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Politics Liberals and NDP accuse Conservatives of skirting election laws

NDP MP Nathan Cullen rises in the House of Commons in Ottawa on Oct. 25, 2017. Mr. Cullen said he is concerned the Conservatives might be using the newly created Chinese-Canadian associations to indirectly raise money and recruit volunteers without having to make any declarations to Elections Canada.

Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

A wealthy Toronto developer and former Liberal Party donor has set up 10 non-profit organizations aimed at helping the federal Conservatives win support within the Chinese-Canadian community in the lead-up to next year’s general election.

Ted Jiancheng Zhou, who has condominium projects in Canada and China, asserts he set up that network to promote small-c conservative causes within the Chinese-Canadian community. But the Liberals and NDP contend that he is operating as an arm of the Conservatives, and that their rival could be using Mr. Zhou to skirt federal election laws on campaign financing.

Mr, Zhou, who in June, 2016, made a maximum donation of $1,500 to the Liberal Party, along with $400 in May, 2017, before switching his allegiance to the Conservatives, has denied any wrongdoing. The Office of Election Commissioner Yves Côté says it cannot say whether it is investigating. Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer’s office declined all comment.

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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.

On Nov. 9, Mr. Zhou staged a rally and dinner at a Toronto-area banquet hall that attracted 650 people and was billed as the inauguration of the Federation of Chinese Conservative Canadians (FCCC). Mr. Scheer and at least 10 MPs and senators attended and were brought up on stage to thank the crowd for its support. Mr. Zhou, who emigrated from China in 2008 and is now a permanent resident, is the chair of the FCCC and was thanked that evening for arranging the event.

The FCCC is one of 10 non-profit corporations that Mr. Zhou has set up in recent months. Their names all include the phrase “Chinese Conservative Canadians” and use the businessman’s Markham corporate office – Evertrust Development Group Canada − as their address. Five of them include the name of federal ridings, such as Scarborough North or Don Valley East. The Globe and Mail has copies of the incorporated documents for all 10 entities.

The invitation to the FCCC’s Nov. 9 event, translated from Chinese to English, says the organization’s mission 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.”

Tickets to the rally and dinner 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. Premier Banquet Centre said it charged the FCCC $55 a person for the event, which would have totalled $35,750 for all attendees.

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.

At the rally, Conservative Senator Victor Oh was introduced as the chair of the board of advisers of the FCCC. Addressing the crowd, Mr. Oh said “From up here … it looks like the campaign of 2019 is on” and the speaker that followed him − former Conservative MP Chungsen Leung – urged them to "volunteer or to donate to the Conservative Party.”

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After The Globe made inquiries about Mr. Oh’s role in the FCCC, Mr. Zhou said in an e-mail that the senator had decided he was too busy to accept the responsibility of serving as advisory-board chair. Instead, he said Mr. Leung will chair it.

Liberal MP Marco Mendicino and NDP MP Nathan Cullen said the organizations set up by Mr. Zhou appear to be directly linked to the Conservative Party and any work they undertake should be considered contributions to political parties.

“Whether we’re talking about this event in particular or what appears to be an emerging pattern, it should be deeply concerning to Canadians that the Conservative Party of Canada appear to be systematically setting up parallel political arms through what appears to be political action committees for the purpose of circumventing our election laws,” Mr. Mendicino said in an interview.

Mr. Cullen said he is concerned the Conservatives might be using the newly created Chinese-Canadian associations to indirectly raise money and recruit volunteers without having to make any declarations to Elections Canada.

“It is structured in a way to collect funds and concentrate [volunteers] to the Conservative Party to help them win,” he said. Mr. Cullen could not provide any proof of that.

Mr. Scheer’s communications director, Brock Harrison, did not respond to repeated requests for comment to explain what role the FCCC is playing in the Conservative election effort.

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A spokeswoman 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.

Meanwhile, Elections Canada says the expenses incurred to hold a rally could be non-monetary contributions if there was co-ordination between the party and the entity holding the event.

“The expenses incurred to hold [a] rally could, depending on the facts, be non-monetary contributions to the party or its candidates,” Elections Canada spokesman Ghislain Desjardin said. “The level of co-ordination in the planning and conduct of the event between the entity holding the event and the political entity would be indications that a non-monetary contribution may have been accepted by the recipient political entity."

Mr. Zhou declined to be interviewed by The Globe but agreed to answer questions via e-mail. He said his organizations do not violate federal election laws.

“We will follow all Elections Canada rules. Our purpose is to gather volunteers to promote conservative ideas and values in the Chinese community,” he said. “We have no intention to fundraise for any candidate or the Conservative Party. We will not be spending any money to help Conservatives get elected.”

Any money raised by the 10 Chinese-Canadian Conservative groups will go to “pay for some coffee and donuts for volunteers to promote conservative values in the Chinese community,” he said.

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Mr. Zhou said FCCC is using his business address for “mailing purposes” because it does not have the money to “afford a location.”

Between 2015 and March of this year, Mr. Zhou made the maximum annual donation to the Liberal Party. He was among a select group of Chinese-Canadian businessmen who attended an exclusive cash-for-access fundraiser in 2016 where Prime Minister Justin Trudeau met Chinese billionaires Zhang Bin and Niu Gensheng. The two billionaires later donated $1-million to the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation and the University of Montreal Law School, including $50,000 for a statue of the elder Mr. Trudeau.

“At the time, I thought to have a photo with the PM is not a bad idea. So I donated to them,” Mr. Zhou said, but he switched to the Conservatives because “Mr. Scheer has a positive vision for Canada” that will put “family and people first.”

He said he has set up non-profit corporations dedicated to Chinese-Canadian Conservatives in a number of areas or regions with significant Chinese populations. “I see there’s a need to work on the local level in order to be useful, so I planned out the 9 ridings with large Chinese populations and start working. I registered them all to give each riding a clear mandate on its existence to promote conservative ideas and values in the Chinese community.”

Mr. Zhou’s corporate website in China says he was a member of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) of Zhenjiang City in 2008, the year he came to Canada. The CPPCC is a political advisory body that falls under China’s United Front department. Membership is prized because it guarantees VIP treatment at airports and access to senior Communist Party officials.

Last year, the vice-president of Fujian Federation of Returned Overseas Chinese, Xie Xiaojian, spoke at a dinner of the Putian-Xianyou Association of Canada in Markham, a group whose directors include Mr. Zhou and uses his corporate address as its registered address. The Federation of Overseas Chinese also reports to China’s United Front Department, which is responsible for projecting China’s “soft power” around the world and shoring up its support for its rule among overseas Chinese diaspora.

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Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly cited donations by Mr. Zhou to the Liberal Party. This is a corrected version.
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