EDMONTON - Alberta Culture Minister Heather Klimchuk said Monday her staff will meet with organizers in a dispute over cancelled performances of a controversial anti-government Chinese dance troupe.
But the Opposition Wildrose party says Klimchuk's actions show the bullying culture of the Progressive Conservatives is alive and well at the Alberta legislature.
Wildrose leader Danielle Smith accused the minister of cancelling shows by the Shen Yun troupe because organizers had gone public with concerns about lighting, safety, and the welfare of the dancers when they had performed in the past at Calgary's Southern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium.
"I've asked my officials, my assistant deputy minister, to meet with them," said Klimchuk.
The Shen Yun troupe has been performing around the world for years. The show highlights China's traditional culture but also criticizes crackdowns that have occurred under Communist rule.
In Alberta, Shen Yun's performances are put together by local associations in Calgary and Edmonton known as Falun Dafa.
The Falun Dafa group has had problems with Jubilee auditorium management in Calgary for years. They say that things hit rock bottom in 2010, when a lighting mistake ruined one show and a worker walked into a change room while female dancers were disrobing.
Jenny Yang, with Calgary's Falun Dafa, said auditorium officials also ordered a net be put up around the stage for audience safety. Yang said while they dispute whether the net is needed, their main concern is that the auditorium ordered it in place with no consultation.
Yang said they have tried to meet with the government for years to resolve the issues without so much as a reply. In frustration, she said, they went public with their concerns in April, prompting a written reply from Klimchuk earlier this month.
In the letter, Klimchuk chided Falun Dafa, saying that by going to the media, "we may have missed an opportunity to resolve these issues efficiently and effectively."
Klimchuk wrote she was cancelling all future Shen Yun dates in both Jubilee auditoriums saying, "the relationship has dissolved to the point that I do not believe it can be resolved."
Klimchuk said in the letter that the troupe can go to other venues, but the organizers say only the Jubilee auditoriums have the facilities to host such a large show.
"It seems like she (Klimchuk) is scolding us for bringing the issue to the public," Yang told reporters outside the legislature chamber.
With members of Falun Dafa in the legislature galleries Monday, Klimchuk refused to apologize for not meeting with the group in the past.
And while the focus of her letter was deteriorating relations, she told the house the issue was strictly tied to the safety nets.
"I'm not going to apologize for the safety of the performances or the musicians," said Klimchuk.
Smith said the Klimchuk letter shows that the Progressive Conservatives — criticized before the April 23 election for bullying municipal leaders, doctors and educators who challenged them in public — are back at it.
"It's a bullying issue for me," said Smith. "It's very clear in the letter that the reason why Minister Klimchuk chose not to deal with this is because they're punishing them for going public."
Yang said that while they don't have evidence, they believe the unseen hand of the Chinese government is behind the ban, twisting the arms of Alberta politicians to squelch dissent by proxy.
"We want to see that the Alberta government will not be influenced by the Chinese Communist Party interference with Shen Yun," she said.
Redford is heading to China next month to meet with Chinese trade and political leaders. The province is eventually hoping to sell oil to China through a pipeline to ports in British Columbia.