Canadian Foreign Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne, who controversially offered warm gratitude to communist China for shipping defective coronavirus equipment to Canada in March, was discovered this week to have two large mortgages in London with the state-owned Bank of China.
Public awareness of these financial commitments, evidently known to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his administration, raised new questions about Chinese influence over Canadian politics.
Canada’s Globe and Mail on Wednesday quoted the Canadian opposition describing Champagne’s mortgages as a “personal financial vulnerability.” The loans, totaling about $1.7 million, were taken out in 2009 and 2013 to buy apartments in London.
Champagne said the Bank of China was one of his few options for financing because few banks were “providing residential mortgages for terms of more than 20 years to people residing in the UK on temporary worker visas” at the time. The Bank of China is quite active with mortgage lending in England, holding about $1.4 billion in loans as of 2018.
“Mr. Champagne said he fully disclosed the two mortgages and other liabilities and assets to the Office of the Ethics Commissioner. They are listed in a disclosure statement on the office’s website,” the Globe and Mail reported, adding that the ethics commissioner refused to discuss any concerns his office had about Champagne’s mortgages due to “strict confidentiality requirements.”
Champagne’s defenders insisted his disclosure of the mortgages to the ethics commissioner meant Beijing has no hidden leverage over him, while critics countered that the leverage does not have to be hidden to be effective.
“I think it is very dangerous for a minister of the Crown to have personal financial dealings like that with state-owned enterprises from authoritarian countries. Whatever the cause of the origin of those deals, it creates a certain degree of personal financial vulnerability to decisions which are ultimately directed by the government of China,” said conservative Member of Parliament Garnett Genuis, who sits on the Special Committee on Canada-China Relations.
Several of the critics quoted by the Globe and Mail suggested Champagne should resolve the issue by paying off or refinancing the loans.
Champagne was criticized in March for offering effusive thanks to China for its “donation” of masks and coronavirus test kits that turned out to be almost entirely defective.
“Thank you for this donation. In the face of a global pandemic, supporting each other is not only the right thing to do, it’s the smart thing to do,” the foreign minister gushed before the embarrassing discovery that the masks did not meet Canadian quality standards.
“More recently Taiwan donated half a million surgical masks to Canada, and yet here we are, two weeks later, and the Minister has yet to personally thank Taiwan for its generosity. Will the Minister now thank this free and democratic country for its generous gift to Canadians?” Conservative MP Ed Fast asked Champagne sarcastically in May.
Champagne’s critics fault him for admiring Beijing too openly, as in remarks he made two years before becoming foreign minister in which he praised Communist China as a “beacon of stability” in a “world of uncertainty” and hailed it as a “very inclusive society.”
To his detractors, he is the wrong man for the job at a time when China is holding Canadian citizens hostage and hammering the country with economic warfare to force the release of a major Communist Party figure, Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou, who is pending extradition to the United States to face fraud and sanctions-evasion charges. Champagne is a protege of former prime minister Jean Chretien, an outspoken advocate of dropping all charges against Meng to begin rebuilding Canada’s relationship with China.
Champagne has been critical of China for holding Canadian citizens Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig as leverage to secure Meng’s freedom, calling their release his “absolute priority” and warning their “arbitrary detention” is “damaging China’s reputation around the world.” He signed on to a joint statement criticizing China for abrogating Hong Kong’s autonomy by imposing a national security law through the mainland legislative process.