For a party that promised to be transparent in office, the federal Liberals' decision to approve the sale of British Columbia's largest retirement-home chain to a Chinese conglomerate called Anbang Insurance Group is way off-message.
Basically, Ottawa has used a process that is opaque to approve a company whose ownership is nebulous. This is clouds wrapped in fog. Who owns Anbang, and how did the government conclude that letting it buy Retirement Concepts was in Canada's interests?
Trudeau government officials insist that Anbang is a credible buyer. They may be right. But to pretty much everyone else in the world, Anbang is an unknown quantity.
The company was once directly owned by its chairman, Wu Xiaohui, a former car salesman and low-level government official. But as the company has grown exponentially, he has refused to do interviews and layered his interest behind 37 shell companies, 35 of which are fully or partly owned by his wife, Zhuo Ran, who happens to be the granddaughter of former Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping, or by Chen Xiaolu, the son of a famous Chinese general. Two Chinese government-owned companies also hold stakes.
Anbang's ownership is so murky that one U.S. bank shied away from doing business with the company. Last year, Anbang dropped out of a bidding war for a major U.S. hotel chain after concerns were raised about security, and about whether or not the Chinese government would approve the deal. In another case, Anbang rescinded an offer to buy an American insurance company when regulators pressed it on its ownership details.
Now Anbang owns a major B.C. employer that billed the province $86.5-million for assisted living and residential care services last year. That is all the public knows.
What it doesn't know, thanks to the company's ownership structure, is what other dealings the company is involved with, who is backing it, and whether or not it has a relationship with the Chinese government.
Nor do we have any idea how Ottawa evaluated the company, since the process of approving foreign takeovers is totally opaque in Canada. The sale may well prove to be a good move, but right now there a lot of questions and almost no answers.