The Union of BC Municipalities has come under fire for accepting sponsorship from the Chinese government. Port Coquitlam Mayor Brad West sent a letter to the UBCM executive opposing the Consulate-General of the People’s Republic of China in Vancouver from hosting a reception at the UBCM convention this fall.
Elected officials from across the province, including Kamloops, will attend the convention.
The reception — the only one of its kind hosted by a foreign government — has been part of the UBCM convention since 2012 as a way for B.C. communities to explore economic and development opportunities with China.
This year’s financial contribution is worth $6,000. A UBCM spokesperson could not tell KTW how much China has given financially over the past seven years. However, assuming a similar amount from this year, the total amount would be more than $40,000.
West called it a cash for access situation at a time when Chinese-Canadian relations are at an all-time low.
“To state it plainly: the Government of China is engaged in a number of actions that are hostile to our country’s interests and the interests of every Canadian and are completely at odds with our values, the rule of law and the very principles that we are elected to uphold,” West stated in the letter.
Canadian-Chinese relations have taken a hit ever since the RCMP arrested Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou at the request of U.S. officials in December, while she was waiting for a flight at Vancouver International Airport.
In his letter, West cited detention of Canadian citizens Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor (which immediately followed Wanzhou’s arrest) in addition to the crackdown on Hong Kong protests over a controversial extradition bill and “gross human rights violations” as reasons why China should not be hosting a reception at the UBCM convention.
“How could the Union of BC Municipalities possibly grant the government responsible for these actions any legitimacy, standing or promotion by facilitating access to B.C.’s locally elected mayors, councillors and area directors in exchange for a financial contribution?” West asked the executive in the letter.
Kamloops Coun. Arjun Singh is president of the UBCM. He said he understand’s West’s concerns and has even expressed similar concerns in the past.
However, Singh noted UBCM is not of one mind and questioned whether the majority of UBCM members would agree with West. China remains Canada’s second-largest trading partner, Singh said, noting some communities appreciate opportunities to connect.
“It’s economic development and it’s trade,” Singh said. “Local communities. This city has sent people to China, people from Sooke, people from the Cariboo, people from all over the province. Local governments have gone to China to seek out economic development opportunities for their communities. You think about the forestry downturn right now and all these things. There’s a lot of concern around that. That’s one view — very, very strong.”
The UBCM has not cancelled the reception. Asked if it should, Singh said the decision is not his to make and instead will be up to elected officials to choose whether or not to attend.
“You can say. ‘Well, UBCM has pipeline companies there,’” Singh said. “We also have the Suzuki Foundation there. That’s the beauty of UBCM. It’s about the diversity of opportunity for people, right? If we start cutting that off for people. I mean, I probably wouldn’t go to the China reception if I wasn’t president of the UBCM, you know.”
Singh stressed the importance of UBCM offering a range of opportunities for members.
“People are sophisticated. People aren’t stupid,” Singh said. “Especially with China. If people aren’t going into that reception with open eyes this year, they’ve been living under a rock and most elected officials don’t live under a rock.”
West wondered in his letter what line the Chinese government would have to cross in order for UBCM to reject the sponsorship. Singh did not have an answer, but said his executive is aware of media stories about this issues and will again be discussing the issue.
“I think it would have to be a lot,” Singh said. “It would have to be a sense that this is a wide concern among our membership. That hasn’t really been demonstrated to us yet. It might well be. We’re just waiting to see how it all plays out.”