Ten days after the federal government announced its new Indo-Pacific foreign policy in Vancouver, a new provincial minister of state for trade was sworn-in at Government House in Victoria.
NDP Premier David Eby named Surrey-Fleetwood MLA Jagrup Brar on Wednesday to replace Vancouver-Fraserview MLA George Chow in his new cabinet. Chow had held the post since July 2017 under Premier John Horgan.
The switch of trade ministers in Canada’s Pacific province aligns with the federal Liberal strategy that emphasizes closer trade with India, the sixth-biggest destination for B.C. exports, and a decreased reliance on number two destination China, partly due to national security concerns. The Indo-Pacific strategy includes negotiations for a new trade agreement with India, expanded air travel between Canada and India, and aims to expand natural resource and technology exports to India.
Brar was born in Deon village in Bathinda, Punjab and played in the Indian national basketball program. His disclosure statement says he still jointly owns one-quarter of a family farm in Deon. The same statement also discloses shares in Shanghai electric car maker Nio Inc.
Brar was originally an NDP MLA from 2004 to 2013, ran unsuccessfully for party president in 2013 and made a comeback in Surrey-Fleetwood in 2017.
China-born Chow had a 30-year engineering career at BC Hydro and is a past president of the pro-Beijing Chinese Benevolent Association of Vancouver. He served two terms as a Vision Vancouver city councillor from 2005 to 2011 before winning a provincial seat in 2017 election.
Eby said Chow will have a duty assisting cabinet in strategies to revitalize two troubled neighbourhoods outside his riding.
“I am looking to minister [sic] Chow, in particular, to support the work that we have to do in the Downtown Eastside and in Chinatown, in Vancouver, and making sure that we're responding to the needs of both the community and Chinatown, but also the Downtown Eastside,” Eby told reporters after the ceremony. “He’s taking a leadership role there.”
Chow’s role since 2017 as a liaison to Chinese Communist Party government officials and their supporters raised eyebrows during the 2020 election, when a campaign by a coalition of pro-Hong Kong, Uyghur and Tibetan human rights activists, called #NoBCforXi, deemed Chow to be “CCP leaning.”
In December 2018, Chow met with CCP officials in Guangdong, China, almost a week after Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou was arrested at Vancouver International Airport on behalf of the U.S., which later charged Meng with fraud. Chow’s assistant said at the time the trip was “personal.” Chinese-language media reports said Chow briefed the officials about B.C.’s plans for a Chinese-Canadian history museum, while the officials briefed Chow on Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese characteristics and the Belt and Road infrastructure program.
Chow appeared at an October 2021 event on Jack Poole Plaza to promote the countdown to the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics during the 72nd anniversary of CCP rule in China. Chow representatives said that his appearance was in his capacity as an MLA, rather than as minister.
On Dec. 1, in the wake of rare protests in China and Vancouver calling for Xi’s resignation, Chow sat beside new Consul General Yang Shu at the head table in River Rock casino’s theatre for the 2022 B.C.-Guangdong Economic and Trade Summit. The event included a video link with participants in Guangzhou and Shenzhen.