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Federal Politics

Can You Identify These Participants of South Korean Trade Trip?

The Tyee asked for a list of names, the feds sent us this photo.

Jeremy Nuttall 21 Feb

Jeremy J. Nuttall is The Tyee's Parliament Hill reporter in Ottawa. Find his previous stories here.

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If news organizations want to know what companies sent representatives on a recent government trade mission to South Korea, they'll have to look at a group photo and figure it out for themselves.

On Feb. 5, the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade issued a release predicting success for International Trade Minister Ed Fast on his five-day trip that began Feb. 8. About 100 Canadian business delegates participated.

The trip comes months after Canada sealed a free trade deal with the Asian country.

''Now on a level playing field with global competitors, Canadian businesses are eager to seize new opportunities created by the coming into force of the Canada-Korea Free Trade Agreement,'' said the release.

The Tyee wanted to know which businesses went on the trip for potential follow-up stories with those companies. It asked the department to provide a list of companies that participated in the overseas trip.

The Tyee placed two phone calls to Fast's office this week after sending three emails to the foreign affairs department. A receptionist at Fast's office said someone would return the call.

That didn't happen.

On Friday, The Tyee sent an email to Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada asking why it had not replied to the messages or produced the list.

Paid own way

Department spokesperson Caitlin Workman replied that all the business people on the trip paid their own way. However, she did not supply a complete list of the companies that went.

Instead Workman suggested looking at a group photo of those who went.

''Please find a photo of the more than 100 participants of the historic trade mission,'' replied Workman. ''As well as our photo release highlighting successful outcomes for Canadian businesses who took part in the historic trade mission.''

She did not reply to a follow up question by The Tyee's deadline Friday, again asking why there was no list.

The government's releases of the trip mentioned a handful of Canadian companies, including Vancouver's Canaan Group, Ontario's inBay Technologies and Quebec-based Pharmascience.

The remaining 12 government releases put out over eight days feature Fast shaking hands and doing other activities in South Korea. Videos of the trip narrated by Fast and a larger array of photos were also available.

Mount Royal University journalism professor and former government public relations worker Sean Holman said the response is part of a growing trend of ''extreme information control'' practised by governments across Canada.

''The attitude that most governments adopt is one of 'father's knows best,' '' Holman said. ''They'll let the public -- and this includes journalists -- know about the information they want the public to know and not anything more than that.''

Holman worked in public relations in British Columbia during both the Liberal and New Democrat governments from 1998 to 2003.

Since then, Holman said the control of information has grown tighter. It's frustrating for reporters and the public.

''I remember where we actually set up interviews between reporters and bureaucrats to actually have conversations,'' Holman said.

''Rather than simply taking the questions, finding out the answers, putting them through a spin filter and then giving them back to the reporter, which is what mostly happens these days.''  [Tyee]

Read more: Federal Politics

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