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Orangeville mayor’s invoice for China trip sent to ‘receive-land’

December 16, 2015   ·   0 Comments

The discussion of Orangeville Mayor Jeremy Williams’ recent trip to China is one that apparently will not end anytime soon, at least in terms of whether he should be reimbursed for the trip’s cost.

The issue of reimbursement was brought forward to County Council on Thursday evening, where, as Amaranth Mayor Don MacIver put it, the request was sent off to the mysterious ‘receive-land’.

Prior to his trip, Mayor Williams made a presentation to County Council, explaining that he had been invited to join a delega- tion to China, and would be requesting that $2000 in expenses be split between Orangeville and County councils, as he would be representing both.

Mayor Williams was not present during the discussion Thursday night, having declared a pecuniary interest.

Deputy Mayor Warren Maycock moved that the issue be received for Council’s consideration, which sparked concern from some members of Council.

“I’m not sure what ‘receiving’ means,” said Mayor MacIver. “Are we going to sup- port the request? Or is it going to go off into receive-land somewhere?”

According to Mayor MacIver, the reason he wanted clarification was that he had also been asked to be a part of the delegation, but had to turn it down due to prior commitments.

“I am aware of what the delegation was meant to do, and from what I hear since he has come back, the trip was quite a success. When I look at the request here, I see it as part of an ongoing enterprise. I think it is quite appropriate to fund another member of Council who was invited to the talks.”

He also expressed interest in sending a return-invite to the Chinese delegates, adding that generally a return-invitation is extended after a meeting like this.

“I am certain that if Council wished, it would be appropriate to invite the Chinese delegates to Dufferin County for further economic discussion,” he said. “It was also my understanding that the Mayor not only talked about Orangeville, but talked about the County and its municipalities as well. When I look at this, it’s a good news story. I have no problem supporting it, so I am a bit concerned about this going off into receive-land.”

Other members of Council, however, felt that asking for the reimbursement came too late, and should have been made as an official request prior to the trip, rather than after.

“When I look at this, I see it as a request after the fact,” said Paul Mills, Mayor of Mulmur. “If he was going to go and have the trip in the first place, he should have come to County Council after the trip was booked, not after it happened.”

Another comment made was that the County should be looking into developing a policy on such situations. As this is not an occurrence that happens often, there was no set procedure in how to go about seeking reimbursement, which Mayor Williams said in a later interview was what he felt was part of the issue.

“You don’t have policies for things that you don’t do very often,” he said. “It’s not every day you get invited to China, so it’s hard to have a policy for that. I think that at the County level, they just want to clarify a policy to handle it.”

The motion to receive the request, which was supported by all but Mayor MacIver and Mayor Darren White of Melancthon, was not a rejection of support by Council in Mayor Williams’ eyes.

“They didn’t vote to throw it out or decline it, they just voted to receive it and put it to a committee,” he said. “The request will be dealt with when it comes back to Council.”

He added that because there was no real precedent that had been set for this, he had followed advice from staff at both the Town of Orangeville and Dufferin County on how to proceed.

“I did everything I thought was required,” he explained. “It’s a small amount, and there is lots of good value that came from the trip. I did a lot of selling for Dufferin County, not just Orangeville. One mayor on the trip chose to pay for it out of his own pocket – I think that’s not only unfair, but it wouldn’t make sense. I don’t know of very many business trips where you pay out-of-pocket.”

And in Mayor Williams’ eyes, that’s exactly what the trip was. He recounted how there was little time for any actual exploration, but the days were filled with lots of meetings, seeing Chinese industry, and learning about the impact the new industrial age has had on Chinese lifestyles and cultures.

“It was amazing; it was a huge eye-opener,” he said. “After seeing it with my own eyes, I know this is an enormous business opportunity – the biggest I will see in my lifetime. This is a country with a billion people who have gone from living in a peasant society based on an agrarian economy and have been catapulted forward over the last 30 years to become an industrial powerhouse.”

He feels that the industrial opportunities that stem from this trip dovetail nicely with our economic development strategies in the area.

“Orangeville has determined that the food sector is an ideal area for growth, whether it’s through growing food, processing it, or supplying equipment, we’re really well situ- ated,” he said. “You have all these people in China that need to be fed, and that’s where I see one of the greatest opportunities.”

Other potential opportunities stemming from the trip include two groups that are wanting to buy things in Orangeville, which would directly affect the local economy. Although Mayor Williams said he wasn’t at liberty to discuss details at this stage, he identified the interest as a huge success from the trip.

Within that, he added, is the opportunity for local businesses to expand their own networks through the contacts that he has met in China.

“I have all the tools needed, and all the things in place that would allow trade to open up,” Mayor Williams said. “Many of the contacts I made would be a direct benefit to local people who are wanting to tap into that market.”

The third success he identified was a group from China that is interested in opening an Innovation Centre, which would directly benefit small businesses and entrepreneurs. Currently, the group is determining whether Orangeville or Toronto would be a better place to open, but Mayor Williams explained that even if the group doesn’t proceed here, the opportunity is open to create our own.

Regardless of whether that happens, however, Mayor Williams believes that the trip was worth it.

“Imagine, you have all these people who lived a very poor, simple life, now are all working in factories and living in cities,” he said. “All these people want things, they want to live like we are in the west, and that is why we have such a great opportunity.”

For the same reason, he’s not too worried about the motion to reimburse the trip being received rather than approved.

Currently, the Town of Orangeville has already provided reimbursement for the requested portion of his trip.

“Most expenses were charged to a Town credit card and paid,” confirmed Acting Treasurer Karen Mills. “Some minor expenses were reimbursed to the Mayor.”

         

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