Death of Taiwan's Mr. Democracy—Lee Teng-hui—greeted with silence from B.C.'s premier

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      Let's face facts—the B.C. NDP government is in power and John Horgan is premier because his party made magnificent strides in reaching out to new Canadians in the last election.

      Several long-time B.C. Liberal seats fell to the NDP because of the party's extensive efforts to woo the Iranian, South Asian, Korean, and Taiwanese communities.

      Here are just a few of the constituencies where this might have turned the tide in favour of the NDP: North Vancouver–Lonsdale, Vancouver-Fraserview, Surrey-Panorama, Surrey-Fleetwood, Burnaby North, Burnaby–Deer Lake, Burnaby-Lougheed, and Coquitlam-Maillardville.

      But in power, Horgan hasn't always hit the right notes in maintaining this momentum, which changed the electoral dynamics in B.C.

      He got off to a bad start with the lack of diversity in the appointment of political aides to the various NDP politicians. Moreover with a couple of exceptions, his MLAs of colour were confined to the back benches or appointed as parliamentary secretaries or to junior minister of state positions.

      Then there was the NDP's handling of ride-hailing, which enraged the taxi industry.

      Ticking off taxi licence holders can make or break politicians in two or three constituencies. Just ask former attorney general Suzanne Anton, who was defeated in Vancouver-Fraserview, or former education minister Peter Fassbender, who lost his seat in Surrey-Fleetwood.

      Granted, Horgan created a B.C. Human Rights Commission, fulfilling one important campaign promise. And as Mandarin-speaking media commentator Guo Ding (a.k.a. Ding Guo) recently pointed out, the premier has stepped up to support a Chinese Canadian Museum.

      But over the past few days, he may have tarnished his relationship with Taiwanese Canadians.

      That's because Horgan did not follow the lead of some other politicians in commenting on the death of an icon of Asian democracy, Lee Teng-hui, at the age of 97.

      Lee was born in what was then Japanese-ruled Taiwan, rising to become vice president of Taiwan from 1984 to 1988 before becoming president from 1988 to 2000.

      President Tsai Ing-wen was photographed showing her respect to former president Lee Teng-hui in 2016.
      Taiwan President's Office

      He's known as Mr. Democracy for his role in leading Taiwan's transition from martial law to a multiparty state with freedom of expression and free elections.

      As a result, Lee is revered by many of the same Taiwanese Canadians who enthusiastically threw their support—and their political donations—to the B.C. NDP in 2017.

      It galled members of this community that the former B.C. Liberal government repeatedly refused to acknowledge Taiwan's contributions to the world, let alone its existence as a beacon of democracy in Asia. 

      Lee was the first democratically elected president of Taiwan. He played a crucial role in nurturing the Pan-Green Coalition, whose dominant party is the centre-left Democratic Progressive Party.

      This ensured that his country didn't simply remain under the one-party rule of the Kuomintang, which wants closer ties to the People's Republic of China.

      After Lee served a single term as the elected president, he chose not to seek office, again to encourage the growth of democracy.

      Were it not for Lee's efforts to nurture a two-party state, Taiwan's first female president, Tsai Ing-wen, may have never been elected once, let alone twice.

      It's worth noting that Ontario premier Doug Ford marked Lee's passing.

      But the ever-cautious Horgan has not followed suit.

      Even members of his caucus who were born in Taiwan—Katrina Chen and Anne Kang—have not tweeted about Lee's passing. Nor has another NDP MLA, Bowinn Ma, whose family is from Taiwan.

      It makes me wonder if someone in the premier's office has directed the NDP caucus to maintain silence for fear of offending the People's Republic of China.

      Communist China repeatedly makes the bogus claim that Taiwan is a long-lost province, even though that has been soundly refuted by Taiwanese historian Su Beng.

      Someone needs to remind Premier Horgan and his political staff that Burnaby has the largest population of Taiwanese Canadians in Canada.

      And no matter how many MLAs he might have of Taiwanese ancestry, Horgan shouldn't take the votes of Taiwanese Canadians for granted. Not marking Lee's death could mark yet another political blunder in the NDP's efforts to retain the support of a minority community that helped propel Horgan into power.

      Update #1

      After this article appeared, Citizens' Services Minister Anne Kang tweeted her condolences to the Taiwanese community in B.C. Kang was born in Taiwan and moved to Canada as a child.

      Update #2

      Four days after this article appeared, Premier John Horgan tweeted about the death of former president Lee of Taiwan.