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$17K business class flights top cost among record Metro Vancouver board expenses

Business class airfare and expensive hotels run up costs for political conferences attended by Metro Vancouver board directors.
Delta Mayor George Harvie
Delta Mayor George Harvie.

Metro Vancouver taxpayers forked over $17,336 to fly George Harvie, the regional government’s board chair, to Brisbane, Australia last October, according to 2023 board expenses published online.

Harvie, Delta’s mayor, was accompanied on the junket to the Asia Pacific Cities Summit by vice-chair John McEwan, Anmore’s mayor, and finance committee chair Brad West, Port Coquitlam’s mayor. McEwan’s flight cost $9,166 while West’s cost $10,165.

The Brisbane conference was followed by a trip to Dublin, Ireland by McEwan and West in late November, to attend the United Cities and Local Government Culture Summit. The two were joined by Burnaby Mayor Mike Hurley and each flight cost over $7,000.

The costs, according to Metro Vancouver director of communications Amanda McCuaig, were on account of a policy to fly staff in business class for international flights.

In total, Metro’s board spent $227,442 on out-of-town conferences, including Brisbane, Dublin but also Boston, Chicago and Ottawa for other members.

McCuaig said travel costs have risen since before the COVID-19 pandemic due to inflation but last year’s costs fall in line with pre-pandemic travel plans. In 2019, the board spent $139,042 on junkets and conferences.

The expense report shows hotel costs generally in the $500-$600 range. For example, four nights in Ottawa for Harvie last September cost $1,000 for the flight but $2,899 for four nights of accommodation.

Glacier Media reached out to the three directors who travelled the most: McEwan deferred questions to McCuaig; West did not respond but Harvie did.

Harvie told Glacier Media that Metro Vancouver has signed an information-sharing memorandum with Greater Brisbane, a region of similar size to Metro Vancouver.

“I found overall it was interesting, I did bring back a lot of good ideas, especially on the port police and other subjects. So yes it was worthwhile. Should we be going all the time, every year? No, but that’s my opinion,” said Harvie, adding that all the travel in and of itself is “not enjoyable.”

Harvie was asked if the travel and accompanying costs are justified given the North Shore wastewater treatment plant taxpayers are now on the hook for — a $2.8-billion cost overrun from the last publicized projection of $1.1 billion.

Harvie said the plant’s problems preceded much of the current board (drawn from the 2022 municipal election).

“Since I’ve been chair we have ensured to our CAO that there is more effective management system for project management…this would never have happened if we had staff that were more involved and skilled in the industry.”

The board is in the midst of figuring out how to tax Metro Vancouver residents. CAO Jerry Dobrolvony has told them they need to muster up $190 million annually starting in 2025 by creating a special levy.

North Shore households are currently poised to pay, on average, $725 per year for the next 30 years, with more modest contributions from their neighbours over the next 15 years — $140 from Vancouver, $70 from Richmond and $80 from the “Fraser” area, such as Burnaby, New Westminster, the Tri-Cities and Surrey.

These figures may change if the board chooses to restructure the allotment within the region.

Harvie said one thing he learned in Brisbane is how infrastructure projects are becoming more expensive all around the world.

None of the trips produced reports to the board on what knowledge may be drawn from them. McCuaig stated that reports are not required under current policy.

West, McEwan and Hurley attended a summit in Ireland that discussed methods for implementing Agenda 21 of the United Nations, which is a broad directive for “sustainable development.”

“The Summit will discuss the contents of a dedicated Culture Goal in the UN post-2030 Agenda and the steps needed to convince all stakeholders that are not aware or still hesitate,” its website reads.

Agenda 2030 goals were adopted by the Canadian government in 2021; very broadly, they include economic growth paired with lowering carbon emissions, protecting the environment and reducing poverty and hunger on a global level.

McEwan made one presentation on a panel but West and Hurley did not, according to the online programme.

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