British Columbia

Annual — and potentially final — Chinese reception at UBCM convention taking place tonight

The most controversial annual wine and cheese reception at a local government convention will finally take place on Wednesday — perhaps for the last time.

Nearly two-thirds of delegates said they're against foreign governments funding future receptions

The Chinese consulate reception, seen here in 2017, while optional, is one of the few that takes place during the week of the UBCM, appearing on its program. (Justin McElroy/CBC)

The most controversial annual wine and cheese reception at a local government convention will finally take place on Wednesday — perhaps for the last time. 

The "Consulate-General of the People's Republic of China Reception" takes place at the Union of B.C. Municipalities convention at 6:30 p.m. PT, with its future unclear after months of negative publicity and attendance unknown after several councils announced they wouldn't attend. 

"I'm pleased to see the number of mayors and councillors from around the province who have spoken up and said that they share my concerns," said Port Coquitlam Mayor Brad West.

West has publicly campaigned against the optional reception — one of several sponsored events that regularly take place at the UBCM convention — since last year.

During that time, the relationship between China and Canada has deteriorated, with Michael Spavor and former diplomat Michael Kovrig detained in separate incidents shortly after Huawei chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou was arrested in Vancouver on a U.S. extradition warrant.

Port Coquitlam Mayor Brad West will attend a protest outside the building where the reception is taking place. (Martin Diotte/CBC)

Event being reviewed

While the UBCM executive decided in June to allow this year's reception to go forward, it also created a review panel to help decide how the annual convention is financed in the future. 

Former UBCM president and Saanich Mayor Frank Leonard, who chairs the panel, said that sponsorships cover about 20 per cent of the convention's revenue and help keep delegate fees low. 

"You either have to [fund the convention] from registration fees, which in most cases comes from the taxpayers or you possibly even increase the dues, which comes from the taxpayers, or you get it from third parties, which doesn't usually come from the taxpayers," he said.  

But at a session Wednesday morning on how the convention is financed, only one delegate spoke in favour of sponsorships. And later in the day, 65 per cent of delegates voted against allowing future sponsorship by foreign governments, compared to 24 per cent who were in favour.  

 

China is the only foreign government that currently sponsors UBCM, paying approximately $6,000.

The question was non-binding, but Leonard said it would be considered when the panel creates its recommendations for the UBCM executive in early 2020. 

"We're not going to make a recommendation just on a straw poll, but this will help guide us toward a recommendation," said Leonard. 

While delegates also voted in favour of continuing to have sponsorships from corporations and unions, not everyone agreed with that approach.

"It undermines to some degree our credibility," said Squamish Coun. Chris Pettingill.

"I'm not sure the value we get in terms of revenue is worth that. I think it sets a higher standard if we're not accepting sponsorship, in general."

Protest outside 

West said he was happy to see the question being put to delegates but argued the entire process wasn't necessary. 

"It shouldn't require a lengthy process and various review panels and surveys just to figure out what the right thing to do is. I think this is a matter of principle," he said. 

West had considered showing up to the reception — which is typically 90 minutes long and features free appetizers, a cash bar, and a couple of speeches by Chinese officials — but ultimately decided against it.

Instead, he'll attend a protest next to the event, hosted by the group, Canadian Friends of Hong Kong.

"The reception, I think, by design, is not a forum to have dialogue and to raise concerns or issues that you feel strongly about. It really is designed to facilitate one-on-one quiet conversations, relationship building as they call it," he said. 

"I think a stronger message will be sent by joining those outside of the hotel who will be raising our concerns."

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