Federal Elections Commissioner Yves Cote has been formally asked to investigate the relationship between the Conservative Party and 10 Chinese-Canadian conservative non-profit organizations for possible breaches of election laws.
The Liberal and NDP parties both sent letters to Mr. Cote’s office on Monday, saying an official probe is required to determine if there is collusion between the Conservatives and wealthy Toronto developer Ted Jiancheng Zhou and the non-profit groups he set up to help the party win support within the Chinese-Canadian community.
Mr. Zhou, a former Liberal donor who has condominium projects in Canada and China, set up Chinese-Canadian conservative groups in British Columbia, Alberta and Ontario as well as a national organization called the Federation of Chinese Canadian Conservatives (FCCC). The stated purpose of the FCCC is to assist the “Conservative Party to develop new members; disseminating ideas and policies of the Conservative Party; assisting the Conservative Party to educate and train candidates, party members and to develop volunteers.”
In his letter, NDP MP Nathan Cullen asked Mr. Cote to initiate a “formal investigation" to determine if Mr. Zhou and the Conservatives are co-ordinating their political activities “to circumvent contribution limits” in “potential contravention of election laws.”
Liberal MP Marco Mendicino wrote to Mr. Cote that “there are reasonable grounds to believe that the Conservative Party of Canada and the FCCC are co-ordinating efforts to use the latter organization as a parallel political entity – akin to a Political Action Committee – which could violate the Canada Elections Act.”
The Elections Act says it is illegal for any outside or non-profit groups to be used as vehicles to evade the spending and contribution limits imposed on political parties. Canadian political financing rules restrict donations to parties or candidates to $1,575 a year and consider provisions of services or goods without charge to be non-monetary contributions subject to the same limits.
Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer’s office denied on Monday that Mr. Zhou’s organizations are involved in fundraising or helping his party to elect MPs in next year’s general election.
“The FCCC is playing no role for the Conservative Party of Canada or the Conservative Fund, no caucus members are involved in the FCCC,” communications director Brock Harrison said in an e-mail. “As far as Mr. Zhou is concerned, he does not have a role either in fundraising or organizing on the party’s behalf ... He has organized the FCCC as an independent group of Chinese Canadians who want to promote conservative values in their community.”
Mr. Zhou has also denied any wrongdoing and insists he is not acting as an arm of the Conservative Party. He asserts he set up that network to promote small-c conservative causes within the Chinese-Canadian community.
The businessman made a maximum donation of $1,500 in June, 2016, to the Liberal Party and $400 in May, 2017, before switching his allegiance to the Conservatives. He said his organizations do not violate federal election laws and “we have no intention to fund raise for any candidate or the Conservative Party."
But Canada’s former long-serving chief electoral officer told The Globe and Mail that an Elections Commission investigation is warranted into whether there was an attempt to skirt the contribution limits under the Canada Elections Act.
“It raises the questions about collusion and these are matters that should be looked at frankly in order to satisfy Canadians that the financial provisions of our status – which makes Canada a leader in this field – are being respected,” said Jean-Pierre Kingsley, who served as chief electoral officer from 1990-2007.
For example, Mr. Kingsley said, it would be collusion if non-profit or third-party organizations provided a list of volunteers to a political party or provided any other form of non-monetary benefit.
An official for the Commissioner of Canada Elections, which conducts investigations into electoral matters, says the agency can’t discuss a probe or confirm whether a particular incident is being investigated. However, Mr. Kingsley said a formal request from either MPs or the public usually triggers an investigation by the commissioner’s office.
The Liberals and the NDP also want Mr. Cote to investigate a Nov. 9 rally and dinner in Richmond Hill, Ont., that featured Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer and at least 10 other MPs and senators for the inauguration of Mr. Zhou’s FCCC. Tickets were priced at $70, or $100 for VIPs, an amount that would have collected between $45,500 and $65,000, depending on the mix of ticket sales. Food and rental space cost $35,750.
A video of the rally showed former Conservative MP Chungsen Leung, who is on the FCCC advisory board, urging the crowd to "volunteer or to donate to the Conservative Party,” and Ontario PC MPP Aris Babikian said: “Without your support, manpower and financial [help] we would not be able to do it. So let’s work together to bring Andrew Scheer as the next Prime Minister of Canada.”
Mr. Zhou said there was no money left over from the event. “We raised barely enough to pay for the event itself. All the money raised are used for the event expenses,” he said in an e-mail. Expenses incurred could still qualify as a non-monetary political contribution, according to Elections Canada.