New Trudeau Senate appointee Yuen Pau Woo has fans and critics in B.C.
OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, by appointing to the Senate a prominent B.C. advocate for closer Canada-China relations and the construction of oilsands pipelines, has predictably triggered both praise and scathing criticism.
Yuen Pau Woo, who moved to Canada from Singapore as a teenager, was from 2005 to 2014 head of the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada. The 53-year-old Woo was one of nine independents (non-political party affiliated) appointed to the Senate on Thursday.
During his tenure at the foundation, Woo urged Canadian society as well as governments to support greater economic, social and academic links between Canada and Asia.
“This would make sense if it was the Chinese government that appointed him to the Canadian Senate, because he’s he’s certainly very focused on looking out for Chinese interests,” said New Democratic Party MP Nathan Cullen, the MP for Skeena-Bulkley Valley.
“I’m looking out for British Columbia and Canadian interests, and I don’t understand this prime minister’s obsession with China’s priorities to the detriment of our own.
“We have a prime minister who is pretending to listen to First Nations and environmental concerns, but really his strongest motivation is a trade deal with China and moving Canadian raw resources to China as quickly as possible.”
But a business community spokesman said Woo’s appointment is in fact a positive contribution to Canada’s economic interests.
Woo, who was en route to Canada from India Thursday and unavailable for comment, will help B.C. and the rest of the country take advantage of the “huge shift” in the global economy towards Asian markets, said Greg D’Avignon, president of the Business Council of B.C.
“It was an inspired choice.”
He pointed out that Woo, as head of the government- and private sector-supported HQ Vancouver, was instrumental in bringing eight head offices to Vancouver over the past 18 months.
David Emerson, who served in cabinet under Liberal Prime Minister Paul Martin and then Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper, also praised Trudeau’s selection.
“Pau is highly professional, honest and generally blunt,” said Emerson, who served with Woo on former premier Gordon Campbell’s Economic Advisory Council.
“His Asia skills and knowledge base will serve the Senate and Canada very well.”
Woo’s 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.
Woo has also been critical of those who have blamed Chinese investors for Vancouver’s affordable housing crisis, arguing in a Vancouver Sun opinion piece essay earlier this year that finger-pointing amounts to “race baiting.”
A statement from Trudeau’s office stressed Woo’s global outlook.
“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,” it said.
“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.”
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.
Thursday’s nine Senate appointees are all to 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 upper chamber.
Prior to Thursday, there were 40 Conservatives, 23 non-affiliated senators, 21 Liberals and 21 vacancies in the chamber.
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.