A wealthy Vancouver businessman used a cash-for-access fundraiser at his home to lobby Prime Minister Justin Trudeau directly to allow Chinese investment in seniors’ care, relax immigration restrictions on financiers and make it easier for foreign real estate developers to plow money into Canada.
The Nov. 7 fundraiser hosted by Miaofei Pan, where talk of investment by Chinese companies in seniors’ care took place, came as the Trudeau government is reviewing a bid by China’s Anbang Insurance Group to buy one of B.C.’s biggest retirement-home chains.
Anbang is a massive Chinese insurance firm with a murky ownership structure that is seeking a majority stake in Vancouver-based Retirement Concepts, believed to be worth more than $1-billion. It would give the company, which has been on a global buying spree, a significant role in the delivery of taxpayer-funded health care in British Columbia.
The Liberal Party has repeatedly told The Globe and Mail “individuals wishing to discuss government business at party events are immediately redirected to instead make an appointment with the appropriate office.”
Mr. Pan told The Globe in an interview that Mr. Trudeau was “approachable and friendly” when he raised the issues, including Chinese companies’ keen interest to invest in Canadian health care for seniors.
At the $1,500 fundraiser, more than 80 guests dined and had their photographs taken with Mr. Trudeau. The event is one of several Liberal Party fundraising events aimed at wealthy Chinese-Canadians. Attendance figures suggest the party collects $50,000 to $120,000 per event.
“First of all, we said that in Canada, the government investment for elderly care is not enough,” Mr. Pan said. “We need to receive the investments from Chinese entrepreneurs to provide for the elderly. The Prime Minister was very happy when he heard that.”
Mr. Pan did not mention a specific deal or company, but his entreaties came as Ottawa is reviewing Anbang’s bid to make precisely the kind of investment he said he discussed with the Prime Minister.
Retirement Concepts owns and operates about 24 retirement communities, mostly in B.C., except for several properties in Calgary and Montreal. It owns unused or partly developed land that would allow major expansions of facilities.
The company is an important part of B.C.’s health-care delivery system. Retirement Concepts is the highest-billing provider of assisted living and residential care services in the province. The B.C. government paid the company $86.5-million in the 2015-16 fiscal year, more than any other of the 130 similar providers.
An investigation by The New York Times earlier this year revealed that 92 per cent of Anbang is currently held by firms either fully or partly owned by relatives of Anbang’s chairman, Wu Xiaohui or his wife, Zhuo Ran, the granddaughter of former Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping, or Chen Xiaolu, the son of a famous People’s Liberation Army leader.
New Democratic Party MP Nathan Cullen said it was completely inappropriate for Mr. Trudeau to discuss the kind of investment issues that Mr. Pan said he raised with him at the Liberal Party fundraiser. Mr. Trudeau’s Open and Accountable Government rules state that “there should be no preferential access to government, or appearance of preferential access” in exchange for political donations.
“That’s a prime minister selling himself out very cheap,” Mr. Cullen said. “It is directly against the explicit orders that the Prime Minister himself wrote. It is selling off access to the Prime Minister of Canada to Chinese investors.”
In a meeting with the Toronto Star’s editorial board on Friday, Mr. Trudeau argued that critics of the Liberal Party’s special-access fundraisers are jaded and off base.
“The fact is $1,500 a year is … you have to be pretty cynical to imagine that a government could be bought off for that amount of money,” Mr. Trudeau said. He told The Star he will look at Ontario Liberal government reforms that forbid the premier, cabinet ministers and MPPs from attending fundraising events.
Mr. Pan said he also urged the Prime Minister to make it easier for Chinese real estate developers to buy land in Canada. He mentioned Sunshine 100 China Holdings Ltd. and Evergrande Group, major property developers in China.
“They both have the willingness to invest here,” Mr. Pan said. “Some of their deputies have immigrated to Canada. But for a long time, they have not found good projects to invest in. I was thinking [Canada needs policies] that can attract investments and help expand investments.”
Over a banquet of fish cakes and Wenzhou soup, Mr. Pan said, he also complained to Mr. Trudeau about how Ottawa treats immigrant investors from China.
“I told the Prime Minister that these people are not thieves, neither are they lawbreakers. If they cannot stay long enough [to meet the requirements], then just don’t give them a Canada permanent-resident card,” he said. “But don’t treat them as bad guys and expel them. I think it’s not very proper to do so.”
Canadian rules regarding permanent residency impose restrictions on arrivals from countries such as China. To retain permanent-resident status, a person must have been physically present in Canada for two of the previous five years. Those who fail this test can lose their permanent residency.
“Once they start to spend time in Canada … it’s easier to enforce the obligation to file a Canadian income-tax return,” immigration lawyer Richard Kurland said. “But if it’s less days in Canada, it’s more difficult for [the] CRA to enforce its residency provision.”
The problem for wealthy permanent residents is that Canadian tax returns require them to declare their global income and global property holdings and be taxed on them in Canada. Reducing the time required for permanent residents to be in Canada would reduce the likelihood of that happening.
In response to a Globe story on Friday about the Nov. 7 fundraiser, Conservative House Leader Candice Bergen told the House of Commons that Mr. Pan’s “stunning admissions” make it abundantly clear government business is being discussed at Liberal cash-for-access events.
“These insiders paid $1,500 each to tell the Prime Minister precisely what it was that they needed to make more money, and you know, the Prime Minister listened to their wish list,” Ms. Bergen said. “It seems the Prime Minister is being bought.”
Liberal MP Kevin Lamoureux, the Government House Leader’s parliamentary secretary, read from a statement saying Canada has “the strictest rules around fundraising on any level and the government respects those rules.”
Since The Globe first reported on the cash-for-access events on Oct. 19, Mr. Trudeau has avoided referring to his own rules, but said the party is following election financing rules. A year ago, Mr. Trudeau said an “obligation to act is not fully discharged by simply acting within the law.... ‘I was just following the rules,’ isn’t good enough.”
With a report from Xiao XuReport Typo/Error
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