The Liberal Party is employing an under-the-radar strategy that taps into the power of Justin Trudeau to generate tens of thousands of dollars from cash-for-access events at the homes of wealthy Chinese-Canadians that provide intimate face-time with the Prime Minister that can be used as business currency at home and in China.
Attendance figures suggest the party collects a minimum of $50,000 per event from donors – and up to $120,000 – in a system that revolves around rich entrepreneurs in Vancouver and Toronto, home to large Chinese-Canadian business communities with people willing to shell out $1,500 per ticket to meet Mr. Trudeau in a private setting.
Some of the guests and hosts at the intimate fundraisers are well-connected to China's ruling Communist Party.
Former Liberal cabinet minister Raymond Chan, who was Mr. Trudeau's British Columbia fundraiser in the 2015 election campaign, helps with fundraising activities on the West Coast, while Toronto business consultant Richard Zhou is a key organizer of these events in Ontario.
Mr. Chan was at the most recent Trudeau fundraiser, which was held on Nov. 7 at the West Vancouver mansion of B.C. developer Miaofei Pan, a multimillionaire from Wenzhou province who immigrated to Canada a decade ago. More than 80 guests got their pictures taken with Mr. Trudeau at the $1,500 per ticket event, including Mr. Chan.
Mr. Pan told The Globe and Mail he lobbied the Prime Minister to make it easier for well-heeled investors from China to come to Canada. He said he told Mr. Trudeau the program put in place by the former Conservative government was "too harsh."
In exchange for permanent residency, rich immigrants must invest $2-million and are subject to strict audits.
"If they don't do business over two years here, they cannot stay or they have to leave the country. So I wanted the Prime Minister to know that is not a very merciful policy towards these people because they want to invest or stay," Mr. Pan said. "It's all about investment that Canada needs. I have friends, and [they are] wealthy people, who want to stay and invest."
A Chinese government agency in Mr. Pan's hometown that builds ties with and keeps tabs on expatriate Chinese, supplied photos of the Trudeau-Pan event to media in China. The Foreign and Overseas Chinese Affairs Office of the Wenzhou People's Government promotes China's interests abroad, according to former Canadian diplomat and China expert Charles Burton.
"That is an agency of the Chinese Communist Party," Mr. Burton told The Globe and Mail. "The fact that the photos appeared in the [Wenzhou Metropolis Daily] in China suggests that the people who participated in that activity must have been tasked by the Chinese state to try and promote the Chinese position with influential people in Canada. In this case, our Prime Minister."
Mr. Pan is honorary chair of a Chinese-Canadian organization that is an unabashed backer of Beijing's territorial claims in the South China Sea and East China Sea.
In 2012, he was part of a campaign by overseas Chinese groups to rally public support for the Chinese government's position in a dispute with Japan over islands in the East China Sea that are close to key shipping lanes, bountiful fishing grounds and possible petroleum reserves.
That year, Mr. Pan was quoted in the Macau Daily newspaper saying his organization, the Canadian Alliance of Chinese Associations, had "declared its stand in newspapers" and that "overseas Chinese were responsible for defending China's territorial integrity."
In 2015, the Canadian Alliance of Chinese Associations held a symposium at which speakers backed Beijing's assertion of title to islands, reefs and banks in the South China Sea, and issued a statement saying it "strongly supports the Chinese government's defence of sovereignty over the South China Sea."
The Prime Minister's Office and the Liberal Party kept the Nov. 7 fundraiser confidential. Neither the PMO nor the party website noted the event. At the time, Mr. Trudeau was in Vancouver to announce a new marine strategy.
"The party has … been clear that not every event is on the party's national website, while it's important to note that the Liberal Party of Canada is still the only major federal political party that maintains an active online events listing in any form at all," party spokesman Braeden Caley said in an e-mail. "All fundraising by the Liberal Party of Canada fully complies with all Elections Canada rules and regulations for political fundraising."
The Liberal Party would not provide The Globe and Mail with a list of attendees. Mr. Pan said all the guests were his friends, and all are Canadian citizens.
In Toronto, Mr. Zhou is the chief Liberal ambassador to deep-pocketed Chinese-Canadian business executives. His web biography says he is also a consultant to the state-supervised Beijing International Chamber of Commerce. He did not respond to phone calls or e-mails, but Mr. Caley confirmed that Mr. Zhou is a "volunteer fundraising co-chair in Ontario."
Mr. Zhou helped arrange a May 19 fundraiser at the home of Chinese Business Chamber of Commerce chair Benson Wong at which Mr. Trudeau was the star attraction, an event attended by Chinese billionaire and Communist Party official Zhang Bin. A few weeks later, Mr. Zhang and his business partner donated $200,000 to the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation and $50,000 to erect a statue of Mr. Trudeau's father.
Insurance mogul Hong Wei Winnie Liao has hosted several Trudeau fundraisers in Toronto. The most recent was on April 14, but no details are available from either the Liberal Party or Ms. Liao.
Reached by telephone, Ms. Liao said: "I will not accept any interview."
"It may not be convenient for me to comment," she added before hanging up. She did not respond to text messages asking about the fundraisers at her home.
The Prime Minister has repeatedly told the House of Commons the Liberal Party respects the "values that Canadians expect in terms of openness, accountability and transparency."
New rules Mr. Trudeau set out when he won political power last year appeared intended to end cash-for-cash fundraisers. Those rules state "there should be no preferential access to government, appearance of preferential access" in exchange for political donations.
With reports from Xiao Xu, Kathy Tomlinson and Nathan VanderKlippe