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China Steps Into Toronto’s Mayoral Race: expenses-paid trip toward one candidate

Posted by Author on June 12, 2010

David Rider, The Toronto Star, Canada –

The Chinese consulate
seems to be stepping into Toronto’s mayoral race by sending one candidate — George Smitherman —to speak at an “international mayors’ forum on tourism” in central China.

The four-day, expenses-paid trip starting Thursday, which includes a side trip to World Expo 2010 in Shanghai, is raising eyebrows because Smitherman has never held city office.

“The Chinese consulate is showing favouritism toward one mayoral candidate and that’s not very diplomatic,” said rival Giorgio Mammoliti, adding: “If Smitherman wants to go to China and pretend to be an expert on tourism, so be it.”

Smitherman’s spokesman Stefan Baranski said, “The Chinese government invited him and will be paying for his trip. . . . He will be speaking about his passion for Toronto, why it’s such a vibrant world city (and worthy of visiting) and in support of the over 400,000 people who speak Chinese who live in Toronto.”

According to the Pacific Asia Travel Association, the four-day International Mayors Forum on Tourism in Zhengzhou is “a grand tourism event with the most prospective and global cooperative significance that has appeared in the world tourism circles in recent years.”

Asked if he is concerned about accepting a junket from a government criticized for its human-rights record, Baranski relayed this statement from Smitherman: “As a gay man, the promotion of human rights are in my DNA. I am going to China at the request of the Consul General to speak to a municipal conference and hear the best and most innovative tourism strategies from cities around the world. It will also afford me the chance to build stronger ties and respectful relationships with our counterparts.”

Earlier, Baranski said, leaders of Toronto’s Chinese community honoured Smitherman by giving him the name “Shih Thern-Min, which symbolizes his desire to revitalize the city and make it work for people.”

Rob Ford’s campaign manager, Doug Ford, also questioned why China would single out Smitherman: “You don’t take free trips when you’re running for office. It’s not ethical, it smells bad. It smells like ‘pay to play,’ like a return to a culture of corruption” at city hall, he said.

Fellow candidate Rocco Rossi also responded with scorn: “That’s what you do when everyone’s attacking your incompetent transit plan — you disappear and you try to change the channel on the discussion.”

The press office at China’s Toronto consulate asked for and was sent the Star’s questions in writing but has yet to respond.

The Toronto Star

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