Charles Burton is an associate professor of political science at Brock University in St. Catharines, and is a former Counsellor at the Canadian Embassy in Beijing
Revelations that the Canadian Security Intelligence Service suspects Ontario cabinet minister Michael Chan has been under the undue influence of the government of China are unfortunately indicative of larger, very serious issues in how China engages influential Canadian public servants to serve the purposes of the Chinese regime.
We now know that there has been a high frequency of telephone calls between Mr. Chan and China's Consul-General in Toronto. If the government of Canada knows what they were talking about, it is withholding this information for security reasons. But it is unlikely that CSIS would have approached the premier of Ontario with its concerns about Michael Chan's relationship with the foreign diplomatic agents unless there was something that seriously concerned our people who monitor the activities of Chinese diplomats in Canada.
Mr. Chan has close associations with Canadians who have business interests in China. He has played a lead role in trade missions to China to create opportunities for them to make money in the country's largely state-controlled economy; and he has also been a key figure in collecting campaign support for candidates of Mainland Chinese origin, such as Geng Tan, now a federal candidate in Don Valley North.
It stands to reason that people Mr. Chan assisted with China trade deals would also be donating to campaign coffers of the ethnic Chinese political candidates with pro-China sympathies that Mr. Chan is supporting.
The disturbing common thread through this is Chinese regime money being used to influence politics in Canada. There are good reasons why political parties cannot accept political donations from foreign sources.
Is there a belief that some Chinese immigrants remain partial to Beijing and furtively respond to manipulation by Chinese "Motherland" representatives stationed at diplomatic posts in Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal? Mr. Chan, who was born in Guangdong and moved to Canada from Hong Kong as a young adult in 1969, indicated in an interview with the Xinhua News Agency in 2008 that he has returned to China more than 70 times since the early 1980s. That amounts to a lot of time away from Canada. But while ethnic loyalties may well be at play here, the matter connects to a larger question of the influence of Chinese money in Canada in general.
After all, it is not just ethnic Chinese in Canada who are alleged to have been inveigled to transfer Canadian military and economic secrets to agents of the Chinese state. Chinese intelligence operatives target anyone who can help the regime realize its interests abroad, regardless of race. The "flirtatious" relationship between Bob Dechert, parliamentary secretary to then-foreign affairs minister John Baird, and the much younger Xinhua "journalist" Shi Rong suggests that it is not only ethnic Chinese politicians who may cause CSIS concern.
Indeed, it's worth noting that Canadian officials and politicians who favour closer economic relations with China – playing down concerns about human rights, espionage, unfair trade practices, support for repressive Third World regimes and so on – have generally not been of Chinese origin. It's troubling that many of these same people, after they leave politics, end up making serious money in China-related trade or lucrative China-related board of directors' appointments. This most recently applies to Mr. Baird himself and very much so to his predecessor David Emerson, but also to former prime ministers, former Canadian ambassadors to China and many others, of all political stripes. Chinese money is seemingly welcomed almost everywhere in Canada, but it inevitably comes with strings attached: expectations of reciprocal "friendship" that lead back to the Chinese Communists and their ever-more influential global business conglomerates headquartered in Beijing.
This is not a reciprocal relationship. It is unlikely that there are many telephone calls going on between any of our consuls-general in China and influential Chinese political actors comparable in rank to our Michael Chan.
Canada could be managing these concerns much better. The Chinese money is there, but not the Canadian political will.