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A Calgary MP says members of his own party have tried to hush him up over his criticism of federal funding for a memorial to Norman Bethune, the Canadian doctor considered a communist hero in China.
"I've probably had dozens of calls," MP Rob Anders said Friday on CBC Radio's As It Happens.
He wouldn't specify whether any had been from the Prime Minister's Office. "I'm not going to go into the details," the outspoken member of Parliament for Calgary West said.
Anders says Bethune "was a fan" of Chinese revolutionary leader Mao Zedong, whom Anders called "the biggest mass-murderer in human history."
And that's why the MP has been in the media over the last couple of days arguing Ottawa shouldn't have furnished $2.5 million for the new visitor centre at Bethune Memorial House in Gravenhurst, Ont., which was officially opened Wednesday by Treasury Board President Tony Clement.
"I think there's a lot of people out there that think it's pretty questionable and spurious that taxpayer money is being used to support something like this," Anders said.
"I don't think that you need to spend millions of dollars to lionize somebody who was a supporter of Mao."
Bethune was a medical pioneer who advocated for public health care as early as the 1930s, when he worked as a thoracic surgeon in Montreal. He opened free clinics for the jobless and joined the Canadian Communist Party. Bethune was also an innovator who developed rib shears that bear his name and are used to this day by physicians.
When the Spanish Civil War broke out in 1936, Bethune headed there to tend to anti-Fascist soldiers. And after Japan invaded China, he arrived on the front lines of the resistance, caring for communist fighters until he died in 1939 — 10 years before Mao's revolutionaries seized control of the country.
He was deemed a "person of national historic significance" by the federal government in 1972; his birthplace in Gravenhurst became a national historic site in 1996, and it is visited by tens of thousands of Chinese tourists every year.
Bethune Memorial House is in the riding of Clement, who has faced questions before from the opposition about millions of dollars in federal infrastructure cash getting pumped into his constituency. This time, though, he's staring down his party's own critics over the curiosity of the Conservatives using taxpayer money to memorialize a communist hero.
Clement says the government is celebrating Bethune's "humanism and entrepreneurship," while the Prime Minister's Office issued a statement saying national historic sites "cover the full spectrum of political actors/political thought from Canada's past" and "tourism at these sites is an important part of our economy during this time of fragile economic recovery."
Anders reckons there's more to the government's motives.
After denouncing the friendliness of Canada's relations with China while they were in opposition, the Tories are now cozying up to the country, which is projected to become the largest economy in the world by 2030. Prime Minister Stephen Harper has travelled there twice in the last 2½ years, and on his most recent visit touted an investment pact and a raft of smaller partnerships, frameworks and other deals.
Anders told As It Happens it's OK to sell goods to China despite "all these human rights atrocities" — he put forced abortions, the single child policy and "suppression of freedom of speech in Hong Kong" on his short list. But his colleagues in cabinet shouldn't be tripping over themselves to appease its leaders, he said.
"I don't think that you should deprive Canadian loggers or oil patch workers or farmers of the ability to sell their product, but I also don't think that you should go so far as to lionize the regime and to spend millions gratifying some of its propaganda tools," he said.
"They are in need of raw materials, and they will buy those things whether or not you kind of bow to some of their wishes or curry favour with them in this way."
Anders has long been an out-spoken critic of what he calls a "brutal regime" in Beijing, and criticized the Alberta government in May for what he said was its apparent caving to pressure from China over perfomances by a dance troupe.