The Lower Mainland's four largest cities and the B.C. government celebrated the opening of Taiwanfest by declaring August 30, 2014, as Tzu Chi Day.
It was in honour of the Canadian branch of the Buddhist Compassion Relief Tzu Chi Foundation.
It's a Taiwanese-Canadian charity notable for its thousands of volunteers who provide meals for poor children, help the homeless, and provide disaster relief both in Canada and abroad.
Richmond mayor Malcolm Brodie told the audience at Westside Church in downtown Vancouver that when a plane crashed into an apartment in his city, Tzu Chi Foundation volunteers were on the scene within an hour.
"They carried on for days and days and days because in that apartment building, language was a very large issue," Brodie said. "Of course, these people in a moment's notice were displaced from their homes. They [Tzu Chi Foundation volunteers] were there to add comfort and to aid these people in real need at that time."
Surrey councillor Barinder Rasode said it was a great honour for her to declare on behalf of her council and Mayor Dianne Watts that August 30 was Tzu Chi Day in her city.
"As we strive to enhance the quality of life for our citizens, I cannot begin to tell how grateful I am for the contribution of the Tzu Chi Foundation in our community," Rasode said. "Their office based in Cloverdale has a long list of accomplishments that I cannot name because we will be here all night. But definitely, their breakfast program for school children and their warm-clothes program with new coats for homeless people are things that stand out and that we can all take as examples of serving our residents not only with compassion and respect, but with the utmost love."
Burnaby councillor Paul McDonell told the audience that three years ago in Taiwan (Republic of China), he met the Tzu Chi Foundation's founder, Dharma Master Cheng Yen, a Buddhist nun.
She launched the charity by urging people to donate a penny a day to help others.
"It's grown into the tremendous work they do today," McDonell said. "I really want to thank the Taiwanese for what they do. Whenever there's a need, you know that somebody is going to be there and they're going to do the job—and they're not going to ask for anything in return."
Vancouver councillor Tony Tang read his city's proclamation.
Tang pointed out that Tzu Chi Foundation volunteers are cleaning up the downtown along Granville Street during Taiwanfest, which continues until Monday (September 1).
The province was represented by independent Delta South MLA Vicki Huntington. In her speech, she recalled that she has called on the help of Tzu Chi Foundation volunteers to deal with emergencies in her community.
"I am deeply grateful for the incredible service they give to the entire Canadian community," Huntington said.
In last week's print edition of the Georgia Straight, health writer Gail Johnson chronicled the charitable efforts of the Canadian arm of the Tzu Chi Foundation.
The founder and CEO, Gary Ho, was on-stage to accept plaques from each of the politicians representing their cities. (Ho recently announced that he is stepping down from the CEO's role this fall, but plans on remaining as a volunteer.)
Conductor Ken Hsieh opened with the theme from Brokeback Mountain, which was accompanied by visual images of Lee's film starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger. Hseih, who's of Taiwanese heritage, noted that when Lee won the Oscar, it was a great moment for Taiwan.
The opening of Taiwanfest attracted numerous politicians, including chief Conservative government whip and minister of state John Duncan, Burnaby–New Westminster NDP MP Peter Julian, Burnaby-Edmonds NDP MLA and assistant deputy speaker Raj Chouhan, and Maple Ridge–Mission Liberal MLA Mark Dalton.
Former B.C. Liberal MLA Dave Hayer, who's seeking the Conservative nomination in Cloverdale–Langley City, was also present.
Among the municipal politicians in attendance were Burnaby councillor Anne Kang, Burnaby school board candidate Katrina Chen, Vision Vancouver councillors Raymond Louie and Andrea Reimer, Vision Vancouver park commissioner Niki Sharma (who's running for council), and NPA mayoral candidate Kirk LaPointe.
It was the first official visit to Vancouver by Bruce Linghu, Representative of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Canada.
Joining him at the event was William Chuang, director general of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Vancouver.