Kamloops politicians said they plan to skip a controversial China-sponsored reception on Wednesday night at the Union of BC Municipalities convention in Vancouver as the organization sought feedback on whether to continue the practice.
In a voluntary survey, 64.5 per cent of respondents disagreed with allowing sponsorship by foreign governments, while 11.6 per cent were neutral/uncertain and 23.9 per cent agreed with the sponsored receptions.
The UBCM appointed a panel to review convention financing after the event came under fire as cash for access. Port Coquitlam Mayor Brad West pointed to soured Canada-China relations and China’s egregious human rights record. The Chinese government contributes about $6,000 in sponsorship dollars to host a reception for B.C.’s elected officials, which has been part of the convention since 2012 as a way to explore economic and development opportunities with China.
Describing it as a “political hot potato,” Coun. Dieter Dudy said he would not attend Wednesday night’s event and is opposed to continuing the sponsorship into the future.
“I’ve never agreed with us having that kind of situation to begin with,” Dudy said.
Coun. Bill Sarai echoed Dudy’s sentiment and Mayor Ken Christian and Coun. Dale Bass confirmed they would not attend the reception.
“I don’t think it’s appropriate for us to be attending,” Sarai said. “I’m speaking for myself.”
One Kamloops councillor, however, planned to attend Wednesday night’s China-sponsored event.
Coun. Arjun Singh said he would attend in his capacity as president of the Union of BC Municipalities, a position in which he has two remaining days. Asked if he would attend if he was not UBCM president, he called it a “moot point.”
Singh noted the feedback from delegates, in which 64.5 per cent of respondents said they do not support foreign government sponsorship.
“Next year, we’ll have to see what we do,” he said.
However, asked whether a majority disagreeing with the event should not then lead to its cancellation, Singh said the issue needs to be assessed “holistically,” including canvassing the entire UBCM membership. The feedback was collected only from those who voluntarily attended an event at the convention on Wednesday morning and it is unclear how many people were represented.
The UBCM did not have that figure.
The review will continue in the coming months and it remains unclear whether the China-sponsored reception will return next year. Also unclear is how many people will be in attendance at Wednesday night’s event.