There is a stereotype tied to foreign ownership on Vancouver Island.
It mostly bubbles under the surface but went public recently after media coverage of the closure of a Comox cafe that had been owned by a man from Singapore.
David Gan closed the Rocky Mountain Cafe in May, as well as the Social Room restaurant, which he opened last year in Comox. He moved back to Singapore to care for his sick mother. Gan said the cafe business had started to struggle in late-2018.
The following comment appeared below a story posted to The Record website May 13: ‘Why the hell do we allow someone from Singapore own something like that?’
A response: ‘Because we are stupid. And this is just the start. The Chinese own most of the old age homes on the island. And who knows what else.’
“What I’ve heard from (local) Chinese business owners, indirectly, is that there have been a lot of ill-informed, and anti-foreign investor comments,” Courtenay lawyer Clive Ansley said. “That, to me, represents an unfortunate misunderstanding.”
In an effort to have enough skilled and qualified people to meet labour market needs, government initiated a Provincial Nominee Program (PNP) as a way for foreign workers and entrepreneurs to gain permanent residency in B.C. The initial pilot project was the Nominee Succession Program.
“It was specifically designed to solicit foreign investment in order to save all these businesses, to keep them open and keep them employing people,” Ansley said, noting a number of locals nearing retirement who wanted to sell their business couldn’t find Canadian buyers. “The choice the business was facing was sell to a foreign investor, if one could be found, or close the business and make all the employees un-employed.”
There are at least a dozen Chinese-owned businesses in the Comox Valley.
“To my knowledge, and I pretty well know them all, there isn’t one that fits this stereotype of the investor who simply wants to get a Canadian passport and hang onto the business for the minimum number of required years. All of them are legitimate immigrants who saved local businesses.”
Muduo (Nathan) Gao employs 18 people at Roots The Salon in Courtenay. He loves the local people, and is trying to learn English, as well as local culture and customs as he assimilates.
“Hopefully he will eventually fit in 100 per cent with local life, and eventually be treated like part of the community,” translator Yiyang Lu said. “To be here, he had to give up a lot of things, because it’s very different to live a life here. But he thinks it’s worthwhile, and he’s willing to give up part of what he’s used to and embrace this new culture.”
Maggie Mah, a licensed immigration consultant, introduced Gao to the PNP Program, and handled the process for him. She notes he and his family first experienced the Valley as tourists in 2014.
“He did his due diligence,” Mah said. “He made the decision cautiously, and finally decided to make the investment.”
Stefan Fan employs about 10 people at Little City Signs in Courtenay, which also has a branch in Campbell River. When he purchased the business, Fan abided by the wishes of the previous owner and retained the original employees.
“No easy business,” said Fan, noting his family works at the Cliffe Avenue establishment. His daughter, with stronger English, works at the front.
“He’s learning the local customs, and also he’s appreciating them,” Lu said. “He takes joy from serving people through his business, he enjoys building a good relationship with his local friends, and also offering more job opportunity to local people.”
Carol Tu has owned the Ichiban Sushi Restaurant for 13 years, prior to which she ran a business in Parksville. She has eight employees, four of them full-time, at the Fitzgerald Avenue eatery.
“I love it here,” said Tu, who has lived in Canada for 25 years.
“To handle the restaurant, it’s not easy for such a lady,” Tu’s translator said. “But she never gives up…She brings the best things to customers. And the warm-heartedness and honesty — I think that’s our Asian people — hardworking, never give up.”
She said the restaurant was stable for the initial few years, then business started to steadily improve.
“We never advertise, but Carol thinks actions always speak louder than words.”
“It’s such an honour to have these people in our community, to put more diversity to it,” Mah added, noting misconceptions are preventing the public from realizing the differences between Chinese, Chinese government, and the Chinese Communist Party.
“Same thing here in Canada. It’s a democratic country with multiple parties, but still we have individuals, we have the party, we have a government. It’s all different. It would not be fair to misrepresent them. Having an opinion on political issues should not be necessarily transferred to individuals.”