edited by Stanley Lee
interviewed by Yi Fang
In early April, we’ve had the opportunity to interview Councilor James Wang. Even though he is currently a city councilor in Burnaby, he has family ties in Vancouver-Langara, since his parents still live there. He used to be an architect in Xian, China before moving here more than 20 years ago, then he had to start a new career here due to the challenges with foreign credential recognition. He eventually embarked a career in the business world in Metro Vancouver before entering politics.
Councillor Wang’s campaign is running frequent ads on Chinese television and radio stations, so the measure of his campaign’s success, regardless of the result, is likely to build in-roads with the Chinese newcomer communities for the NDP.
Here are the relevant links before we get to the interview:
We want to thank you for accepting our interview invite. First question, you see that I’m wearing a red scarf today. When you attend events in the Chinese community, you often wear a red scarf. Who came up with this idea? This impression is quite memorable.
It’s simple. As an immigrant from China, when I serve, grow, rebuild, and build my servicing community. I feel as a Chinese immigrant, through symbolism of the scarf or the Chinese tunic suit, I’m willing to wear them in celebrations like the Chinese New Year. Canada is a multicultural society. As a Chinese immigrant, wearing the scarf and the Chinese tunic suit in an event with strong Chinese culture is very meaningful. I’m proud to be a member of this community.
In this riding, we have two ethnic Chinese candidates competing with each other. Do you know Michael Lee privately? Why do you feel you’re more suitable to be elected?
I’ve seen Michael Lee once or twice in some community events. We shook hands and greeted each other. I think he’s a respectable competitor, and he’s a family man like I am. The difference lies in my long-term track record of serving the community at the school board and city council. In the city council, my responsibility isn’t being a public official; it’s representing a community in the city council. I have deeper roots and more grounded in the community.
Some commentators feel that Vancouver-Langara typically leans in favor of the BC Liberals. Given the demographics of this riding has a lot more Chinese voters who speak Cantonese, many feel you have less of a chance to win. Are you concerned about this?
I think the competition is going to be touch. I’m confident that I have a strong link with the community given my sincerity, my 20 years serving the community, including 9 as an elected official. My mother has lived here for almost 17 years, and my family has had a business here for 20 years. I have worked in this community myself. So I have strong ties with this community in many ways. When I got approached to run for provincial office by many members of this community, I considered it seriously. Over the past decade, the BC Liberals didn’t adequately represent this community in the legislature. Over the past year or so, the BC Liberals only serves the special interest, ignoring the livelihoods of normal working class residents. Many members of this community approached me to run for office in order to represent them better in the legislature using my past experience.
In the past 10 years serving in the Burnaby city council and school board, what achievements in particular do you feel would help you? What kind of causes do you want to speak for the community if you do get elected?
A couple of topics. One is public education, one is health care, and another one is seniors care. The most important is affordable housing. Everybody in this community pay close attention to those topics. Transportation is also related to the municipal government.
In the past decade, public education is severely underfunded – over $24 million shortfall. Schools are threatened to close, and when you have school board trustees getting fired unilaterally, you’ve got major aggression on public education. Based on my experience working on these issues in the city council, I’m confident that we can solve all of these problems. Everyone knows Burnaby is named Canada’s best run city by MacLeans magazine. Burnaby is the best financially managed city. So we know how to serve the community, how to work with different levels and agencies of the government, how to serve citizens.
Within the Chinese community, the NDP has a reputation of being an anti-business party who has no clue of how to manage an economy. As a representative of the NDP, how would you respond to these perceptions? Your opponents are likely to say how awful the decade of NDP government was in the 1990s. How would you respond to these allegations?
I personally feel over the past 10+ years, that the BC Liberals primarily serve big business, the wealthy, and special interests. They’ve cut taxes for big business and the wealthy by many hundreds of millions of dollars, and I feel they are pretty successful at doing it.
Their dog whistle political communications within visible minority communities, framing the NDP as a union party who doesn’t have a clue about how to manage an economy, is not a healthy practice. Let’s use the example of Burnaby BCA. Burnaby is also governed by a progressive party. Yet under our management, we are able to be ranked as the best managed city in Canada, and having the best economic status within BC. Burnaby is also the most multicultural and environmentally-friendly city.
I don’t think it’s appropriate to use something implemented 25 years ago to label some group to be clueless at the economic management. This kind of rhetoric is hurtful, so your role is very important. You promote positive, neutral, and objective analysis into the picture, so that the electorate wouldn’t have this problem.
Four years ago when the BC NDP was campaigning, the BC Liberals ran advertising calling the ten years of BC NDP government as the ten year disaster (十年浩劫). This term invokes traumatic memories of the Chinese Cultural Revolution.
Speaking of which, when we interviewed Minister Teresa Wat, she mentioned this term a few times. What do you think?
Minister Wat doesn’t have the need to mention this term. First of all, you cannot use something as traumatic as this as a political tactic. I think this is an unfair, unkind, and even disrespectful move to the Chinese community. Can you use the February 28 incident to describe the performance of any given political party? Of course not, so I plead everyone to not use these phrases. Also, as a communications director or manager during the NDP government, I find it quite hypocritical for her to throw these terms around. As a candidate, I find campaigning mentally challenging given the conduct of the parties.
Last year, the BC Liberal government introduced an extra 15% property transfer tax for foreign buyers. What do you think of the policy’s effectiveness? There are recent reports saying the NDP version of the policy doesn’t differ that much from the BC Liberal’s. Do you want to clarify your party’s policy?
Over the past few years, the NDP didn’t persist to sound the alarm in the legislature to introduce damping measures on the real estate market. However, our premier and government did absolutely nothing until election time, and that’s until after social unrest in many target visible minority communities. Under no consultation whatsoever, they unilaterally introduced this policy.
Do you think this policy is “anti-Chinese”? Do you think this term is appropriate?
I personally believe this term is inappropriate, but at the same time, the tax that is based on the nationality of the passport you hold is discriminatory. There are many people working here holding Chinese, Filipino, and Indian passports. Why should they pay this tax? They’ve contributed a lot to this community, but you tax them the same way. Granted, they fixed some of the problems later on, but what does this say about their governance? Shouldn’t they take it more seriously when they introduce the legislation?
This governing party is negligent of voters and arrogant. They only care about doing the things that would help them get re-elected. This government has been in power for too long.
Let’s talk about LNG and Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion. The NDP’s position is quite clear. However, are you concerned that gives the perception that the NDP cares more about the environment rather than the economy? We also see some division among the union working class. Some unions publicly support the BC Liberals. Are you concerned about such divisions in your district?
From the standpoint on LNG, I feel the BC Liberals threw a lot of empty words. They claim they can get a lot of funding, contributing $10 billion to the economy. What’s the result after four years? Zero.
You can’t blame other parties. You’re the one who promised it, so you need to get it done.
As you can see, in between elections, they’ve done nothing on affordable housing, nothing on transportation. Right before this election, they’ve announced numerous funding projects for affordable housing, and decided to match the contributions to Translink by the federal government in the last minute. It clearly shows this party cares more about getting re-elected than actually governing.
Their pre-election budget revealed a lot too. The Sing Tao Daily editor wrote an excellent article. Their pre-election budget included a lot of measures that are predictably in an NDP election platform.
Like MSP, over the past few years, it has hiked over 100%. When Justin Trudeau got elected as Prime Minister of Canada, it has pledged to reduce the premiums by half. So we’re returning to the rate before Christy Clark got her first mandate.
The BC Liberals used LNG as an economic topic to attract swing voters. They really know how to get elected, and they promised left and right.
Let’s talk about Kinder Morgan. In Burnaby, this project affects our environmental safety quite seriously. The BC Liberals claim they are concerned, but didn’t speak up about these concerns.
I don’t think the BC NDP would give up the economy in favor of environment. In the 21st century, both are vital.
Let’s talk about the Chinese community. On the internet, we discussed many ethnic Chinese running for office, especially those from the Mainland Chinese community. Many people claim they want to speak for the Chinese community and claim interests for the Chinese community. If you want to represent the Chinese community, what kind of voice and interest do you want to bring to the table?
I believe we speak for everyone inside the community, not exclusive to any ethnic group. And no public officials could really do this. We have to service a diverse community, and this is our governing philosophy. Granted, given you’re from the Chinese community, you know what topics they pay more attention to, hence know what you want to prioritize. Canada is a multicultural society, and everyone comes from different backgrounds, so if the community brings their concerns to city councils and the legislature, we can solve the problem. That’s what elected officials from visible minority groups should do and I feel confident about my experience to do that.
We also know that the voter turnout within the Chinese community isn’t that high. I believe you also know this, and want to improve voter turnout. What suggestions do you have? It may not have to do with your candidacy, but we would like to know for the future development of the community.
I think it’s quite important. As a political figure, we will definitely look at voter turnout. Voting is a privilege and a right. In a democratic country, you can vote or not vote, but when you see a certain ethnicity having a 10% voter turnout, you would feel this needs to be resolved. For example, in Richmond, which has the worst voter turnout in the whole province, do you think your votes are needed? We have a proverb saying “if you neglect politics, politics will neglect you”. If you stay far away from politics, many of your requests will fall on deaf ears. You can cast a ballot for anyone, even if it’s a void ballot, it’s meaningful. They will be heard.
On different forms of media, we have noticed a wave of Sinophobia. It may sound exaggerated, but we would like to know what you think about this phenomenon? If this really exists, what do you think we should do about it for self-protection and societal harmony?
I think we’ve always had varying degrees of this problem. As a bridge in the community and as an elected official, I think it’s important to speak up for the community. I feel many Chinese immigrants should come out to the community more and do community service to build it. Canada is a small-government, big-society place, so many public services are made possible by everyone working together. We emphasize volunteerism and public responsibility. We want an integrative society.
Many Mainland Chinese immigrants remain in their small circles after coming here. If more of our friends can come out, and participate in building our community, benefitting from the multicultural Canadian society and grow with the community.
Why do we have so few Chinese-Canadians running for office? Because they don’t participate in the community. You need a pipeline of these community leaders to choose from when recruiting to run for public office.
Howe many volunteering hours do you think Canadians gave in a year? Over 1 billion hours. Burnaby, with a population of 240,000, has 10,000 people volunteering their time. If you know these numbers, you would know how many hours our friends in the Chinese community volunteered. Very few.
I hope everyone would come out, benefitting from the joys of the community, regardless of your economic class. We can go to the seniors care home, and deliver meals to them. You could experience what it’s like to be helped. I feel I would use different ways to encourage people to come out to the community in order to better understand each other.
If you have an opportunity to ask Michael Lee a question, what would it be?
I want to repeat that we are in the grassroots everyday to serve the community. Last year, I’ve been to over 300 events, so I’m very in touch with the community as well as an elected official. I feel Michael is a top lawyer, more fitting with the BC Liberal’s elite governing philosophy. I heard that he has been a leader within SUCCESS 20 years ago. From my point of view, community servants come from the community.
As an MLA, because its duties differ from a city councilor, you may have a learning curve. How would you balance between being visible in the community with the events, talking with voters, and spending time understanding policies? Have you thought about how to strike that balance? Would it result in you being able to attend less community events?
I think the philosophies of a city concillor, a school trustee, and a MLA is the same. You come from the community to serve the community. As an MLA, I would represent Vancouver-Langara. For most of the year, you’re in the riding talking to voters, bringing their voices to the legislature. This is the same as what we are doing at the city council.
I believe many young people have joined your volunteering team. However, same question, many young people, regardless of ethnicity, are starting to question liberal democracy. They feel that it’s difficult to bring change, or undesirable changes happen like Donald Trump being elected President of the United States. Voter turnout with young people has been depressed as well. Given your experience in politics, what would you say to these young people? How would you persuade them that their votes or volunteerism still make a difference?
Young people are becoming more important in any public event, including elections. They are becoming key voting blocks as well. They can come from many difference places. Local young people built a sense of volunteerism from their high school days, so they may have built the habit already.
If you’re talking about international students from Mainland China, maybe they are inexperienced, so reprogramming their thought patterns take time.
Nowadays young people aren’t ignorant of politics. I went to a debate at a school in Langara. Many of their questions are very specific. Young people are the pillars of our country and community. This election is an excellent opportunity to build ourselves, whether it’s leadership skills, comphrension, doorknocking, telephone canvassing. It would help your lives a lot. So it’s cool for young people to participate in an election as a volunteer.