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British Columbia Premier Gordon Campbell during a break between meetings at the Western Premiers' Conference in Dawson City, Yukon, on Thursday June 18, 2009. (Darryl Dyck/ The Canadian Press/Darryl Dyck/ The Canadian Press)
British Columbia Premier Gordon Campbell during a break between meetings at the Western Premiers' Conference in Dawson City, Yukon, on Thursday June 18, 2009. (Darryl Dyck/ The Canadian Press/Darryl Dyck/ The Canadian Press)

Gordon Campbell's trip to elite Bilderberger conference cost B.C. thousands Add to ...

B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell's trip to this year's ultra-secret Bilderberg conference of movers and shakers in Spain didn't come cheap, with airfare alone costing more than $6,000, according to documents obtained by The Globe and Mail.

Billing records and other documents provided to The Globe as a result of a freedom-of-information request show Mr. Campbell's business-class flight to Barcelona for the June 3-6 meeting in the small city of Sitges, southwest of Barcelona, cost $6,430.96.

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The Premier has not previously disclosed, in detail, expenses associated with the trip that caught many in the province by surprise.

Bridgitte Anderson, the Premier's press secretary, said Mr. Campbell travelled solo to the meeting, without aides or RCMP bodyguards usually seen in his public appearances. The Premier's office did not respond to subsequent queries about other expenses related to the trip, such as accommodations.

In Spain, Mr. Campbell was among about 130 luminaries such as Bill Gates; Henry Kissinger; former U.S. treasury secretary Robert Rubin; Lawrence Summers, director of the U.S. National Economic Council; and Richard Holbrooke, U.S. special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Canadian delegates included Frank McKenna, the former New Brunswick premier who is now deputy chair of TD Bank Financial Group, the CBC's Peter Mansbridge and Heather Reisman, chair and CEO of Indigo Books and Music Inc.

Bilderberg brings together notables from around the world to discuss global issues. The gathering is named for the hotel in the Netherlands where the first meeting was held in 1954.

"It's people who have influence interested to speak to other people who have influence," Viscount Étienne Davignon, a former European Commission vice-president who acts as honorary chairman for the meetings, told the BBC in 2005. "Bilderberg does not try to reach conclusions - it does not try to say 'what we should do.' Everyone goes away with their own feeling and that allows the debate to be entirely open, quite frank."

But Mr. Davignon outlined some strict ground rules for attending the conference in a January, 2010, letter to the Premier.

Addressing Mr. Campbell as "Prime Minister," Mr. Davignon wrote that the Premier would not be allowed to bring his spouse or personal staff, and that he would be compelled to attend the entire conference from a Thursday evening dinner through lunch on Sunday "unless explicitly agreed otherwise with the Executive Secretary beforehand."

Mr. Davignon also made a blunt point, noting the total number of participants at the event is "strictly limited" to a maximum 130 from about 28 countries.

"We hope that you will appreciate that by extending this invitation to you we cannot at this time invite someone else."

It isn't clear from the letter why Mr. Campbell was invited, though the letter was sent in advance of the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver and Whistler that put British Columbia in the global spotlight.

News of Mr. Campbell's visit came after he was in Spain, and he has since said he went to talk about such issues as health care, trade and world hunger.

NDP House Leader Mike Farnworth said Sunday he was willing to largely give the Premier a pass on criticism over the trip, noting that business-class travel was appropriate for the leader of the province.

However, he said Mr. Campbell probably could have done more to explain the trip. "Premiers travel. [They]have to network. No one disagrees with that. The real question is letting the public know what the purpose is."

He said he was not sure that Bilderberg would be a travelling priority for a future NDP premier. "What would be a bigger priority is strengthening our partnerships in Asia."

Follow on Twitter: @ianabailey

 

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