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Justin Trudeau fills B.C. Senate appointment with Yuen Pau Woo

by October 27, 2016 General

OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has chosen an outspoken advocate for a closer relations with Asia and especially China as his first B.C. appointment to the Senate.

Trudeau, pushing aside appeals from some of his most partisan West Coast political supporters seeking the post, has named Yuen Pau Woo as one of B.C.’s six members of the upper chamber.

Woo, who was born in Singapore but moved to Canada on an academic scholarship at age 16, is the former president of the Vancouver-based Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada.

The federal government-funded think-tank has long advocated closer relations with Asia, and openly supported the construction of pipelines to B.C. ports in order to ship Alberta’s oilsands riches to Asia-Pacific buyers.

The foundation produced a comprehensive annual poll under Woo’s tenure from 2005 to 2014 that documented the ambivalence many Canadians felt about closer relations and a possible free trade deal with China.

But Woo nonetheless pushed for closer ties, and at one point launched a three-year, cross-Canada “national conversation on Asia,” despite the Communist regime’s grim human rights record and uneven treatment of foreign investors.

“Over the past 28 years, Mr. Woo has worked on public policy issues from coast to coast, with a special emphasis on Canada’s relations with Asia, and has been a spokesperson for British Columbia and Canada in the Asia Pacific,” Trudeau’s office said in a statement.

“He has been a champion for openness in trade, capital, and people flows, encouraging innovation and risk taking, and fostering public good. Mr. Woo has helped many entities — public and private — understand the importance of Asia for their business and has contributed to policy-making on Canada-Asia relations.”

A 2013 Vancouver Sun commentary he co-wrote with former federal cabinet minister David Emerson was headlined: “Enough talk about why Asia is important; time for action.”

Emerson, who served in cabinet under Liberal Prime Minister Paul Martin and then Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper, praised Trudeau’s selection.

“Pau is highly professional, honest and generally blunt,” Emerson said in an email Thursday.

“His Asia skills and knowledge base will serve the Senate and Canada very well.”

The appointment is the latest in a series of signals, both open and subtle, that Trudeau is embracing a closer Canada-China relationship. Earlier this year he named Peter Harder, a former senior bureaucrat and one-time head of the Canada China Business Council, as his government’s representative in the Senate.

Woo is to be among nine appointees named Thursday to the upper chamber, and all will serve as independents.

Trudeau is expected to fill the remaining seats in a matter of days, according to The Canadian Press, and those final appointees will make independents the largest group in the chamber.

Prior to the nine appointments to be announced Thursday there were 40 Conservatives, 23 non-affiliated senators, 21 Liberals, and 21 vacancies.

B.C. is grossly under-represented in the Senate, with only six members in the 105-seat chamber.

That’s less than six per cent of the total for a province with roughly 13 per cent of Canada’s population.

The other B.C. members of the Senate are Conservatives Nancy Greene Raine, Richard Neufeld and Yonah Martin, Liberal Mobina Jaffer, and independent Larry Campbell, who was appointed by Liberal Prime Minister Paul Martin in 2005.

The Trudeau government had opened up the Senate appointment process to ordinary Canadians, inviting applications from the public. But he also established an advisory panel to give him a short list of recommended candidates.

One of the more partisan British Columbian applicants was Prem Vinning, best known for his skills in organizing Indo-Canadians to vote in Liberal candidate nomination meetings and leadership contests.

The current base annual salary for senators is $145,400, though senators who take on added tasks like chairing a committee get additional remuneration.

Twitter: @poneilinottawa