Two prominent local Chinese Canadians say mayoral candidate George Smitherman is being used as a pawn by a Chinese government meddling in Toronto’s election.

And China’s Toronto consulate is distancing itself from the decision to invite only Smitherman, and not any of the other mayoral candidates or Mayor David Miller, on an all-expenses-paid trip beginning Thursday that will see Smitherman make a speech to a “mayors’ forum on tourism” in Zhengzhou, capital of Henan province.

Mayoral rivals have cried foul, accusing China of undiplomatic behaviour and noting that the former deputy premier has never held civic office or a tourism portfolio. Most of the other Ontario politicians flown to China are mayors, including John Gray of Oshawa.

“I consider it to be absolutely inappropriate for the Chinese government to interfere in the Toronto election, for Mr. Smitherman to be the only mayoral candidate to be invited to speak at a mayors’ forum,” said Gloria Fung, a well-known political analyst and commentator.

“As smart as he is, Mr. Smitherman should realize there are no free trips in this world,” she added.