The American Chamber of Commerce in Canada had long planned to hold a meeting Thursday night at the Vancouver, B.C., home of a U.S. diplomatic official to talk about trade relations in the Donald Trump era.
Then, two days ago, the group suddenly switched its plan, choosing instead to rent space for 2,500 Canadian dollars at the glittering new hotel tower bearing the U.S. president’s name.
“Don’t miss this opportunity to see Vancouver’s newest hotel and hear about the newest U.S. President’s options on trade,” read the email to members of the group, which is an affiliate of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
President Trump does not own the Trump International Hotel & Tower Vancouver, but he has a stake in the hotel’s success — its developers pay his private company for the rights to use his name and to manage the property.
The Chamber event is the latest reminder of a key point of tension around Trump’s rise to power: He is shaping U.S. policy while maintaining ownership of his high-profile business interests worldwide. And it offers another indication of the ways Trump’s presidency stands to benefit his corporate brand.
Mar-a-Lago, Trump’s private oceanfront club in Palm Beach, Fla., moved after the election to double its new-member fee to $200,000. An executive for the resort brand Trump Hotels also voiced interest this week in expanding into every major American metropolitan area. And Trump’s new hotel in Washington, blocks from the White House, has drawn new business from foreign diplomats and the embassies of Azerbaijan, Bahrain and Kuwait.
Although Trump has removed himself from management of his businesses, his refusal to divest has drawn criticism from ethics experts who say that he stands to personally profit from his public office and that the setup presents a web of potential ethical conflicts.
The change of venue for Thursday’s event in Canada sparked concerns that the business lobby was seeking to curry favor with Trump, prompting one participant to consider backing out.
“This is horrible!” wrote Matilde Bombardini, an economist at the University of British Columbia and one of two panelists scheduled to speak. “I don’t want to take part in this. I am ready to withdraw my participation. But do you think it’s going to be more valuable to the greater cause of human decency if I go and speak my mind?”
The event’s other speaker, Stockwell Day, a former Conservative Party cabinet minister, said he had no problem with the location, noting that Trump had taken steps to distance himself from his company. “Everything is open and transparent,” Day said. “It wouldn’t stop me from golfing on one of his golf courses or buying one of his branded products.”
Attendees were told in the Tuesday email that the event was being moved because of “unforeseen circumstances.” A U.S. Embassy spokesman said organizers were told within the past week that no events could take place in the diplomatic residence, because it needs urgent repairs.
Jeffrey Peterson, a Chamber vice president and partner in the Vancouver law firm of Dorsey & Whitney, said a leak at the consul general’s residence forced the event to move. He said that politics had nothing to do with the selection of the Trump hotel.
“They had space available at the last moment,” Peterson said, adding that he personally had nothing to do with organizing the event or the location.
Laura Ballance, a board member for the Chamber’s Pacific chapter, said the group was racing to find a new venue after members were told Tuesday that the diplomatic residence was no longer available.
The group, she said, is nonpartisan but traditionally favors venues that are American-owned or branded. The Trump hotel, whose Canada-based developer is the son of one of Malaysia’s wealthiest business leaders, was the first to respond with an offer for meeting space in downtown Vancouver, Ballance said.
“For us, it’s not a partisan decision,” she said. “It’s about finding space on very s’hort notice that can accommodate this group on a very important discussion.”
“We’re here to understand and navigate the new path forward with the new administration,” she added.
The hotel’s fee includes a meeting room and a few light appetizers for the roughly 60 attendees, Ballance said.
Neither the hotel nor Trump Organization officials responded to requests for comment.
The Vancouver condominium and hotel tower, the first foreign business launch of the Trump brand during the new presidency, has received an “overwhelming amount of reservations,” developers told The Washington Post this week.
The Chamber says its members include executives from American and Canadian businesses operating in both countries, as well as government organizations invested “in the expansion and enhancement of cross-border business opportunities.”
The event’s topics of discussion were to include Trump’s resistance to major trade deals and the future of U.S. negotiations with Canada and Mexico. Trump’s criticism of free-trade agreements, and his vow to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement, has become a major topic of concern for members of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce as well as Canadian businesses.
A formal opening of the hotel, which developers said members of the Trump family will attend, is expected late next month.
Freeman reported from Ottawa.