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HomeBusinessJunket to Dubai for New West mayor, climate manager estimated at $31,000

Junket to Dubai for New West mayor, climate manager estimated at $31,000

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Bob Mackin

A New Westminster city councillor wonders why there is still so much secrecy around Mayor Patrick Johnstone’s junket to last year’s United Nations climate change conference in Dubai.

Especially when another mayor, from an even smaller community, publicly sought permission before she took the same all-expenses trip paid by an environmental lobby group to the United Arab Emirates. 

Johnstone revealed he was in Dubai in December by posting a series of photographs from the Local Climate Action Summit on his Instagram account. The list of attendees to the UN COP 28 conference also included New Westminster climate action manager Leya Behra. Councillors were not told in advance, according to Coun. Daniel Fontaine of the New West Progressives.

New Westminster Mayor Patrick Johnstone in Dubai (Johnstone/Instagram)

Johnstone did not respond to interview requests.

Nov. 9 and Nov. 20 reports from the council in the Town of the Blue Mountains, a rural Ontario municipality with fewer than 10,000 citizens, said C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group would pay up to $31,000 for two people, including Mayor Andrea Matrosovs, to travel round-trip, stay in top hotels and receive a daily allowance during COP 28. 

The Blue Mountains report said that Megan Meaney, the executive director for ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability Canada, nominated 40 mayors to attend local government-themed sessions at the event. Matrosovs received a Nov. 3 email invitation from C40 board president and former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg and Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber, the conference president who also heads the UAE state oil company. 

Despite Johnstone saying that C40 paid for Behra and him, Fontaine said the public is still in the dark about their arrangements and what the sponsors get in return. Fontaine is planning to table a motion at the Jan. 22 council meeting to ask a majority of councillors to require Johnstone provide full details of all the benefits he received. 

“We’re encouraging all members of council to support this and to make sure the mayor is held accountable and that he has to be open and transparent around the financial circumstances around this,” Fontaine said.

C40 describes itself as a “global network of nearly 100 mayors of the world’s leading cities that are united in action to confront the climate crisis.” New Westminster is not a C40 member. Vancouver is, but Mayor Ken Sim did not travel to Dubai. Organization funders include arms of the governments of Germany, United Kingdom and Denmark, Bloomberg Philanthropies, George Soros’s Open Society Foundations, and international corporations with a presence in Canada, such as FedEx, Google, IKEA, Zurich Insurance and Novo Nordisk. 

Fontaine also noted the host country is not a democracy and has a poor human rights record. 

“It will not sit well with, I believe, the average person and voter and citizen and small business owner in the City of New Westminster, who expect that their mayor is going to be focusing on, local issues, civic issues that they have 100 percent control over,” Fontaine said. “Here we have a conglomerate of international corporations and foreign governments funding this junket, very expensive junket.”

The Blue Mountains’ report said C40 set a Feb. 16 deadline for submission of forms to reimburse the estimated $16,000 cost of round-trip flights, $11,500 for two rooms for seven nights at the Waldorf Astoria Dubai International Financial Centre or The Ritz-Carlton, Dubai International Financial Centre and a $250 per diem, per person, up to $3,500. 

The town’s integrity commissioner, Suzanne Craig, deemed the trip for Matrosovs an “acceptable arrangement” under that council’s code of conduct section about gifts and benefits for official hospitality. Craig ruled it was provided by a foreign government or conference where the member of council was speaking or attending in an official capacity. 

The Community Charter, the provincial law that regulates municipal governments in B.C., prohibits a member of a council from accepting, directly or indirectly, any gift or personal benefit. The rule does not apply to “a gift or personal benefit that is received as an incident of the protocol or social obligations that normally accompany the responsibilities of office.” But anything more than $250 must be disclosed to the appropriate city hall official “as soon as reasonably practicable.”

A person who contravenes the relevant Community Charter section is disqualified from holding office “unless the contravention was done inadvertently or because of an error in judgment made in good faith.”

The 2022-elected Johnstone, leader of the NDP-aligned Community First New West party, published a diary of his trip on his blog in late December. He wrote that it all began when he received an email invitation “from out of the blue” from C40 and ICLEI. 

“It was so out of the blue that I joked to my [executive assistant] about it – could you imagine going to Dubai? – and dismissed the invitation pretty quickly,” Johnstone wrote. 

That was followed by an invitation for a webinar on which Johnstone learned that New Westminster was among 100 other local governments to be sponsored by C40. 

“I started conversations with city staff that led us to decide it was a good opportunity for the city, and something we should participate in,” Johnstone wrote. 

Johnstone sat for two terms as a city councillor from 2014 to 2022. He had previously worked as a contaminated sites specialist for City of Richmond, City of Vancouver, the Illinois State Geological Survey and SNC-Lavalin.

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