As a rookie councillor in 2007, Arjun Singh drew the ire of then-mayor Terry Lake, then-councillor Joe Leung and more than a few members of the public on the issue of China.
At the time, the city was planning a business trip to Changping, a district of Beijing with which Kamloops had signed a trade protocol.
Singh was not necessarily opposed to the city seeking out economic opportunities with the communist regime.
But he was adamant that, while discussing economic matters, Lake and company should raise the issue of China’s deplorable human rights record when meeting their Chinese hosts.
“I have an issue with any government that oppresses its people,” Singh told KTW back then.
Through all his calls for Canadians to discuss human rights and democracy while signing trade deals, Singh reiterated the need to approach China respectfully about the issues.
Alas, nobody from the Kamloops delegation raised a peep about human rights and democracy when in China, with Lake arguing that it is not a Canadian municipality’s role to “lecture” another country.
Colin Hansen, the province’s then-economic development minister, echoed that thought, telling KTW by phone while at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Summer Games that such a conversation is a federal matter.
From his days as a neophyte at city hall to his current role as Kamloops’ longest-serving councillor (2005 and onward) and president of the Union of BC Municipalities, Singh is still facing the China question.
Singh is mired in a new China controversy, with Port Coquitlam Mayor Brad West slamming the UBCM for accepting tens of thousands of dollars from the Chinese government, what West calls a pay for access deal that gives the Chinese official sponsorship of a reception at the annual UBCM convention in September.
The Chinese reception has been held every year since 2012, at a cost of about $6,000 per year.
West has a point. Why is the UBCM accepting money from a dishonest, totalitarian regime that has placed two Canadians on death row as payback for Canada arresting Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou?
I asked Singh point blank for a yes or no answer to the question of whether the China sponsorship deal should continue.
He replied that, as UBCM president, he must consider all viewpoints of the executive and members. He said it would “confuse the issue” if he was to state a personal opinion that contradicted an official UBCM stance.
Then again, Singh told KTW he likely would not attend the China-sponsored reception if he was not UBCM president, a comment he told me “speaks for itself.”
If it speaks for itself, Singh should then speak it himself.
As with many other issues, Singh is careful to note he “respects the views” of both sides of the argument. It has long been his default position — another way of defining one’s self as being a fence-sitter.
In some cases, though, one can “respect the views” of both sides while stating clearly one’s opinion on the issue. In some cases, the views of one side need not be respected. In some cases, taking a stand is preferable to not wishing to rock the boat.
To Singh’s credit, the China matter will be discussed at a UBCM executive meeting in July, with Singh telling me he has received plenty of correspondence from people opposed to the reception/sponsorship deal.
Also to his credit, Singh said he remains tied to his comments of more than a decade ago regarding China’s human rights record.
He said he has raised the issue of China’s poor record on human rights when meeting with officials at the consulate in Vancouver — and added he will at the September reception, if it proceeds.
“I have and I will,” Singh said. “I think it’s incumbent upon me to talk about the diversity of opinion that includes concerns that people have raised.”
When Singh does speak to his Chinese guests, there should be no need to tell them he respects their opinion.