This is a guest column; ‘Mihael Willman’ is the pseudonym for a concerned Canadian.
by Mihael Willman
As has become the custom of governments who wish to avoid immediate criticism, Stephen Harper announced the appointment of five new senators on Friday evening, January 25, 2013. Hoping that, with the rather short attention-span exhibited by most current politicians, by the time Monday rolled around some other issue will have overshadowed this event. And he appears to have been successful. Since his latest appointments were announced, there has been little or no comment from the other federal parties.
In announcing the Senate appointments, Harper said: “All appointees are remarkable Canadians who have distinguished themselves in their respective pursuits.” What he failed to mention was that their primary qualifications appear to be that all are Conservative party supporters, failed Conservative candidates or personal friends, and mostly unknown to Canadians at large. So much for all those indignant protests against Liberal patronage appointments to the Senate; this is no different. While the latest appointees are supposed to be committed to Senate reform, the same as Harper’s previous ones, only time will tell if they will keep their promises. We are presently witnessing just how ethical some of Harper’s other appointed Senators can be.
Of the five latest appointees, Victor Oh instantly raised questions. Who exactly is Victor Oh? Harper’s press release simply provided a name and nothing else, the same as for the other four appointees. Articles in Canadian newspapers all regurgitated the same information, identifying him as a Mississauga businessman and “president of Wyford Holdings, a property development and management business, and founding chairman of the Canada-China Business Communication Council.” (Globe and Mail) The only difference was the order in which the information was presented.
For a successful businessman, there is virtually little information about Victor Oh and his various companies on the internet. Numerous hours spent searching on Google (and I mean numerous) provided a little more on the man, but hardly anything further on his “successful” company or companies. The majority of the items on Victor Oh dealt with his Senate appointment and were basic carbon copies of the original press release or news reports. A few other items dealt with his selection as one of the 2011 “Top 25 Canadian Immigrants.” The related article provided the information that Oh, his wife and eldest son, immigrated from Singapore in 1978, settling in Mississauga. When the official Senate biography was posted, it stated that he was born in Singapore. Nothing of concern here, since Singapore is a democratic country and an ally of Canada, right?
According to internet searches, Victor Oh (Hu Zixiu) is president of Wyford Holding, Wyford Suites, Wyford Executive Suites, Wyford Corp. Relocation Suites, Wyford Corporation and variations thereof. Business descriptions vary from rental suites, to a company “providing Financial Advisory Services,” to “a company categorized under Real Estate Agents & Brokers,” or a property development and management company, depending upon which listing one looks at. While all provide an internet website, countless attempts to access it have repeatedly proved futile, resulting in the message: “Internet Explorer cannot display the webpage.” The only way to contact the companies is by phone or possibly visiting the office. No further relevant information could be obtained on these various companies, which leads to the question as to just how successful the companies really are. The Mississauga.com internet publication provides the information that Oh established a “successful construction business.” Yet no further information was obtained to support this statement.
Besides supposedly being a successful businessman, there is another side to Victor Oh, one that should be of concern to Canadians at large. Stephanie Levitz, of the Canadian Press, provided an illuminating piece of information, namely that Oh was “heavily involved in Harper’s first trip to China in 2009, a visit that was widely seen as a turning point in Canada-China relations.” Just how “heavily involved” was Oh?
Presently the Honorary President of the Mississauga Chinese Business Association (MCBA), Oh served as its President from 2004 to 2008. During and before this period, he accompanied Mississauga mayor Hazel McCallion to China on numerous visits. (McCallion has been travelling to China since at least the early 1990s.) In addition, McCallion is recorded as “honorary advisor” to the MCBA.
According to a Maclean’s article by Charlie Gillis, Mississauga MP Bob Dechert, the one who was caught having a “friendship” (read probable affair) with a correspondent for China’s official Xinhua news agency (see previous article on the Dechert scandal), is partly responsible for “the Conservative breakthrough with ethnic communities.” After two failed attempts, Dechert was finally elected to Parliament in 2008, on his third attempt, by a mere 397 votes. Gillis credits this breakthrough with ethnic voters with saving Dechert’s political backside, after the “friendship” became public. And one of Dechert’s staunchest supporters in Mississauga, then and now, is none other than Victor Oh. During the 2011 election campaign, Oh set up public meetings for Dechert in Mississauga-Erindale. Has this support for Dechert translated itself into undue influence over Dechert and, by extension, Stephen Harper himself?
Following his 2008 victory, Dechert accompanied Stephen Harper on the 2009 trade mission to China. And among those “invited” to join this delegation were a number of Chinese-Canadian businessmen, including again, Victor Oh. In a local Mississauga paper dated December 1, 2009, titled: “MP, Oh join PM in China” the photo caption read: “Bags packed. Mississauga-Erindale MP Bob Dechert and Victor Oh, honourary chairman of the Mississauga Chinese Business Association, will join Prime Minister Stephen Harper on his trip to China.”
Victor Oh’s Flickr account is full of photos of Harper’s 2009 official trip to China and includes photos of himself with Stephen Harper and his wife in the Forbidden City, among others. There are considerably more of Oh and Bob Dechert at various locations. One caption reads: “Victor Oh Special Guest of the Prime Minister of Canada.” Some of these photos are also available on “Picasso Web Albums,” as well as the Canada-China Business Communication Council’s “photostream.” While he also accompanied Harper on his 2012 China trip, no photos or information are available for Oh on that trip.
While the Chinese Canadian National Council extended best wishes to Harper on his 2009 China trip, in its press release of December 2, 2009, it urged a balanced approach which “must include discussing business and trade arrangements that will be beneficial to both countries while at the same time working together towards a new international environmental accord and conveying a principled stand on human rights policies”. In the same document it reiterated its previous positions, which included among others: “advocating for consular access for Mr. Huseyin Celil who is a Canadian imprisoned in China” and “urging Canada to offer to broker a just and lasting peace in Tibet.” The MCBA, on the other hand, seems to only be concerned with business. On its website it describes some of its goals as: being the voice of Mississauga Chinese businesses, initiating and responding to legislation affecting its members, and to “liaise and co-operate with other organizations in Canada or elsewhere which have objectives similar in whole or in part of the Association.”
Events of the MCBA are frequently attended by politicians from all levels of government, particularly Mayor McCallion and by Toronto-based consuls from Communist China. In 2009 Harper attended the Chinese New Year Gala held by the Greater Toronto Chinese Business Association, of which the MCBA is a member. This function, attended by politicians from federal, provincial and municipal levels of government, was also attended by the Vice Consul General of China. Various federal and provincial cabinet ministers, not to mention Mississauga mayor Hazel McCallion, regularly attend functions held by the MCBA, which are also attended by the Chinese Consul General and lesser consuls. At these events, the Canadian and Communist Chinese flags are prominently displayed. Not the flags of Taiwan, Singapore, etc., but of Communist Chinese. Can anyone imagine what an uproar there would have been if Canadian and Soviet flags had been displayed at events, before the collapse of the Soviet Union? Can anyone picture Canadian politicians at all levels rubbing shoulders with Soviet consular staff at ethnic events? It would have been unheard of and unimaginable.
After the 2009 China trip, Oh founded the Canada-China Business Communication Council (CCBCC) as “a high-powered platform to bring together and facilitate communication and cooperation amongst economic and trade contacts from governments, business enterprises and even non-profit organizations from the two countries.” In his “Message from the Chairman” he goes on to say that his “vision was enthusiastically shared by many business and community leaders” and “was also well supported by various levels of governments in both Canada and China.”
In describing the organization, incorporated in October 2010 and launched in November 2011, the CCBCC website states: “With supports from the Canadian municipal, provincial, and federal levels of government, the government of the People’s Republic of China, participation from the business elite, and involvement of well-known Canadian and Chinese companies and organizations, CCBCC is regarded as a high-powered platform for bilateral trade and business communication.”
Also on the CCBCC website is the following, rather glowing praise concerning the 2009 China trip: “Oh’s extensive business expertise and connections rendered him a valued and special member of the Canadian delegation, providing insight into bilateral trade and economic development opportunities, and fostering relationship building between Harper and the high-level officials of the Chinese government.”
On March 18, 2010, Bob Dechert congratulated Oh in the House of Commons on being honored by Community Living Mississauga and concluded with: “Last year, the Prime Minister chose Victor Oh to travel with him on his historic visit to China as a trusted adviser.” Following Oh’s Senate appointment, Dechert congratulated him and, among others, stated: “His contributions to our community and Canada and international trade make him very well qualified to serve in the Senate of Canada….. As founding chairman of the Canada-China Business Communication Council, Victor continues to strengthen bilateral economic and trade relations between Canada and China.” What we have here is clearly a mutual admiration society between Dechert and Oh, and it appears to have far-reaching consequences.
And the admiration for Oh is not limited to Dechert. According to the CCBCC website (sponsored by Oh’s Wyford company) at a meeting held by Minister of Industry Tony Clement, on March 15, 2011, the latter “highly praise Mr. Victor Oh the Chair of Canada-China Business Communication Council for his vision in establishing the Council and praise his excellent and invaluable advices he passes on to all the delegates during the Prime Minister last visit to China making the trip a huge success. It was also during this visit that Mr. Victor Oh through his connection with the Chinese realize the need for such a council to help the Chinese venture capital to establish a foothold in Canada and at the same time help Canadian Business establishing a mutual cooperation with Chinese businesses. “(This is a direct quote, including all grammar and spelling errors in the original.)
Similarly, Jason Kenney on Twitter wrote: “Great to see my friend Victor Oh at his 1st official function since being appointed to the Senate.”
Reading between the lines and dissecting political-speak for “trusted advisor” and “good friend” creates a scenario which raises several serious concerns.
1) I can understand ethnic groups organizing various associations to further their interests. And as an ethnic Chinese, Oh’s participation with the MCBA is understandable. But one would question why he saw no need or desire to create a Canada-Singapore businessmen’s association instead of a Canada-China one. As an immigrant from Singapore, that would be the most natural course of action to take. But instead, he has worked and continues to work towards greater Canada-China trade, investment and cooperation.
2) As a “trusted adviser”, just how much influence did Oh have on the change in Harper’s approach to China since 2009? And how and why should one unelected, non-governmental individual have this apparent kind of influence?
3) Furthermore, I find it very strange and unusual how an immigrant who left Singapore over thirty years ago was able to cultivate the kind of business and political connections with just the right politicians and businessmen in China, an enormous third country he never lived in (as far as we are aware). It’s on a par with a Russian born in the Baltic States, or in Eastern Europe, who came to Canada in the 1970s and somehow, miraculously was able to connect with just the right influential businessmen and politicians in the Soviet Union. Or an East Indian from Sri Lanka, who is able to connect with the right people in India. It just does not happen!
4) Also interesting is how an individual who is supposedly involved in real estate, property development, construction, and / or financial advice, managed to acquire expertise in “bilateral trade and economic development.”
And this is one of the people who Harper recently appointed to the Senate? Maybe it’s time CSIS closely investigated the people around our political leaders.
In the long march to win the ethnic vote from the Liberal party, the Harper Conservatives apparently don’t care who they ally themselves with. Sorry, but I somehow can’t picture normal immigrants from Communist China, not political refugees, coming to Canada and suddenly becoming avid Conservative supporters!
The majority of people who campaign and support local political candidates do so for the simple purpose of seeing their candidate and political party win the election. Then there are those people who do so with a more selfish reason: to obtain influence with that politician and political party in order to promote their own cause and agenda. To reverse former U.S. president John F. Kennedy’s famous quote, it’s now a case of “ask not what you can do for your country, ask what your country can do for you!” CSIS has often expressed concern about Canadian politicians being compromised or co-opted by foreign agents, but Harper and his Conservatives refuse to heed these warnings.
No wonder Victor Oh “loves this country” as he was quoted in a Toronto Star article. Where else would an immigrant, fronting for a country with a decidedly unfriendly agenda, be able to insinuate himself into the corridors of power? One riding, one politician and the official Conservative government policy concerning China takes a drastic U-turn! Years ago politicians were wary about being seen associating with the wrong groups. Today, in their efforts to court the ethnic vote, Liberals, Conservatives, and the NDP, appear to throw all caution to the wind.
Dalton McGuinty shut down two power plants, costing Ontario taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars, to preserve two Liberal seats in the last election. Who’s to say Harper didn’t change his stand on China to ensure Dechert kept his seat after his narrow victory in the 2008 election? Or to win, or is it buy, the votes of the nearly half a million Chinese immigrants from Communist China who arrived in Canada over the last twenty years?
Unelected, unappointed individuals influencing changes in Canadian foreign policy on behalf of an unfriendly foreign government is something to be concerned about. And regardless of the political spin by Conservatives or Liberals alike, Communist China is not our ally. Maybe it is time Canadian politicians, at all levels of government, carefully investigated their political groupies and supporters, before accepting them as “friends.” In the world of politics, “friends” are a luxury most politicians can’t afford.