The Conservative Party is asking Canada’s federal ethics watchdog to reveal whether he scrutinized a 2016 deal in which a Chinese state-owned publishing house republished Justin Trudeau’s memoir under the title The Legend Continues.
On the campaign trail on Tuesday, Mr. Trudeau distanced himself from the book deal and declined to explicitly say whether the Ethics Commissioner approved it.
Former senior foreign-policy and security advisers to the Prime Minister have said they were not consulted on the arrangement, and would have advised Mr. Trudeau to reject an agreement with a publisher that reports to the Chinese Communist Party.
At the time of the book deal, Beijing had high hopes of persuading Canada to enter into a free-trade agreement, and was asking for talks on an extradition treaty as it sought help in a global campaign, Operation Fox Hunt, to track down people it called criminals, many of whom were Chinese dissidents.
Conservative MP Michael Barrett wrote to federal Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion on Tuesday asking for clarification.
“This raises the question as to whether Mr. Trudeau consulted with the Ethics Commissioner before agreeing to such a deal,” Mr. Barrett wrote. “Having a book deal with a publisher controlled by the Communist Party of China would have implications under the provisions in Section 7 of the Conflict of Interest Act, or would have required him to recuse himself on decisions related to the Communist Party of China under Section 21 of the act.
“It is of great importance that Canadians can trust that our leaders do not have undisclosed conflicts of interest with foreign governments. Can you confirm to Canadians if Mr. Trudeau disclosed this secret deal to you, at any point since 2016?”
Mr. Trudeau’s Canadian publisher, HarperCollins Canada, struck the deal in the first year after the Liberal government took office for Yilin Press of Nanjing to sell the book in China. Yilin Press is owned by Jiangsu Phoenix Publishing and Media, a state-owned enterprise that takes operational direction from the propaganda department of the Jiangsu provincial Communist Party committee.
Mr. Trudeau’s book was released in English as Common Ground in 2014, when he was on the opposition benches. The title of the Chinese translation alludes to Mr. Trudeau as Prime Minister following in the footsteps of his father, Pierre, who first launched relations with Communist-led China.
Mr. Trudeau told reporters on Tuesday he had no say in the Chinese book deal.
“All the handling of the international editions of my book was done entirely by the publisher,” the Liberal Leader said. “All of the profits from that book go to the Canadian Red Cross. I don’t see a single penny and I have nothing to do with where it gets translated or sold,” he said.
Asked again if the Ethics Commissioner had approved this book deal, Mr. Trudeau replied: “The Ethics Commissioner has cleared all my sources of income many times.”
The office of the Ethics Commissioner declined to tell The Globe and Mail whether the book deal underwent scrutiny.
Spokesperson Melanie Rushworth said privacy rules mean the office is “restricted from providing you with the information you are seeking.”
Ms. Rushworth said it’s up to Mr. Trudeau to answer. “All communication with a regulatee is confidential. It would be up to the regulatee to provide you with information on any interactions they may have had with our office.”
Promotional material for The Legend Continues included a thumbs-up review from Luo Zhaohui, who was Chinese ambassador to Canada in 2016.
Mr. Luo, it said, “strongly recommends” the book. Since leaving his envoy post in Canada in 2016, Mr. Luo became a vice-minister of foreign affairs in the Chinese government, and recently was named chairman of the China International Development Co-operation Agency.
China experts call the republication of Mr. Trudeau’s book a classic ploy by Beijing to curry favour with foreign leaders.
The marketing copy lauded the Prime Minister as inheriting “his father’s outstanding charisma and leadership qualities.” It added that “because of his handsome appearance, he was praised as the ‘Hollywood face.’” The promotional blurb in China noted that early in Mr. Trudeau’s first mandate, he signed up Canada for the Beijing-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, a development that happened over the objections of the United States.
The book was released in China around the time Chinese billionaires were donating money to the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation, and Beijing-connected businessmen were paying to attend Liberal cash-for-access fundraisers with Mr. Trudeau.
Richard Fadden, who was Mr. Trudeau’s national security adviser until March, 2016, and is a former director of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, said he had no idea the book was republished in China until contacted by The Globe and Mail. He said he would have strongly recommended against it.
“Clearly it was undertaken [without consulting advisers], and when you deal with a state like China and you are the prime minister, I don’t think it is a good idea,” he said. “They are trying to do anything they can to encourage him to look positive on China and the Chinese state, which from their perspective makes perfect sense.”
Mr. Fadden said publishers in other Western countries are not the same thing as a Chinese propaganda ministry. “I think what gets me is that this is all being sponsored by the propaganda department,” he said.
Guy Saint-Jacques, who was Canada’s ambassador to China from 2012 to 2016, said he was also unaware a publisher in China bought the rights to the book, and would have advised against it.
“Clearly, by publishing his biography they wanted to please him,” Mr. Saint-Jacques said.
Roland Paris, who was foreign-policy adviser to Mr. Trudeau until June, 2016, said he could not recall being consulted on the book deal. Dr. Paris, a professor of international affairs at the University of Ottawa, said he is not sure what he would have recommended.
The Liberal campaign team did not respond to questions on Monday about why Mr. Trudeau consented to the book deal or whether he was concerned Beijing was trying to flatter him.
Campaign spokesman Alexandre Deslongchamps said in a statement that Mr. Trudeau personally took no income from the memoir, which he said was translated into many languages and sold around the world.
“All proceeds from the book, including internationally, go to the Canadian Red Cross. Royalties, including their donations, are managed by HarperCollins and the literary agent,” he said, adding that Mr. Trudeau did not claim a tax credit. The contract with Yilin and HarperCollins was a “one-time advance and no royalties,” he said. The party would not discuss how much money Yilin paid for the rights.
The Liberal spokesperson said Yilin has published books by other prominent politicians, including Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.
HarperCollins Canada would not discuss the deal for the Chinese publication or whether any money went to the Prime Minister’s private holding company, which is in a blind trust.
“I’m afraid these things are confidential business terms that are not typically discussed with third parties,” HarperCollins editor Jennifer Lambert said in an e-mail.
The Red Cross also declined to answer questions about whether proceeds from The Legend Continues were donated to the organization and how much this amounted to, saying in a statement it “respects the privacy of our donors, and we do not disclose the details of any contributions or donations received.”
Yu Mei, the Yilin Press editor for The Legend Continues, refused to answer questions about the advance or how many books were sold.
“The copyright of this book is no longer with our agency. So, I’m not doing any interview or providing answers,” she said.
When the book was published in China, the Liberal Party was generating tens of thousands of dollars from private cash-for-access events at the homes of wealthy Chinese-Canadians that provided face time with the Prime Minister.
Some of the guests and hosts were well connected to China’s ruling Communist Party.
Chinese billionaire and Communist Party official Zhang Bin attended a May 19, 2016, fundraiser at the home of Benson Wong, chair of the Chinese Business Chamber of Canada. A few weeks later, Mr. Zhang and his business partner, Niu Gensheng, donated $200,000 to the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation and $50,000 to erect a statue of Mr. Trudeau’s father.
Mr. Zhang is a political adviser to the Chinese government in Beijing and a senior apparatchik in the state’s promotional activities.
After The Globe published stories on the cash-for-access fundraisers, the Trudeau government passed legislation that requires such political events to be open to public scrutiny and reported to Canadians.
China’s relations with Canada soured after the RCMP detained Huawei Technologies executive Meng Wanzhou on an extradition request for alleged bank fraud relating to violations of U.S. sanctions against Iran. Shortly afterward, Beijing charged Canadians Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig with espionage. They are in prisons with the lights on 24/7.
Mr. Trudeau has accused Beijing of hostage diplomacy, but he and his ministers abstained when Parliament voted earlier this year on a motion declaring China is committing genocide against its Muslim minorities.
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