Thank you, Mr. Chair.
I served under both Conservative and Liberal governments for 15 years as deputy minister variously of justice, health and foreign affairs. Since retiring from the public service, I've served as president of the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation, as an adviser on policy and on various boards.
I wish to first address my presence, when I was president of the foundation, at a meeting with public servants that occurred in April 2016 in what was then the Langevin Block. One of the reasons I agreed to serve at the foundation is my belief that there's a public interest in strengthening exchanges between academic researchers and policy-makers. Academic research should be known to policy-makers, and as a deputy minister I often reached out to and met with academics. It's equally important that academics be exposed to the practical realities of policy-making.
At the foundation, one of our fellows and one of our mentors had begun a project in early 2016 to determine whether there were economic benefits to diversity. I knew that diversity and pluralism were priorities for the government at the time, and I suggested to a deputy secretary at the Privy Council Office that a meeting with officials would provide an opportunity to share perspectives on this issue.
That's the genesis of the meeting that was reported on in the media. The PCO invited the relevant officials. The media reports emphasized the fact that the meeting took place in the Langevin Block, which they thought was unusual because the Prime Minister's Office is located there.
That building not only serves as the Prime Minister's Office but also houses the Privy Council Office, a part of the public service, and is a central downtown location for public servants and others to meet. Inviting people from outside government to meetings in this building is not unusual. Accordingly, there was nothing at all unusual about the April 2016 meeting in the Langevin Block.
Next I want to address two points that have been raised in relation to the 2016 donation issue. It's been alleged that the company to whom the tax receipt was issued, Millennium Golden Eagle (Canada) Inc., is a shell company. I've had a look at the Quebec government's Régistre des entreprises, and it points out that the company is a going concern in the business of hotels, inns and real property investment. I can provide you with that document.
Second, I wanted to provide some additional context to support the view expressed by Alexandre Trudeau at the access to information committee, by Ted Johnson and by me, that the donation has to be assessed from the perspective of relations with China in an era that's much different from the very negative one we're in today. In the mid-2010s, Canadian universities, businesses and governments all saw it as being in their interest to strengthen ties with China. I think Prime Minister Harper captured the spirit of the time well in 2013, when he welcomed two Chinese pandas to Toronto. He said:
Over the coming years these pandas will help us learn more about one another while serving as a reminder of our deepening relationship, a relationship based on mutual respect and growing collaboration.
It was a different time.
There's been much concern expressed by some committee members that one of the two donors was president of the China Cultural Industry Association, due to its association with the Chinese government. This was well understood at the time the donation was being negotiated. When the China Cultural Industry Association was established in 2013, Canada's ambassador to China wrote a congratulatory letter to the chairman and members of that organization. I have copies of that letter that I can provide to the committee, but I'd like to cite three brief excerpts first:
It is fortuitous that, in many respects, your objectives and efforts align well with ours at the Canadian Embassy in China. In fact, last year, when Prime Minister Harper visited here, Canada and China agreed to hold a series of cultural activities in each other's countries in 2013 and 2014, in an effort to raise our bilateral engagement to a new level.
The second quote is as follows:
I'd like to note our deep gratitude for the CCIA's generous endowment to the University of Toronto's Faculty of Medicine via the establishment of the Bethune Fund.
Given your strong commitment to cultural cooperation and exchange, the CCIA will certainly serve as a leading platform for expanded Canada-China cultural collaboration. We look forward to working closely with your association over the coming months and years.
We have confidence that our government's representative in China had Canada's interests at heart when he wrote this letter. The China Cultural Industry Association was viewed as a positive collaborator by the Harper government. These were, indeed, very different times.
Within this context of warming relations, we believe that the donors were motivated by a genuine desire to pay tribute to Pierre Elliott Trudeau's legacy and their willingness to support the foundation's program of policy conferences.
Conferences on the implications of the rise of China were consistent with our core themes of Canada and the world and human rights. The donors had no say on the content of these conferences, an important consideration for the foundation.
We never thought that a $200,000 donation for conferences could or would influence any government. At no time did donors ask the foundation to connect them with government officials or anything else. The foundation never coordinated its activities with elected officials, either prior to or after the 2015 election.