Cultural chauvinism poses economic risk for Canada

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      A decade ago, the U.S. government’s National Intelligence Council declared in a futuristic report that the next phase of globalization would have an Asian face.

      In Canada, the twin trends of Asianization and globalization are meeting with a backlash.

      We want your money but we’re not interested in getting to know you because we don’t really like or trust you: that was the repeat message Canadians told Asia in the recent second annual survey conducted by the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada (APFC) on attitudes toward the region.

      Instead of relishing their country’s 140-percent increase in exports to Asia over the past decade, with prospects for further gains, Canadians who responded to the survey—titled “Canadian Views on Asia”, with the results released this past May­—focused on the region’s negatives, including the perceived threats from China, their country’s second-largest and fastest-growing export market, and the lack of shared cultural values with Asian societies.

      (Canada’s exports to Asia rose from $20.7 billion in 2003 to $51.2 billion last year, making it the most important major growth market for Canadian products.)

      The negative sentiments from the APFC survey of almost 3,500 individuals are sending a paradoxical and awkward message: that Canada wants little to do with Asia at the same time that it needs Asian capital and markets to reduce the country’s dependence on a slow-growing and heavily indebted U.S. and Europe.

      The souring sentiments present a dilemma for Canada’s ambivalent political leadership as it weighs the feelings of the country’s largely white voters against the warnings of business leaders that it risks being left behind by Asia’s fast-growing economies of four billion people.

      British Columbia has a much higher stake in this Asianization debate than the rest of Canada, given the province’s growing ties with the region. Premier Christy Clark’s ambitious agenda to launch a $1-trillion economy relies heavily on an Asia-dependent liquefied natural gas (LNG) industry that doesn’t yet exist in Canada.

      Despite the numerous political, environmental, and financial hurdles, the industry has made a promising start, with 15 proposals in the past three years to build multibillion-dollar projects in B.C. to export the fuel to Asia.

      Singapore’s Pacific Oil & Gas and Malaysia’s state-owned Petronas are firmly in the lead to make final investment decisions to develop their projects. Petronas’s all-Asian consortium is planning to invest a massive C$36 billion, while Pacific Oil & Gas’s Woodfibre subsidiary would spend $1.7 billion on its Squamish plant.

      Clark’s LNG agenda locks B.C. onto a path of accelerated ties with Asia that started cautiously under the previous regime of Gordon Campbell.

      But are B.C., and Canada, ready for more?

      Canada’s export trends suggest some degree of globalization and Asianization has already been under way, according to the APFC. The U.S. share of Canada’s export earnings has fallen from around 87 percent in 2002 to 75.6 percent in 2012, while Asia’s share has more than doubled, from 5.6 percent to a record 11.6 percent over the same period. After registering annual growth of more than eight percent over the past 30 years, China’s economy could soon become the world’s largest as the U.S. slips into second spot under the weight of its enormous war expenses, record debt levels, and the legacy of the 2008 financial meltdown.

      The dual trends of a rising Asia and a stagnating West have driven Canadian policymakers and businesses to call for faster economic and export diversification.

      B.C. has taken the message to heart: more than 44 percent of its $14.9 billion in exports went to Asia last year, up from 24 percent in 2000.

      Alberta, too, has a growing stake, as it needs to diversify its oil exports away from an increasingly energy-independent U.S. Two of the most high-profile companies in Calgary today are subsidiaries of state-owned China National Offshore Oil Corp. and Petronas.

      Across B.C. and Alberta, there has been a visible increase in the presence of Chinese, Korean, and Filipino businesses, workers, and tourists. Asia’s economic influence has expanded to boost the prospects of Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and the Northwest Territories.

      Given these impacts, the rationale for Canada’s increased engagement with the region makes sense, but there appears to be some disconnect between the elite and the rest of the country. Government and industry policy papers on Canada’s commitment with Asia are focused on big-picture issues pertaining to trade, investment, economics, security, and geopolitics.

      At the people level, however, little attention has been paid to race relations. The speed and size of Asia’s growing presence are unsettling many Canadians, particularly in parts of Metro Vancouver. B.C. has a history of anti-Asian discrimination that it is just coming to terms with.

      Its mainstream media, which has little Asian representation, has taken the lead in blaming Chinese buying for the rise in real-estate prices while ignoring the combined roles played by sustained low interest rates, pension funds, domestic investors, and real-estate investment trusts.

      Vancouver’s emergence as North America’s most Asian city may be great for business but it is also viewed with mixed feelings by some long-time residents. According to a 2012 study by Daniel Hiebert, a UBC geography professor, whites are going from being more than 58 percent of the Metro Vancouver population in 2006 to likely a 41-percent minority by 2031, with Asians expected to become the new majority.

      As the country’s fastest-growing visible-minority group, Asians today represent about 13 percent of Canada’s population.

      Long-time residents can probably identify with my two Caucasian family friends Dan and Barbara Cohen, who have experienced Richmond’s rapid transformation from a quiet farming community to a bustling, largely Chinese-populated city during the past 15 years.

      Although the influx of energy and capital has brightened Richmond’s economic outlook, it has also led to complaints that the city’s migrant Chinese population is not doing enough to integrate, thereby alienating residents of other races.

      Dan, a kindly grandfather in his early 80s who welcomes Richmond’s growth and diversity, wishes the Chinese would promote the use of English in the city; Barbara is annoyed that new residents in her condominium complex do not return her greetings or fail to understand fire-safety warnings.

      These personal experiences may seem small in the context of global trade, LNG, and geopolitics, but they matter if Canada is to develop its Asia potential.

      Another source of concern is the mostly negative news from Asia: territorial disputes between China and its neighbours, environmental degradation, human-rights abuses, honour killings, and rampant corruption. From the perspectives of many Canadians, what can Asia and Asians offer other than money?

      Although policymakers and business leaders believe that an increase in what the APFC calls domestic “Asia competence” will help raise the level of knowledge about and interaction with the region, a majority of Canadians surveyed told the foundation that they are not interested. Its polling found that most people preferred to deal with countries that offer “political comfort and familiarity”.

      Reflecting their comfort zone, 26 percent of respondents viewed Australia as “very important” to Canadian prosperity even though it is not a top-10 trading partner. Only 13 percent recognized South Korea as important despite its being Canada’s seventh-largest trading partner, while only 35 percent rated China as “highly important”.

      “A majority of Canadians prefer to strengthen economic ties with traditional western allies,” the APFC said in the May survey release. “They tend to be more willing to engage with trading partners such as Australia and the UK, which are widely regarded as friendly and democratic. There is less enthusiasm for engaging with emerging powers.”

      Yuen Pau Woo, who recently stepped down as the APFC’s CEO, is neither surprised nor discouraged by the challenge of convincing Canada that it has a future with Asia even as it holds onto its Atlantic roots.

      He said he thinks Canada will lose if it fails to participate in Asia’s economic growth and general development. Woo, a former Malaysian who came to Canada in 1979 as a 16-year-old student, firmly advocates standing for Canadian values and human rights in dealings with Asia, particularly when doing business in China.

      In an interview in his downtown Vancouver office shortly before he stepped down, Woo said that although Canada cannot hope to fully understand Asia’s complexity, it would be foolish to ignore the region. He noted that Australia and various western countries such as the U.K., Germany, and France that many Canadians would choose to deal with are themselves actively developing and implementing strategies to engage Asia.

      Woo, who left in August after completing his office’s maximum nine-year term, partly blames Canadians’ negative or indifferent attitude on Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s inconsistent handling of Asia ties. After a brief burst of interest, Woo said, Harper appears to have largely delegated the task of building Asian relations to his trade minister.

      Under Woo, who became one of Canada’s most visible public figures of Asian descent, the APFC has raised awareness of Asia’s importance among Canada’s policymakers and business leaders.

      “Our role is to help organizations and companies develop their Asia competence in Canada,” he said. “We raise awareness, encourage discussion across the country, get companies to think of issues and to come up with their own Asia strategies and to recognize that you cannot accomplish these goals and objectives unless you have the people, the languages, and the skills set to implement them.”

      Critics have torn into Clark’s LNG agenda since she rode it with her provincial Liberals to win big in the 2013 election. They have accused her of exaggerating the projected economic windfall and the green credentials of LNG production while downplaying the concerns of First Nations groups, farmers, and environmentalists. They suspect her government is planning to help open the floodgates to imported labour at the expense of Canadian workers.

      The anticipated LNG boom and rising Asian investments in B.C. are having the unintended impact of empowering B.C.’s First Nations in dealing with both the oil and gas industry and governments. With potentially hundreds of billions of dollars in investments at stake, the ability of B.C.’s First Nations to grant or withhold “social licence” has put them in a position of unprecedented power. This was not diminished in any way by the Supreme Court of Canada’s so-called Tsilhqot’in decision last July, which affirmed aboriginal title to traditional territories.

      First Nations groups have accused the industry and government of not respecting their concerns about environmental-safety issues in relation to oil and gas exploitation as well as the construction of both pipelines across their land and LNG terminals near fishing grounds. Aboriginal groups and environmentalists also oppose hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, which involves injecting water and toxic chemicals deep into the ground to produce otherwise inaccessible oil and gas.

      Garry Reece (former chief councillor of the Lax Kw’alaams band), Derek Orr (chief of the McLeod Lake band), and Sharleen Gale (chief of the Fort Nelson First Nation) were among the most vocal industry critics who spoke at the B.C. LNG conference in Vancouver from May 21 to 23 this year.

      In separate interviews at the Vancouver Convention Centre, both Reece and Orr said they would withhold support for fracking and pipeline projects because they are not satisfied with the industry’s assurances it will protect the environment.

      Premier Clark has appointed Wade Grant, a Vancouver-based Musqueam leader, as her government’s special adviser on First Nations issues. The 36-year-old UBC political-science graduate—who has worked on indigenous economic projects and represented First Nations interests on public entities such as the Vancouver police and B.C. aboriginal tourism boards—is focusing on building consensus among numerous bands to help advance the LNG agenda.

      However, the industry’s huge appetite for skilled labour poses another political challenge, with the B.C. Natural Gas Workforce Strategy Committee projecting demand for more than 100,000 new skilled workers to build and operate liquefaction plants.

      Clark has sought to calm the industry’s fears that it might be hit with the Australian experience of severe labour shortages and spiralling wage costs. At the same time, she has also promised that Canadians will have priority for LNG jobs.

      The reality, though, is that the industry will have to import workers, given Canada’s small population relative to the present and anticipated size of its booming oil and gas industry, along with its inexperience with LNG.

      However, imported labour has become a hot political issue following the recent controversies surrounding the federal Temporary Foreign Worker (TFW) program.

      The Vancouver-based Centre for Immigration Policy Reform (CIPR) is not convinced that Canada has a serious labour-shortage problem and believes that employers are importing foreign workers to keep wages down. CIPR spokesperson Martin Collacott—a former Canadian ambassador who has served in Asia and the Middle East—wrote in the National Post last April of TFW employers: “The fact is…they can’t find local people to do the work at the wages being offered.” (Emphasis added by Collacott.)

      Collacott is also a known critic of what he calls “ethnic enclaves” that arise when large groups of immigrants band together on arrival in Canada and do not want or are unable to integrate.

      On the external front, B.C.’s LNG prospects may have been dampened by Russia’s May 21 announcement that it will sell US$400 billion worth of natural gas to China. But the deal between Russia’s Gazprom and the China National Petroleum Corporation remains fraught with uncertainty, as the sales and purchase terms could still be altered at a later stage.

      A decade ago, Canadians would have regarded this deal as a quaint piece of foreign news. But as Canada increasingly confronts globalization and Asianization, B.C.’s LNG ambitions have made such deals in faraway locations a matter of make-or-break for its own economic future.

      Ng Weng Hoong is a Vancouver journalist with more than 30 years of experience covering the energy industry in Asia and the Middle East.




      Sep 17, 2014 at 2:46pm

      "B.C. has a history of anti-Asian discrimination that it is just coming to terms with."

      For a start you can just put that comment to bed. You're not going to single out people in BC as being more racist than any other Canadian group. If you want real dialogue or to find out why people think the way they do then that sort of shit needs to be left out.

      Instead of looking at the decrease in the white population from 2006 to 2012, try looking at it from before Expo 86. I can't remember the actual number but the proportion of whites in the population may have been more than 90%. To go from 90% to 53% in 26 years is nothing short of remarkable. It's unheard of. If you want to know why so many whites are concerned about this just see what happened to the First Nations. Although the change will not be anywhere nearly as damaging, nobody wants to risk losing their culture or having their cultural values feel out of sync with the majority.

      The problem is that the white population knows there's nothing that can be done about it. Vancouver has provided a very clear example of what might happen in most parts of Canada eventually, at least in the west. And before you use the race card again just think about the degree of racism that you or other Asians may have faced in this migration. Perhaps you've been called a few names here and there, but that's about it. In fact you would be hard-pressed to find any other time in history where a change in culture of this magnitude has happened so peacefully and in such a short time.


      Sep 17, 2014 at 3:07pm

      I like the reporting in a lot of this article, but one section - the one most related to the idea of chauvenism - really, really bothers me:

      "Its mainstream media, which has little Asian representation, has taken the lead in blaming Chinese buying for the rise in real-estate prices while ignoring the combined roles played by sustained low interest rates, pension funds, domestic investors, and real-estate investment trusts."

      Uh...yeah. So what?

      If it's not true, if it's a lie, then maybe that's racism.

      But if the facts include that Asians are buying condos on pre-completion deals no matter how absurdly inflated the cost, it's not *racist* of the media to put that in their articles.

      By the way, your mention of low interest rates, etc, smacks of apologia. Local Vancouverites - which includes a few Asian folks including myself - are faced with paying a million dollars for a hideous scrog pad, or a half million dollars for a concrete closet in the sky. But if low interest rates were the solution, and offshore investing not part of the problem, why, we wouldn't care! We would just frolic in the joy of the ease of finding local real estate!

      I'd like to know if you are suggesting that the Canadian media somehow has a responsibility to soft-pedal reporting on the buying of local real estate, out of racial sensitivity.

      I'm hoping you're going to say no, because otherwise, you'd be advocating an idea that certain audiences must be shielded from reporting on topics that could hurt their racial pride.

      I'd find that kind of attitude to be inappropriate in a journalist. It would be condescending and, frankly, racist - "you people can't take it."

      Of course there are thoughtful and not-alarmist ways to put these facts into an article. Articles can certainly turn into screeds and, sure, you want to think about how they sound. But you don't stop reporting them, do you?

      Charlie Smith

      Sep 17, 2014 at 3:07pm

      The biggest concern I have from the commenter above is the way he reduces everything to ethnicity.

      We are a multiplicity of identities, as the very wise Nobel Prize winner Amartya Sen has pointed out.

      People have many dimensions to them, including their class, education, hobbies, ethnicity, religion, family status, sexual orientation, and political disposition. The newcomers to Canada run the gamut from poor to rich, gay to straight, deeply spiritual to atheist.

      Once we get past this white nonwhite rubbish, we'll learn that we have a lot more in common with one another than the sum of our differences. Canada changes immigrants. Ask any immigrant if they're the same person today as they were when they arrived in this country.

      We're still an example to the world. Let's hope it remains this way.

      Charlie Smith


      Sep 17, 2014 at 3:22pm

      Well Charlie, perhaps you are just more perfect than the average person. The fact that the writer is bringing up the idea that there is a white/Asian split means that many, if not most people, think differently than you.

      If you want more proof then just look at the people who showed up to rallies supporting teachers. What race were they? They certainly didn't reflect the diversity that makes up this part of the world. Why is that? Could it be that different cultures have different values? Don't forget that there's more to a culture than the colour of their skin.


      Sep 17, 2014 at 3:34pm

      What is this country called "Asia"? Or is "asian" an ethnicity?

      Does China have the same culture and economic interests or approach as, say Japan, the Philippines, Malaysia, India, Taiwan?

      The author is being less than honest in his approach, by collapsing concerns about "asia" with concerns about China.

      Ask residents of other nations in asia what their concerns are, do polls of their people and business community, and I suspect it won't look that different than Canada. China is their worry - it's heft, it's mix of totalitarianism and state capitalism, it's chauvinism, its growing arrogance. Heck, you don't even have to go outside of China - ask a Hong Konger! Beijing is attempting to extinguish their language!

      This is not an issue of "ethnicity" (as if asian is an ethnicity!), it's an issue of nationalism. China sees itself as a competitor to the USA for the title of global hegemon. Many of their business/political class has internalized this attitude. It's not at all clear they would be better than the USA, and may be quite a bit worse - for one thing, they're the "new kid" with more to prove, and have a chip on their shoulder (the so-called "century of humiliation". That doesn't bode well.

      Collapsing the interests of China and "Asia" is like collapsing people's concerns about the USA with those of "the americas" - as if Inuit and Argentinians are the same as Americans!

      Canada, and Asia, have every reason to be cautious about China.


      Sep 17, 2014 at 3:46pm


      "By the way, your mention of low interest rates, etc, smacks of apologia. Local Vancouverites - which includes a few Asian folks including myself - are faced with paying a million dollars"

      If you look it up the relative increases in real estate prices between 2002-2008 for other cities in Canada, you'll find that Vancouver (and region) is NOT exceptional. Calgary, Edmonton, Montreal, Toronto, even Winnipeg and Regina had similar percentage run-ups. Vancouver just started from a higher level.

      In *certain neighborhoods*, sure, investors from China are probably influencing prices. And they are probably more likely to leave condos empty, that's common practice for mainlander RE investors re China and HK as well (HK is upset about the effect on locals, and so has levied special taxes).

      But as a whole, no, relatively speaking Vancouver is right in line with a cross-Canada real estate bubble. Most of the blame lies with the policies of Harper and the BC Liberals, and the corrupt economics of the real estate industry, not immigrant investors.


      Sep 17, 2014 at 4:03pm


      I think you meant to reply to RUK, not to me about housing prices.


      Sep 17, 2014 at 4:14pm

      don't know where you are getting your information from but real estate prices in smaller centres have not gone up in tandem with Vancouver, Toronto, Calgary. I don't know of anyone in Winnipeg who hit the jackpot owning real estate. Saskatchewan and Alberta were propelled by massive economic growth and people moving there from BC! If you remove the economic growth due to real estate in BC, the economy here would probably have shrunk!


      Sep 17, 2014 at 5:48pm

      “Once we get past this white nonwhite rubbish, we'll learn that we have a lot more in common with one another than the sum of our differences.”

      Oh, that’s just so lovely Charlie! Now, as you probably noticed already, practically every non-white ethnicity in this country, be they Chinese, Philippine, Mexican, or whatever have, and are encouraged to form specific interest groups to advocate for their ethnic and racial interests.

      Something which by the way is denied to whites.

      So the best way forward is to immediately disband such special interest racial and ethnic groups like the Chinese Canadian National Council and Mexicans Living In Vancouver, and presto!

      We'll learn that we have a lot more in common with one another than the sum of our differences.