By Dale Bass
Kamloops This Week
Cathy McLeod wants an answer from the government on why it approved a Chinese company’s purchase of a retirement-home chain — and if that OK is linked in any way to a fundraiser the federal Liberal party had with billionaires from that country in November.
The Kamloops-Thompson-Cariboo Conservative MP asked during Question Period on Wednesday about what she considers a worrisome decision giving approval to a foreign investor with what she called murky ownership.
“It should be no surprise to anyone that the prime minister has now approved the sale,” McLeod said. “This was just three months after a Chinese lobbyist bought access to the prime minister at a fundraiser. I asked the prime minister outright — was his approval bought?”
She said she did not receive an answer from the governing Liberals.
The purchase of Retirement Concepts by Cedar Tree Investment Canada — a Canadian subsidiary of Anbang Insurance Group in China — includes properties in B.C., Alberta and Quebec. Locally, it includes Kamloops Seniors Village on Hugh Allan Drive.
McLeod pointed to the $1,500 per person fundraiser the federal Liberals held at the Toronto home of Benson Wong, chair of the Chinese Business Chamber of Commerce.
Also attending was Zhang Bin, a political adviser to the Chinese government, insurance tycoon Shenglin Xian and several other Chinese billionaires.
Jennifer Whiteside, secretary-general manager of the Hospital Employees’ Union that represents workers in the facilities, said she remains concerned about the sale because it puts into the hands of a private equity fund “what amounts to a public asset.”
Whiteside pointed to the $86 million Retirement Concepts bills the provincial government annually to operate the retirement homes through contracts with health authorities,.
“So, they are really subsidized by taxpayers,” Whiteside said.
“What happens down the road with this private equity fund if it runs into liquidity problems or owning these homes no longer meets their business plan? What is the government’s plan to protect these assets?”
At the time the potential deal became public, Health Minister Terry Lake said the Chinese subsidiary had assured patients, families and staff it would make no changes to operations and the expectation was “patients residing in these facilities will continue to get the same qualify of care.”
Because a non-Canadian business was trying to acquire control of a Canadian one with a value greater than $600 million, the purchase had to be reviewed at the federal level.
McLeod called the “cash for access fundraiser” wrong and wants to know why, three months later, the purchase was approved when it remains unclear who owns the parent company.
She said she was also concerned Morgan Stanley, which was involved in an Anbang attempt to buy Starwood Hotels and Resorts, passed on the deal, citing the Chinese company’s reluctance to provide details of its ownership structure. Anbang eventually abandoned the deal.
An article published in the New York Times last year on the Chinese insurance company attempted to identify the owners of the business, which has $295 billion in assets, eventually reporting 35 of the companies that combined own almost all of Anbang are related to the granddaughter of former Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping or to one of former Chinese leader Mao Tse-Tung’s marshals.
“There is limited information provided on the ownership,” McLeod said.
She acknowledged the province has stringent licencing criteria for care homes but she believes people who choose to live in one of them “should be able to understand who owns it.”