Auditor general 'assessing' mandate over Trudeau Foundation request to investigate
Charity has requested AG look into donations that may be linked to Beijing
The federal auditor general's office said Tuesday it is still "assessing" its mandate as it relates to a request from the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation to investigate its handling of two donations with possible links to the Chinese government.
The foundation's interim board chair wrote to the office last week, saying it would welcome an investigation by auditor Karen Hogan into donations made in 2016 and 2017 that totalled $140,000.
The foundation calls itself an independent, non-partisan scholarship organization.
Its CEO and most members of its board of directors recently resigned due to what it described as the politicization of a donation from Chinese billionaire Zhang Bin and another Chinese businessman, Niu Gensheng.
"In these circumstances, the foundation would welcome an investigation by the auditor general of Canada of all aspects concerning the receipt and handling of these donations by the foundation," interim board chair Edward Johnson said in a letter dated last Friday.
"The foundation's own independent review of the donations, to be handled by an independent law firm and accounting firm, will proceed in any case."
He also noted that when the foundation was originally created to honour the legacy of former Liberal prime minister Pierre Trudeau in 2002, it received a $125 million endowment from the federal government.
Foundation believes it is subject to AG audits
A foundation spokesperson says the organization believes it is subject to audits by the auditor general, but Hogan's office says it is still looking at whether that is the case.
"We are still assessing the (office of the auditor general of Canada's) mandate in this matter," a spokesperson said in a statement.
Asked whether it is in the scope of the auditor's office to investigate private donations, the spokesman said: "This is part of the assessment."
According to the office's website, it investigates the activities of federal government departments and agencies, Crown corporations, and the country's three territorial governments and their agencies.
It can do so through financial and performance audits.
It also lists what it will not do. Inquiries that fall explicitly outside the auditor's mandate include requests to review policy decisions or to intervene in disagreements between private citizens and governments, banks or businesses.
Allegations of China-backed political interference
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, when asked about the controversial donation and the foundation itself, has told reporters he has not been involved in its activities for nearly a decade.
The Opposition Conservatives, however, contend the foundation that bears Trudeau's name has been a vehicle individuals used to court favour with the prime minister and those close to him. Such accusations have led current and former Liberals to accuse Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre of launching partisan attacks.
Poilievre has requested that the commissioner of the Canada Revenue Agency launch an audit into the foundation, citing a report from the Montreal-based newspaper La Presse that in trying to return the now-problematic donation, the organization discovered that the name on the cheque did not match the name of the donor.
In a letter sent last Friday, Poilievre said such reporting raises concerns about foreign interference attempts and suggests the foundation "is not meeting its legal and fiduciary responsibilities as required under the Income Tax Act and reported to the Canada Revenue Agency."
Allegations of China-backed foreign interference attempts in the past two federal election campaigns have followed Trudeau for weeks.
He has assured opposition parties and other critics that former governor general David Johnston, whom he appointed to serve as a special rapporteur on the issue, will recommend in late May whether or not he should call a public inquiry into the matter.
But Poilievre has dismissed Johnston's appointment as inappropriate, citing the former dignitary's involvement with the foundation.
Along with the Bloc Quebecois and NDP, the Conservatives are demanding that Trudeau just call a public inquiry now, rather than waiting for a recommendation.