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Federal Politics

‘It Doesn’t Pass the Smell Test’: Trudeau ‘Cash-for-Access’ Fundraiser Dominates Question Period

Tyee exclusive on pricy event with Chinese business leaders, Globe report sparks controversy.

Jeremy Nuttall 22 Nov

Jeremy J. Nuttall is The Tyee’s reader-funded Parliament Hill reporter in Ottawa. Find his previous stories here.

Questions about Justin Trudeau’s elbow-rubbing with members of the Chinese-Canadian business community at a recent Liberal Party fundraiser in Toronto, an event first brought to light by The Tyee last week, dominated debate in the House of Commons today.

On Tuesday, the Globe and Mail reported new revelations about some of the fundraiser guests, who paid a reported $1,525 to attend the May 19 event.

One guest, Chinese businessman Zhang Bin, donated $1 million to the Pierre Elliot Trudeau Foundation a few weeks following the event. The donation was made with a partner.

Zhang is the president of the China Cultural Industry Association, a government-supervised organization that describes itself as existing to boost the soft power of Chinese culture around the world.

Both Conservative and New Democrat opposition members expressed outrage over the news in the House today.

“Not only does this event break the prime minister’s own ethics rules, it doesn’t pass the smell test,” Conservative leader Rona Ambrose said in the opening salvo of the session.

The Liberals, as has become common during Question Period when asked about so-called “cash for access” fundraisers, replied that the federal government’s rules around political donations are the strongest in the country.

But the Tories and NDP accused the Liberals of ignoring their own party rules, which are more strict than those set out by the ethics commissioner.

The New Democrat’s finance critic Guy Caron went as far as alleging the fundraiser was a purchase of influence.

“Get out your checkbooks ladies and gentlemen, because it seems like the entire Liberal cabinet can be bought including the prime minister,” he said.

Last week, The Tyee first reported Trudeau had attended the fundraiser held at the home of Toronto businessman Benson Wong.

The attendee list also included Liu Meng, of the Yangtze River Chamber of Commerce. The organization is opening a Canadian branch, its seventh global office.

Members of the organization include Hong Kong business mogul Li Ka-Shing and Weihua Ma, the president of the Chinese “billionaires” club that conducted a business trip across Canada and met with Trudeau in October.

Liu Meng attended the event as a guest, according to Liberal communications director Braeden Caley last week, and it is not known how Zhang ended up at the event.

Another attendee was Shenglin Xian, the founder of Wealth One Bank, an institution catering to Chinese-Canadian customers.

Donations from non-residents or citizens are not allowed under donation rules, however there is no evidence Zhang paid to attend the fundraiser, the Globe reported.

Trudeau held a similar dinner in Vancouver on Nov. 7, according to the Richmond News, but the location and guest list of that event is not known.  [Tyee]

Read more: Politics, Federal Politics

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