Alberta Premier Alison Redford needs to rein in Culture Minister Heather Klimchuk after the latter’s “iron-fisted” response to public criticism, says a Calgary group.
Klimchuk cancelled all Alberta bookings of Shen Yun Performing Arts after the Calgary presenters of Shen Yun went public over ongoing difficulties with the management of the Southern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium.
While there were no issues at all with shows at the Northern Alberta Jubliee Auditorium in Edmonton, Klimchuk cancelled bookings there as well. When asked about the decision, she offered little explanation before changing the topic.
“When the letter went out, cancelling the shows, I knew that I had to kind of do that,” she said in explanation for cancelling the Edmonton shows. She later said she cancelled the shows to be “consistent.”
Klimchuk neglected to inform the hosts of the Edmonton shows of her decision to cancel their bookings.
While the Calgary shows are hosted by the Falun Dafa Association of Calgary, the Edmonton shows are hosted by the Falun Dafa Association of Edmonton, two separate organizations with different personnel.
Shar Chen, a representative for the Edmonton association, said she was taken aback when she heard indirectly their show dates at the Northern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium in Edmonton had been cancelled.
“We felt very shocked because first of all, we had no issue with the Jubilee Auditorium in Edmonton. They cancelled our dates without contacting us directly. They put it in a letter to the Calgary association,” said Chen.
In that letter, Klimchuk said she was unwilling to resolve the issue because the groups went to press with their concerns and alleged they had not attempted to contact her office or Katherine Huising, the director of the auditoria.
In the same letter, however, Klimchuk said she reviewed all communication between her office and the group, which had attempted to contact her office over a dozen times.
In an interview with The Epoch Times after writing the letter, Klimchuk suggested she was unaware of the ongoing issues because she was not minister before October last year. She said, however, that she had asked her assistant deputy minister (ADM) to investigate.
Jenny Yang, spokesperson for the Falun Dafa Association of Calgary, said the ADM’s office had contacted her and said a meeting would be arranged, but her subsequent efforts to contact the ADM’s office to set up that meeting were ignored.
Pressure from Chinese Consulate
Yang said Klimchuk’s decision to cancel the shows is clearly retaliation for going to the press with concerns about a string of issues at the Calgary auditorium, and that it raises serious questions about whose interest the minister is serving.
“Minister Klimchuck’s conduct makes less convincing her assertion that there is ‘no linkage whatsoever’ between her actions and pressure received from the Chinese consulate in Calgary,” said Yang, referring to Klimchuck’s comments that pressure from the Chinese consulate had no impact in her decision.
Yang said that they heard from Huising in 2009 that the minister’s office had received pressure to cancel Shen Yun. Since then, Yang said the treatment by management at the Southern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium towards Shen Yun and the Calgary association has “rapidly deteriorated.”
“On several occasions, management has encouraged us to cancel our show, and the minister has now taken that step herself,” Yang said.
The position the minister has taken, Yang added, is not reflective of someone who wants to resolve the issue in the interest of the public and all stakeholders.
“Actually this is exactly what the Chinese consulate wants,” she said.
The Chinese consulate in Calgary has a history of interference in the province, including its widely covered efforts to interfere in Travel Alberta’s plan to sponsor Shen Yun in 2008.
In an email obtained by the Canadian Press, an official from Travel Alberta said the agency was forced to cancel plans to support Shen Yun after pressure from the Chinese consulate in Calgary.
Yang wants to be certain the same is not happening again.
“We are calling on Premier Alison Redford to show that the Alberta government will not similarly give in to foreign influence and is committed to resolving this issue in the interest of Albertans and the province,” she said.
When approached for a response, a spokesperson from Redford’s office distanced the premier from the decision and deferred questions to Minister Klimchuk, saying Klimchuk alone had made the decision to cancel the shows and was responsible for the file.
Problems for Shen Yun and the Calgary hosts began in 2010 when Shen Yun managers noted deteriorating professionalism from the Southern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium management.
During performances this April, a severe technical malfunction marred one show, while a male stage crew member opened a loading dock door that was acting as a wall for a changing room, exposing the young women changing inside to several male crew members.
“When confronted over these and other lapses, auditorium management was condescending and unapologetic. For several years, the theatre has also refused to compromise on the placement of an intrusive orchestra pit safety net that impedes the performance,” a statement by the Calgary association says.
Klimchuk has deflected concerns raised by the groups by framing the issue as solely about safety and disagreement about the presence of a net over the orchestra pit.
While Calgary’s Jubilee has had a net since 2010, Edmonton’s has not, despite insistence that the net in Calgary was a non-negotiable and essential safety feature. Klimchuk said the Edmonton Jubilee will now be getting a net as well.
“The safety net is being installed as we speak,” said Klimchuk Friday.
Yang and Klimchuk both agree on the quality of Shen Yun’s performances and that the show has been very well received in Alberta. Whether that will translate into future performances in Alberta remains to be seen.
Both the Calgary and Edmonton associations say no other venues in Alberta have the proper stage conditions for Shen Yun to perform.