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Perspective on the Pandemic:
The Ties Between Canada’s Elite and Powerful and the Chinese Regime

Commentary by Yao Liang, Tanya Du
June 18, 2020

Canada is among the top 20 countries in the world with the most cases of COVID-19 infection, despite its relatively small population and low population density. Within Canada, Quebec has been the hardest-hit region by far.

By mid-June, Canada had around 100,000 cases of infection and more than 8,000 deaths. Of that, over half of the infections and 65 percent of the deaths have been in Quebec, which has less than a quarter of the country’s population.

The Epoch Times editorial article “Wherever Ties to the Chinese Communist Party Are Close, the CCP Virus Follows” notes that “the heaviest-hit regions outside China all share a common thread: close or lucrative relations with the communist regime in Beijing.”

For decades, high-level Canadian leaders, well-connected elite, and powerful corporations, many of them based in Quebec, have pushed for closer ties between Canada and China.

Ottawa played an instrumental role in enabling the Chinese regime to gain world recognition in its early days and helped it along the way as it became one of the world’s emerging superpowers, while the regime continued to suppress its own people at home and spread its tentacles of influence abroad. Meanwhile, Canadian leaders have often turned a blind eye to Beijing’s human rights abuses during critical times.

Setting a Course

In 1970, the government of Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau became one of the first Western governments to establish diplomatic relations with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) as the ruler of China. Canada’s recognition of the regime paved the way for other Western countries to follow suit and for the CCP to join international bodies such as the United Nations.

Establishing relations with communist China and bringing it into the United Nations was one of Trudeau’s primary foreign policy objectives after he became prime minister in 1968.

Long before becoming prime minister, while on a visit to Moscow to attend a propaganda conference in the 1950s, Trudeau, then a political activist from Quebec, had reportedly told the wife of the U.S. chargé d’affaires that he was a communist and a Catholic and had come to Moscow to criticize the United States and praise the Soviet Union, according to the 2013 book “The Truth About Trudeau” by Bob Plamondon.

Trudeau had travelled to China in 1949 as a young man, and again in 1960 on a trip sponsored by the regime. He chronicled the latter trip with co-author Jacques Hébert in their book “Two Innocents in Red China.”

During their visit, the two witnessed scenes of one of the darkest periods of the communist regime, the Great Leap Forward, as noted in an article in The Globe and Mail. During this period, lasting from 1958 to 1962, Chairman Mao Zedong wanted to quickly bring industrialization to China and forced farmers to produce steel rather than crops, with those deemed not complying facing torture and even death. The Great Leap Forward led to a devastating famine that killed tens of millions of people.

In their book, however, Trudeau and Hébert write, “We are convinced that we are witnessing the beginning of an industrial revolution.”

During his official visit to China as prime minister in 1973, where he met with Mao and Premier Zhou Enlai, Trudeau praised the regime for its governance, saying the system it had developed “in comparison with all previous Chinese social systems, is striving to provide human dignity and equality of opportunity for the Chinese people.”

Trudeau’s comment came at a time when Mao was in the middle of his disastrous and bloody Cultural Revolution, which resulted in an estimated death toll ranging from hundreds of thousands to 20 million, with millions of Chinese suffering from torture and humiliation, seizure of property, and the destruction of the economy and traditional culture.

At Beijing’s insistence, Trudeau refused to issue permits to allow Taiwan to take part in the 1976 Olympic Games in Montreal, even though the team was recognized by the International Olympic Committee (IOC). To refuse entry to a country recognized by the IOC was unprecedented and met with strong objections by the United States.

Trudeau’s admiration for the CCP had long-term implications and set in motion decades of China-appeasing policies.

In 2013, when his son Justin Trudeau, then the leader of the Liberal Party seeking to become the next prime minister, was asked which country he admired most, he said: “There’s a level of admiration I actually have for China. Their basic dictatorship is actually allowing them to turn their economy around on a dime.”

Corporate Ties

Behind some of the most aggressive lobbying efforts for stronger Canada-China ties is a handful of big corporations with extensive business operations in China, many of them based in Quebec.

The Montreal-based Power Corporation, a multibillion-dollar financial services company, has been described as “the premier gatekeeper of [Canada’s] formal relations with China” by author Jonathan Manthorpe in his 2019 book “Claws of the Panda.”

In 1968, the company came under the control of Paul Desmarais Sr. and was run by his sons Paul Jr. and André serving as co-CEOs until last year, when they announced they were stepping down from their roles as CEOs but staying on as chairman and deputy chairman respectively.

Some of Canada’s most influential people have links to Power Corp., including four former prime ministers.

Former prime minister Jean Chrétien’s daughter is married to André Desmarais. Chrétien, Pierre Trudeau, and former prime minister Brian Mulroney all served as advisory board members of Power Corp. after leaving office. Former prime minister Paul Martin was president of one of the company’s subsidiaries, Canada Steamship Lines, and later bought it with a partner in the 1980s.

In 2019, Chrétien said Canada’s justice minister should use his authority to stop the extradition of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou, who was arrested in Vancouver in December 2018 on a U.S. extradition request. Mulroney advised that Chrétien and André Desmarais be sent to China on behalf of Canada to negotiate the release of two Canadians arrested by Beijing in retaliation for Meng’s arrest.

Several other prominent Canadian politicians, including former cabinet ministers, have also worked for Power Corp.

Another influential executive at the company was Maurice Strong, who later worked as the under-secretary-general of the United Nations. Strong is the nephew of prominent pro-communist reporter Anna Louise Strong. According to the Epoch Times series “How the Spectre of Communism Is Ruling Our World,” Maurice Strong was deeply influenced by his aunt and described himself as “a socialist in ideology and a capitalist in methodology.”

After retirement, Strong moved to Beijing, where he lived for the rest of his life. In a 2010 interview with the Guardian, he said he still maintained some cooperation with the United Nations “in particular to China and that region.”

Power Corp. is a founding member of the Canada China Business Council (CCBC), which was spearheaded by Paul Desmarais Sr.

Canada China Business Council

The CCBC advocates for strong relations with China and has counted among its ranks former politicians or individuals who went on to become politicians.

Paul Desmarais Sr. was the founding chair of CCBC. His son André is an honourary chair of the organization, and the current chair is André’s son, Olivier.

CCBC, formerly called the Canada China Trade Council, was founded in 1978 by eight major Canadian corporations and the Chinese state-owned company CITIC.

Half of the Canadian founding members—namely Power Corp., BMO Financial Group, Bombardier, and SNC-Lavalin—are based in Montreal. The other founding members are Barrick Gold Corp., Export Development Canada, Manulife Financial, and Sun Life Financial, the latter based in Montreal until 1978.

The book “Claws of the Panda” says the founding CCBC members “became a persuasive lobby for enhanced relations with China, for which the benefits of trade were held to be of paramount concern.”

The Canada-China business community has strong links with a once-powerful Chinese official, Bo Xilai.
Bo was a rising star of the CCP until he was removed from his post as Party chief of the megacity of Chongqing after a scandal involving Chongqing official Wang Lijun. Wang gave accounts of the involvement of Bo and Bo’s wife, Gu Kailai, in the murder of a British businessman to the American Consulate in Chengdu.

Bo was part of a faction loyal to former Chinese leader Jiang Zemin, a rival of current leader Xi Jinping. According to some accounts, Bo and some other officials in Jiang’s faction had been plotting to overthrow Xi, and this was one of the main reasons Bo was removed from power.

Both Bo and wife Gu were heavily involved in—and profiting from—the state-sanctioned harvesting of organs from Falun Dafa prisoners of conscience.

Chrétien once called Bo an “old friend,” and he was called “one of our key bridges” by Sergio Marchi, a former Liberal trade minister and a past president of the CCBC, according to The Globe and Mail.

The relationship between Bo and the business community is rooted in the close ties he had with the Desmarais family.

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