Debate swirls over the piping of bituminous crude through pristine aboriginal territory to the British Columbia coast, destined for China. But the Canadian government and its would-be Asian trading partner struck a lighthearted note on Monday March 25 with the arrival of two giant pandas that will spend 10 years on Turtle Island, five years each in two Canadian zoos.
“It is a great honour to be entrusted with Er Shun and Da Mao, two of China’s national treasures,” Prime Minister Stephen Harper said in a statement, greeting the new guests by name. “Their presence in Canada today and for the next ten years will remind us of the strong relationship between our countries and will delight the many Canadians who will visit the zoos to see them.”
The animals will spend five years each in the Toronto Zoo and the Calgary Zoo, the Prime Minister’s statement said, and then they will spend two five-year stints in the Chinese Association of Zoological Gardens. Each zoo has committed to investing in research and conservation of the giant panda. It is the first time in 20 years that giant pandas have resided in Canada, Harper’s statement said.
“Giant pandas are unique to China and serve as unofficial national mascots,” the prime minister’s statement explained. “They are seen as symbols of peace, friendship and good fortune.”
The hope among officials is that the two will mate and bear the first pandas ever born in Canada.
Some might call it “pandering”—Harper is still under fire for putting through one of the biggest trade pacts in the world without consulting First Nations or even many other Canadians and citizen groups—as the Canada-China Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement (FIPA) has sparked turmoil and a lawsuit.