It was the plane ride that launched a thousand good deeds, and one lingering controversy.
One day in June, 2005, Bill Clinton clambered aboard the private jet of Frank Giustra, the Vancouver mining financier. Mr. Clinton needed to get to Mexico City to begin a speaking tour of Latin America and oversee the work of his sprawling charitable enterprise. The two men didn’t know each other well. But Mr. Giustra happened to have a luxury MD-87 aircraft to get him there. And he was curious about the former U.S. president and his philanthropic work.
The trip and the conversation marked the beginning of a long and mutually beneficial relationship. Soon after, Mr. Giustra became one of the largest single donors to the Clinton Foundation and rallied an entire industry to raise millions of dollars for its fight against global poverty. He, in turn, gained entrée to Mr. Clinton’s inner circle – and became Corporate Canada’s most famous “Friend of Bill.”
For more than a decade, both men have burnished their reputations by travelling the globe and collaborating on big ideas in far-flung places. Mr. Giustra’s Twitter profile is a veritable photo gallery of the two men. Here they are in Peru last November, distributing household goods to women. There they are in El Salvador earlier that same year, assisting small-scale farmers.
The Canadian arm of the Clinton Foundation – the brainchild of Mr. Giustra and known as the Clinton Giustra Enterprise Partnership – has poured more than $35-million (U.S.) into eradicating poverty in parts of the developing world where many of the mining companies he helped finance do business.
“We have improved the lives of hundreds of thousands of people, in Canada and around the world,” Mr. Giustra said in a written statement to The Globe and Mail. He calls such endeavours “my life’s work.”
That work has involved rallying the support of the many high-profile industry figures and associates on behalf of Bill and Hillary Clinton, making him the most prominent figure among their extensive Canadian connections.
But playing that role has also meant being dragged into what he calls a “media circus” – because when the Clintons are involved, the tale is always more complicated than simply giving away a fortune and doing good things with it.
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