A Tory MP is criticizing his own government for spending $2.5 million on a memorial centre for Canadian physician and communist supporter Norman Bethune.
Treasury Board President Tony Clement officially opened the new centre at the Norman Bethune Memorial House National Historic Site last week in Gravenhurst, Ont., where Bethune was born. The centre is also in Clement’s riding of Parry Sound-Muskoka.
Calgary West MP Rob Anders says the tribute is essentially a “bow” to the Chinese regime. In China, Bethune is something of a national folk hero, having been an ardent supporter of Chairman Mao and his policies.
“You really do have to take into account the fact that this shrine, this memorial, in some ways glorifies and lionizes Mao Tse Tung and the Communist Party of China,” says Anders.
“When you consider that Mao is the largest mass murderer in human history, with 80 million deaths attributed to him, that’s a pretty serious thing.”
It’s not as though the Maoist regime died, it’s still carrying on today.
— MP Rob Anders
A physician and innovator, Bethune is credited with various medical inventions and known for his wartime medical service. After a visit to the Soviet Union, he joined the Communist Party in Canada in the 1930s and went to aid in the Spanish Civil War in 1936.
After Japan invaded China, he joined the resistance, tending to Mao’s forces until his death in 1939.
After his death he was praised in Mao’s writings as a symbol of “selflessness and dedication to the Chinese people,” and became a national icon. His dedication to the Chinese Communist Party is widely documented in China and continues to be part of the required reading in school texts.
Anders says one of most troubling aspects of the memorial is that Bethune was a passionate Maoist whose violent policies continue to be felt in China today, inherited by the current regime.
“The regime today—with its persecution of Falun Gong, with its treatment of people who want to run independent trade unions, with its suppression of the freedom of speech, with its forced abortion policies, with the policies that it uses on Tibetan Buddhism, with the gunboat diplomacy against Taiwan—there’s just so many things that they’re up to that can be called into question,” he says.
“It’s not as though the Maoist regime died, it’s still carrying on today.”
At the opening ceremony, Clement said the centre is meant to celebrate Bethune’s “humanism and entrepreneurship.”
The Prime Minister’s Office issued a statement saying national historic sites “cover the full spectrum of political actors/political thought from Canada’s past” and “tourism at these sites is an important part of our economy during this time of fragile economic recovery.”
Visitors Should Pay
The government estimates the centre will receive around 1,000 Chinese visitors every day in peak season. Anders says the fact that Canadian taxpayers rather than visitors are footing the $2.5 million bill is a clear sign the Tories are using the shrine to cozy up to the regime.
“It should be [paid for] by those who choose to visit the memorial rather than to take money from everybody, including victims of communism here in Canada, to fund it,” he says.
“The idea that everybody is being asked to contribute to this is a bit much.”
Anders adds that he “received a call” from the PMO after he went public with his concerns, but would not go into detail about the conversation. He says other members of his party and many citizens, including victims of communism, have expressed concern over both the expense and the symbolism of the memorial.
Bethune was a Mao-made hero.
— Chinese Canadian George Qu
George Qu, who immigrated to Edmonton from China in 1995, says he is “disappointed” in the shrine to Bethune as it represents a part of Chinese history he would rather forget.
“Bethune was a Mao-made hero, and for a very long period the Chinese people have been trying to remove the influence of Mao,” he says.
“Everybody knows the Chinese Communist Party is very bad, so it’s very difficult to find something to flatter the regime. Bethune was selected as a factor to flatter the Communist Party.”
Qu says the shrine will likely attract many Chinese tourists but believes any benefit pales in comparison to the loss of face for the Tories.
“The government has a bottom line—they must uphold justice not the short-term interest. We spent taxpayers’ dollars to do this in order to gain short-term interest. To lose the bottom line, to decrease the moral standard, that is what we face now.”
“I think the motivation behind this case is business,” he adds.
Anders notes that since the Norman Bethune site is already a national park, it was unnecessary to open a new memorial centre.
“The idea that another $2.5 million was injected into the memorial centre is quite exceptional and I think it is an obvious overture to the People’s Republic of China.”
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