Skip to main content

One of the biggest single users of the sponsored travel provided to Members of Parliament in recent years has been Canada’s ambassador to China, John McCallum.

Sean Kilpatrick/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Canadian MPs and senators have been accepting free trips to China paid for by the Chinese government and Beijing-friendly groups and meeting with agents of the Communist Party, whose goal is to win overseas support for the authoritarian regime's political agenda.

Since 2006, parliamentarians have taken 36 trips to China sponsored by arms of the Chinese government or business groups seeking closer ties and trade with the one-party state and world's second-biggest economy, according to travel records kept by the Senate and House of Commons.

There are no laws banning Canadian legislators from accepting such junkets, and other countries occasionally cover the travel costs of parliamentarians who visit their countries.

Story continues below advertisement

Canada won't rush into free-trade deal with China, minister says

Canadians doing business in China should be warned of possible trouble, former envoy says

But those countries aren't trying to assert global influence for a dictatorial government. Australia and New Zealand have raised concerns about China's attempts to gain influence, from paying for junkets of foreign politicians to making political donations.

Travel records show that the Chinese People's Institute of Foreign Affairs (CPIFA) is one of the key state agencies that regularly funds trips of foreign politicians. It finances 15 trips annually for U.S. politicians.

This institute answers to the Communist Party's United Front Work Department, the lead agency in charge of burnishing China's image abroad and managing the Chinese diaspora overseas. Chinese officials have called the United Front its "magic weapon" to gain economic and political influence and quell dissent at home and abroad. It funds Chinese media, culture and business associations and has established Confucius institutes at universities and pays for trips by foreign politicians, including those from Canada.

One of the biggest single users of the sponsored travel provided to Members of Parliament in recent years has been Canada's ambassador to China, John McCallum. He took trips valued at $73,300 from China or pro-Beijing business groups, such as the Canadian Confederation of Fujian Associations, during the years he was a backbench MP from 2008 to 2015.

Two parliamentarians who appear to have cultivated ties to the agents of Chinese "soft power" are rookie Liberal MP Geng Tan, a chemical engineer born in Hunan province who came to Canada in the late 1990s, and Ontario Conservative Senator Victor Oh.

Story continues below advertisement

Mr. Oh and Mr. Tan serve on the board of the Canada Confederation of Shenzhen Associations, along with five Toronto-area city councillors. The lobby group promotes business and cultural ties with China, but its mission statement advocates the reunification of Taiwan and the People's Republic of China.

Mr. Tan, the first Canadian born in mainland China to be elected to Parliament, was only a rookie when he managed to secure the job of co-chair of Parliament's Canada-China Legislative Association in December of 2015, a group of MPs and senators who have an interest in building closer ties to Beijing. The group receives taxpayer funding to visit China.

But Mr. Tan and Mr. Oh have also taken private trips to China sponsored by the Chinese government and pro-Beijing business groups.

The two men have met with officials from the United Front, the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, a tool of the United Front, as well as the All-China Federation of Returned Overseas Chinese, which is another organ employed to manage the ethnic diaspora living outside China.

In several instances, the trips were not declared to Parliament's ethics officers. When The Globe and Mail raised the matter, both men explained that was because they had paid the expenses for these visits out of their own pockets.

During a visit to his home town of Changsha in July, 2017, Mr. Tan met with two top officials of Beijing's United Front and key body, the Chinese People's Consultative Conference (CPCC), which operate worldwide and often work through overseas Chinese associations.

Story continues below advertisement

He first denied ever taking the trip when approached by The Globe.

When The Globe pointed out that there were pictures of the MP in local Chinese newspapers with United Front and CPCC officials, Mr. Tan recalled that he had indeed been there but insisted he paid for the trip himself.

"It is my own trip," Mr. Tan said. "I use that time to visit my mom and grandmom."

During the trip, he took time for meetings with United Front representatives Da Bi Xin and Tian Huayu and CPCC chairman Wu Shuyuan and local Communist Party boss Qui Chuankai.

Asked about the meeting with United Front and its mandate to promote Chinese influence globally, Mr. Tan replied: "It is not my job to look into those factors because for me, my focus is our [Canadian] own business. I don't care so much what they do. It is not part of my business."

Mr. Tan said his role as an elected MP is to promote friendship between Canada and China and "mutual understanding and respect between two peoples."

After visiting Changsha, Mr. Tan later met up with Liberals Rob Oliphant and Pam Damoff and Tory Michael Cooper, who also accepted a free trip to Beijing and Shandong, paid for by the Chinese People's Institute of Foreign Affairs.

The Prime Minister's Office had no comment on parliamentarians accepting free travel from China, but an official said they must declare sponsored trips, as required by the ethics rules.

The Chinese embassy in Ottawa did not respond to requests for comment.

Mr. Tan also accepted a free trip to Hunan province in April paid for by Kai Wu, a Toronto-based businessman who set up an immigrant investment and education business after emigrating from Hunan province.

Mr. Wu, who is a regular donor to the Liberal Party, appeared to be unsure of what exactly he expected in return from Mr. Tan for footing the trip to China.

"I can't remember … He didn't help me with anything, I don't think," he said, explaining the Liberal MP is helping Canadian businesses.

Asked again if he remembered what Mr. Tan did to help him, Mr. Wu said, "No, he didn't help me" and then hung up after saying he had a cold and was losing his voice.

Mr. Tan said he accepted the trip to help Mr. Wu's Kaiyao Education Group to "attract more international students to Canada to study." He said the trip was a good way to "help our Canadian business people to create more business in China."

Richard Fadden, a former Canadian Security Intelligence Service director, who also served as national security adviser to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Stephen Harper, expressed concerns about Canadian politicians accepting undisclosed trips from China, especially if they are not part of officially sanctioned parliamentary activities.

"If they do it time after time after time and, in particular, if they are invited to trips overseas, in my mind that means that at a minimum they are getting too cozy, because no parliamentarian should get too cozy with the representatives of a foreign state," Mr. Fadden said. "At a minimum, they are getting too cozy and at worst they are beginning to drink the Kool-Aid."

Mr. Oh, who was appointed to the Red Chamber by Mr. Harper in 2013, is a frequent traveller to China and prominent at banquets and events in Canada where Chinese diplomats and party bigwigs are invited guests. He has accepted trips paid for by the governments of Jilin, Hainan and Hubei provinces, as well as business groups and Chinese airlines.

Mr. Oh and Senator Yuen Pau Woo, the new leader of the largest block of Independent senators, have spoken out against a motion from Conservative Senator Thanh Hai Ngo that calls on Canada to oppose China's aggressive moves in the disputed South China Sea.

In April, Mr. Oh brought along Conservative senators Don Plett and Leo Housakos and their spouses on a two-week, all-expense paid trip to Beijing and Fujian province.

The Chinese government unfurled the red carpet for Mr. Oh when he brought his Senate colleagues to his ancestral mountain village in Fuzhou. The government went so far as to pave a high mountain path for the senators, which was used by Mr. Oh's family before they immigrated to Singapore.

There is confusion though about who exactly paid for the trip, which was not declared to the Senate Ethics Office, as required for sponsored travel. At first, Mr. Housakos's office said it was sponsored travel, partly paid for by China and a trade group based in Canada.

"Full disclosure, my wonderful assistant did not disclose it to the ethics office and I will file expeditiously," Mr. Housakos said. "I didn't intentionally not disclose this. I have never done any personal business with any Chinese entity there or in Canada."

On Tuesday, The Globe tracked down Mr. Oh, who said there was no need to disclose the trip because his "family" personally paid all the expenses for all three senators.

Mr. Housakos, a former Senate Speaker, said the two-week jaunt included lots of meetings with cultural and commercial officials and businesses in China. He added that he raised human rights and democracy with a former general and member of the National People's Congress.

"I wasn't there to kowtow to them," Mr. Housakos said. "I don't sit here and tell the Canadian government they should roll over for the Chinese government."

Mr. Oh and his office also declined to fully explain three other trips to China that were not publicly declared to the Senate Ethics Office. In a quick exchange on Tuesday, he said all his trips were official government business but there is no public record that this is the case.

Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Comments

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed.

If your comment doesn't appear immediately it has been sent to a member of our moderation team for review

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading…

Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.