OTTAWA -- Hoping to boost business and strengthen its brand in China, Canada will spend $58 million on an "architecturally exciting" pavilion with a "memorable cultural program" at Expo 2010 in Shanghai.
The six-month project in China's commercial and financial hub includes a contract of about $13.5 million to Montreal-based Cirque du Soleil to develop the pavilion's artistic and public programs.
Construction is pegged at $15 million, operations at $16.5 million and contingency financing at $13 million, according to Heritage Canada records obtained by researcher Ken Rubin under the access to information law.
It's an investment of taxpayer dollars that is "way over the top," says one former cabinet minister.
But a memorandum of understanding between Heritage Canada and the Cirque says investing in the Expo pavilion will "contribute to Canada's future economic goals and commercial presence in China."
The federal government sole-sourced the cultural contract to the Cirque du Soleil, because it is the "only identified Canadian company with the unique mix of international brand recognition, entrepreneurial acumen, creative talent, global networks and experience to undertake a project of this kind," said Heritage Canada spokesman Charles Drouin.
Former Liberal secretary of state for Asia-Pacific David Kilgour, who champions human rights in China, said the overall cost is too high, even with the participation of the world-famous Cirque.
"We're not going to turn around our trade deficit by spending $60 million, literally, on circuses in Shanghai," he said.
The federal government and the Cirque have embraced the Shanghai Expo, whose theme is "Better City, Better Life," with enthusiasm.
The agreement says Canada wants Expo 2010 to broaden Canada's image in China, strengthen bilateral connections, showcase Canada's experience in urban development and "advance Canada's business, diplomatic and cultural interests in China and Asia-Pacific."
The agreement does not directly address human rights, but it notes that the Cirque is a "socially-conscious company" with a strict environmental policy that will "act in accordance with fair, just and responsible parameters."
Answering questions by e-mail, Cirque senior director of public affairs Renee-Claude Menard said the company's social responsibility code is "standard" in contracts.
Sarah Kutulakos, executive director of the Canada China Business Council, argued Expo 2010 will boost bilateral business relations.
"We've been out there trying to make the point that Canadian businesses really need to broaden their perspective on international trade," she said.
Expo 2010 is expected to attract more than 70 million visitors, with up to 5.5 million stopping at the Canadian pavilion.