Justin Trudeau insisted to reporters on Tuesday that he has “absolutely no intersection” with the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation, the non-profit organization that funds humanities research.
But the foundation has found that Mr. Trudeau’s politics keep intersecting with it. Over and over.
The organization’s directors and its CEO, Pascale Fournier, found their activities kept getting caught up in what they called “politicization.” So on Tuesday, they announced they had all quit en masse from the board of the Trudeau foundation.
The Prime Minister of the same name lamented that the “toxicity” of today’s politics was getting in the way of the nobler pursuits of academia.
But it sure seems that a Chinese businessman named Zhang Bin was going out of his way to create an intersection between Mr. Trudeau and the Trudeau foundation seven years ago, in 2016, when he gave $200,000 to the foundation. In retrospect, the fortuitous nature of this donation probably should have raised a few questions about intersections. Now people are looking for them.
It didn’t help that the former senior civil servant who wrote the report on the panel that watched for interference in the 2021 election, Morris Rosenberg, had been the CEO of the Trudeau foundation from 2014 to 2018. Or that the special rapporteur appointed by Mr. Trudeau to review the whole business, former governor-general David Johnston, had links to the foundation, too. The Trudeau foundation funds educational programs, but there sure were a lot of intersections between politics and the foundation that bears the PM’s family name.
Maybe the foundation’s directors, several of whom have personal, professional or family ties to the Trudeau family, are stepping aside now in the hopes that a new board can put some distance between the Trudeau foundation and the Trudeau family.
The time to do that was probably when Justin Trudeau became Prime Minister. Or maybe when Mr. Zhang called. It sure looks now like intersection was Mr. Zhang’s plan.
He showed up at a $1,500-a-head Liberal fundraiser early in Mr. Trudeau’s tenure as Prime Minister, in 2016. It was one of the cash-for-access scandal events where Mr. Trudeau or senior cabinet ministers were billed as the main attraction, and it was a little weird since, as a foreign national, Mr. Zhang could not donate to a political party in Canada.
Soon after, it was announced that Mr. Zhang, also political adviser to the Chinese government, and another Chinese businessman, Niu Gensheng, would donate $1-million in gifts that memorialize Pierre Trudeau’s legacy – $200,000 went to the Trudeau foundation, another $50,000 went to erecting a Pierre Trudeau statue and $750,000 went to the University of Montreal, where Pierre Trudeau studied law.
But The Globe reported in March that a source had revealed that the Canadian Security Intelligence Service had captured a 2014 conversation in which a Chinese consulate official instructed Mr. Zhang to donate to the Trudeau foundation and promised Beijing would reimburse him.
After that report, Ms. Fournier announced that the foundation would return the money, saying it would never have knowingly taken funds from a foreign government.
But it’s not like nobody was asking questions about the donation back in 2016. The question was whether Mr. Zhang was trying to curry favour with the newish Prime Minister by donating to causes that glorify the Trudeau name.
It’s worth noting that that’s what the real question is here: whether Chinese operatives were trying to buy the PM’s goodwill by donating to Trudeau family causes. Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre tweeted that Canadians need to find out “who got rich,” but there is no evidence that the cash went astray.
What there is, is yet another suggestion that Mr. Trudeau casually brushed aside the troubling potential for Chinese influence campaigns.
In 2016, when questions about Mr. Zhang’s donation started to mount, Mr. Trudeau insisted that the foundation was non-partisan, pointing to the fact that its board included former Conservative cabinet minister Chuck Strahl.
So Mr. Strahl resigned from the board – not because there was anything wrong with the foundation or what it did with its money, but because he felt the Liberals were using him as a political shield.
After all, Mr. Strahl told the CBC interviewer at the time, it was a little strange to see a wealthy Chinese businessman show up at a Liberal fundraiser, and people might reasonably want to ask whether he is making large donations to Trudeau family causes in an effort to curry favour with the Prime Minister.
It turns out that was a reasonable question.