Hours after delegates at the Union of B.C. Municipalities convention voted against allowing foreign governments to sponsor future events, several B.C. politicians showed up at a cocktail reception funded by China.
The Chinese government pays $6,000 to host the reception and be included in the annual UBCM program, while also covering the cost of food and drink at the event.
The event has come under fire as the relationship between China and Canada has deteriorated, particularly after the detention of Canadians Michael Korvig and Michael Spavor on vague spying charges. Their arrests came shortly after Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou was arrested in Vancouver last year.
On Wednesday, roughly two-thirds of delegates voted in a non-binding resolution to not accept funding from foreign governments for future events at the convention.
Port Coquitlam Mayor Brad West, who has been openly critical of the event and those who attend it, said the vote was welcome.
“I’m pleased,” he said. “But it kind of leads me to scratch my head that the other people — you know, not an insignificant minority — think that it’s okay.”
West later joined about a dozen protesters who voiced their opposition to the event outside, and helped deliver a symbolic “care package” of Tim Hortons donuts meant for Korvig and Spavor.
WATCH: (Jan. 16) Rising China-Canada tensions could impact BC tourism
Despite the earlier vote, several prominent mayors, councillors and provincial politicians made their way to the ballroom for the controversial reception, saying they had no problem with the event.
“I believe we have to work hard to communicate and reconcile our differences,” said Richmond Mayor Malcolm Brodie, whose city’s population is 53 per cent Chinese.
LISTEN: Brad West talks to Jon McComb about boycotting the China-sponsored UBCM event
Brodie went on to say complaints about China’s human and civil rights records are “nothing new,” and that he is concerned about them.
“I just feel we get along better and we resolve some of those issues if we talk to people, instead of ignoring them,” he said, while admitting he wouldn’t be bringing up those human rights abuses at the reception.
“It’s a social gathering,” Brodie said. “This isn’t some kind of symposium to address these very serious issues. It’s a get-together.”
Vancouver Green Coun. Pete Fry said the province and several cities continue to have business ties and investment opportunities with China that are important to the local economy.
The Canadian government has called on China to release Korvig and Spavor and has raised concerns about Beijing’s record on human rights, particularly in the wake of weeks of pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong.
WATCH: (Sept. 6) Freeland points to ‘modest but positive’ developments in dispute with China
Fry said those concerns need to be balanced with economic needs, adding events like the one at the UBCM convention provide an opportunity for delegates to pursue both agendas.
“Until the Canadian government tells us to shut down those trade relationships and diplomatic relationships, that’s what I think,” he said.
Other notable leaders who attended the reception included Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps and Township of Langley Mayor Jack Froese.
BC Liberal Leader Andrew Wilkinson said he would not be attending, along with Surrey Mayor Doug McCallum and White Rock Mayor Darryl Walker.
WATCH: (Sept. 5) Freeland says detention of Kovrig, Spavor top of duties for new ambassador to China
As the event carried on, West noted the reception was “by far the least attended” of other events at the UBCM, and criticized those inside the ballroom.
“At some point you need to be willing to take a stand for Canadian values that are more important than a dollar from the government of China,” he said.
Despite their support of the event, the Chinese-sponsored reception could be the last.
The UBCM struck an independent panel earlier this year to review how its annual convention is funded or sponsored in the future.
The panel, which is chaired by former UBCM president and Saanich mayor Frank Leonard, is due to present its findings to the UBCM executive team in January 2020.
—With files from Jordan Armstrong