British Columbia

China's annual reception for local B.C. politicians slated to go ahead

The reception is traditionally the only one at UBCM hosted by another country, and was initially not listed on the UBCM's online program, which was released earlier this month.

Port Coquitlam mayor says reception inappropriate given China's arrest of two Canadians

Delegates to the 2017 UBCM conference attend a reception hosted by the Consulate-General of the People's Republic of China in Vancouver. (Justin McElroy/CBC)

A yearly networking opportunity for Chinese businesses and British Columbia politicians will take place again this year despite ongoing tensions between Canada and China.

The Union of B.C. Municipalities has released the program for its annual convention — which brings together hundreds of mayors and councillors from across B.C. every September — showing a "Consulate-General of the People's Republic of China Reception" scheduled for one evening.

The reception, paid for by China, has taken place every year since 2012 as a meet-and-greet where people can swap business cards and eat appetizers.

But the 2019 Chinese reception was only approved after internal debate, said UBCM President Arjun Singh. 

"UBCM is in the business of diversity, in the business of not restricting but hopefully adding opportunities for our members to learn from other companies and countries," said Singh. 

"People can choose to come, or to make comments about it, if that's what they choose to do."

'Wrong message,' says mayor

One of those making comments is Port Coquitlam Mayor Brad West, who is intensely critical of the reception continuing.

"I think it sends the absolute wrong message," West said. 

West argued that while he was opposed to the reception in prior years, its inclusion this year in the UBCM program was particularly inappropriate given the arrest and ongoing detention of two Canadians in China.

Businessman Michael Spavor and former diplomat Michael Kovrig were detained in separate incidents late last year, shortly after Huawei chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou was arrested in Vancouver on a U.S. extradition warrant.

"What is the line that the government of China needs to cross before someone with an ounce of common sense says you know what? We are not going to be rolling out the red carpet for you anymore. We're not going to allow you access to elected officials in our country," said West. 

The reception, while optional, is one of the few that takes place during the week appearing on the UBCM program. (Justin McElroy/CBC)

"That's not a right, that's a privilege, and it's a privilege that should be reserved for those countries that share Canadian values and that conduct themselves with even a semblance of decency and respect for human rights."

West said he would explore ways to press the issue at the conference, which will be in Vancouver between Sept. 23 and 27.

More countries involved?

The Chinese reception is traditionally the only one at UBCM hosted by another country, and was initially not listed on the UBCM's online program when it was released earlier this month.

It was added following inquires by CBC News, in what a UBCM official characterized as an oversight. 

Singh said the UBCM is inviting other countries to take part in the reception, in hopes of broadening its appeal to delegates. 

But at this point, there are no plans to revisit the decision to go ahead with the reception.

"It's had some controversy attached to it. That's not a reason to not welcome it," said Singh. 

"The idea is to allow it to happen, and then obviously different member communities will react to it in the way they see fit."

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