One Liberal helping his party win back Chinese-Canadian voters lost plenty of them not so long ago.
Yet after a drubbing in the 2008 election, former Richmond MP and junior cabinet minister Raymond Chan has recently re-emerged as a pivotal – and polarizing – fundraiser in British Columbia, a conduit between new Mainland Chinese wealth and the party leadership. His wife, Ting Ting Wang, is a special adviser to Justin Trudeau, consulting with the leader on communications with Chinese-Canadians.
"He wants to be Da Lao [big boss] of the Chinese community," mused Toronto-based, Conservative-leaning commentator Jonathan Fon.
In some quarters, Mr. Chan evokes the freshly minted power of Mainland Chinese voters and the Liberal glory days of Jean Chrétien and Paul Martin, who have also been campaigning. Mr. Chan's critics in the community, however, see him as an opportunist from a bygone era.
What's worse, if the Liberals win Monday's contest, they worry he and his wife will be their collective mouthpiece. "Justin Trudeau is naive to think that he's our most important voice," said a well-placed Liberal. "He's been fooled."
They also point to his friendship with Michael Ching – a controversial Vancouver developer and party donor pursued by the Chinese government on embezzlement allegations – and wonder if Mr. Chan should be chasing money for the Liberals.
Unlike in Quebec, where revelations about national campaign co-chair Dan Gagnier's pipeline to TransCanada has caused small implosions (and Mr. Gagnier's resignation), this fundraising flap hasn't slowed the party's momentum. Polling suggests that Liberals have made critical inroads in Vancouver and the Lower Mainland.
Still, the Ching association has given Mr. Chan, 63, sudden notoriety, as though he has suddenly popped out of the political wilderness. Not the case, say friends, foes and those in-between. "Raymond has always been active in the Liberal Party – there is nothing new there," said Herb Dhaliwal, another former minister helping out on the campaign trail. "The party needs good fundraisers."
Mr. Chan, who declined interview requests, has fostered ties to deep-pocketed Chinese Mainlanders, such as Mr. Ching, who customarily seek political connections once they arrive. They'll fork out for fundraisers, which come with fresh photo-ops to feed the social-media maw.
The draw of a former cabinet minister – a Chinese-Canadian political pioneer, no less – is enticing. That Mr. Chan is connected to a potential prime minister makes the proposition even more irresistible, especially given the dynastic attachment to the Trudeau père, a lonely pioneer of Chinese détente who established diplomatic relations with Beijing in 1970.
Many Liberals criticize the way Mr. Chan – the former secretary of state for the Asia-Pacific Region – handled his friendship with Mr. Ching. Over the past couple of years, questions have been raised about Mr. Ching's true identity.
Some speculated that Mr. Ching was actually Cheng Muyang, who is wanted back home on corruption-related allegations. Until April, when the South China Morning Post revealed that Mr. Ching and Mr. Cheng were actually the same person, Liberals had professed ignorance of its donor's origins – and with them the baggage of allegations that he took with him.
The Chinese government accuses Mr. Ching of embezzlement, amid other charges. Interpol has issued a Red Notice for him – tantamount to an international arrest warrant. Mr. Ching, the 45-year-old son of a disgraced provincial governor, has denied the allegations, saying he is a victim of political persecution and the accusations against him were extracted from prisoners under torture. He is fighting for refugee status in Canada.
With Mr. Chan's support, Mr. Ching's daughter, Linda, was head of the B.C. wing of the federal Young Liberals. According to the South China Morning Post, a group she led, Tru-Youths, was headquartered in her father's office. Mr. Chan's wife, Ting Ting Wang, was listed as a Tru-Youths director. One 2013 event they helped organize, featuring Mr. Trudeau, raised more than $100,000.
"The Liberal Party of Canada doesn't have any ties with Tru-Youth," wrote spokesman Olivier Duchesneau. "As a result we have no knowledge of the arrangements of the organization."
"It's all about convenience," said a community fixture who has had dozens of interactions with Mr. Chan. "Raymond wants to bring in a lot of funds to the party with folks who are only [too] happy to contribute. He doesn't realize how deeply problematic this is."
Yet there were warnings along the way. The Globe and Mail has learned that a much-read anonymous letter was sent to many Liberals back in 2013 that revealed Mr. Ching's background and questioned Mr. Chan's association with him.
When The Globe first asked Mr. Chan about his relationship to Mr. Ching, he said he had known him since 1969, which suggests that Mr. Chan had known him since infancy – and thus his real identity – all along.
Responding to a list of questions, Mr. Chan said he misspoke to The Globe, that he had only known Mr. Ching since 1996. He found out about his friend's identity from Vancouver Sun reporter Peter O'Neil, who was researching a story on Mr. Chan and Mr. Ching." When contacted by The Globe, Mr. O'Neill said that he told Mr. Chan months prior to the Morning Post's April revelations.
In August, Mr. Chan was accused of being the invisible hand behind the blocking of the Liberal candidacy of Wendy Yuan, the Richmond-Steveston East hopeful who previously complained to leadership about Mr. Chan's fundraising sources. The federal party responded by saying she was disqualified for padding her CV. (Ms. Yuan would not comment on the matter.)
Several critics say Mr. Chan isn't fit to be their figurehead. He compromised too much on causes such as human rights in China and compensation for the notorious Head Tax, from which he backed away. "A lot of the changes have to do with personality," said Henry Chau, who fought alongside Mr. Chan as a protester against abuses in China and later as his campaigner. "Much of it is motivated by power."
More rainmaker than relic, though, Raymond Chan has expanded his horizons to Ontario as well. "I think he is in Toronto most of the time," said Richmond Centre's Liberal candidate, Lawrence Woo, who is threatening to beat Alice Wong, the Conservative incumbent who defeated Mr. Chan. "Ontario is a major battleground, and he is concentrating in that area."
Mr. Woo says it's fruitless to use a so-called ethnic strategy as Mr. Chan once did when he was elected in 1993 on the strength of his human-rights advocacy. The community is too diffuse, and the Chinese Mainland vote can't be captured by one party or a single issue.
When asked about Mr. Chan's controversy, Mr. Woo said it's not hurting him, nor has he received much help from him.
Later, however, a knowledgeable community source said that one of Mr. Woo's key people is a veteran Chan ally who is in charge of organizing volunteers. "He helps line up a few volunteers for us when we need him to," Mr. Woo said of the Chan ally in a followup conversation. "He doesn't come into the office on a regular basis."
Nor does Mr. Chan.