Justin Trudeau was on the hot seat Tuesday as NDP leader Tom Mulcair demanded answers about the prime minister’s role in a Liberal fundraiser attended by a businessman hoping to sell $1 billion worth of canola oil to China.
The Tyee revealed Tuesday that Thomas Liu, CEO of the LeMine Investment Group had attended the $1,525-per-person fundraiser at the home of Toronto businessman Benson Wong on May 19.
Four months later, the Canadian government announced a deal to ease Chinese restrictions on canola seed imports from Canada that had threatened access to the $2.6-billion market.
Mulcair noted the “cash for access” fundraiser, attended by about 35 people, could have raised $50,000 for the Liberals.
“Simple question for the Prime Minister: What did he discuss with Mr. Liu at that dinner?” Mulcair asked.
Trudeau replied that the agreement ensuring access to the Chinese market was good for Canadian farmers.
“This government is very proud that we’ve stood up for western canola farmers,” Trudeau said. “We secured that access that Canadian farmers needed so desperately.”
But Mulcair wasn’t buying it.
“Mr. Liu is not a western canola farmer,” he responded.
Liu is a Toronto businessmen best known for condo developments and immigration consulting.
In 2014 he accompanied then prime minister Stephen Harper on a trade mission to China and announced a deal to sell $1 billion worth of canola oil over seven years to Chinese buyers. The claim surprised industry observers, who hadn’t heard of Liu or his company.
It’s unclear if the company has actually exported canola oil. It declined comment, although the announcement remains on its website.
The fundraising dinner came four months after China imposed restrictions on Canadian canola seed imports, citing a fear that blackleg, a canola plant disease, could spread to Chinese crops.
The agreement to lift the restrictions was reached in September after talks between Beijing and Ottawa.
The restrictions affected canola seed destined for processing in China, while Liu proposed to export canola oil.
But the New Democrats say the products are related and the meeting at the fundraiser created a potential conflict of interest for the prime minister as the government was working out its deal with Beijing.
The opposition has criticized the Liberals for months over fundraisers that offer access to the prime minister, cabinet ministers and officials in return for $1,525 contributions — the largest allowed under political finance laws.
The Tyee broke the story of Trudeau’s attendance at the May 19 dinner.
The Liberals maintain they have complied with election finance laws and their ethics guidelines.
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