Chinese government won't be allowed to sponsor future B.C. local government conventions

A controversial reception annually hosted by the Chinese government to wine and dine B.C. politicians is officially no more. 

The Union of B.C. Municipalities (UBCM) executive announced it banned sponsorships by foreign governments at its annual convention, following an independent panel's report on how the convention is financed. 

The panel was created due to increasing backlash over the UBCM taking approximately $6,000 from the Chinese government in exchange for a sponsored reception at its convention, which is attended by the majority of mayors and councillors across B.C.

While the event had gone on for many years, the relationship between China and Canada deteriorated in 2019. Canadians Michael Spavor and former diplomat Michael Kovrig were detained in separate incidents shortly after Huawei chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou was arrested in Vancouver on a U.S. extradition warrant.

At this year's convention the reception went ahead after a review, with around 60 mayors and councillors across the province choosing to attend the event.

But on the same day, 65 per cent of delegates voted against allowing future sponsorship by foreign governments. And the panel — which consisted of four former UBCM presidents — noted that "cost implications of removing the sponsorship opportunity from foreign governments is negligible, affecting less than half of a percent of the total cost to host the annual convention on average."

Unions and corporations can still sponsor

In addition, the panel recommended continuing to allow sponsorships from corporations and unions, and that the UBCM try to keep registration costs for mayors and councillors — which typically are paid for by municipalities — as low as possible. 

Former Saanich mayor Frank Leonard, who chaired the panel, said the recommendations are pretty straightforward and were easy to make. 

"The input from the membership was they were really happy with the way everything was going. Except one thing. And so we just recommended fixing one thing," he said.

Port Coquitlam Mayor Brad West had been a vocal critic of allowing the reception to go through, and was pleased by the UBCM's decision to ban it.

"I think it's important in politics to always acknowledge when people do the right thing," he said.

But he also lamented how long the process had taken. 

"What surprised me is how an issue that I think was a really straightforward one seemed to become quite complicated," he said.

"I think there's a lesson in that for every elected official: it seems the government does a hell of a job at taking something that should be very simple and straightforward and making it as complicated as possible."