Nova Scotia

Nova Scotia government criticized over pricey energy conference hotel bill

A Nova Scotia government delegation's five-day trip to an energy conference in Texas cost more than $30,000.

Energy Department delegation's rooms in Texas cost almost $600 a night

Energy Minister Michel Samson says there is good value to the province in attending the annual Offshore Technology Conference in Houston, Texas. (CBC)

Nova Scotia's energy minister says an annual trip to a conference in Texas might be expensive, but it brings value to the province.

Michel Samson and five staff members from the Department of Energy attended the Offshore Technology Conference in Houston from April 30 to May 4. The total cost of the trip was $30,389.96. The contingent stayed at a DoubleTree hotel that charged $584.39 per night for a room.

'No question that the rate is really high'

Samson said the cost of the hotels during the event is frustrating. With about 100,000 people in the city for the conference, he said hotels tend to jack up their rates, but there was nothing out of the ordinary about the accommodations.

In fact, Samson said he stayed at the same hotel when he was in opposition and travelled with the Tory government of the day.

"There's no question that the rate is really high during this trade show," said the minister.

Samson says his staff does everything it can to negotiate the best rate possible.

Twenty-seven other organizations, including law firms, companies and organizations, as well as municipal and university officials, also travelled with the delegation from Nova Scotia. They covered their own expenses and all but two of the 45 people in the delegation stayed at the same hotel, according to the Energy Department.

Nova Scotia NDP Leader Gary Burrill says it's not right that the cost of a hotel room night worked out to about the same amount that single parents in Nova Scotia receive for a housing allowance each month. (James Hutt)

NDP Leader Gary Burrill said he doesn't have a judgment on the appropriateness of the conference itself, but he certainly has an opinion on the cost of the hotel rooms.

"I think that while the province of Nova Scotia provides a housing allowance to single parents of $570 a month, that we shouldn't have any of our ministers sleeping in $600 beds."

Tory finance critic Tim Houston said it's up to the government to justify the value of the trip, but he isn't sure what can come from it to make the price make sense.

He says there are energy issues at home to deal with, such as increasing power rates and the fracking ban. As well, he points to the government regularly discusses the financial challenges it faces.

Progressive Conservative finance critic Tim Houston says there are more pressing energy issues to deal with in Nova Scotia than attending the Offshore Technology Conference. (Nova Scotia Progressive Conservative Party)

"So it's a little hard for me to take, and it should be hard for most taxpayers to take — these $500-a-night hotel rooms and $30,000-plus to go to a conference," said Houston.

"I can't see the real value that would have come from that."

Makes sense to be there, says minister

Despite the cost, Samson said it makes sense for Nova Scotia to attend what amounts to the largest offshore technology conference in the world.

He points to $2 billion in exploration commitments and four proponents pursuing LNG projects in the province as signs of progress in the industry, but he acknowledges those didn't directly come as a result of trips to Houston.

Samson says being there helps recruit more business to the province.

"Being able to be there and let the industry know that Nova Scotia remains committed to this industry and to see it grow was, I think, essential," he said.

Trip usually includes opposition members

Typically, the Nova Scotia delegation includes a member from each of the opposition parties. That didn't happen this year, says Samson, because the spring session of the legislature butted up against the start of the conference, so it was unclear if he would even be able to attend.

Last year, no politicians attended because the event happened while the House was sitting. In 2014, both opposition critics also attended the conference.

With files from Jean Laroche

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