Auditor general says she won't probe donations made to Trudeau Foundation


The federal auditor general says she will not investigate how the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation handled two donations with possible links to the Chinese government.

Last week, the foundation’s interim board chair wrote to the auditor general’s office saying it would welcome an investigation by auditor Karen Hogan of donations made in 2016 and 2017 totalling $140,000.

“I have determined that my office will not be conducting an audit,” Hogan wrote in a letter sent Monday.

“This decision is based on the scope of my authority under the Auditor General Act and our review of the endowment agreement between the government of Canada and the foundation.”

The Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation’s CEO and most members of its board of directors recently resigned due to what they described as the politicization of a donation from Chinese billionaire Zhang Bin and another Chinese businessman, Niu Gensheng. The foundation refers to itself an independent, non-partisan scholarship organization.

“In these circumstances, the foundation would welcome an investigation by the auditor general of Canada of all aspects concerning the receipt and handling of these donations by the foundation,” interim board chair Edward Johnson said in a letter dated last Friday.

“The foundation’s own independent review of the donations, to be handled by an independent law firm and accounting firm, will proceed in any case.”

According to the auditor general’s website, the office investigates the activities of federal government departments and agencies, Crown corporations and the country’s three territorial governments and their agencies.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is pictured at a press conference.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau takes part in an announcement and news conference in Ottawa on April 17. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

Inquiries that fall explicitly outside the auditor’s mandate include requests to review policy decisions or to intervene in disagreements between private citizens and governments, banks or businesses, says the website. 

Hogan wrote to Johnson that when it comes to private donations, her work would have been limited.

“It would be outside my authority to examine the source of private donations, the identity of other donors or their motivations,” she wrote. 

When asked about the controversial donation, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told reporters last week he has not been involved in the foundation’s activities for nearly a decade.

However, the Opposition Conservatives have argued the foundation that bears Trudeau’s name has been used by individuals to court favour with the prime minister and those close to him.

Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre has asked the commissioner of the Canada Revenue Agency to launch an audit into the foundation. He cited a report from the Montreal-based newspaper La Presse that said that in trying to return the now-problematic donation, the organization discovered that the name on the cheque did not match the name of the donor.

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