OTTAWA — A political controversy over a donation to the foundation bearing Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's family name deepened Thursday when one of the directors reportedly quit his post because of the controversy.
The Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation confirmed that former Conservative cabinet minister Chuck Strahl resigned Thursday, effective immediately, one day after his name was raised in defence of a hefty donation the foundation received from a Chinese official who met the prime minister at a private Liberal party fundraiser.
The Globe and Mail reported that Strahl, in his resignation letter, wrote that he would not allow the Liberals to use his place on the board as justification for their fundraising actions.
Strahl has not responded to a request for comment from The Canadian Press.
The donation to the foundation has been a political thorn for the prime minister all week. Liberals have defended Trudeau's appearance at the May fundraiser at a Toronto-area home as being within political fundraising rules, while the opposition parties say Trudeau violated his own ethical standards set out to cabinet ministers that they must avoid even the hint of a conflict of interest in their activities.
Earlier this week, Trudeau defended his appearance at the fundraiser by saying he was trying to entice foreign investment into Canada.
The $1,500-a-plate fundraiser included businessman Zhang Bin, president of the state-approved China Cultural Industry Association and the president of Toronto-based Shenglin Financial Group Inc., Shenglin Xian, who was looking for final approval from the Canadian government to operate a domestic branch of Wealth One Bank of Canada after receiving tentative approval from the previous Conservative government.
Bin and a partner, Niu Gensheng, subsequently finalized a $1 million donation to the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation and the law faculty at Universite de Montreal. The foundation is a charitable organization which promotes research in the humanities and social sciences.
On Thursday, Trudeau — speaking in the Liberian capital of Monrovia — said he has not been associated in any formal or informal way with the foundation bearing his father's name since he was first elected to the House of Commons.
The prime minister said he made the split to show there is a "tremendous separation" between himself and the foundation.
Trudeau pointed to two members of the board of directors — Strahl and former NDP deputy leader Megan Leslie — as assurance that the foundation's operations are separate from anything he does as prime minister or party leader.
A spokeswoman for the foundation said the university first approached the foundation in January 2014 about Zhang and Gensheng's interest in making a donation to honour Trudeau's late father and the first formal talks took place in September of that year. Gwenola Appere said negotiations between all three parties took a year and a half and a public signing ceremony was held at the university on June 1 of this year.
Zhang and Gensheng gave the university $750,000 for scholarships, according to a February announcement from the university. The school received a further $50,000 to build a statue of Pierre Elliott Trudeau at the law faculty.
The foundation received the remaining $200,000 to pay for conferences and events starting next year focusing on the evolving role of China in the world and Canada-China relations, Appere said.
The donation is to be paid to the foundation in three parts, with the first instalment this past July.