OnePacificNews, June 3 2015, Wednesday

Forget about the recession and rising unemployment, Canada wants to curtail the influx of Chinese business migrants and their investments that might help the flagging Canadian economy which just shrank 0.6% in the first quarter.

Complementing Ottawa’s wariness towards Beijing, ordinary Canadians and the mainstream media are souring on new Chinese arrivals, especially the wealthy, who are being blamed for a range of hot issues including rising housing cost in the greater Vancouver area, traffic congestion, discriminatory labour hiring, and the growing use of Chinese in business signage in at least one suburb.

For their part, the recent Chinese arrivals who have largely settled in the main urban centres are feeling unfairly targeted and their contributions ignored, especially in helping the Canadian economy grow over the past decade including riding out the last global financial crisis in 2008. Until last year’s oil price collapse, Canada’s economy significantly outperformed its G7 peers over the last decade, thanks largely to surging exports to Asia and incoming investments from that region led by China.

These positives count for little as Canadians are increasingly put off by China and Chinese investments, according to the widely-watched annual survey on Canadian views of Asia conducted by the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada (APFC).

In the latest survey released last week on Canadian attitude toward foreign investments, China sank to the bottom with the worst ratings. Almost half of the 1,548 respondents said they did not want any investments from China while only 42% welcomed it.

In contrast, 78% were positive towards investments from Japan, 67% welcomed South Korea’s and 59% accepted India’s. Around 77% were favourable towards the US, which remain the main source of foreign investments into Canada.

The survey underlined a growing fear of Beijing with many believing the Chinese account for 25% of foreign investments in Canada when, in fact, it is closer to three percent. Also, 56% thought the Federal government has already let in “too much” Chinese investments into Canada.

“Canadians remain cautious about the possibility that investment from a global power like China will lead to a loss of control over our natural resources,” said APF Canada President and CEO Stewart Beck.

Significantly, the survey found that Canadians with the most accurate understanding of the country’s investment rules and practices view investment from China as a “security risk.”

Most Canadians also associate investments from China with terms like environmental damage” and “poor labour standards.”

“Chinese investors in Canada do not yet have a visible and established track record of contributing to the country that could be used to counter the skeptical attitudes many Canadians have toward China in general,” said the survey.

The unmistakable message to the Chinese business community is that it needs to actively reach out or it will continue to attract negative perceptions from their host.


Canada’s official language rules ignored

Instead, Chinese migrants, in particular business owners, are making the wrong moves. According to critics, Richmond city near Vancouver, home to many of the new migrants, has become a showcase for Chinese insensitivity and disrespect for Canada, its two official languages, English and French, and the country’s non-Chinese majority.

Over the past two decades, Richmond has rapidly transformed from a quiet farming community to a bustling entrepreneurial city lined with gleaming highrises, condominiums and a modern transit system, thanks largely to the influx of Chinese migrants who either arrived rich or worked their way up. According to the last official survey in 2011, Chinese accounted for around half of Richmond’s population of over 190,000, although both numbers will have grown significantly since. The downtown core is unmistakably Chinese in composition and character, reflecting the new migrants’ propensity to live and work in dense proximity.

As their critical mass grew to replicate the self-sufficient eco-system of a regular Chinese city, many Richmond businesses and residents began to overlook the presence and needs of the city’s long-time residents who feel they are increasingly alienated by the new migrants’ refusal to learn and use the English language.

Chinese language signs and posters have proliferated in sections of the downtown core with few or no English words, effectively telling non-Chinese patrons they aren’t welcome, said Kerry Starchuk, a long-time Richmond resident who initially watched its transformation with amazement, and then, concern. She and her friends helped spark a grass-roots revolt that businesses must be more inclusive and respectful through greater use of the English language, forcing Richmond city’s council to respond and organise a major townhall meeting in March to gather feedback and solutions.

The controversy has evolved into a socio-cultural issue with political undertones as the country began to take note what Canada might be like if more Chinese businesses were to enter Canada and prosper.

The response of Chinese community and business leaders has been disappointingly slow and largely ineffective, enabling anti-Chinese sentiments to build. In May, a group of Chinese community leaders made a long-awaited move to persuade Richmond businesses to increase the use of English words in their signages. The proponents of the “Signs of Harmony” project immediately weakened their cause with the promise to not act against those who fail to comply.

New language rule to hit Chinese business migration into BC

Whatever the outcome of the project or the Richmond city council’s next decision, it may be a case of too little, too late as Victoria has unexpectedly stepped in to impose its own “solution”.

In an announcement that has upset BC’s Chinese business community, the province said it is looking to enforce a new language requirement from July 2 on those applying to migrate to Canada under the provincial nominee program (PNP) as business owners and entrepreneurs: show proof of working knowledge of either the English or French language. Or, BC won’t nominate them to the federal government for permanent resident status, effectively plugging the only remaining channel for migrants into Canada lacking fluency in either official language.

Business owners without the language skills have been eligible to apply to migrate to Canada under existing BC PNP rules, said Pius Chan, chairman of the Chinese Federation of Commerce of Canada.

A group of mostly Richmond-based business leaders protested the proposed ruling at a roundtable meeting with Teresa Wat, the BC Minister for International Trade, and the minister overseeing the province’s Asia Pacific strategy, and Rob Mingay, an assistant deputy minister at the Ministry of Jobs, Tourism and Skills Training, on May 29.

While Ms Wat appeared sympathetic to the group’s appeal, Mr Mingay apparently adopted a hardline position during a heated meeting in Vancouver and pronounced the new rule a “done deal”, according to one of the participants.

Canada stands to lose a lot of investments and opportunities, not just for now, but also for the long term, as many Chinese entrepreneurs will take their business and connections to other countries that do not impose language requirements, said Mr Chan.

“The new rule will affect Chinese business owners most as many do not have English language skills. Many are good businessmen who would bring long-term benefits to the BC economy,” he said in an interview.

Mr Chan was among a panel of five who spoke at a June 2 press conference called by the Canada Chinese Business Professionals Association to bring attention and rally opposition to the new ruling.

Ivy Liou, the association’s leader, said the language requirement would hurt the BC economy at a time when the province needs investment flows to counter a slowdown.

David Chung, a panel member, said the ruling was deliberately aimed at Chinese applicants as they form a large portion of those seeking to enter Canada as business migrants.

Another speaker, Chris Ho, criticised the BC and Federal governments for not consulting the Chinese business community before planning to impose the language requirement.

“From July 2, there’ll be a new barrier to the BC economy. The Assistant Deputy Minister said it’s a done deal and that Ottawa has decided it will push through the new rule,” he said.

“Why didn’t the BC government consult us, why weren’t we told about it? Is this targeted at Chinese businesses?”

In the past, he said that many Chinese migrants launched their businesses in Canada and learned English along the way. Their children grew up Canadian completely fluent in English and are a long-term asset to the country.

Lawyer Phebe Chan wants to know if the BC government has undertaken research to find out how much the language requirement would cost the BC economy.

“How many jobs, joint ventures and export opportunities would be lost to BC as a result of this ruling?” she asked.

The press conference was attended by members of the Chinese media, with none from the mainstream English language media, although they were invited.


Support from two prominent Chinese community leaders

Queenie Choo, CEO of the Vancouver-based multicultural non-profit charity SUCCESS, and David Choi, who chairs the National Congress of Chinese Canadians (NCCC), sent separate email statements to minister Wat requesting that the language requirement not be imposed. Their statements were released to the media.

Ms Choo described the language requirement as a new barrier that “will not only limit foreign investment but also reduce BC’s opportunities” in building ties with Asian economies.

“Acquiring English/French language proficiency is a life learning process. It should not be used as a criteria or deterrent to business investors in this case,” she wrote.

She said Canada should help the integration of the business investors “into our communities and country through settlement services, language training and business networking opportunities.”

Mr Choi’s statement mentioned that many entrepreneurs around the world without English or French language skills conduct their businesses successfully across borders.

He said these business people “add to the vibrancy, growth and cross cultural exchanges” of cities like Hong Kong, Tokyo, Hamburg, Amsterdam and London which are thriving diverse urban and business centres.

“The English or French language requirement is not critical for entrepreneur and business immigration and should not become a hurdle to entry for these otherwise successful immigrants to BC and Canada,” he wrote.


Canada’s shrinking economy

Last week, Statistics Canada reported that the economy shrank in the first quarter by an annual rate of 0.6%, making this its worst performance since 2009.

A year into the global oil price collapse, unemployment is holding at nearly seven percent as several leading Canadian banks predict worse to follow. BMO expects the Canadian economy to grow by 1.5% this year, its slowest in decades, while CIBC has issued the most bearish forecast of all: 1.4%.

“We’re slashing our 2015 growth forecast for Canada by more than a quarter point to only 1.4%, stung by a downside miss in Q1, and an end-of-quarter picture that depressed the Q2 outlook,” wrote CIBC chief economist Avery Shenfeld in the bank’s latest forecast.

“Even thereafter, a not-so-super cycle will see a recovery in commodities that will leave them well below prior peaks.”

His colleagues, Benjamin Tal and Nick Exarhos, gave a bleak assessment of the Canadian job market:

“Given the growth composition of today’s labour market and the fiscal situation in many of Canada’s largest provinces, it’s difficult to see how job creation will take off in the short to medium term. Payrolls in the oil patch have been slashed, with more pain likely ahead. And there are other headwinds elsewhere.”

The loonie could slide further after recently hitting a six-year low against the US dollar as traders expect the Bank of Canada to again slash its key lending rate from an already low 0.75%.

Bank Governor Stephen Poloz shocked the markets in January with an unexpected 0.25% cut. While he was widely criticised for being overly bearish on the Canadian economy, the first quarter’s 0.6% contraction has vindicated his early move to stave off a worse showing, and possibly a recession.

Banks have responded by slashing their lending rates, in particular for housing mortgages, to record lows of 2% to 2.5% for five-year fixed rates. In the hotly demanded housing markets of Vancouver and Toronto, the low borrowing rates have led to increased buying from a wide range of investors that include Canadians, fund managers as well as foreigners. Housing prices have responded by marching on to new highs each month.

Amid Canada’s worsening anti-China mood, it is Chinese buying that is being singled out from among a variety of factors behind the city’s rising housing unaffordability. Rightly or wrongly, it has become yet another reason for Canadians to demand further curbs on Chinese business migration and investment into the country.


One Pacific News Editor