The chief executive and most of the board members of the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation said Tuesday they are resigning due to the political climate surrounding their work in recent months.
In a statement posted on its website, the foundation said the politicization of a donation it received seven years ago had put enormous pressure on its management, volunteer board and staff.
The Globe and Mail reported in late February that Chinese billionaire Zhang Bin and another Chinese businessman, Niu Gensheng, donated $200,000 to the foundation in 2016. Citing an unnamed national security source, the newspaper reported that Zhang Bin was instructed by Beijing to donate $1 million to commemorate Trudeau Sr. in 2014.
A press release issued by the China Cultural Industry Association at the time of the donation said the money was in memory of Pierre Trudeau, who established diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic of China in 1970.
The foundation, which describes itself as independent and nonpartisan, said last month it was returning the money due to potential ties between the donation and the Chinese government.
“We cannot withhold any donations that may have been sponsored by a foreign government and would not knowingly do so,” said Pascale Fournier, the foundation’s president and CEO, as he returned the donations.
The foundation issued a statement on Tuesday saying three directors would remain with the organization on an interim basis to ensure it can continue to meet its obligations.
“The situation created by the politicization of the Foundation has become untenable, and the Volunteer Board has resigned, as has the President and CEO,” the statement said.
The foundation runs a three-year fellowship program for doctoral students at Canadian universities, providing them with funding, mentorship and language training throughout their studies.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said he quit the Trudeau Foundation years ago. The charity has previously said his formal involvement ended in 2014, about a year after he was elected leader of the Liberal Party.
“Those who try to gain short-term political gain by launching totally baseless and baseless attacks on charities or foundations to increase polarization and partisanship in this country will not succeed,” Trudeau said Tuesday in Toronto. told reporters when asked about his resignation.
“I have no doubt that the Trudeau Foundation, like the foundations and charities that Conservative politicians have attacked in the past, will continue to do the excellent work it will.”
The Liberal government is under increasing pressure to respond to reports that China is trying to interfere in Canadian affairs after a series of reports by The Globe and Mail and Global News.
Members of a parliamentary committee have asked for information on when Trudeau learned of Beijing’s attempts to interfere in the 2019 and 2021 federal elections.
Opposition MPs have written to the Clerk of the Privy Council requesting the information, saying they want the details before Chief of Staff Katie Telford testifies on Friday.
Meanwhile, members of Congress’ National Security and Intelligence Committee and the National Security and Intelligence Review Service are investigating allegations of Chinese meddling in the recent election.
Trudeau also appointed David Johnston as special rapporteur to investigate foreign interference.
Conservative leader Pierre Poillier accused Trudeau of getting too close to Johnston, noting that the former governor-general was a member of the Trudeau foundation.
Bloc Quebec leader Yves-François Blanchett called again on Tuesday for Trudeau to revoke Johnston’s mandate and launch a public inquiry.
“Next week is for Parliament to select the commissioner or commissioners who will chair a commission investigating Chinese interference in Canada’s democratic process,” he said in a French-language statement.
NDP leader Jagmeet Singh responded to calls for a public inquiry in an interview with reporters on Tuesday.
“The Liberals and Conservatives are playing a political game to score points instead of really targeting the importance of this matter and finding a solution,” he said in French.
—David Fraser, Canadian Press
Federal Politics Justin Trudeau