China trip worth it: mayor

New Westminster Mayor Wayne Wright believes a visit to China by himself and three councillors last month was worth the trip.

“It was a terrific trip in many ways,” said Wright, who made the journey with Couns. Bill Harper, Jaimie McEvoy and Lorrie Williams.

Wright said the connections made with educational institutions in China will provide business for two of New Westminster’s biggest employers, Douglas College and the Justice Institute of B.C.

He is also hopeful New West’s industrial tax base will be boosted because of the trip. Wright said Linfair Stone of China is sending a delegation to New Westminster in 2013 to look at acquiring riverfront property for a warehouse. He also noted a stainless steel manufacturer is interested in establishing a presence here. The mayor said the city will work with Beedie Group, which owns riverfront land in Queensborough, to make it happen.

New Westminster is looking to balance its reliance on residential and business property tax after suffering losses to its industrial tax base in the last decade or so.

“The more [industry] we get here, the more the taxes can be leveled out,” said Wright.

A report to council prior to the trip said the cost would be about $2,500 per person. The delegation also included a city staffer and three members of its sister city committee. The trip was opposed by Coun. Chuck Puchmayr who said it would be more efficient to do the trips in conjunction with the provincial and federal governments. Harper, however, had a different view.

“In the long run, absolutely [it was worth the expense],” said Harper. “Part of the problem with doing these things is you never know what the gain is going to be. But you’re working over a period of time, and with the Chinese they’re looking for trust and we have built that up in spades.”

Harper said the trip was better than previous ones because they were in discussions with politicians higher up the food chain. In the past, New Westminster usually met with deputy mayors, of which each city or district has several of them with cabinet minister-like responsibilities, each with their own department.

“This time we got to see more mayors than we ever have in the past, and that’s a sign they recognize that we are somebody that can be trusted and want to do business with them. So for us they were way more serious than they have been in the past,” said Harper.

Harper added that McEvoy, chair of the city’s heritage commission, provided the Chinese with a lot of information on preserving their past.

“They have a lot of heritage and they’ve come to the point where they want to preserve their heritage. They were bulldozing a lot of things for progress,” said Harper.

On his way to China, Wright was in Australia as a Metro Vancouver delegate at an international conference on housing. He went to listen but ended up being on a panel.

Wright said it is frightening when all over the world cities are having trouble providing affordable housing.

“It’s endemic everywhere,” said Wright, who would like Canada to develop a national housing plan.

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