Taking democracy for granted has consequences for all of us.
China has been on my mind lately. The headlines about the Prime Minister’s first official visit to China ahead of the G20 summit in Hangzhou certainly has me concerned about how Chinese government officials could wield their negotiating power in ways that have complex, long-lasting repercussions for both our countries. But most often, I find myself worrying about the people in my life who are deeply affected by the increasingly draconian reign of the current Chinese government.
While Canadian media, Bay Street elites and Alberta Big Oil are hoping to “reset Canada’s trade relationship”, I’m worried about the impact the Xi Jinping regime is having on the people I know and love.
I worry about my husband, who studies and teaches modern Chinese history at SFU, and worries every time he takes a research trip that it may finally be the time the government decides his topics are too controversial and bans him from the country.
I worry about my husband’s Chinese colleagues who face much harsher consequences – ruined livelihoods and reputations, families terrorized by state security, ritual public shaming of the type not seen since the Cultural Revolution, arrest – if their research runs afoul of government sensibilities or contradicts the state propaganda of the moment.
As a Dogwood staffer, and someone raising my family two kilometers from the Kinder Morgan tank farm in Burnaby, I’m worried that Prime Minister Trudeau will cave to the Chinese government’s demands and sign off on the controversial Trans Mountain pipeline to ease the way for a new trade deal.
While this international trade-off would end up putting my family at greater risk of harm to life and limb, our friends in China are living with more acute threats on a daily basis. They have to put air masks on their children to protect them from toxic pollution and are constantly calibrating the way they live their lives against the ideological winds of the current regime. Imagine having to decide if you dare to organize a protest when your music teacher disappears with all the money you paid for lessons because it might seem too threatening to local authorities and their informants?
Then there are our neighbours here in Burnaby – Mom and kids live here while Dad “commutes” back and forth every other month to Shanghai. And my babysitter whose childhood was all hard work so she could earn the opportunity to study Psychology at SFU and try crazy new things like taking care of other people’s kids for money.
The ripple effects of authoritarian government and economic change in China are multiple and travel far. We are now feeling them at home in B.C.. I worry that people like my neighbours and my babysitter could be targeted if the backlash against the outsized effect of recent migration on local real estate markets turns into racist scapegoating.
People have marshalled all their resources to relocate their families to safe, stable places like B.C. even if it means tearing those families apart. Why? Because here they can breathe the air, let their children enjoy childhood, and take their studies beyond government propaganda and fierce job market competition.
I’m worried. But I’m also hopeful. I hope my fellow Canadians will not point fingers next door or abroad, but instead channel their frustration and anger about the local effects of global trade and corporate greed into holding our municipal, provincial and federal governments accountable.
We are so privileged to live in a democracy. But as we learned during the Harper era, democracy requires eternal vigilance. We cannot afford to waste this privilege.
So let’s not point fingers, let’s not bury our heads in the sand and avoid difficult conversations. Instead, let’s stand up against racist scapegoating. Let’s stand up and demand that our provincial and federal governments promote fair trade (not just free trade) and policies that protect our democracy and environment from any government or corporation (whether foreign or domestic) that would trample on the rights of everyday people.
We cannot afford to waste our chance to pressure the B.C. government to adopt laws that provide access to affordable housing for all British Columbians. We cannot afford to squander our chance to ensure Trudeau, cabinet and local MPs stand up for British Columbians and refuse to bargain away our coast and our climate commitments in exchange for an unneeded and unwanted west coast bitumen pipeline.
It won’t be easy — democracy never is — but I’m confident by working together we can persevere and overcome any attempts by elites here, or in China, to compromise our path towards the just, equitable and sustainable future our kids deserve and our survival requires.
Find out more: www.StanduptoChina.ca