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Building in Taipei, Taiwan (�PHOTODISC/�PHOTODISC)
Building in Taipei, Taiwan (�PHOTODISC/�PHOTODISC)

Taiwan the most popular junket destination for MPs Add to ...

They fly on private corporate jets, take junkets to Asia worth tens of thousands of dollars and visit politically charged regions on trips paid for by lobbying groups, but MPs insist their foreign jaunts don't leave them vulnerable or exposed.

"I resent any suggestion that I'm being influenced," said rookie MP Scott Andrews from the Avalon riding in Newfoundland, who was paid more than $8,000 for travel and accommodation to Taiwan, according to a parliamentary report on sponsored travel for 2010 released on Monday.

"At the end of the day we come to our own conclusions," said Mr. Andrew. "It broadens my horizon of Canada and the world."

MPs took 20 free trips to Taiwan, making it the most popular destination, followed by Israel, with 10 trips. Sixteen of the Taiwanese trips and seven of the visits to Israel went to Conservatives politicians.

The Taiwan trips were sponsored by the Chinese International Economic Co-operation Association, a major Taiwanese private business lobby group which says on its website it is devoted to "the promotion of bilateral economic ties with the rest of the world."

Other junket funders included the Iran Democratic Association, the Greek Parliament and the Turkish embassy in Ottawa.

Liberal MP Scott Brison said he flew to two meetings of the Trilateral Commission in Mexico City and Dublin on the private jet of Nova Scotia businessman Donald Sobey.

"He's a close personal friend and it has nothing to do with politics," said Mr. Brison, pointing out that both he and Mr. Sobey are members of the commission, an influential international think tank. "The key is to have full disclosure and transparency."

Jim Karygiannis, the Liberal member from Scarborough-Agincourt whose six trips last year make him the most frequent subsidized traveller among MPs for the third year in a row, also rejected the suggestion he could be swayed by the groups that sponsor his trips.

"Never has, never will," said Mr. Karygiannis who just got back from a quick trip to China. "I don't hide my trips - I'm up front about it."

Paul Dewar, the NDPs' foreign affairs critic who received more than $23,000 from the state of Qatar to attend the annual Doha Forum on development and democracy, said the problem is that Parliament offers no subsidies to MPs for foreign travel.

"We are one of the few countries where MPs don't have access to a budget to travel," he said. "I'm dependent [on sponsors] otherwise I wouldn't get to other countries."

The Canada-Israel Committee, which was the most active sponsoring group in the past three years with trips for 51 MPs, said that lack of government financing gives it little choice but to subsidize travel to the Middle East to give Canadian politicians "first-hand knowledge and insight."

"As long as parliamentary budgets are not going to allow for that, we are absolutely committed to providing those opportunities." said Shimon Fogel, the chief executive officer of the Canada-Israel Committee.

Mr. Dewar said the current system could leave MPs exposed to undue influence. "There should be some accountability as to why MPs are taking these trips," he said. "Was there any personal gain? Was there any requirement for you to do anything in return? That is something that should be questioned."

Not all the sponsors of MPs' travel have a serious agenda in mind.

Liberal Ujjal Dosanjh declared just more than $1,600 for a trip to Washington last year to appear on The Colbert Report , where the American satirist Stephen Colbert poked fun at him and Canada.

"We should not be politically correct all the time and we need some fun," Mr. Dosanjh said at the time.

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