The president of the Union of B.C. Municipalities says the organization will review whether the Chinese government should be allowed to sponsor its annual general meeting, as criticism of the Vancouver consulate’s recurring sponsorship grows amid heightening tensions between Canada and China.
“We are in a position of trying to figure out what’s the right position for our membership as a whole,” said president Arjun Singh, who is also a Kamloops city councillor. “We took a position we thought was in a solid space, but, given recent strong concerns, we’ll look at it again.”
The Chinese consulate in Vancouver has been a sponsor of the UBCM convention - which requires a $6,000 payment to the union - and has hosted a reception at the organization’s annual September meeting since 2012, as have a raft of other groups, including the province’s main municipal-employee union, Port Metro Vancouver, numerous law firms and oil and gas companies.
More than 2,000 councillors, mayors, regional-district directors and staff attend the convention every year.
Supporters have cited B.C.’s strong trade relationship with China, and many of the province’s cities’ connections with the country through sister cities and cultural exchanges as reasons to continue the relationship, and the fact that the sponsorship has gone unopposed for years. Over the past two years it has received more attention as Canada’s relationship with China started to deteriorate.
The issue caught fire this year when Port Coquitlam Mayor Brad West raised objections after seeing the consulate event listed yet again on the finalized convention program last month, amid regular stories about Chinese retaliation against Canada over its arrest of a prominent Huawei executive at the request of the U.S.
For Mr. West, the issue is clear-cut.
“It’s a foreign government paying to host a reception. I don’t believe a foreign government should be able to pay to have access. And why are they doing it? They have an agenda.”
Mr. West said, although he’s been on city council for a decade, he wasn’t aware of the Chinese-consulate event until last year.
He says he didn’t raise the issue publicly before the last few weeks because he had been talking to the president about getting the event removed, and believed the UBCM executive was considering it.
But members of the executive said they had not heard widespread complaints.
Former Vancouver city councillor Kerry Jang, head of the convention committee in 2018, said the committee received a question from one delegate after last year’s convention about why China was allowed to host a reception.
Dr. Jang, a psychiatry professor at the University of B.C., said the committee advised the delegate to come up with a resolution to change the policy on the foreign government’s involvement and bring it to the next convention.
“You can’t just change by fiat. He was told to bring it forward as a motion but nothing happened.”
Mr. Singh said that, prior to publicity about the event in the past two weeks, he’d heard from less than half a dozen UBCM members about the event. When the issue came up at the executive’s February meeting, many members talked about the importance of China’s important trade relationship with B.C. as a reason to continue the sponsorship.
He said there was some concern from the executive about starting to ban sponsorships, as it could invite more debate from those who object to having the city-workers’ workers union or an oil and gas company as sponsors.
“We’ve taken the position of allowing members access to everyone who asks. If they don’t like it, they don’t go.”
However, the union’s executive is set to consider the issue again at their July meeting.
Mr. West’s stand is getting some support from others. Delta Mayor George Harvie issued a statement Friday saying he would not be going to the reception.
“I will be discussing this matter with Metro Vancouver mayors at our next committee meeting and taking steps to avoid any perception of foreign influence in my work at the UBCM convention in September,” he said in the statement.
Other councillors have also publicly expressed discomfort and a desire to see the event removed, from Kelly Greene in Richmond to Sarah Kirby-Yung in Vancouver to Cody Younker in Revelstoke.
Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps expressed support Monday for keeping the Chinese consulate role as is.
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