Morneau attended event in China sponsored by “Liberal bagman” seeking billions in tax dollars for affordable housing

By Lisa Tanh

Finance Minister Bill Morneau attended an event in China sponsored by a Vancouver real estate developer that is asking the federal government for billions in tax dollars to build affordable housing.

Recently, the Canadian Chamber of Commerce (CanCham), organized a luncheon with Morneau in Shanghai. The luncheon invite[1] promoted the chance for members to hear Monreau speak about Canada’s 2018 budget [2] — which includes a strategy to develop stronger bilateral relations with China — and to hear the business opportunities for them.

According to CanCham’s website[3], they are a non-profit organization that “promotes Canadian interests in Eastern China” and “fosters connections within the Canadian business community and with its Chinese counterparts.”

Luxury real estate developer, Westbank, who is under fire for asking the federal government for $40 billion in tax dollars to build 50,000 affordable housing units in Vancouver and Toronto, promoted themselves as “platinum sponsors” of the luncheon on Weibo[4] Westbank is part of CanCham’s board of directors[5] and advisory council[6]

Westbank’s owner, Ian Gillespie, has come under heavy criticism for being a major donor and fundraiser for politicians at all levels of government, for his marketing director publicly stating the company is only interested in the Chinese market and for developing projects that aren’t considered affordable to locals.

Metro Vancouverites reacted to the news that Westbank is seeking taxpayer money to build affordable housing with anger and disbelief.

Carli Sussman, a Vancouver resident, said Westbank hasn’t done “much goodwill” in Vancouver.

“Given that they’ve directly contributed to Vancouver’s housing crisis by marketing and selling their expensive luxury developments overseas in Asia — in some cases before selling within Canada — and encouraging rampant speculation and flipping,” Sussman said. “I think it’s galling that they believe they should be able to use federal money to ‘fix’ the very crisis they’ve helped create.”

On social media, some accused Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of trying to payback a “Liberal bagman,” while others vowed to vote against the Liberals at the next election — if Westbank receives any public money.

Roberta Strachan, a Delta resident, said no developer that’s involved in pre-sales overseas should have access to taxpayer dollars to build low-income housing — when they’ve helped to create the need.

“There are plenty of good developers that should be getting a chance at building these units,” Strachan said.

Meanwhile, Westbank removed interviews with employees, Michael Braun, marketing director, and Maggie Wang, managing director of Asian operations, from their website. In Braun’s interview[7], he’s quoted saying, “…right now I have a rule when we talk about projects if the Chinese market doesn’t want it, I have no interest in it.” In Wang’s interview[8], she’s quoted saying, “…our ultimate goal was to make everyone in China know about Westbank so that whoever wants to buy Canadian condominiums would go to our China office and ask for help.”

In a news release entitled “Minister Morneau Takes Canada’s Plan for a Strong Economy to Hong Kong and Shanghai,”[9] the federal government said they’re “committed to building stronger relationships between Canada and China” and is “supporting vital infrastructure projects that will lead to shared growth in Asia.”

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