Trudeau insists he has no ties to foundation after Chinese billionaires make donation

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Thursday he has no ties to a foundation set up in his father’s name — an organization that received some $200,000 in donations from Chinese billionaires shortly after they hosted him for a private dinner.

“I have not been in any way associated formally, or informally, with Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation in many, many, years,” he told reporters after arriving in Liberia for the first leg of a trip to Africa.

“I stepped down from any of my family-related responsibilities shortly after having gotten elected, in order to demonstrate that there is a tremendous separation there.”

Trudeau said the foundation was established as an “educational scholarship” program, and collects donations to fund research into the humanities.

He said the foundation has recruited mentors and board members from all political parties, such as former Conservative MP Chuck Strahl and NDP MP Megan Leslie, and “they will reassure you that they’re very much separate from anything I do as prime minister or as leader of the Liberal Party.”

The Globe and Mail reported Tuesday that Trudeau attended the fundraiser in May at the Toronto home of Zhang Bin, a wealthy Chinese-Canadian businessman who is also a political adviser to the government in China.

Also attending $1,500-a-plate fundraiser was Shenglin Xian, who at the time was awaiting approval from federal regulators for his bank to operate in Canada. Wealth One Bank of Canada was given final approval a few months later in July, according to the report.

The two businessmen also donated $750,000 to University of Montreal Faculty of Law for scholarships, and $50,000 to build a statue of the former prime minister.

Trudeau defends donations by Chinese billionaires1:08

While the prime minister has previously faced questions about his cabinet ministers headlining fundraisers, data produced by the Liberal Party and supplied to CBC News shows that Trudeau himself has also been a mainstay at 19 party events.

Many of the events had a ticket price of $1,500 a person.

‘There should be no preferential access to government, or appearance of preferential access, accorded to individuals or organizations because they have made financial contributions to politicians and political parties.’
– Government guidelines

Earlier in November, for example, Trudeau flew to Vancouver to announce a national coastal strategy, and then attended a private fundraiser that night at the home of a volunteer, the party said.

He also attended a Laurier Club “appreciation event” in Vancouver that night.

Membership in the club is restricted to those who make the maximum donation allowable under Elections Canada rules: $1,500 a year.

In exchange, they are promised invitations to events across the country “attended by prominent members of the Liberal Party,” where they can meet “business and community leaders with similar values.”

‘No preferential access to government’

Trudeau has faced persistent questions from opposition members in the House of Commons who say the practice of ministers of the Crown attending such pricey fundraising events breaks rules the prime minister himself crafted to avoid conflicts of interest.

He released new non-binding ethics guidelines on Nov. 27, 2015, called Open and Accountable Government.

The 87-page document says ministers and parliamentary secretaries “must ensure that political fundraising activities or considerations do not affect, or appear to affect, the exercise of their official duties or the access of individuals or organizations to government.”

“There should be no preferential access to government, or appearance of preferential access, accorded to individuals or organizations because they have made financial contributions to politicians and political parties,” the guidelines read.

The issue first emerged in April, when CBC News reported Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould was attending a $500-a-head Liberal Party event at a top Toronto law firm — where would-be attendees were told they were “fortunate to have secured an evening of her time.”

Trudeau has insisted that fundraising rules at the federal level are among the strictest in the country, and that when it comes to collecting money, political parties must report those donations publicly to Elections Canada.

Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson has said the so-called pay-to-play practice is “not very savoury and is calling for changes to Canada’s law to restrict the practice.

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