PM's brother defends involvement in controversial donation to Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation
Alexandre Trudeau, brother of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, told a committee of MPs Wednesday that he only signed for a controversial donation to the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation to give permission to a partner university to use his father's name.
The House ethics committee is probing a $200,000 donation given to the charity by two men with links to the Chinese government. Opposition parties are questioning whether the donation was an attempt by Beijing to curry favour with Prime Minister Trudeau.
Alexandre Trudeau signed for the donation on behalf of the foundation.
WATCH | Alexandre Trudeau defends signing for donation
Conservative MP Michael Barrett asked Trudeau how often he has signed for donations in the 20 years he has been involved with the foundation. He said that this was the only time.
"You understand why?" Trudeau said after Barrett suggested that seemed "exceptional."
"I was giving the approval for the Université de Montréal to use the name of my father, so acting as a member of the family," Trudeau said, adding that the donation was meant to set up a scholarship fund through the foundation.
The donation was attributed originally to two Chinese businessmen, Zhang Bin and Niu Gensheng. It was later reported that the payment was made from Bin's company Millennium Golden Eagle International.
In the end, the foundation said it received $140,000 from the donors and tried to return the money, only to hit a roadblock. On April 14, sources with knowledge of the situation told Radio-Canada that the money had been deposited finally into the account of one of the two businessmen.
Alexandre Trudeau said throughout the hearing that the foundation was not part of any foreign interference attempts by China.
"'I'm afraid to say, frankly, this is a waste of time," he said. "There is not a foreign interference issue here at the foundation."
Trudeau said that he met with the donors a few times. He noted that his first meeting with Zhang Bin was in 2014, before his brother's Liberal Party was elected to form the government.
Bin was at the centre of the controversy over the donation when it came to light in 2016. Bin was present at a Liberal fundraiser with the prime minister before the donation was finalized.
Conservative MP Michael Cooper asked Trudeau if he believed Zhang went to the fundraiser in an attempt to influence his brother.
"I bet he wanted a photo with the prime minister to show his friends," Trudeau responded.
WATCH | MP raises questions about donor
Prime Minister Trudeau has said he hasn't had any involvement with the foundation since he became leader of the Liberal Party, a claim his brother repeated during his testimony.
NDP MP Matthew Green asked if the foundation had any formal policies set up to ensure there was a "firewall" between the foundation and the prime minister.
Trudeau said written policies weren't in place when his brother was first elected but were implemented later.
"All my colleagues know the type of relationship I have with my brother, which is a fraternal one," Trudeau said.
"But the public doesn't [know]," Green responded.
"Which is another reason why I'm happy to be here," Trudeau said. "I'm one of the few adult people in this country who can offer him a world outside politics."
Pascale Fournier — the former president of the foundation who resigned last month — told the committee last week that her predecessor Morris Rosenberg misled Canadians when he told the National Post in December 2016 that the foundation didn't consider the donation to be foreign money because it was made by a company incorporated in Canada.
"This was a declaration on behalf of the foundation to say that it was not foreign money, that it was Canadian money," Fournier told MPs. "This was in the annual report as well. When, in fact, the tax receipt itself mentions China.
"So, I think this is something that is misleading to Canadians."
Trudeau said he volunteered to appear before the committee to dispute Fournier's claims. He said that the donations were paid from bank accounts registered with the Bank of Montreal.