Avoiding ‘Political Capture’: Former Canadian Mayor Turned Down Free Trips to China

Avoiding ‘Political Capture’: Former Canadian Mayor Turned Down Free Trips to China
Madeleine Redfern, former mayor of Iqaluit, is pictured in Iqaluit, Nunavut, on Dec. 10, 2014. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)
Noé Chartier

The former mayor of a northern municipality says she was offered free trips to China during her mandate, and while she turned them down, she knows of others who didn’t.

“I was aware of the perception of the problem of currying influence and favour, I think they sometimes call it ‘political capture.’ I did not think that was a good idea,” Madeleine Redfern told The Epoch Times in an interview.

Redfern is the former mayor of Iqaluit, Nunavut, and now a senior fellow at the Macdonald-Laurier Institute and co-chair of think tank Arctic360.

She testified before the House of Commons ethics committee on June 2 and spoke of her experience of dealing with Chinese entities while in office.

“As mayor, I was offered free trips to China. I saw other Canadian leaders, business people, indigenous and municipal leaders, take those free trips,” she said.

“I’m concerned about their independence and the implications of foreign investment, especially in critical infrastructure and critical mines.”

Redfern says she saw many people from her region go to China in the hopes of making business deals related to the selling of seal-derived products, but she steered clear out of different concerns.

Along with possible attempts to influence her politically, Redfern raised concerns pertaining to the economy and security in the North. She says she was wary of China’s “polar Silk Road,” and how the regime has been funding infrastructure projects in the developing world, which it then uses to advance its strategic interests.

“Being economically vulnerable could ... put us in a situation of vulnerability with respect to our security,” says Redfern, adding that Beijing potentially saw her as a soft target and someone with relatively good access to different levels of government.

Of those who did accept free trips to China, she says some “definitely” entered in business deals with Chinese entities, while others came back empty-handed.

Northern Visits

Redfern was mayor of Iqaluit, the capital of Nunavut, a vast region that stretches across most of the Canadian Arctic, from 2015 to 2019. She doesn’t recall precisely when she was offered free trips to China or who exactly made the in-person invitation, but it didn’t come from a Chinese official; rather, it came from someone acting on Beijing’s behalf.
Then Chinese ambassador to Canada, Luo Zhaohui, visited Iqaluit in June 2016 and met with Redfern, but she said the invitation didn’t come from him. She said the Canadian government was organizing trips to the region with various countries’ ambassadors at the time.

Various Chinese officials would also come on their own to the North, she said, noting China’s interest in seal products, as well as fish and shrimp from the region.

There are also other strategic sectors that Chinese entities had their eye on in Nunavut, such as a gold mine in Hope Bay, but the federal government blocked the sale of TMAC Resources to Shandong Gold Mining in 2020 on security grounds.

Redfern also says that bad government policy has led to Chinese equipment ending up in the North’s telecommunications system.

“Yes, the Government of Canada has banned Huawei with respect to only 5G technology, nothing else,” she says.

Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei announced in 2019 it was partnering with ICE Wireless and Iristel to bring high-speed wireless internet to northern communities.
The federal government made the decision to ban Huawei and ZTE equipment from the 5G infrastructure in May 2022 over security concerns. Existing 4G equipment has to be removed or terminated by providers before January 2028, says the policy statement.

With the infrastructure deficit in the North, Redfern is calling on Bay Street bankers and Canadian pension funds to invest in northern projects and communities instead of in China.

“We need all that money that is basically being invested in China, ideally, to be redirected back home. We’re a good investment.”

Mutual Interest

Current interest in Canada’s northern communities by Chinese entities is difficult to gauge. The Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business (CCAB) declined to comment on the issue of Chinese attempts to make inroads with First Nations.
Chinese state-owned oil company CNOOC, which purchased Canadian company Nexen in 2013, is a member of the CCAB.

The current mayor of Iqaluit, Solomon Awa, told The Epoch Times through a spokesperson he was never offered any free trip to China. Nor was his predecessor Kenny Bell.

Former Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) executive Dan Stanton says that Beijing’s attempts to create links with indigenous peoples is “rather dated.”

The opposite was taking place as early as six years ago, with one First Nations organization in British Columbia seeking to strengthen links with China.

The British Columbia First Nations Energy and Mining Council (FNEMC) launched its “China Strategy” in 2011, seeking to gain from Chinese investments in natural resources.

FNMEC published an “enhanced” “China Strategy” paper in 2017, citing the new context of a “much-improved political relationship between Beijing and Ottawa since the election of the Liberal government in 2015.”

The organization says the reason that the First Nations of British Colombia and China can enjoy good relations is based on the “history of marginalization” of indigenous people and Chinese immigrants.

The Chinese regime has often played on that theme, using the treatment of First Nations by the Canadian government to deflect from its own human rights abuses.

The Epoch Times asked FNEMC whether it is still pursuing its China strategy in the current context but didn’t hear back by publication time.

Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs was also contacted for comment but they deferred to Public Safety Canada, which didn’t respond by publication time.

Common Phenomenon

The issue of Beijing offering free trips to China is not novel, but specific cases are rarely discussed.

Redfern says in her role as mayor, she had the opportunity to network with other mayors from across the country through the Federation of Canadian Municipalities and she says some of them went on China trips.

“It definitely felt like as if it was a combination between ... targeted individuals of potential interest to a bit of a scattershot,” she says.

The Epoch Times asked the federation to comment on the matter but didn’t receive a response by press time.

An investigation by Global News published in March 2020 explored the issue of Vancouver-area politicians being offered all-expenses-paid trips to China in 2007.

The trips had been organized by billionaire real estate investor and former Chinese military officer Li Zhe, who is reportedly tied to the United Front Work Department.

CSIS Director David Vigneault told a House of Committee on June 13 that the United Front’s main goal is to interfere in other countries’ affairs.

Global said its investigation raised questions “about whether the Canadian mayors were unwittingly drawn into an influence campaign aimed at improving perceptions of China and reducing criticism of human rights abuses.”