edited by Stanley Lee
technical support by Bing Liu
interviewed by Stanley Lee and Yi Fang
In early April right after the write was dropped, we have had the opportunity to talk to Councillor Chak Kwong Au, who is currently a Richmond city councillor. Given how he’s being targeted by the BC Liberals with his ideological fit with the BC NDP, and his knowledge of the needs of Richmond, he shed some light on why he is running for the BC NDP. We hope you will enjoy the interview.
Here are the links before we get to the interview:
Councillor Au appears to be closer to BC Liberal operatives rather than BC NDP operatives in many occasions before running for provincial office. Why did he ultimately decide to run for the BC NDP?
I have friends from many different parties, and it’s not dominated by the BC Liberals. There are many different voices in the community, and when I am serving the community, I interact with people from different political background and opinions. I view and treat them all the same way.
A year ago the BC Liberals did reach out to me, but after the initial talks, I’ve realized that the BC Liberals cannot adequately represent our community’s voice, like building a new hospital, allocating more funding for our schools and other community services. The BC Liberals don’t appear to be interested in those topics; as a result, we’ve ended the talks.
In early December, the BC NDP reached out to me. I found we both have principles in common. As I have the passion to bring our community’s voice into the provincial legislature, I feel if I work with the BC New Democrats, we can get a lot of things done for the community.
Are you a left-wing politician?
Looking back, I believe I’m an independent politician, not belonging to the left or the right.
This riding has a lot of Chinese-Canadian residents. There were some pollical pundits commenting that you as a Chinese-Canadian candidate going up against a caucuasian candidate could result in non-Chinese voters leaning towards voting for your opponent, even though on the surface everything appears to be smooth and peaceful. Can you please comment on this?
Over the many years of community service, I’ve seen every single kind of ideology. Over the past few months, I believe my voting record and comments in the city council reflect that I’m working in the best interest of our entire community, not just for any single ethnic community.
You’ve done a lot for Richmond residents. However, in Richmond, there’s a lot of controversies around the Chinese signage saga. Are you concerned that voters would use their ballots to tell everyone that they don’t really welcome Chinese-Canadians?
This is a very harmonious community. In the past when we discussed the topic of signage regulations, I am in favor of being open-minded about this. If we make sure all voices are being heard, I believe we can come to a satisfactory consensus.
When we interviewed other candidates in Richmond, there were candidates criticizing the lack of funding commitment for the Richmond hospital, citing the business plan review to be a stall tactic. However, another candidate, namely Teresa Wat in Richmond-North Center, believes that the slow pace has to do with bureaucrats have to take their time to following a set of procedures properly. She also criticized that the NDP’s belief of being able to rebuild the hospital right after they get elected reflects its competence at governance. Do you want to comment on this?
Number 1, in 20015, we already know that the hospital cannot withstand a major earthquake. By 2011, there’s another report pointing out that the hospital cannot withstand even a moderate earthquake. Theoretically, there’s sufficient time for the government to understand the need.
Number 2, this is a matter of urgency. In Feb 2016 and March 2017, the Richmond city council requested formal proposals for provincial government approval, which is unprecedented, reflecting this problem’s importance.
How did the [provincial] government respond?
The provincial government requested a feasibility report in Aug 2016. After the second request, the provincial government hastily announced that they have moved onto the next steps in the past 2 days. We know this is part of the administrative process, but as a government it needs to commit to building a new hospital tower. All the steps need to be completed, but the government is now using these procedures as reasons to drag their feet, and didn’t express their position on whether they are going to commit after the two requests.
Is the commitment required before the plan can be confirmed?
The timetable comes after the commitment, and this can be expedited.
The BC NDP has a reputation within the Chinese newcomer community in Metro Vancouver that it doesn’t know how to manage the economy. In fact, some people go as far as saying the BC NDP is an anti-business party. Many BC Liberal candidates repeat the BC NDP’s performance when it was in government in the 1990s. How would you respond to this?
The BC Liberals claim they know how to manage the economy, and brag about it quite often. In reality, most of the surplus in the provincial government coffers came from the real estate industry. If you look at the north and the interiors, the economic development is really poor and the unemployment rate is high. The BC Liberals being experts at managing the economy is just a mirage. In the past 4 or 5 years, Christy Clark claimed that the LNG platform could save the economy. However, we can say that they haven’t accomplished anything to date, and the debt situation is worse than 5 years ago, many times worse than 16 years ago.
Over the development of the BC NDP, we’ve learned from the mistakes. However, what kind of ideas do they have right now? I personally want to support small businesses and opening up international trade. Other than selling our real estate resources, we also need to develop our manufacturing sector. I’ve been advocating this ideas within our community, and I will bring these ideas into the legislature.
Your platform includes increasing social benefits. However, given the provincial debt has worsened since 16 years ago, do we have enough financial resources to fund these initiatives? Would you have to end up adding more debt or taxes?
The BC NDP plans to create jobs, and the social benefits have to be bearable by the community and economy.
Last year the BC Liberals introduced a 15% property transfer tax for foreign buyers. This measure attracted a lot of criticisms, and some pundits in the Chinese newcomer community equated this to the head tax. Your party plans to have a similar tax, so what’s the difference between your plan and your opponent’s?
The tax brought forward by the BC Liberals didn’t yield any results, and the transaction volume has been reduced by half but without any significant reduction in prices. Local residents remain unable to afford buying their own homes, but the real estate industry contracted. Comparing the prices in January, housing prices still rose by 20 to 30%, so young residents are less able to afford these properties, hence these measures yielding no results. The NDP isn’t targeting what passport these buyers hold; our goal is aimed at tackling speculation. When we start governing, we would reassess the results of the measures, and then tackle speculation with the measures.
The BC NDP has a great relationship with the unions. Unions serve an important purpose in our society, but also cause inconvenience whenever there’s a job action. Like the teachers strike in 2014, some people are concerned that the unions couldn’t be contained. In the future, when the unions, especially teachers, parents, and student groups want more concessions, do you feel the NDP government could manage its relationships properly? What role should the government play and how should a balance be determined?
The government should take a balanced approach and note take sides. If the BC NDP is close to the unions, then the BC Liberals are close to big business. Big businesses have donated massive amounts to the BC Liberals, up to multiple millions.
In our interview with Teresa Wat, she mentioned that within the Chinese newcomer community there are different political ideologies and economic status. Since most Chinese-Canadians are not close with the unions, unless they have a special relationship with unions, there’s no fundamental reason for them to support the BC NDP. What other interests does the BC NDP stand for other than unions and workers?
That’s a hypothetical assumption. I don’t want to answer, and I don’t know how I can answer. A lot of requests from the Chinese-Canadian community are closely aligned with the BC NDP’s values. Chinese medicine legislation is an example. The New Democrats works for hard-working taxpayers, so I don’t see any conflicts.
As a public official, do you have any comments on boosting the voter turnout for the Chinese newcomer communities?
As a public official for the past decade, I’ve noticed a lot of Chinese-Canadians are unaware of their rights, hence didn’t take their votes seriously. In every election we motivate them to come out to vote, but it couldn’t be sustained on a consistent basis, since the motivating voters to turn is no longer a problem for the elected official or the defeated candidates. That said, I do see an opportunity if we as a community work towards this as a long term goal, and long-term sustained effort is important.
Why should young people get involved in politics? After Donald Trump became the president of the United States, the political climate became more uncertain, and with liberal democracy continuing to lose credibility and widespread political corruption and degradation, why not spend more time getting into business, building skills or entertaining oneself? Why do you still encourage them to get involved in politics?
Young people should still continue getting involved in politics, because it is directly relevant to their futures. We need to ensure the direction of future development is correct. If the system isn’t functioning like we expect, using campaign financing as an example if you don’t want large corporations controlling the government, we need to ban political donations from big businesses and unions. The beauty of the democratic system is the opportunity to fix mistakes using a ballot. It also brings us hope, especially in motivating more young people to get involved to improve our society.