This isn’t Steven Kou’s first crack at seeking public office for Justin Trudeau’s Liberal Party.
In 2015, the accountant was the runner-up to NDP incumbent Don Davies in Vancouver Kingsway. Star candidate Tamara Taggart, the former TV news anchor, is challenging Davies in the Oct. 21 federal election.
Steven Kou, the Liberal candidate in Richmond Centre (Bob Mackin)
At the end of August, Surrey resident Kou was installed, without a nomination vote, by Liberal Party headquarters as the candidate in Richmond Centre. Should Kou upset Conservative incumbent Alice Wong, he promises to shut down his Ekon Wealth Management business in Richmond and move to the riding.
That was the firmest position on any topic that Kou took in a wide-ranging, Sept. 9 interview with theBreaker.news Podcast host Bob Mackin.
Mackin asked Kou about Trudeau’s conflict of interest in the SNC-Lavalin scandal, the campaign to end birth tourism in Richmond and concerns about money laundering affecting the economy and the housing market.
A recurring theme of Kou’s answers was his need to gather facts and talk to experts, should he win on Oct. 21.
Kou was also asked for his stance on the Hong Kong pro-democracy movement and China’s human rights record, including the jailing of Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor. Relevant issues in a city where 54% of residents are ethnic Chinese and 59% of immigrants since 2011 came from China.
“The Hong Kong government, the China government or Taiwan government, no matter, I think maybe they have their own wise man, and they have their own solutions for their situations,” Kou said. “But in Canada, we enjoy the freedoms given by the Charter of Freedom and Rights (sic).”
Listen to excerpts from the interview with Kou. Plus commentaries and Pacific Rim and Pacific Northwest headlines.
Kelowna West MLA Ben Stewart is back in the BC Liberal caucus after a two-month absence.
He also broke his silence Oct. 1 and talked to theBreaker.news, but refused to discuss the reasons for the Elections BC investigation that eventually cleared him.
BC Liberal Ben Stewart (Twitter)
Stewart wrote a letter to Anton Boegman, the chief electoral officer, on Aug. 1, about a donation to the party that was reimbursed to a contributor. He left caucus the same day.
Elections BC has not released the investigation report. Stewart also refused to release the letter, which he said was just one paragraph.
Elections BC said in a statement on Oct. 1 that “The review found no evidence that the political contribution and reimbursement were made in contravention of the Election Act. Elections BC now considers this matter closed. To protect the privacy of the individuals involved, Elections BC will not be making further comment on this issue.”
“I’ve subjected myself to the scrutiny of Elections BC, you can ask them,” Stewart said in an interview. “They have all the information. I’ve provided everything that they could ask, that they wanted, and then some. The bottom line is they did their interviews and went through all the people in this, the groups that are involved.”
Sources said the matter involved a donation from a constituency assistant, but Stewart would not say whether it specifically involved riding aide Cheryl Doll or Erica Macnab, who worked on his 2018 by-election campaign. In the last two months of 2018, Doll made three donations totalling $1,450, which was $250 above the annual limit.
“It’s not a matter between the press and that, it’s between Elections BC and myself,” he said.
During his post in China, Ben Stewart posed with a panda. (BC Gov)
Pressed further about what is in the letter, Stewart said: “It’s important that the confidentiality in the matter, I mean what does the public benefit or what do you benefit by having that information? I’ve been very transparent and gave you more than you deserved, in fact I put out a text to you with a comment that I gave everybody; nobody got any more or less than you.”
That Aug. 2 statement read: “Sorry to advise that I voluntarily left the BC Liberal caucus last evening while Elections BC rules on a request I sent them to investigate an irregular donation under new election financing rules. Have to sit out of caucus till EBC rules on the matter. I’m confident there is no wrong doing as this is an administrative matter.”
BC Liberal filings for the second quarter of 2019 with Elections BC show that Stewart exceeded his contribution limit and the party returned $1,200 to him on June 25. He was the only MLA listed in the prohibited contributions list for the period. Under new campaign finance rules enacted by the NDP government in 2017, individual donations were capped at $1,200 per year to each registered political party, including its candidates, nomination contestants and registered riding associations. The limit was increased to $1,225.17 for 2019.
Quails’ Gate Wintery co-founder Stewart was first elected in 2009 in Westside-Kelowna and appointed to cabinet under Premier Gordon Campbell. Over the next four years, he held four different portfolios and won his seat again in 2013. But he stepped aside so that Premier Christy Clark, who was defeated in Vancouver-Point Grey, could win a safe BC Liberal riding and return to the Legislature. Stewart broke down in tears beside Clark at a news conference to announce the decision.
In fall of that year, Clark appointed Stewart as B.C.’s $150,000-a-year Asian trade envoy based in Beijing.
Stewart made a political comeback in a February 2018 by-election to replace Clark, who quit as both MLA and BC Liberal leader the previous July when Abbotsford South’s Darryl Plecas objected to her leadership at a pivotal BC Liberal caucus retreat in Penticton after the Green-supported NDP formed government under Premier John Horgan.
Stewart’s return means the BC Liberals technically regain their 42-41 edge over the NDP, with the Greens holding the three-seat balance of power. Plecas, the speaker, is the only independent.
However, Surrey-White Rock BC Liberal MLA Tracy Redies was hospitalized last month with heart failure and hepatitis after a trip to Brazil. The Legislature re-opens Oct. 8.
After repeatedly claiming his innocence and demanding his job back, the sergeant-at-arms of the British Columbia Legislature has quit.
Suspended Sergeant-at-Arms Gary Lenz (BC Leg)
Gary Lenz was suspended with pay last November pending an RCMP investigation into corruption at the Legislature. In July, he became subject of a Police Act investigation conducted by former Vancouver Police Department deputy chief Doug LePard. That report has yet to be released, but is believed to be the impetus for Lenz’s sudden retirement 10 months after he and Clerk Craig James were escorted out of the Legislature on Nov. 20.
Lenz tendered his retirement Sept. 30, four-and-a-half months after James did the same.
Rather than wait to be fired by lawmakers, James negotiated his retirement on the eve of the release of a report by former Supreme Court of Canada chief justice Beverley McLachlin. McLachlin found James committed misconduct by spending taxpayers’ money on personal items.
In an Oct. 1 statement, Lenz said: “After considerable reflection, I have concluded that the damage that has been done to my reputation will never be fully repaired, and that if I continued as sergeant-at-arms, I would be doing a disservice to my office.”
On Nov. 26, six days after they were suspended, James and Lenz appeared with a lawyer from the Fasken law firm at a news conference organized by the Peak Communications public relations firm. They both said they were innocent, pledged to cooperate investigators and demanded their jobs back.
Said Lenz: “Although it is impossible to deny what you do not know, I firmly say that I have done nothing wrong and that I am confident that an independent investigation now underway with the RCMP will clear me of any alleged wrongdoing.”
On Feb. 7, in reply to Speaker Darryl Plecas’s bombshell January report on the duo, Lenz said: “I have done nothing wrong and I wish to return to work.”
“I have always championed the best ideals of our Legislative Assembly and I believe many of you know that I have always done everything within my ethical and legal ability to ensure that your expectations of my duties are fulfilled.”
McLachlin did not find Lenz committed misconduct, which prompted him to host reporters in his North Saanich backyard on May 16.
Craig James (left) and Gary Lenz (Commonwealth Parliamentary Association)
“I’ve done nothing wrong at any point and I’m looking so forward to be able to get this cleared up,” Lenz said. “There are policies in place, there are procedures in place with in the assembly, I followed those policies, I followed the procedures, and anything in my role and my mandate i fully fulfilled in all aspects of it… I’ve done nothing wrong or no misconduct.”
In July, theBreaker.news reported that Legislature security overtime costs ballooned by 244% under Lenz since 2014. Over five years, Legislative Assembly Protective Services dinged taxpayers $1.7 million for overtime.
The announcement of Lenz’s retirement came on the first anniversary of the unprecedented appointment of two special prosecutors, David Butcher and Brock Martland, after a complaint to the RCMP from Speaker Darryl Plecas about corruption at the Legislature. The RCMP investigation and special prosecutors were not made public until Nov. 20.
A source with knowledge of the investigation, but who is not authorized to speak publicly, said reports about the purchase of a wood splitter and large quantities of alcohol have been forwarded by the RCMP to Butcher for charge approval.
Lenz’s departure was also a week after Auditor General Carol Bellringer submitted her resignation, effective Dec. 31. Bellringer’s most-recent report on Sept. 19 was the heavily criticized review of the offices of the speaker, clerk and sergeant-at-arms. She did not find fraud or conduct a forensic audit.
Meanwhile, at $123,269, the retired-in-disgrace James received the most of the five Legislative Assembly senior staffers for the April to June quarter. Lenz was paid $61,889, including $53,437 salary and $1,067 vehicle allowance.
Meng Wanzhou suffered only temporary inconvenience and her rights were respected when she was arrested at Vancouver International Airport, a lawyer for the Canadian government told B.C. Supreme Court on Sept. 30.
Robert Frater was replying to submissions last week by what he called Meng’s “dream team.” Her lawyers allege the Huawei executive was subject to illegal arrest and interrogation last Dec. 1. Canadian Border Services Agency detained Meng on a layover between Hong Kong and Mexico. After about three hours, RCMP officers arrested her on a warrant requested by the United States, which wants her extradited to face charges of fraud.
Meng Wanzhou leaving the Law Courts on Sept. 23 (Mackin)
“She has been assisted in this motion by a legal dream team of five lawyers who have left no stone unturned, maybe even the pebbles under the stones they’ve looked at as well,” Frater said before Associate Chief Justice Heather Holmes.
Frater aimed to debunk the defence team’s “covert criminal investigation” theory and contest what he called their fishing expedition for more evidence.
“It was hardly covert, since various activities were videotaped, audio taped and was the subject of notes,” he said. “If it were an investigation it produced paltry results.”
Meng gave two statements that he said did not remotely prejudice her rights. Her electronic devices and passwords were seized, but they were kept safely and not searched by either CBSA or RCMP. So they were not shared with the FBI.
“Both RCMP and CBSA carried out their duties in accordance with their statutory obligations, the evidence of the conspiracy was non-existent, because the conspiracy was non-existent,” Frater said. “There was nothing to cover up.”
Frater called the RCMP’s activities entirely proper because officers executed the arrest warrant immediately after CBSA was finished with its statutory obligations. Frater said the email that Meng’s lawyers accessed between Canadian and American officials was innocuous.
“Extradition is a process that requires state-to-state communications, it can’t come as any surprise of evidence of talking from lawyer to lawyer, from lawyer to investigative agency or from one investigative agency to another investigative agency,” Frater said. “It’s a necessity, not a suspicious circumstance.”
Frater argued that the Canadian government disclosed more than the legal minimum of evidence to Meng’s lawyers, including some documents that were privileged.
“Their annoyance is the same sense of grievance that many citizens feel when the government fails to produce evidence that substantiates their conspiracy theory,” he said. “Giving them all of what they’ve got and given them so far hasn’t advanced their case.”
Frater was interrupted by Holmes, who wondered about the purpose of CBSA asking Meng if her company sold products in the United States and whether it had done business in Iran. Frater said CBSA is entitled to ask questions related to criminality and national security. Holmes wondered what would have happened if Meng had hypothetically answered yes to questions about the alleged defrauding of banks.
Frater said a decision would have been made about her inadmissibility to Canada.
“These are all questions about protecting the border, they’re empowered to ask questions about who gets in and who doesn’t,” he said.
The current hearing about evidence disclosure continues is expected to end this week. The actual extradition hearing and defence applications to quash it begin in January.
Meng is living in her Shaughnessy mansion on $10 million bail with a curfew and a GPS monitor on her ankle, to ensure she does not travel near the airport.
The spokesman for a Liberal candidate under a federal ethics investigation says a pro-China protester was just visiting Joe Peschisolido’s campaign office on opening day.
Eileen Chen, a member of a pro-China protest mob on Aug. 17, at the opening of Liberal Joe Peschisolido’s Richmond campaign office on Sept. 15. She is next to Peschisolido aide Michael Wong. (Ina Mitchell)
But Eileen Chen says she volunteered to help re-elect the Steveston-Richmond East candidate.
In the exclusive video below, Chen said in Peschisolido’s campaign office that she is his events assistant in the Chinese community. She was photographed near Peschisolido’s photo backdrop, helping shoot pictures of supporters with the incumbent while standing beside Peschisolido aide Michael Wong.
theBreaker.news first encountered Chen, and attempted to interview her, at the noisy Aug. 17 pro-China protest outside a Canada Line station near Vancouver city hall. Chen was at that protest with her company’s chief technology officer, Adamas Kou. They sang China’s national anthem, waved flags and shouted at a group supporting Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement. Chen and Kou were prominently located in the front row of the group and Kou explained that they were protesting “to defend our country.”
A government website in Shanxi Province credited the Canada Vancouver Shanxi Natives Society and director Cao Zhen Yu for coordinating what it called a “solidarity gathering.” The city engineering department issued a political expression structure permit to Zi Ying Zhang of Vancouver, according to documents released under the freedom of information law. Zhang, however, is not listed as a director of either the Canada Vancouver Shanxi Natives Society or Canada Shanxi Business Association.
Eileen Chen (right) and Adamas Kou, supporting China’s Communist regime on Aug. 17 in Vancouver (Mackin)
Peschisolido spokesman Kevin Li called the office opening a public event because it was posted on Peschisolido’s Facebook page. Li said that he “cannot speak on behalf of Ms. Chen or Mr. Wong,” but said that Chen was not wearing the official Peschisolido re-election campaign T-shirt.
“Eileen Chen was merely one of many visitors of the day and has no role in the re-election campaign,” Li said in a written statement. “She did not provide any service to the constituency office and was never paid.”
Chen described Wong as her manager and Wong agreed that she was involved in Peschisolido’s campaign. When pressed for details, Wong suddenly changed his story about her status.
Documentary filmmaker Ina Mitchell was at Peschisolido’s office opening when she encountered both Chen and Wong and recorded this exchange, which she provided to theBreaker.news:
Mitchell: “I saw you at the protests, the pro-China protests. So are you working with Joe?”
Chen: “Yes, events assistant.”
Mitchell: “You’re his assistant?”
Chen: “Just for some Chinese community events.”
Mitchell: “So is he OK with you going and doing pro-China events.”
Chen: “Yes. You better to ask Michael. Michael is our manager. Michael Wong.”
[Chen attracted Wong’s attention.]
Mitchell: “Did you organize some of the pro-China events in Vancouver?”
Wong: “No, no.”
Mitchell: “Because Eileen was at them, I was surprised.”
Wong: “She was there, yeah. She has nothing to do with it.”
Mitchell: “Is that not a worry? Were you concerned by it?”
Wong: “Oh, yeah, yeah. She was not representing us, anyway.”
Mitchell: “She’s not representing you, she was doing it on her own, is what you’re saying?”
Wong: “Yes. Yes.”
Mitchell: “Did you talk to her about it afterwards, that it was not such a good idea?”
Wong: “I told her that’s her decision to take part.”
Mitchell: “Yes and no. She’s an individual for sure, but she’s also representing a Minister (sic) of Parliament.”
Wong: “That’s why she’s not representing us.”
Mitchell: “She’s working with here, she’s working with him.”
Wong: “She’s not anymore.”
Mitchell: “Was she fired?”
Mitchell: “She’s fired? But she’s right here!”
Peschisolido has not responded for comment.
Eileen Chen (left) with Deputy Consul Kong Weiwei on Sept. 20 in Vancouver (WeChat)
Chen did not respond to requests for comment. But, while a reporter was covering a Sept. 25 protest against the Chinese government outside the Union of B.C. Municipalities convention, Chen was spotted entering the Waterfront Centre Hotel. She went to the meeting room where Chinese consulate staff were preparing to host a cocktail party for municipal politicians and bureaucrats.
Chen would only say “I just volunteer” and would not answer other questions.
Photographs published on WeChat show Chen was also at the Vancouver Convention Centre during a Sept. 20 reception to mark the 70th anniversary of Communist Party rule. She posed for a photograph while holding a Chinese flag with deputy consul Kong Weiwei.
Chen may not have been the only member of her company at Peschisolido’s office opening. Photographs show a man who looks identical to CYC’s general manager, Michael Wang Hongxiang. When reached by phone, Wang denied he was at the office opening.
Government accountability watchdog Dermod Travis of IntegrityBC said Peschisolido needs to clear the air.
“It’s the responsibility now of the member of parliament to make very clear to the media and the public as to what exactly her role is, has been in the past, whether she’s been paid or not, and what she’s being asked to do on behalf of his campaign,” Travis said.
Peschisolido’s main challenger in the Oct. 21 federal election is Conservative Kenny Chiu, the 2015 runner-up by 2,856 votes.
In August, Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion confirmed that he was investigating a Conservative complaint alleging that Peschisolido failed to disclose that the B.C. Law Society had appointed a custodian to wind-up his law firm in April. Peschisolido has been the subject of various media reports since his 2015 election about clients at his law firm who have been accused of investment fraud and real estate money laundering.
In a July statement, Peschisolido said: “In all my duties, I have always conducted myself with utmost integrity and professionalism.”
The National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians warned last February that Canada is “vulnerable to foreign actors seeking to illegitimately influence or interfere in our political and economic processes.” Australian professor Clive Hamilton is author of “Silent Invasion: China’s Influence in Australia.” Earlier this year, after a Canadian tour, Hamilton said that Beijing-friendly business, expat and cultural groups are infiltrating political parties.
Questions persist around the surprise resignation of British Columbia Auditor General Carol Bellringer.
On Sept. 24, Bellringer gave her notice to Speaker Darryl Plecas, as per her enabling legislation. She cited personal reasons and set Dec. 31 for her departure. Bellringer began her eight-year term in September 2014.
Carol Bellringer (left) and Beverley McLachlin
Bellringer has declined to do any interviews and did not respond to a request by theBreaker.news for her to clarify a key finding from her Sept. 19 report on expense policies in the offices of the speaker, clerk and sergeant-at-arms.
“Quite surprised actually, certainly at the timing of it,” said Speaker Darryl Plecas’s chief of staff, Alan Mullen, in an interview on theBreaker.news Podcast. “Some folks in the mainstream media are drawing this line, as they have done so in the past, that somehow this is direct result of the speaker or us in the speaker’s office essentially pushing people out. That is not true.”
Said independent watchdog Dermod Travis of IntegrityBC: “In reading the report, I sense that it is not as thorough as it might be and almost seems slapped together, which is not what you would expect from B.C.’s auditor general, not what you’d want.”
Travis said he would be interested to know how thoroughly Bellringer read Plecas’s January report on Clerk Craig James and Sergeant-at-Arms Gary Lenz’s unethical spending or retired Supreme Court Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin’s May report that found James in misconduct. James negotiated his retirement the night before publication of the report and his certain firing by the Legislature.
At bare minimum, Travis said, Bellringer had a responsibility to take the examples in Plecas’s report and “put some shoes on and go verify them.”
Speaker Darryl Plecas (left) and chief of staff Alan Mullen (Mackin)
“One of the unfair developments in this file has been this ongoing attack on the speaker related to the expense claims the two individuals have submitted, and allegations regarding those expense claims,” he said. It would have been “auditor general 101” for Bellringer to follow through and determine whether Plecas was right or wrong, he said.
Bellringer’s report contains a substantial contradiction that raises serious questions about her work.
McLachlin ruled that the General Expenditure Policy, Capital Project Review and Approval and Procurement and Contract Management all applied.
But, four months later, Bellringer wrote in the key findings and recommendations section of her report that, “In the absence of clear policy in this area, it would be difficult for someone approving expenses to determine whether or not the clothing expenses are appropriate and to ensure that any purchases are economical.”
Travis said there is no evidence that Bellringer contacted James or Lenz. Her enabling legislation includes the power to summons witnesses, and request testimony under oath and the production of documents. The law says uncooperative witnesses can be found in contempt by a B.C. Supreme Court judge.
Travis also noted eerie similarities to Bellringer’s tenure as Manitoba’s auditor general. In 2013, she quit for personal reasons. Bellringer earlier lobbied to conduct an audit of a whistleblower’s complaints at Manitoba Hydro, but she was ultimately denied in 2009 because she had served as a director of the Crown corporation and the audit committee chair.
Craig James (left) and Gary Lenz (Commonwealth Parliamentary Association)
Earlier this year, the Legislative Assembly Management Committee decided to refer the Legislature spending case to an auditor-general outside B.C. But Bellringer successfully lobbied LAMC to do an about-face and give the task to her, despite one of her employees being the husband of acting Legislature clerk Kate Ryan-Lloyd, compliance, controls and research manager Ken Ryan-Lloyd.
Bellringer was appointed by unanimous recommendation of a special all-party committee in 2014 that was chaired by former BC Liberal cabinet minister John Yap. At the time, Yap was not cooperating with the RCMP’s breach of trust investigation into the Quick Wins scandal.
Twenty-one people applied for the job, including nine from B.C. Six were shortlisted and two invited for interviews before the May 2014 decision. The deliberations of the committee, however, remain a secret. Last year, Bellringer collected $303,000 in pay.
Meanwhile, James collected a $63,750 vacation payout and $1,174 vehicle allowance for the April to June quarter. He also took $50,829 salary, $2,509 benefits and $5,007 pension while suspended.
At $123,269, the retired-in-disgrace James received the most of the five Legislative Assembly senior staffers for the quarter.
Lenz was paid $61,889, including $53,437 salary and $1,067 vehicle allowance. He remains suspended with pay, but is facing a Police Act investigation by former Vancouver Police deputy chief Doug LePard.
Oct. 1 is the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China. Seven decades of Communist Party rule in the most-populous country on the planet, which now rivals the United States economically.
The world will not be joining in Xi Jinping’s celebration. Headlines about China this year have focused on the jailing of two Canadians, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, in retaliation for the Vancouver International Airport arrest of Huawei’s Meng Wanzhou; human rights abuses in Xinjiang, where the Uighur Muslims are subject to modern concentration camps; and Hong Kong, where millions of residents have protested against China’s erosion of civil rights. Hong Kongers fear Beijing is reneging on the one country/two systems agreement with Great Britain made before the 1997 handover and that their free economy, free press and rule of law are in jeopardy.
Zhou Fengsuo of Humanitarian China at Aberdeen Centre in Richmond on Sept. 14 (Mackin)
Hong Kong-Canadians held an emotional protest at Aberdeen Centre in Richmond, B.C. on Sept. 14, where upwards of 1,000 people sang “Glory to Hong Kong,” the anthem of the pro-democracy movement. One of those who joined the protest was Zhou Fengsuo, a student leader of the Tiananmen Square protests in spring 1989.
Zhou survived the Chinese military crackdown on June 4, 1989, but was eventually jailed by the government. He now lives in California and leads Humanitarian China, which promotes rule-of-law, human rights and freedom of expression. Zhou is the special guest on this week’s edition of theBreaker.news Podcast.
Zhou told host Bob Mackin that Hong Kongers have an undeniable passion and love for freedom and they don’t want to lose what they have. They are natural allies of the 1989 movement in Beijing and elsewhere in China. “What is happening today is a reincarnation of the Tiananmen democratic movement in Hong Kong,” Zhou said.
“Hong Kong people had fought courageously for the freedom of themselves against the expansion of [Communist Party] totalitarian control that is threatening the whole world, I don’t think it is appreciated enough by the democratic countries what Hong Kong is doing,” Zhou said. “They have won victory, the Hong Kong government has declared withdrawal of the extradition law. But this is only the surface. The true reason, the true democracy they deserve, denied by the CCP, that is what they are fighting for. That is a value we should all try to defend.”
In Mainland China, however, the surveillance state is “1984 all over again, even beyond your wildest imagination.” The WeChat social media platform has become a powerful tool of the government, to organize and finance CCP-related influence activities outside China. The promise of opening up that came with the Beijing 2008 Summer Olympics never materialized and Zhou said Beijing does not deserve the 2022 Winter Olympics.
“Even now here in Vancouver, in Toronto, we are seeing the Chinese people be brainwashed, they are weaponized to such a degree they would threaten peaceful protesters,” Zhou said
Listen to the full interview with Zhou. Plus the latest on the surprise resignation of B.C.’s auditor general, commentaries and Pacific Rim and Pacific Northwest headlines.
An official from the Chinese consulate in Vancouver panicked when he saw reporters surrounding the doorway of the Mackenzie Room at the Fairmont Waterfront Centre Hotel on Sept. 25.
Port Coquitlam Mayor Brad West’s protest at the doorway of the Chinese government reception at UBCM (Mackin)
He ordered a security guard to hurry and take the two boxes of Tim Hortons donuts, with the images of Canadian political prisoners, away from the Chinese government’s cocktail party at the Union of B.C. Municipalities convention. He would not stop and give a reporter his name.
A small group of local government politicians, led by outspoken Port Coquitlam Mayor Brad West, had brought the symbolic gifts downstairs for diplomat Michael Kovrig and businessman Michael Spavor, the two Canadians jailed in China last December in retaliation for Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou’s arrest in Vancouver on a U.S. warrant.
West had earlier headlined a protest organized by Hong Kong pro-democracy supporters and the local Uighur Muslim community. West pointed to the jailing of a million Muslims in Xinjiang province for so-called “re-education” and the crackdown on Hong Kong protesters as attacks “on people who want nothing more than to live their life like the way we do in this country.”
“It’s shameful that those topics aren’t going to be discussed in that room,” West said, pointing at the hotel behind him.
Some 65% of delegates voted against allowing a foreign government to sponsor the convention and hold a cocktail party, like China has for eight years.
“I feel confident in telling you that this is the last time that this immoral, embarrassing event is going to take place,” West said to applause.
Notably absent were the mayors of Vancouver, Burnaby, Surrey and Delta. At least 43 elected and appointed officials attended the event, including Mayor David Screech of View Royal, Mayor Ken Williams of Highlands, Mayor Fred Haynes of Saanich, Mayor Manfred Bauer of Keremeos, Mayor Walt Cobb of Williams Lake, former UBCM president Al Richmond, and Minister of Jobs, Trade and Technology Bruce Ralston. (More names at bottom).
Backdrop for the Chinese government reception at UBCM. (Mackin)
Consul General Tong Xiaoling and her Deputy Kong Weiwei both refused to answer questions from theBreaker.news. They handed out a one-paragraph statement later in the event that said the reason for it was to foster mutual understanding, friendship and cooperation between Canada and China. They gave away gift bags containing a lapel pin and T-shirt showing a flag-waving panda and beaver shaking hands to signify Canadian-Chinese co-operation.
Tong’s speech was a lecture on China facts and statistics. Afterward, a flashy government propaganda film that included scenes of youth hockey. Beijing is hosting the next Winter Olympics in 2022.
Richmond Mayor Malcolm Brodie conceded that China’s human rights record, “ from everything I’ve been told, leaves a lot to be desired. And I think that there are real challenges, so the question is how do you get past those challenges, do you get past those challenges by boycotting a reception? I don’t think so.”
Brodie said his attendance was not to “endorse anybody or anything.“
“There are tensions between Canada and China and if I can do just a little fraction to assist with the communications, then I’ll do it. I don’t think we should be putting up walls or putting up barriers between people. I think we should communicate.”
Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps and Consul-General Tong Xiaoling (Mackin)
Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps took issue with theBreaker.news photographing politicians, including herself, while Tong spoke. Helps waved her arms and even lunged at the camera. She approached theBreaker.news after the speech to explain her beef.
Helps cited Victoria’s sister city relationship with Suzhou, China and said she has a good relationship with the consulate.
As for human rights in China question, Helps said “that’s not my role as mayor to deal with those issues. That’s far beyond my pay grade, my job is to advocate on behalf of my citizens and work for sustainable jobs and sustainable community in Victoria, I can’t solve those problems.”
“I don’t think that one, lowly Canadian mayor has an impact on international relations, but I do believe in goodwill and the role of cities as diplomats in the world,” Helps said.
Vancouver Coun. Pete Fry said the economic ties between China and B.C. municipalities, especially those in the resource-rich north, are too important to jeopardize. New Westminster councillor Chuck Puchmayr said the Royal City’s sister city relationship with Lijiang, China includes exchanges.
“It is a relationship that we needed to continue even in the wake of what is happening nationally and internationally,” Puchmayr said. “We think that the community to community relationship is something that is important. I have no problem attending this event, if it was any other consul of any other country I would feel the same way.
“We have alot of human rights issues in Canada now with the indigenous communities that are not being addressed, I feel like I’d like to champion that more strongly and look at how we can do better as a country.”
A reporter reminded Puchmayr that Canada has a tradition of making official apologies and reconciliation programs with oppressed groups and it has held public inquiries into human rights abuses. For one thing, the Chinese government has not owned up to the Tiananmen Square massacre from 30 years ago.
“I don’t think boycotting any kind of relationship with another country is a way of getting there,I think our senior levels of government need to push those issues and push for freedoms in those countries, but I’m not comfortable with this tact,” Puchmayr said.
Who else was there?
Mayors David Screech (View Royal); Rob Fraser (Taylor); Ken Williams (Highlands); and Councillors/Directors Ron Paull (Quesnel); Janice Morrison (Nelson); John Tidbury (Port Hardy); Ron Obirek (Okanagan-Similkameen Regional District); Pete Fry (Vancouver); Tek Manhas (North Cowichan); Claire Moglove (Campbell River; also director of Island Health); Ryan Mitchell (Port McNeill); Matt Sahlstrom (Langford); Travis Fehr (Merritt); Al Beddows (Sooke); Mary Sjostrom (Cariboo Regional District); Al Anderson (Tofino); Alison Lauzon (Chase); Lilia Hansen (Fort St. John); George Doubt (Powell River); Rick Fairbairn (Northern Okanagan Regional District); Maureen Pinkney (100 Mile House); Travis Hall (Heltsiuk Nation).
Others: Tom Shypitka (BC Liberal MLA, Kootenay East); Michael Goehring (CEO, Mining Association of B.C.); Richard Prokopanko (lobbyist/ResourceWorks director); Yvonne Koerner (Kitimat-Stikine Regional District CFO; North West Regional Hospital District executive director); Theresa Fresco (Sea-to-Sky Region, Fraser Basin Council); Joel Palmer (Ministry of Education capital management executive director); Christopher Graham (Gaming Policy and Enforcement Branch investigator).
Detectives from Vancouver’s police and fire departments are investigating an early morning fire at the Shaughnessy mansion that hosted a controversial Liberal Party of Canada cash-for-access fundraiser with Justin Trudeau in 2016.
Miaofei Pan outside the fire-destroyed garage (Ina Mitchell)
Vancouver Fire and Rescue Services crews were called to 6261 Churchill Street at 2:12 a.m. on Sept. 21. Police were called 10 minutes later. The garage was destroyed and a window on the front of the house is showing signs of damage from a projectile, possibly from a pellet or bullet.
“The file is still under investigation as of this morning,” said VFRS spokesman Capt. Jonathan Gormick on Sept. 25. “The cause and nature are still part of the investigation.”
Police spokesman Sgt. Aaron Roed said he was unable to provide any information regarding the file.
The owner of the $7.7 million-assessed property, real estate developer Miaofei Pan, was seen by a photographer outside the garage on Sept. 24 while investigators continued to scour the scene, which was behind a temporary fence.
The cash-for-access fundraiser was not publicized and came to light after a website for the government in Pan’s native Wenzhou province published photographs and a description of the event. The Liberal Party buckled to pressure and announced reforms and Elections Canada began an online registry of major fundraising events involving party leaders and cabinet ministers.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau shaking hands with Miaofei Pan at a 2016 Liberal fundraiser (Wenzhou government)
A year after Pan hosted the fundraiser, another mansion that he owns in northern Shaughnessy suffered a massive fire. The roof and interior of the historic 1911-built Rounsefell House at 3737 Angus Drive were severely damaged.
Police ruled it an arson, but there was insufficient evidence to lay charges.
Pan is a former chair of the Chinese Communist Party-linked Canadian Alliance of Chinese Associations and a major donor to the Canada Wenzhou Friendship Society’s clubhouse near Richmond’s Aberdeen mall.
Pan and wife Wen Huan Yang bought the Rounsefell mansion in 2012. In August 2018, Vancouver city hall accused Pan of failing to repair and maintain a heritage structure. WorkSafeBC issued a stop work order that found the fire damage was so extreme that it was a danger to life and health, fearing that one of the 50-foot-tall brick chimneys could fall.
Pan is appealing last year’s $1 award from a B.C. Supreme Court defamation lawsuit against a journalist, Bing Chen Gao. Justice Neena Sharma did not find Pan to be a credible or reliable witness because he relied on the deemed falsity of the defamatory statements and did not back-up his testimony with documents.
With three years left in her term, Auditor General Carol Bellringer has tendered her resignation, five days after releasing a panned report into expense policies and practices at the Legislative Assembly.
Auditor General Carol Bellringer
theBreaker.news has learned from an Office of the Auditor General source that Bellringer, B.C.’s auditor general since September 2014, will work until the end of the calendar year. After the Legislature opens for its fall sitting on Oct. 8, members will strike a committee to find a replacement.
Bellringer’s analysis of spending by the offices of the clerk, sergeant-at-arms and speaker was slammed as insufficient by Speaker Darryl Plecas in an exclusive interview with theBreaker.news. Plecas had originally proposed that an auditor from outside B.C. conduct a forensic audit into his office and the offices of Clerk Craig James and Sergeant-at-Arms Gary Lenz, who were suspended with pay last November because of an RCMP corruption investigation. The all-party Legislative Assembly Management Committee did an about-face and assigned Bellringer the task.
“A forensic audit would put a file together that could be handed over to the RCMP, that just wasn’t the nature of the work that we did. We were looking first in this particular audit and in this report to let the Legislature know where they had policy gaps. It’s an important framework piece,” Bellringer said on Sept. 19. “When the word forensic audit is used in conversation I’m not always sure what people are meaning by it, because it is a specific term used when you’re putting those sorts of files together. You have to have something to look into before you do so.”
Plecas said in a Sept. 20 interview that he had meetings with Bellringer and her staff, to call attention to matters that he alleged were criminal. He originally proposed an audit dating back to 2012, but Bellringer only examined 2016 to 2018.
“I think the auditor general was quoted as saying she found nothing unusual and nothing which would indicate any kind of criminal wrongdoing and any kind of fraud. I just have to say that boggles me,” Plecas said. “I’ve seen what I describe as full-blown fraud, with my own two eyes, discussed it with other people and ultimately turned it over to police. I’m just astounded there was no wrongdoing found there.”
Bellringer, also on Sept. 19, admitted that she had not heard of the uncontested allegation in Plecas’s scathing January report to LAMC that James and Lenz did not declare purchases of goods while traveling to Canada customs or pay customs duties.
Darryl Plecas, Sept. 20 (Mackin)
During the conference call, theBreaker.news asked Bellringer: “Why should taxpayers have faith that you’re actually looking out for taxpayers’ interests?”
She replied: “I’m not going to answer that question.”
Bellringer was paid $303,665 to oversee a staff of 129 with a budget of almost $18 million last year.
She came to B.C. from Manitoba, where she was that province’s auditor general for 12 years and Winnipeg’s city auditor for six months. She previously worked in management at KPMG offices in Montreal, Toronto and Winnipeg.
Bellringer took over from interim auditor general Russ Jones, who spent 16 months in the position after the May 2013 departure of John Doyle. Doyle returned to Australia after a BC Liberal dominated committee chose not to reappoint him to another six-year term; the committee relented and offered him two more years. Bellringer was the first auditor general appointed to a non-renewable, eight-year term.
Last November, James claimed he did no wrong, but retired in disgrace in May after he was found in misconduct for misusing taxpayer funds. Lenz remains suspended with pay, but his fate could be decided in an upcoming report about alleged Police Act violations by Doug LePard, former deputy chief of the Vancouver Police Department.