Prime Minister Justin Trudeau invited five dozen Liberal Party donors to an official dinner in honour of Chinese Premier Li Keqiang in September – giving them the opportunity to mingle with senior cabinet ministers and top officials of the Chinese government.
Among the guests were former Liberal cabinet minister Raymond Chan and Toronto consultant Richard Zhou – the party's main fundraising emissaries to the Chinese-Canadian business community.
Many of the Liberal donors have direct dealings with China either through their businesses, law firms, lobbying activities or close connections to the Chinese government, The Globe and Mail has learned.
"There is reason for Canadians to view this as opprobrious behaviour by the Prime Minister and the Liberal Party and his ministers in what seems to be considerations for contributions," Conservative Foreign Affairs critic Peter Kent said in an interview. "It doesn't look good no matter what the Prime Minister says: that he is above trading favours for contributions."
Mr. Trudeau has been under fire in the Commons for weeks over Liberal Party fundraisers with well-heeled donors. Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson has said she will take the unusual step of questioning Mr. Trudeau about the cash-for-access fundraisers, which the opposition parties allege smack of corruption.
Mr. Trudeau told reporters on Thursday he has no problem with answering questions from Ms. Dawson about his party's controversial fundraising system, in which people pay up to $1,500 a ticket for access to the Prime Minister and senior members of cabinet.
"We will always work with the Ethics Commissioner and anyone else who has questions of this government," Mr. Trudeau said at a news conference. "I look forward to making sure we provide answers to anyone who is asking us questions about particular aspects of this government's functioning."
The dinner in honour of Mr. Li sheds light on how the Liberal Party has rewarded its donors, particularly those from the Chinese-Canadian business community. Attendance figures from these events suggest the Liberal Party can collect $50,000 to $120,000 a event.
Several wealthy Chinese Canadians who hosted or attended cash-for-access fundraisers that featured Mr. Trudeau were invited to the Sept. 22 gala dinner at the Canadian Museum of History in Gatineau.
More than 260 guests attended, including 61 donors to the Liberal Party and about 60 Chinese officials accompanying Mr. Li. Senior cabinet ministers such as Finance Minister Bill Morneau, and Mr. Trudeau's senior aides – principal secretary Gerald Butts, chief of staff Katie Telford and deputy chief of staff Jeremy Broadhurst.
One of the guests was Toronto grocery store magnate Yuansheng Ou Yang, a Liberal Party donor who is also close to China's Communist Party. He is a director and principal investor in the newly created Wealth One Bank of Canada and has been invited by the Chinese consulate in Toronto to attend sessions of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), a political advisory board to Beijing.
Ms. Dawson wants to question Mr. Trudeau about his interaction with Wealth One before it received final federal approval to commence operations in Canada last July. On May 19, Mr. Trudeau was the feature attraction at a $1,500-a-ticket reception at the home of a wealthy Chinese Canadian business executive. Mr. Ou Yang's business partner, Wealth One founder and vice-chair of the board Shenglin Xian, paid to attend the event.
Ms. Dawson also wants to know if Wealth One got preferential treatment as a result of any discussions he may have had with Mr. Xian, who made his fortune in the insurance business after he immigrated to Canada.
B.C. multimillionaire Miaofei Pan was also invited to the dinner, and he hosted a $1,500 fundraiser featuring Mr. Trudeau at his West Vancouver home on Nov. 7.
Mr. Pan has told The Globe he made the case at that time to the Prime Minister to allow Chinese investment in Canadian seniors' care, real estate development and to ease rules for immigrant investors. Ms. Dawson said she will ask about that event, too.
The Trudeau government is reviewing a $1-billion bid by China's Anbang Insurance Group to buy one of B.C.'s biggest retirement home-nursing care chains.
Life insurance entrepreneur Winnie Liao, who has held several fundraisers involving Mr. Trudeau, including one on April 14, was also at the dinner and posted photos of herself with several cabinet ministers.
Other contributors on hand included Scott Bradley, vice-president of corporate and government affairs for the Canadian arm of telecom giant Huawei. The Shenzhen firm has had to grapple with accusations, including in the United States, that its equipment is designed to give the Chinese government unauthorized access – allegations it always denies.
Among the other Liberal Party donors at the dinner were Power Corp. vice-president Peter Kruyt, who also chairs the Canada China Business Council, as well as former Newfoundland premier and BMO Capital Markets vice-chair Brian Tobin, and Jean Chrétien's former principal secretary, Eddie Goldenberg, a lawyer with Bennett Jones. The firms they represent have dealings in China.
This week, the Prime Minister acknowledged that people lobby him at exclusive Liberal fundraisers, but said he makes up his own mind on what is good for Canada.
On Thursday, Mr. Trudeau sidestepped questions from the media on whether he should end cash-for-access fundraisers, saying he is prepared to respond to Ms. Dawson's queries. "I am committed to demonstrating to Canadians that the confidence they placed in me and in our government is well placed."
He said Canadians should know he has done nothing wrong. "We have very strict rules on fundraising at the federal level and no one is suggesting that we are not following those rules. That's something that's important for Canadians to remember."
He once again made no mention of how the fundraisers apparently break not only the rules the party set for itself, but also the Open and Accountable Government commitments Mr. Trudeau laid down after taking power.
The Liberal Party last month said no lobbying takes place at fundraisers. "Any individual who wishes to initiate a policy discussion is immediately redirected to instead make an appointment with the relevant office. As you know, fundraising events are partisan functions where we do not discuss government business," then-interim national director Christina Topp wrote in November.
Mr. Trudeau's Open and Accountable Government rules state "there should be no preferential access to government, nor appearance of preferential access" in exchange for political donations.