The NDP reaches back a generation – and several leaders – to tally Liberals’ rich donors

The claim: Fifty-six of Canada’s richest families “have donated to Justin Trudeau and the Liberals… Is that why he gave them $14 billion in corporate tax breaks?”

— New Democratic Party news release on Oct. 9, 2019

The facts: This broadside from the NDP war room adds a new spin to Jagmeet Singh’s repeated — and misleading — claim that the Liberals are helping Canadian businesses “buy jets and limousines” with $14 billion in corporate tax incentives over the next six years. 

Now, his party seems to be suggesting that the changes — billed as an effort to help Canadian companies keep pace with their U.S. competitors following Donald Trump’s deep tax cuts — were a quid pro quo for donations to the federal Liberal Party.

As evidence, the NDP offers a list of donations its researchers have culled from the Elections Canada base. The party claims that it shows a total of $795,392.77 flowing to the Liberals from 74 members of Canada’s richest families, as defined by Canadian Business magazine’s annual ranking. 

This is problematic, since 71 per cent of the donations the NDP are citing — totalling $562,689.04 — predate Justin Trudeau’s April, 2013 leadership win. 

In fact, $86,550.80 of the contributions were made when Michael Ignatieff was the Liberal leader and another $59,889.45 when Stéphane Dion was in charge of the party. A further $34,865.19 came during Bob Rae’s period as interim Liberal leader. A total of $100,896.10 was collected under Bill Graham’s interim tenure and $2,578.86 in donations date back to Jean Chrétien, who stepped down 16 years ago. 

And it was Paul Martin — not Trudeau — who appears to have established the best rapport with billionaires, hauling in more than $270,000 in contributions from Canada’s richest families during his two-and-a-half years as prime minister. 

Furthermore, 24 of the 56 “billionaire” families the NDP are identifying as Liberal donors haven’t given the party a cent since Trudeau became leader. And at least four of his supposed benefactors — Ted Rogers, David Azrieli, Wallace McCain and Harrison McCain — are dead. 

The NDP are also skating around the reality that many of the individuals and families on their list have also donated to other political parties, chiefly the Conservatives. 

Gerry Schwartz and Heather Reisman, for example, had a well-publicized falling out with the Liberals over Bill Graham’s position on the 2006 Israel-Lebanon war, publicly switching their allegiance to Stephen Harper’s Conservatives. (The power couple resumed their contributions to the Liberals in 2011.) 

Grocery magnate, Galen W. Weston, who is on the list for giving the Liberals $8,400 between 2004 and 2007, has given the Conservative Party of Canada a total $11,370 since 2005.

Auto-parts billionaire Frank Stronach, who last donated to the Liberals in April 2011, gave a total of $9,975 to the federal Conservatives in 2004 and 2005, just slightly less than the $10,100 he gave to the Liberals. (Perhaps reflecting the fact that his daughter Belinda, who was elected as a Conservative MP in 2004, crossed the floor to join Paul Martin’s cabinet in May 2005.) 

Francesco and Roberto Aquilini, part of the land-rich family that owns the Vancouver Canucks, gave a total of $9,625 to the Liberals between 2004 and 2017. And over the same period, the brothers gave the Conservatives $6,350. 

And then there’s Erik Péladeau, part of the family that owns Québecor, who lands on the NDP list by virtue of a single $425 contribution to a Liberal riding association in 2010, despite the fact that his brother Pierre–Karl went on the become leader of the separatist Parti Québécois in 2015. 

The biggest stretch, however, might be steel billionaire Barry Zekelman, whom the NDP cites for his $400 contribution to the Liberals in 2009. This would be the same man who has been the subject of a campaign financing complaint in the United States over a US $1.75 million donation one of his companies made to a Donald Trump affiliated Super PAC. And the guy who was one of the Trudeau government’s harshest critics during the recent NAFTA negotiations. 

Finally, if — as the NDP implies — there were some sort of connection between donations to the Liberals and the $14 billion in new corporate tax cuts, it would surely be the most lucrative investment that some of these billionaire families have ever made. 

For example, Anton Rabie, the co-founder of the toy maker Spin Master, gave the Liberals a measly $250 back in 2011, despite having a net worth in excess of $1 billion US. Alain Bouchard, CEO and chairman of Alimentation Couche Tard, who is worth $4 billion US, gave the Liberals $490.96 in 2005. Hartley Richardson — the president of Winnipeg’s James Richardson & Sons Ltd and head of Canada’s ninth richest family with an estimated worth of $6.55 billion — gave a total of $2,489.79 in 2004 and 2005.

The verdict: Misleading. The NDP are reaching back 20 years and across the tenure of six other Liberal leaders to make this attack on Justin Trudeau. And they are ignoring the donations these same billionaires have made to other political parties. 

Sources: 56 of Canada’s 100 Richest Families Donate to Liberals, New Democratic Party of Canada; Fact Check: Federal party leaders’ claims from the English-language debate, CBC News; Liberals unveil $14B in business tax breaks to help offset impact of Trump tax cuts, iPolitics; Canada’s Richest People: 2018, Canadian Business; Political financing database, Elections Canada; Liberal power couple back Harper on Mideast, Globe and MailContributions – Details: Frank Stronach, Elections Canada; Conservative Stronach joins Liberals, CBC News; Contributions – Details: Erik Péladeau, Elections Canada; Contributions – Details: Galen Weston, Elections Canada; Contributions – Details: Francesco Aquilini; Elections Canada; Contributions – Details: Roberto Aquilini; Elections Canada; Watchdog Group Files Complaint Over Donation to Trump Super PAC by Canadian Billionaire’s Company, New York Times; ‘She’s way out of her league’: Steel exec slams Freeland’s handling of tariff fight, CBC News. Anton Rabie: Proflie, Forbes; Alain Bouchard: Profile, Forbes