The Union of BC Municipalities has appointed a panel to review convention financing in the wake of a controversy over a China-sponsored reception.
However, the China event will proceed this year. UBCM president Arjun Singh said the organization wants to do its homework and remains cautious about cancelling the reception.
“It hasn’t been a unanimous point of view from across the province from people who we have heard of so far,” Singh said. “We’ve only heard from a subsection of the UBCM membership. The sponsorship review is designed to be a comprehensive, thoughtful review of all of our sponsorships, be able to spend time engaging with the entire membership on those issues.”
The reception has been criticized as cash for access. The Chinese government contributes about $6,000 in sponsorship dollars to host a reception for B.C.’s municipal politicians at UBCM’s annual convention.
Port Coquitlam Mayor Brad West first brought up the issue in light of soured Canada-China relations and China’s poor human rights record. He went online to criticize UBCM’s decision, calling it an “embarrassing cop out.”
“It shouldn’t require a panel of politicians and ex-politicians to figure out that accepting money from a hostile foreign government is wrong,” West tweeted.
The panel is composed of six past and present politicians and UBCM presidents, including Frank Leonard (former mayor of Saanich and UBCM president), Wendy Booth (former Regional District of East Kootenay director and UBCM president), Sav Shaliwal (Metro Vancouver Regional District chair and former UBCM president), Rhona Martin (Columbia Shuswap Regional District chair and former UBCM president) and Greg Moore (former mayor of Port Coquitlam and UBCM representative).
It will be up to B.C.’s elected officials to choose whether they will attend the reception.
KTW contacted local municipal politicians to ask if they will attend the China reception, if they are attending the UBCM convention in Vancouver from Sept. 23 to Sept. 27.
Mayor Ken Christian and councillors Dale Bass, Dieter Dudy, Mike O’Reilly and Denis Walsh will not attend the reception. Councillors Kathy Sinclair and Bill Sarai are uncertain if they will attend.
First-time UBCM attendee Bass, in her first term on Kamloops council, disagreed with the UBCM accepting money from China to hold the reception.
“I see it as superfluous,” she said. “I don’t see a reason to go, for me. It’s not my job to develop trade relations for the nation. I don’t agree with the UBCM having it. I don’t have all of the rationale that they’re applying, but to me, it just seems irrelevant to how I do my job.”
Dudy has not attended the reception in four years of attending the convention — and he’s not about to start now.
“I just haven’t ever seen the sentiment,” Dudy said. “To me, going to one that’s, say, the concrete association, the pipeline association, the rail association. Those all make sense to me because they’re trying to deal with you to talk about infrastructure within your cities. What the hell does the People’s Republic of China want?”
While neither Bass nor Dudy would go so far as to say they would boycott the event, O’Reilly took a firmer stance.
Though he will not be at the convention, as it coincides with a trip to Hill 70 in France to honour local First World War veteran Frederick Lee, O’Reilly said he would not support the reception if he were attending, due to Canadian-Chinese relations.
“I look at that if it were to be one of my family members that were in detention in China,” O’Reilly said. “Not just, quote unquote, a Canadian, but one of my family members. That’s how I look at it. That’s my deciding factor.”
Walsh called for a ban on all international sponsorships.
“Next year, maybe we’ll be upset at Germany,” he said. “Who knows? I just think, why are they allowing international countries [to sponsor UBCM events]?”
Singh said Walsh’s proposal is a possibility as the UBCM undergoes its review. Asked what he would say to those choosing not to attend the reception, Singh said: “It’s absolutely your choice to go or not to go. It’s always been your choice.”
Singh said he will attend as president of UBCM, though he did add a caveat when asked about this issue last month.
“I probably wouldn’t go to the China reception if I wasn’t president of the UBCM,” Singh told KTW.