BC Liberal Leader Kevin Falcon says he supports supervised drug injection sites, but when member of the legislature Teresa Wat spoke to the audience of a Mandarin news show last week, she had a special message.
Wat, speaking on Phoenix TV’s Each day Topic Show, said “we’re very against so-called protected injection sites,” remarks she later said “by chance misrepresented” her party’s position.
The Liberal MLA representing Richmond Centre is the most recent politician to be accused of straying from an official line or tailoring a message to non-English-speaking audiences.
“There’s something very powerful in regards to the situational context for delivering a message,” said David Black, a political communication associate professor at Royal Roads University.
“In the event you are speaking a couple of policy that you just might think is perhaps difficult for a given audiences to receive, you will adjust, you will modify, you would possibly even change that message since it’s almost more essential that the message be received well than or not it’s entirely accurate.”
Victor Ho, the previous editor-in-chief on the Vancouver edition of Chinese-language Sing Tao Each day newspaper, said Wat’s remarks represent one in every of the largest gaffes he can remember involving mixed messages to different communities.
He said Phoenix TV’s viewership skews heavily toward individuals with mainland Chinese origins, and it was possible for politicians to forget their broader constituency in discussions with specific groups.
However the onus remained on a politician to be accountable to all constituents for his or her positions, he said.
“You must have a standardized opinion, regardless of if it’s for the Chinese community or the mainstream society here in Canada,” Ho said. He added that “otherwise, you may’t take accountability of all of your stakeholders.”
In Wat’s case, she said in a video sent by the BC Liberal caucus on Wednesday that she “used the unsuitable selection of words” to explain the party’s position on injection sites within the Phoenix interview, posted online on Feb. 9.
There have been other cases of Canadian politicians accused of tailored messaging to non-English-speaking audiences, in situations which have cost some more dearly.
In 2019, then-Canadian ambassador to China John McCallum told Chinese-language journalists that Huawei Technologies executive Meng Wanzhou had “strong arguments” against her extradition to the USA, where she was wanted on fraud charges.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau initially resisted calls to fireside McCallum but then dismissed the ambassador when he made more remarks about Meng’s case a number of days later.
Within the 2019 Burnaby South byelection won by federal NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, federal Liberal candidate Karen Wang sent messages on Chinese-language social media platform WeChat that said she was the one Chinese candidate, while Singh was “of Indian descent.”
Wang stepped down from the race when the post was reported in English media.
Falcon, who has previously called himself a supporter of “protected injection sites,” said Wednesday that his party supported “supervised consumption sites,” and he had spoken to Wat about her comments.
“I believe that she could be the primary to let you know that she didn’t express it as perfectly as she intended to,” Falcon said, adding that he believes Wat — who’s the BC Liberals’ Shadow Minister for multiculturalism, anti-racism initiatives, arts and culture — misspoke and made an “honest mistake.”
“I’m very comfortable she has not formed a latest position or (was) suggesting that we now have a special position as a celebration.”
BC Green Leader Sonia Furstenau said she is more concerned that the incident signals intensifying partisanship within the legislature, taking attention away from coping with the drug crisis itself. Wat’s comments first surfaced in English media through the BC NDP caucus’s YouTube and Twitter channels.
“Unfortunately, after we see that turn out to be an increasing number of of the so-called debate that we’re having, which is attempting to pitch parties against one another and wedge them, this doesn’t do well to serve the people of this province who we’re speculated to be serving,” Furstenau said.
Black said that a politician can’t lose sight of their job of representing their party’s views, especially in a multicultural society where communication is increasingly through languages apart from English and French.
“You should represent ideas that you just don’t necessarily consider or that your audiences may not find comfortable and that’s the burden of leadership,” said Black.
— With files from Nono Shen
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