Trudeau's China trip most expensive by a PM in past decade

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s trip to China last year was the most expensive trip by a Canadian prime minister in a decade. According to figures obtained by CBC News, Trudeau’s 10-day trip to Beijing, Shanghai, Hangzhou and Hong Kong cost Canadian taxpayers $1.8 million.

10-day trip cost taxpayers $1.8 million

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is shown at the Great Wall of China, outside Beijing, on Thursday, Sept. 1, 2016. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's trip to China last year was the most expensive trip by a Canadian prime minister in a decade.

According to figures obtained by CBC News, Trudeau's 10-day trip to Beijing, Shanghai, Hangzhou and Hong Kong to attend the G20 summit and meet Chinese business and political leaders cost Canadian taxpayers $1.8 million.

Former Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper's six-day trip in 2014 to Hong Kong and Beijing, which cost $1.7 million, was the second highest tab for prime ministerial trips in the past 10 years. Harper's trip to Japan for the 2008 G8 summit was $1.4 million.

But while Trudeau's trip was the most expensive by a prime minister in a decade, it is not the most expensive trip to China by a Canadian leader. For example, in 2001, Liberal Prime Minister Jean Chrétien's Team Canada made an 11-day trip to China accompanied by provincial and business leaders, racking up a price tag of $6.7 million. Liberal Prime Minister Paul Martin's nine-day, five-country trip to Thailand, India, Sri Lanka, Japan and China cost $2 million.

Trudeau's office says meetings during the trip with Chinese leaders like President Xi Jinping were important to building relations between Canada and China. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

While the costs of all of Trudeau's trips to date is not yet known, most of the others were shorter trips or headed to less expensive destinations. For example, Trudeau's trip to the United Kingdom, Malta and then on to Paris for the climate conference in November 2015 came in at $1 million. His trip to Davos, Switzerland, for the World Economic Forum in January 2016 cost $855,379.

An analysis by CBC of travel costs by Canadian prime ministers from 2003 to the present shows that trips to China are often among the most expensive. Trips to other countries or other cities are often tacked onto the itinerary and distance also adds to the costs.

According to figures obtained by CBC, the cost for the plane alone for Trudeau's trip from Aug. 29 to Sept. 7, 2016, was $543,682 — $416.250 in flying time for the CC-150 Polaris (Airbus) and another $127,432 for catering on the plane.

The Privy Council office had $246,613 in costs — $157,260 of it in commercial flights for those who didn't travel with Trudeau on the government airbus.

The Global Affairs department had the highest tab of all — $1,012,509. While a breakdown of the costs was not available, Natasha Nystrom, spokesperson for Global Affairs, said the pricetag included the cost of an advance visit to China to lay the groundwork for Trudeau's trip.

Former prime minister Stephen Harper's trip to China in 2014 was the second most expensive trip by a prime minister in the past decade. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

Trudeau's government has been actively reinforcing the relationship with China – particularly in the wake of U.S. President Donald Trump's election. In January, Trudeau appointed senior cabinet minister John McCallum as Canada's new ambassador to China. The government has also overturned at least one decision by the Harper government, allowing a Chinese firm to purchase Montreal-area high-tech company ITF Technologies.

Olivier Duchesneau, spokesman for Trudeau, said the government "has made it a top priority to create a stronger, more stable and long-term relationship with China."

"In stark opposition to the former government's cold relations with China, we have embarked on a new relationship on an equal footing, one where trade interests are met by human rights concerns and Canada's commitment to the rule of law."

During the trip, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, left, his wife Sophie Grégoire Trudeau and their daughter Ella-Grace visited the Great Wall at Badaling, north of Beijing, China. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

Among the things Trudeau accomplished on the trip to China were ensuring access for Canada's $2-billion canola industry to China, the announcement of several new initiatives, exploratory talks towards a Canada-China free trade agreement and setting a goal to double trade by 2025, said Duchesneau.

However, Duchesneau said the government isn't ignoring the question of human rights in China as it tries to improve trade ties.

"The prime minister intends to continue regular, respectful and frank discussion with China, including on issues like good governance and the rule of law," he wrote in an e-mail.

"As we work toward a stronger, more stable and long-term relationship with China, we will have more opportunities to share our culture, increase our people-to-people ties, bolster our shared prosperity, grow Canada's middle class and hold regular, frank dialogue on issues of importance to Canadians like respect for democracy, human rights and the rule of law."

Elizabeth Thompson can be reached at elizabeth.thompson@cbc.ca

About the Author

Elizabeth Thompson

Senior Reporter

Award-winning reporter Elizabeth Thompson covers Parliament Hill. A veteran of the Montreal Gazette, Sun Media and iPolitics, she currently works with the CBC's Ottawa bureau, specializing in investigative reporting and data journalism. She can be reached at: elizabeth.thompson@cbc.ca.


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