of doing business, says N.S. fisheries minister

To get a sense of just how important China has become as a market for Nova Scotia business, take a look at expense reports for bureaucrats and ministers. Since the beginning of April, cabinet ministers and other government officials have spent more than $52,000 travelling to China and other parts of Asia.

Keith Colwell, who's been to Asia twice during this fiscal year, says forging relationships is vital

Keith Colwell, minister of fisheries and aquaculture, says Nova Scotia is reaping the rewards of its relationship with China. (CBC)

To get a sense of just how important China has become as a market for Nova Scotia business, take a look at expense reports for bureaucrats and ministers.

More and more, people are making the trek to Asia or hosting hospitality events focused on Chinese or other Asian markets. Since the beginning of April, cabinet ministers and other government officials have spent more than $52,000 travelling to China and other parts of Asia.

Fisheries and Aquaculture Minister Keith Colwell, who's been to Asia twice during this fiscal year, said it isn't possible to do the kind of business in China the province wants without actually going there.

Have to build relationships

"People will not do business if they don't know you personally," Colwell said in an interview.

"They have to build that personal relationship. That's just the way they do business."

Colwell said his department is proof of the benefit of relationship building: they're seeing annual seafood export growth of almost 300 per cent a year since the emphasis on Asian markets.

The information about travel and hospitality expenses is part of new online reporting for all deputy ministers, associate deputy ministers and CEOs of government departments and offices.

More info now available online

The move, called for by the McNeil government, follows a similar step for provincial cabinet ministers and their executive assistants. While the information for ministers, deputies, associate deputies and executive assistants is all in one place, information for organizations such as the Nova Scotia Liquor Corp. and Tourism Nova Scotia is posted on their respective websites.

The range of expenses is wide and generally reflects the job duties of the person in question.

The highest expenses were logged by Laurel Broten, CEO of Nova Scotia Business Inc. Broten's travel expenses of almost $42,600 included multiple trips to China as well as Europe. Peter MacAskill, NSBI's chief operating officer, made similar trips, with expenses of about $21,500.

China wants more than seafood

NSBI CEO Laurel Broten says travelling to China is an important part of establishing business relationships with the country. Broten is one of the senior government officials whose expenses are now available online. (CBC)

Broten echoed Colwell's comments on the need to build relationships in China. That effort was kicked into high gear with the launch of an engagement strategy last April.

Aside from seafood, Broten said there are growing markets in China for Nova Scotia ocean technology and science, as well as blueberries and other high-quality food.

"This is about Nova Scotia companies selling to our second-largest trading partner," she said.

Hospitality expenses for NSBI senior officials from April 1 to Nov. 30 totalled $14,120.02. Eight of the 18 events were focused on Chinese business.

A look at other expenses

For perspective, the next highest expense total was IWK Health Centre CEO Tracy Kitch, at about $16,700. Expenses for Kitch's counterpart at the Nova Scotia Health Authority, Janet Knox, totalled just under $2,000.

Topping the list for department officials is Kelliann Dean, the deputy minister of intergovernmental affairs and deputy minister of municipal affairs, at about $19,400. Dean was part of a September trade mission to Asia that included the premier, Broten and representatives of Nova Scotia companies.

At the opposite end of the spectrum is the associate deputy minister of health, Tracey Barbrick, whose expenses totalled $382.10.

About the Author

Michael Gorman is a reporter in Nova Scotia whose coverage areas include Province House, rural communities, and health care. Contact him with story ideas at michael.gorman@cbc.ca

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