Ethnic outreach uproar: [Insert your clever cat pun here]

The Liberals today are handing out a copy of a “Minister’s Award” given by Immigration Minister Jason Kenney to the Yang Sheng, an old school Ottawa Chinese restaurant. The restaurant was the subject of controversy two years ago after some unfortunate remarks about the menu made by a Liberal blogger and Michael Ignatieff employee.

The Shenger is also an Ottawa institution and, I should note,  a place I ate at about five times a week during my bachelor days.

The award named in the certificate in question is a complete invention by Kenney’s office.

I couldn’t find the story I wrote about it online so I yanked it out of the archives….

Tories make meal of Kinsella quip
The Ottawa Citizen
Tue Feb 3 2009
Byline: Glen McGregor

Looking a little embarrassed by it all, Sam Fung stood in the middle of his restaurant yesterday and smiled uncomfortably as photographers snapped him shaking hands with Citizenship Minister Jason Kenney.

A sophomoric remark from Liberal strategist Warren Kinsella has put Mr. Fung’s restaurant, Yang Sheng, at the centre of a catfight over ethnic sensitivity. At lunch hour yesterday, the Chinatown institution also briefly became the focal point of the Conservative party’s ongoing campaign to win over Chinese voters.

Accompanied by Ottawa-area MP Pierre Poilievre and rookie Vancouver MP Alice Wong, Mr. Kenney invited members of the Chinese media to dine with them at Yang Sheng yesterday beneath the golden bird mounted on the wall above.

The lunch was styled as an attempt to help boost Mr. Fung’s business, but the intent was clearly strategic — to draw even more attention in the Chinese community to comments made by Mr. Kinsella, who is volunteer advisor to Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff.

Last week, on his eponymous political blog, Mr. Kinsella joked he was going to visit Yang Sheng, his old university haunt, to eat “BBQ cat and rice.”

He repeated a similar line in a video clip recorded at the intersection of Bronson and Somerset, with the restaurant’s familiar yellow sign in the background.

The Tories see the traditionally conservative Chinese community as a potential growth area.

Not surprisingly, Mr. Kinsella’s comments set the Conservative blogosphere aflame, with vehement calls for Mr. Ignatieff to fire Mr. Kinsella.

Some critics noted the irony of Mr. Kinsella, who has written about white supremacists and sometimes uses his blog to accuse others of racism, making a remark rooted in a dated stereotype about Asians and their cuisine.

Some called for an investigation by the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal, the current bogeyman of political correctness to some blogging Tories.

Mr. Kinsella later issued an apology and removed the post and video from his website.

Mr. Fung, 60, remembers Mr. Kinsella as a longtime loyal customer, but said he had not seen the original blog post until journalists pointed it out.

“I believe he was just making a joke,” he said yesterday. “All cultures have different kind of humour.” But, he said, “this kind of joking is not funny.”

He held up a certificate presented to him by Mr. Kenney, a “Minister’s Award of Excellence” for Yang Sheng. The provincial coats-of-arms that adorn the certificate give it the veneer of credibility, but its giant “C” Conservative party logo suggests it is not an entirely non-partisan citation.

Mr. Fung knew what the lunch was all about.

“The other party is just after him,” he said. “Every party has somebody like that.”

Mr. Fung has been running Yang Sheng since 1989, when he took over from the original owner. Twenty years earlier, he had given up his job as an importer-exporter in Hong Kong and immigrated to Canada with his family.

Before Yang Sheng, he worked as a waiter at the Cathay Restaurant, the old school Albert Street spot once patronized by prime minister Pierre Trudeau and his entourage.

Yang Sheng had become an Ottawa institution before Mr. Fung took it over. In 1972, he says, it was the first in Ottawa to serve authentic Cantonese cuisine, not the generic chicken balls and chop suey of Westernized Chinese restaurants.

Today, its laughably cheap menu prices and sensational dishes make “the Shenger” a favourite for university students, even if the shopworn décor hasn’t had much of an overhaul since the Wang Chung era.

Although it goes without saying, Yang Sheng doesn’t serve cat. And Mr. Fung doesn’t know of any other Chinese restaurants in town that do. House specialties include barbequed duck and pork, and General Tao’s chicken.

Mr. Fung says he doesn’t expect the feline imbroglio to hurt business and he has no intention of launching legal action over the catty remark. As for discipline, he says he’ll leave that to Liberal party.

Jill Fairbrother, a spokesperson for Mr. Ignatieff’s office, noted that Mr. Kinsella had publicly apologized and it had been accepted.

“I think that’s the end of the matter,” she said.

3 thoughts on “Ethnic outreach uproar: [Insert your clever cat pun here]

  1. So, this means that this is a false honour, then? If this happened to me, I would feel somewhat betrayed… as though I was the butt of a joke I wasn’t aware of. And by people who claimed to be my friend, no less oO

    Has the “Honourable” Minister played other people for fools this way?

  2. Remember the uproar when Tom Flanagan made a comment about the wikileaks founder. Everyone blamed it on the CPC. I guess this means that every one in the LPC is a racist.

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