Thursday, June 20, 2024

Trips to U.S., Spain that public didn’t know about are ‘very public things,’ says Houston | CBC News

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Premier Tim Houston may not yet have travelled as extensively as Stephen McNeil did during the former Liberal premier’s time in office, but Houston has been quieter about some of those work-related foreign visits.

According to his expense claims, Houston travelled to New York, New Jersey, and three cities in California between April 2023 and March 2024. Last month, he was out of province for four days on a trip to Spain.

None of those trips was publicly announced, but Houston said Thursday there’s nothing to hide.

“Happy to talk about any trip I take,” he told reporters. “These are very public things.”

Details commonly released to media

During McNeil’s eight years as premier, his office routinely announced foreign trips ahead of time and issued news releases afterward. There were sometimes briefings with reporters where seniors officials would talk about the rationale for the trips and elaborate on the province’s goals.

Although the information was sometimes scant, details were made available to reporters — even during trips deemed controversial, like McNeil’s many trips to China.

Previous NDP and Progressive Conservative governments have also announced foreign destinations for the premier and cabinet members.

Asked why his office hasn’t followed a similar pattern, Houston said it was partly due to the unpredictability of his travel schedule.

“We plan a trip and we put out a press release that we planned it, and it gets changed, we put a press release out that it got changed,” said Houston, who suggested going on trips was more important than talking publicly about them. 

Taxpayers should know about trips: opposition

But his political rivals disagreed.

Liberal Leader Zach Churchill said Houston was being secretive because of the limited value of the trips.

“This government hides things they don’t want people to know about, so obviously the premier doesn’t have a lot of confidence in what he’s getting for these trips,” said Churchill. “He’s been travelling around the world. We have not seen what the returns are to Nova Scotians yet.

“If he’s spending all this taxpayer money on travel, taxpayers should know what his schedule is, who’s going with him, and what he’s trying to achieve for Nova Scotians.”

NDP Leader Claudia Chender agreed.

“Those trips are being paid for by Nova Scotians,” she said. “We deserve to know when they happen and the details of them and what the rationale is, as has been done for the better part of many decades.”

During his most recent trip to Spain, Houston visited the world’s largest seafood expo in Barcelona, where more than a dozen Nova Scotia companies were part of the show.

“Having a Nova Scotia presence there was really important to us, really important to our producers,” Houston told reporters, adding that he also spoke to people about offshore wind and access to health care while abroad.

Osborne Burke, president of the Nova Scotia Seafood Alliance, said the presence of the premier and other elected officials at international trade shows, such as the one in Barcelona, is a boost for the industry.

“It tells customers our government supports us in our endeavours, says Burke. “It sends a message of stability.” 


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