2016 is a tumultuous, tragic and historic year. Apart from the terrorist attacks in Europe that sent shockwaves throughout the world, the announcement of Donald Trump’s victory in the US presidential election was also a surreal and jaw-dropping moment captured in the international yearbook. Trudeau’s visit to China in Aug. marked the turning point in the Sino-Canada relations, while the Liberals’ cash-for-access practices were caught in a deep controversy, putting well-heeled Chinese Canadian lobbyists in the spotlight.
In May, a fundraiser was held in Benson Wong’s home, with PM Trudeau as the star attraction. With several Chinese political heavy weights attending the event, the fundraiser has left the Canadian political landscape susceptible to the growing influence of an authoritarian government. One of the attendees was Zhang Bin, a political adviser to the Chinese government and a force to spread China’s influence. Liu Meng, whose presence at the event was evidenced by a photo taken with the PM -- with Chinese and Canadian flags in the background. Liu was also a political influential figure in China who was a recipient of praise by China’s state media for “seeking out overseas delegates for future business co-operation … and to invest abroad and expand into the global market.”
Despite the Liberals’ repeated claims that no government business was ever discussed at the event, the statements from a host of a fundraiser held in B.C. seems to be contrary to such claims. Pan Miaofei, a multi-millionaire from Zhejiang China and a real estate developer in Vancouver, told the Globe in an interview that a variety of government issues were discussed with the PM while they enjoyed Zhejiang delicacies at the fundraiser, from allowing Chinese investment in Canada’s senior care to easing the immigration path for Chinese investors to Canada.
The cash-for-access events also appear to breach the Liberals’ ethical guidelines and has raised the brows of Canada’s Ethics Commissioner. The final go-ahead obtained by Wealth One Bank, a Schedule 1 Bank in Canada targeting deposits from Chinese Canadians, have also put the bank under media scrutiny, raising questions of whether the bank received preferential treatment resulting from its interactions with the PM. The Globe investigation discovered that Yuansheng Ou Yang, a director and key investor of the bank, misrepresented his biography on the Wealth One website by claiming he had served as a member of China’s National People’s Congress, and that one of the bank’s former backers was plagued for years by unproven accusations of fraud in his home country.
The massive capital outflow from China has catered for the Canadian government’s needs of battling a sluggish economy, and China’s billionaires’ deep pockets have appealed to the Liberals’ desire for filling its war chest. But for Chinese Canadians who are eager to have face time with a national leader, having a meal in close proximity to Trudeau seems to be a “golden opportunity” and a great honour. As Trudeau and the Liberals went to great lengths to seize commercial interest in China and to court the wealthy Chinese, the access to power has been turned into a commodity and may have been exploited for lucrative profits. The fundraiser in May allegedly charged a ticket price of around $5000, much higher than the $1525 limit by the Election Act, prompting calls for investigations and raising concerns over where the money went and who may have been the beneficiaries.
Amid the economic slowdown, equity market’s volatility and the currency devaluation, Chinese capital outflow is expected to continue in 2017. If Trudeau and his Liberals won’t stop cash-for-access practices urged by the opposition parties and the public, more scandals will emerge in the new year that would not only wreak havoc with the Liberals’ reputation, but also draw more criticism to the Chinese community.
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