Christy Clark downplays real estate ties to her latest Asia trade junket

Real estate company representatives on trip, but premier says trade mission not promoting B.C.’s residential real estate

Christy Clark at a Jollibee fast food restaurant in Manila | Photo: Government of British Columbia

Premier Christy Clark is on the defensive after public criticism over leading a trade mission to Asia that included executives from Vancouver’s red-hot real estate industry.

A list obtained by Business in Vancouver from the International Trade ministry (see below for documents) shows Nu Stream Realty’s commercial division president Mercedes Wong and Sutton WestCoast Realty’s real estate team leader Tennyson Wong were part of the May 23-30 junket to Seoul, Tokyo and Manila.

On Monday, Clark tweeted that “we are focused on growing B.C.’s economy and creating jobs. There is no promotion of B.C. residential real estate. Full stop.”

Clark’s delegation also included AyalaLand Development (Canada) Inc. director Josh Ferrer. AyalaLand partnered with Rize Alliance to develop a controversial Mount Pleasant condo tower called The Independent.

Clark posed for a photo opportunity with executives of Manila-based parent Ayala and University of British Columbia (UBC) Prof. James Tansey of Sauder S3i, the Centre for Social Innovation and Impact Investing.

Tansey told BIV that Ayala intends to fund sustainable building research by UBC faculty and students. While in the Philippine capital, Clark lobbied Ayala to open its North American head office in Vancouver and for the Jollibee fast-food chain to expand to B.C.

Last fall’s Clark-led mission to China included representatives of Royal LePage, Macdonald Real Estate Group, Viceroy Homes Ltd., Big Grizzly Construction, SSC Properties and Shanghailandmark Investment (Canada) Ltd.

Courtney Carne, spokeswoman for B.C.’s International Trade ministry, refused to name the individuals on the China junket, because she claimed they did not give permission.

The South Korea, Japan and Philippines trip included Port of Vancouver vice-president Peter Xotta and government relations strategist Terry Lalari, BC LNG Alliance CEO David Keane, Chevron Canada Kitimat LNG general manager Alan Dunlop and project director Neil Henry, Aquilini Mactan Renewable Energy president Jayme Jesus, Pacific Western Brewery CEO Kazuko Komatsu and BC Liberal provincial council chairman and Boilingpoint Group president Steve Kim.

On the last day, Clark posed for a photo opportunity with Keisuke Kuroki, president of Japan Oil, Gas and Metals National Corporation, which has investments in natural gas proponents Cordova Embayment, Cutbank Ridge Partnership, Pacific NorthWest LNG and Aurora LNG.

JOGMEC issued a news release that said it signed a memorandum of understanding with intent to exchange information, examine market opportunities and technological collaboration “in the field of LNG and coal business.”

The B.C. government news release made no mention of coal.

The trade mission, however, came three weeks after South Korea president Park Geun-hye visited Iran to witness the Korean Gas Corp. (Kogas) take a major step toward a deal to buy natural gas from the National Iranian Gas Exports Company.

During Clark’s trade mission, the Jera joint venture of Tokyo Electric Power Co. and Chubu Electric Power Co. announced it was selling its natural gas sales unit to Electricite de France.

Clark’s entourage included two deputy ministers, Clark Roberts (International Trade) and Dave Nikolejsin (Natural Gas Development), three Asia trade agents, communications director Ben Chin, events manager Anish Dwivedi, aide Andrew Ives and videographer Kyle Surovy.

The government did not release the trip’s budget. It spent $961,175 on 17 missions and investor trips in 2015.

Clark’s trip to China last fall was the most expensive at $289,191. It included $60,056 for the premier’s entourage travel costs. The biggest item was $176,101 for meetings and functions. Unspecified sponsors kicked in another $132,838 for those events.

A 2009 study by Sauder School of Business economists Keith Head and John Ries cast doubt on the effectiveness of trade junkets. Their “Do Trade Missions Increase Trade?” found Canada exports and imports above normal amounts to the countries to which it sent trade missions.

“However, the missions do not seem to have caused an increase in trade,” wrote Head and Ries. “In the preferred specification, incorporating country-pair fixed effects, trade missions have small, negative, and mainly insignificant effects.”

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