The president and CEO of the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation, along with its entire board of directors, resigned on Tuesday blaming “politicization” in the aftermath of bombshell reports the Foundation had taken donations from Chinese billionaire Zhang Bin intended to influence the government of Trudeau’s son, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
“In recent weeks, the political climate surrounding a donation received by the Foundation in 2016 has put a great deal of pressure on the Foundation’s management and volunteer Board of Directors, as well as on our staff and our community,” the Foundation said in a statement on Tuesday.
“The circumstances created by the politicization of the Foundation have made it impossible to continue with the status quo, and the volunteer Board of Directors has resigned, as has the President and CEO,” the statement continued. “We would like to thank Pascale Fournier for her work as President and CEO over the past five years, as well as all the members of the Board of Directors.”
— Fondation Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation (@fdnPETF) April 11, 2023
The Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation is a Canadian taxpayer-funded organization that describes itself as “a gateway for bold, cutting-edge doctoral researchers to become Engaged Leaders who have meaningful impact in their communities and institutions.” It is named after the current prime minister’s father, a radical leftist and former prime minister himself.
Prior to leading the Canadian government, Trudeau and comrade Jacques Hébert published a book in the 1960s, titled Two Innocents in Red China, promoting the regime of communist leader Mao Zedong during the Great Leap Forward, a massacre that killed at least 30 million people.
In his 2022 book, Red-Handed: How American Elites Get Rich Helping China Win, investigative reporter Peter Schweizer revealed that a Chinese regime-linked company republished Two Innocents in Red China in 2006, as Justin Trudeau launched his political career.
Alexandre Trudeau, Pierre’s son and Justin’s brother, published a similar book in 2016 touting his alleged travels in China. Alexandre is a member of the Foundation. The Globe and Mail claimed on Tuesday that the chair of the Foundation’s members, John English, had requested Alexandre Trudeau leave the foundation, citing an anonymous source.
The donation the Foundation mentioned as causing the mass resignations on Tuesday surfaced in an investigation by the Canadian Globe and Mail newspaper in February. According to the outlet, Canada’s Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) had reason to believe the Chinese Communist Party had commanded the billionaire Zhang, described as “a political adviser to the government in Beijing,” to give the Trudeau Foundation $1 million “to curry favour with” Justin Trudeau, who was not yet prime minister, and claimed the Chinese government would reimburse him. That conversation reportedly happened in 2014, in anticipation of nationwide elections scheduled for the next year.
Zhang indeed announced a million-dollar donation, spread among several initiatives, in memory of Pierre Trudeau in 2016, weeks after attending a Liberal Party fundraiser in May 2016 at which Justin Trudeau was present. Of the sum, $200,000 is believed to have gone to the Trudeau Foundation. At the time, the Globe and Mail revealed Justin Trudeau’s presence at the fundraiser, hosted by Chinese-Canadian millionaire Benson Wong, as a potential “cash-for-access” situation in which Zhang paid to attend the fundraiser specifically to meet with Trudeau.
In 2016, Trudeau defended his presence at the fundraiser by claiming that his socialization with Chinese billionaires would bring jobs to Canada.
“Canadians faced a period of 10 years of lower-than-needed growth under the previous government. That is why we have committed,” he claimed at the time, “to engaging positively with the world to draw in investment … drawing in global investment is a great way to grow the economy and create jobs.”
The Globe and Mail revelations in February of this year indicated that Zhang was not acting independently to amass influence, but was rather an agent of the Chinese Communist Party. In March, Fournier, the resigning president and CEO of the Trudeau Foundation, announced that it would return $140,000 – the amount she claimed the organization had received of the pledged $200,000 – in light of the reports that the Chinese government had orchestrated the donation.
An incensed Justin Trudeau responded to the situation on Tuesday with ire, condemning those concerned about the potential Chinese government influence on his government. The prime minister insisted he had no involvement in the operations of the Foundation.
“It is a shame to see the level of toxicity and political polarization that is going on in our country these days but I am certain that the Trudeau Foundation will be able to continue to ensure that research into the social studies and humanities at the highest levels across Canadian academic institutions continues for many years to come,” Trudeau asserted.
The Zhang Bin scandal is part of a broader series of reporting beginning in February suggesting that the CSIS intelligence agency was extremely concerned about Chinese interference in Canadian elections. The Globe and Mail claimed it had obtained documents in February showing CSIS had compiled evidence that China was offering “undeclared cash donations to political campaigns or having business owners hire international Chinese students and ‘assign them to volunteer in electoral campaigns on a full-time basis.'” Global News, another Canadian news outlet, reported that CSIS had warned Justin Trudeau of Chinese meddling directly, naming 11 legislative candidates with alleged ties to China.
Trudeau has rejected repeated calls from opposition parties on the left and right demanding a public investigation into alleged Chinese election meddling. Instead, Trudeau appointed a “special rapporteur” to investigate the allegations: former governor general David Johnston, described in Canadian media as a “lifelong friend of the PM and member of the Trudeau foundation.”
The leader of the Conservative Party, Pierre Poilievre, demanded once again on Tuesday an impartial investigation into the allegations and the Trudeau Foundation specifically.
“We need to know who got rich; who got paid and who got privilege and power from Justin Trudeau as a result of the funding to the Trudeau Foundation,” Poilievre asserted.