By Trevor Busch
Addressing lingering questions about the Town of Taber’s 2020 trip to Japan, Mayor Andrew Prokop is arguing the visit will include a significant business and investment portfolio which warrants an expanded delegation.
“We’ve had a council member and administration go previous, that’s nothing new that way,” said Prokop in a recent interview with the Times. “I guess the last time it was one councillor went only. But we have had that before in the last several years where administration went as well. It’s nothing that’s brand new that way. We’re also looking at some economic involvement. We’ll be talking about that later as well. They have to plan that far ahead — we’re less than a year away from that — but they’re literally planning this last month already to book hotels. The Olympics (Tokyo, July 24 – Aug. 9) are coming up, and hotels could be difficult.”
Decided in a 5-2 vote following closed session discussion on Sept. 9, the town will be sending a delegation that includes CAO Cory Armfelt, Prokop, and one councillor to Higashiomi City, Japan. The motion noted that “flights, accommodations and et cetera” would be allocated for the trip in the town’s 2020 budget with the purpose of continuing to foster good relationships with the Taber – Notogawa Friendship Society, but does not mention a business aspect to the trip. Councillors Jack Brewin and Carly Firth voted in opposition to the motion.
Prokop was unable to provide any estimates for what the total cost of the trip might entail for the town in the budget.
“I don’t (know) for sure, not from memory. It seems to me it might have been that $2,000 – $3,000 range. That’s flights. And as I understand, there’s a portion in Tokyo for a few nights, where the hotels would be part of this also. But the rest you’re staying with somebody else in Higashiomi, so there’s no hotel costs attached to the Higashiomi side of the visit. But we are in Tokyo. I believe it’s four days there.”
Prior to the adoption of the agenda on Sept. 9, Coun. Garth Bekkering had questioned the inclusion of the issue for closed session discussion, and would vote against the adoption of the agenda.
Prokop argued the matter involved budget implications which justified its discussion behind closed doors.
“I guess because we had discussed that, and because…none of that had been budgeted initially, so I guess that’s why, because of the budget implication to that. That was suggested that we go that route to start with, and then bring it out via a motion in open session.”
Although still in the preliminary planning stages, Prokop pointed to the business aspect of the trip as justification for the delegation spending several days in Tokyo prior to proceeding on to Higashiomi City.
“Because we’re going to Tokyo, it just kind of fits naturally because that’s their economic hub. We’ve had many meetings and interactions with our consul-general of Japan out of Calgary, Mr. (Shigenobu) Kobayashi and his wife and staff, and so we’ve discussed those economic lines with them in the past, and continue to do so. So this fits that continued relationship, and doing an economic portion — or presentation of sorts — there about what we have available here, and with that there’s a grant availability that we’ve applied for. That takes some time, and there’s no guarantee to get that — but either all, or the majority of that portion if it’s deemed eligible can be covered through that grant process.”
Prokop hopes the delegation can highlight the municipality’s amenities and business investment opportunities with Japanese government officials.
“We planned to do that anyway, whether or not we can get this covered through a grant process, with some presentation information. I don’t know how much time they can allot us, or how much time they can fit in there, but we’re trying to work this out for at least a day in there where we’re going to be in Tokyo,” said Prokop. “I would assume it will be through their mayor and council, and their economic development office. The organizational side, dealing with Tokyo and how to present that portion, letting them know what Taber and area is all about, and what’s here, and what’s available. Through the consul-general, he’s done some of that himself, but being able to do that in person speaks volumes. You can have a teleconference and all the rest of it, but it’s not the same as if you’re in person — you’re serious, and open for business.”
Responding to criticisms from the public regarding transparency about the trip decision, Prokop indicated council’s intention wasn’t to be unforthcoming.
“There wasn’t meant to be anything secretive per se, we had some discussion about that in camera to start with. But we’ve done that before with some other non-budget related scenarios to start with, and then it comes out afterwards primarily by way of motion, and then it can be discussed accordingly, and go from there. Obviously you can’t talk about every single thing that was put out there.”
Taber entered into a twinning agreement with the Town of Notogawa in 1982. In 2005, the Town of Notogawa amalgamated with five other towns in Shiga Prefecture (Yokaichi, Eigenji, Gokasho, Koto, and Gamoto) to form the new community of Higashiomi City.