Trudeau defends fundraiser with Chinese businessman who later donated $200,000 to father's foundation

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was forced to defend his party’s fundraising methods in the House of Commons Tuesday after media reports emerged revealing he attended a fundraiser with a Chinese business leader who went on to donate $200,000 to the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation.

Trudeau insists he and his ministers are following fundraising rules to the letter

A Conservative MP says that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was the 'star attraction at this exclusive cash for access event with Chinese billionaires.' Trudeau has defended his party's fundraising practices. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was forced to defend his party's fundraising methods in the House of Commons Tuesday after media reports emerged revealing he attended a fundraiser with a Chinese businessman who went on to donate $200,000 to the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation.

"The prime minister was the star attraction at this exclusive cash for access event with Chinese billionaires," said Tory MP Blaine Calkins during Tuesday's question period.

"Zhang Bin is a political advisor to the Chinese government, and after attending the event, he and his partner ... donated $1 million ... including $50,000 to build a statue of the former prime minister.

"We know the prime minister's love for the Chinese dictatorship, so what exactly did he promise the Chinese for their million dollar donation?" asked the Red Deer-Lacombe MP.

Of the $1 million donated to the University of Montreal and the Trudeau foundation to honour the former prime minister, $200,000 went to the foundation, $750,000 went to the University of Montreal's law faculty for scholarships and $50,000 went to fund the statue, according to The Globe and Mail. 

Trudeau did not stand to answer Calkins, having earlier addressed a broader question from interim Conservative Leader Rona Ambrose who wanted to know why Trudeau continues to attend fundraisers with "millionaires."

Trudeau said meeting with business leaders in Canada and abroad in an effort to sell Canada as a place to invest was worthwhile.

"I am pleased with the representations we have made in Davos and elsewhere to demonstrate that Canada is a good place to invest," Trudeau said.

"When we talk about investments like Bell helicopter in Mirabel with 1,000 more jobs, or the GM research in Markham, or the GE plant down in Niagara region, we know that drawing in global investment is a great way to grow the economy and create jobs."

$1,500 a plate 

Trudeau attended the fundraiser in May at the Toronto home of Benson Wong, the chair of the Chinese Business Chamber of Commerce.

Also in attendance at the $1,500 a plate fundraiser was Shenglin Xian who, at the time, was awaiting approval from federal regulators for his bank to be approved in Canada. Wealth One Bank of Canada was given final approval a few months later in July, according to The Globe and Mail's report.

When faced with questions from Ambrose in the House about the bank's subsequent approval by Canadian regulators, Trudeau dismissed the suggestion that anything untoward was done.

"We also find it peculiar that the Conservatives are trying to politicize that particular issue since it was their finance minister who approved that bank before they were booted out of office," Trudeau said.

A running theme

The Liberals have come under increasing fire from the Tory benches over their decision to hold a number fundraisers described as "cash for access events" by the Tories, in which a cabinet minister, or the prime minister, is in attendance with people who pay up to $1,500 a plate to attend.

The Liberals have maintained throughout that the regulations governing fundraising rules at the federal level are not only the strongest in Canada, but some of the toughest in the world. 

"The member very well knows that we have some of the strictest rules in this country when it comes to fundraising," said Government House leader Bardish Chagger. "We will continue to follow the rules and when we follow the rules, no conflict of interest can exist."

That answer has failed to win over the Opposition, who point to Trudeau's additional requirement that his ministers must go above and beyond the rules for fundraising as they govern their own behaviour.

"Ministers and parliamentary secretaries must avoid conflict of interest, the appearance of conflict of interest and situations that have the potential to involve conflicts of interest," Trudeau wrote in his guide to ministers.

The argument has also failed to win sway with the advocacy group, Democracy Watch. The group claims many Liberals are already breaking the rules by having business leaders with affairs before the federal government host and attend paid-for fundraising events.

"Everyone has to keep pressing him and say 'here is your rule, how does this not violate your rule,'" said Duff Conacher, co-founder of Democracy Watch.  "Anyone who works on ethics organizations or institutions will tell you that if the message from the top is that it's OK to break rules you will see more violations of the rules.

"And that's what he's doing."


  • An earlier version of this story stated that $1 million was donated to the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation. In fact the $1 million donation to honour the memory and leadership of former prime minister Pierre Trudeau was divided into three areas: $200,000 went to the foundation, $50,000 went to fund a statue of the elder Trudeau and $750,000 went to the University of Montreal Faculty of Law scholarships.
    Nov 23, 2016 4:00 PM ET
  • This story has been changed to correct the name of the person who hosted the fundraiser.
    Nov 25, 2016 8:47 AM ET


Peter Zimonjic

Senior writer

Peter Zimonjic is a senior writer for CBC News. He has worked as a reporter and columnist in London, England, for the Daily Mail, Sunday Times and Daily Telegraph and in Canada for Sun Media and the Ottawa Citizen. He is the author of Into The Darkness: An Account of 7/7, published by Random House.