By MEL ROTHENBURGER
Director, Electoral Area P, TNRD
THE CONTROVERSIAL Chinese Consulate-General’s reception for Union of B.C. Municipalities delegates tonight (Sept. 25, 2019) in Vancouver was a fine media event but, otherwise, it wasn’t much of an event at all.
The issue with the reception is that China has not been a friend to Canada lately, detaining two Canadian citizens and pulling stunts with bans on Canadian goods in clear retribution for Canada’s detention of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou at the request of the U.S.
I would have boycotted the reception along with a lot of others but, out of curiosity, decided to briefly drop in to get a feel for the room, which at past UBCM conventions has been jam-packed with delegates. Outside the front door of the Waterfront Hotel, several media and some delegates and Chinese-Canadian citizens calling for a boycott of the reception mingled as protest placards were handed out.
“Say NO to China money,” said one placard. “Release the Michaels,” said another, in reference to Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor being detained in China.
Protest chants drove the point home. Port Coquitlam Mayor Brad West, who has led the charge against the China sponsorship, was busy with media interviews.
Inside the reception room, Consul General Tong Xiaoling was giving a lengthy welcome speech reciting statistic after statistic about the value of trade between Canada and China. About 150 people, including delegates and consulate staff, applauded politely when she finished.
Then it was Coun. Arjun Singh’s turn. In one of the final acts of his one-year term as UBCM president, Singh kept it short. About two sentences short, in fact, saying it was important to work together “even during difficult times.”
This was nothing like the gala atmosphere painted in descriptions by media of previous receptions held by the consulate.
The room was small, perhaps in expectation of an underwhelming turnout.
After his turn at the microphone, Singh faced a scrum with television reporters, explaining that the matter of accepting sponsorships of UBCM convention events from governments has been referred to a panel for consideration.
It was the best he could do on this thorny issue; his job is to reflect the wishes of an entire province of City councils and regional districts, not to take sides.
After about 10 minutes, without sampling the appetizers, drinking the wine, or accepting the swag bag that was offered to departing delegates, I left. By the time I got back to the front door of the hotel, the ”protest” had melted away, the media having gotten their video clips.
I saw a Global News reporter proclaim this evening that the China sponsorship issue was the big thing of the day at the convention. Hardly. This convention has a ton of other business — including a couple of hundred resolutions — to work through. The China issue was important, and the media will weave their magic around the reception issue, but the event itself turned out to be a nothing burger.
There are around a thousand delegates here, most of whom stayed clear of the China reception, and I applaud them for it. It would have been even better if 150 more of them had stayed away.
It will probably be the last one, anyway. Earlier in the day, delegates voted heavily during a resolutions session to ditch future sponsorships by governments. In a non-binding electronic vote, 44.9 percent indicated they “strongly disagree” with continuing such sponsorships, and another 19 per cent “disagreed.”
The panel reviewing the sponsorship question will, no doubt, take that result under strong advisement.
Mel Rothenburger is a regional district delegate at the annual UBCM convention in Vancouver.